11 September 2015

Laudato si in Latin?

The Holy Father's encyclical on the environment is still, apparently, not available in Latin. I think this raises questions.

Sometimes people say that Latin is the Church's 'Official Language'. I do not know of any strict basis for this. The decrees of the first seven Ecumenical Councils are in Greek. I cannot think of a reason why the Byzantine and Semitic churches sui iuris should have imposed on them the notion that their 'official language' is Latin. Canon Law does make quite a thing of the 'freedom' of the Holy Father; and I think it would be hard to deny that he enjoys full and entire freedom to teach authoritatively in any language in which he chooses to declare that he is doing so.

But it is important for it to be understood that a statement in any one language very rarely has the precisely same meaning as its 'translation' in another language. Traduttore traditore. Only at the most elementary level ... and often not even then ... does one word have an equivalent in another language in such a way that each word has precisely identical parameters of meaning and precisely the same culturally-generated shades of emotion, suggestion, and allusion. That is why there needs to be text declared 'authentic', so that it is always possible for a person to look at a translation and say "That does not convey exactly the sense of the original".

Ever since I started this blog, I have repeatedly written about the clear evidence that few people in Rome now have even an elementary competence in Latin. Accordingly, I would regret ... but would understand ... an argument that it is rather silly for a document to be drafted, composed, fine-tuned in a modern vernacular, and then laboriously to be turned into a Latin version, which few comprehend, but which is then declared to be the authentic text.

But there does need to be an authentic text in some language of any document which expects to be taken seriously.

Latin has advantages which are too obvious to be spelt out; or, rather, which have been spelt out by S John XXIII in Veterum Sapientia. But if we set all that aside, there are good grounds for selecting one of those languages which are very widely spoken throughout the world: Spanish or French or English. Italian, frankly, is a beautiful but numerically a second order language and I think it would be highly unfortunate if it became de facto the Church's language of commonest use just because it is the lingua franca in which business is done in Rome. Rome is not the whole Church. The bureaucracy of Rome is not the only audience which is expected to read and to respect Magisterial documents.

A Roman document which is meant to be taken seriously, to have a degree of authority, needs to make clear, authoritatively, which of the linguistic versions in which it is published is the authentic one. Back in the days when the CTS produced its own translations of what had been authoritatively published in Rome in Latin, it included a notification of who was responsible for the English translation. That practice showed a praiseworthy sense of responsibility and of accountability which is lacking under the present system

Failure to make clear what exactly is authoritative and what is not must derogate very profoundly from the authority of the teaching of the Magisterium.

If this matter is, in the great rush to get documents out as fast as possible in half-a-dozen languages, treated as unimportant, the chickens will eventually come home to roost.


Paul Jaminet said...

Maybe the Vatican doesn't consider Laudato Si to be a meaningful document.

Papabile said...

Isn't the official version the one in the AAS? That would be the one which needs to be translated.

Andreas Meszaros said...

Dear Father: Your conclusion contradicts the opinion of Pope St. John XXIII who writes in Veterum Sapientia:

"If the Church were to hand down catholic teaching using some or many changeable and recent languages, none of which have any authority over the others, clearly it follows, considering their variety, that such teaching couldn’t be enforced with any significant clarity, nor would there be a common and stable norm to which all other meanings would have to be subjected."

The Pope also explains why the vernacular languages cannot be normative: one of the reasons being that they are continuously changing.

Chris Jones said...

full and entire freedom to teach authoritatively in any language ...

I should think that the best illustration of this principle is the encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge. The authoritative text of that encyclical is surely the German.

rick allen said...

I have always thought that the "official" version of Pius XI's encyclical "Mit Brennende Sorge" was in German, and understandably so, given the direction to read it from German pulpits.

Figulus said...

I have always assumed, perhaps erroneously, that the official version of a magisterial document is the one published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis. These documents are usually in Latin, but sometimes some other language. The latest version on-line, for instance, that of April 2015, has a letter in English and a homily in Italian. I presume that when the June issue is published, we will get the official version of Laudato Si. Then we shall find out what language is used.

Mary Kay said...

My dear Father Hunwicke, you must certainly be aware that Latin is known as a 'dead' language, unlike Spanish or French or English, which are 'alive' and changing from day to day as living languages will. It seems important that any religion should have its own solemn language about it, that sets it off from the commercial world, and an unchanging language would do that best, I should think....

Kindest regards,
Mary K. (Mrs.) Jones

Tee Pee Gee Eff said...

Great minds think alike: https://canonlawblog.wordpress.com/2015/09/12/a-linguistic-concern-occasioned-by-an-important-debate-over-synodal-proposals/

Anonymous said...

I get the bad feeling that there is no relevant official able to do it properly. Perhaps the only ones are also wicked traditionalists. The Vatican has mostly worked through Tuscan Italian since the Renaissance, but it would be really disappointing if there is no translation. I still make futile effort to re-learn it, and a topic document in Latin would help.

David said...


I have eagerly been awaiting your commentary on the Latin text of Laudato Si since it appeared earlier this month. Is it possible that nobody has notified you of its release? It is available here:


Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

I'd like to second the comment of David. I was very mildly dismayed to find no Latin release of Laudato Si initially, and then was today pleasantly surprised to find that a Latin version has become available. Your views on this version, Father?

Toomas (aesthonicus, in Canada vivens;
laboro in Cicerone ("pro Lege Manilia") hodie;
lego libellos meos feliciter,
sed scribo modo barbarico ahem ahem :-) )