Monday, May 19, 2014

Translation errors in papal documents: Vita Consecrata

When Pope Francis' Joy of the Gospel came out, there was some discussion about parts of it being badly translated. But this is not a new problem. I don't know who does translations at the Vatican, but some of the English translations have had mistakes and this has been going on for some time.

Take Vita Consecrata for example. It is a document on the consecrated life put out by Pope John Paul in 1996. In no. 26 he speaks of the eschatological sign value of this life, and says it is such "above all by means of the vow of virginity, which tradition has always understood as an anticipation of the world to come."

The reference to the "vow of virginity" puzzled me, since we don't make a vow of virginity but a vow of chastity. There's a difference. So I looked up the official Latin, which has virginalis electio. This means the "choice of virginity." Electio does not mean vow (which would be votum in Latin) but it means "choice or selection" (reflected in our English word "election.")

The other languages on the Vatican website use the phrase "choice of virginity", not "vow":
le choix de la virginité (French),
la scelta verginale (Italian),
and opción por la virginidad (Spanish).

This ties in better with the way John Paul spoke in TOB about those who are called to this vocation. He said that they do so “in view of the particular value which is connected with this choice and which one must discover and welcome as one’s own vocation” (TOB 73.3).

But why does the Vatican not give more care to the English translation of papal documents? Vita Consecrata was an important document, a post-synodal document and a major statement on the subject in quite some time. Perhaps this particular error doesn't change anything doctrinal in the document, but still it is misleading and inaccurate. The pope is not speaking of the vows in that section. He is speaking in a wider sense, of the choice of a way of life. 


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Regarding translations into English, why do translators use the word "brothers" when speaking about Jesus' relatives? Apparently the original word could refer to several different relatives. Why not say "relative" or "kinsman"? Elizabeth is not called Mary's "sister" but rather "relative" or "kinswoman". The same is true elsewhere in the bible. Why the inconsistency?

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

It depends on the Greek word being translated.
Elizabeth is called "sungenis" in Greek, which means "kinswoman." The word for brother is "adelphos." The situation though is a little more complex because of the Aramaic background. If you wish to read more, this link is good:

jowdjbrown said...
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