2006-02-05 A Latin aphorism, traductore traditore, means that

February 5, 2006

A Latin aphorism, traductore traditore, means that a translator can be a traitor to the real meaning of the text. For instance, I can translate "the flesh is weak" to mean "the meat has gone bad," but the literalism ruins the real meaning. "I am blue" can literally mean that lack of oxygen has turned me a blue color, but it probably means I am feeling glum. Recourse to computers for translation can come up with some expressions that are not sinister but only amusing. When the Holy Father in a formal statement regretted the deaths of some Cardinals during the past year, a translation into English had the Pope saying that these Princes of the Church "had kicked the bucket."

The mint text of a papal encyclical is in Latin. The English translation of the third section of Pope Benedict's first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est says that the Church "has blown the whistle" on attempts to separate irreconcilably the earthly (eros) and spiritual (agape) forms of love. But in a sense the lively vernacularism does convey Catholicism's bold challenge to the pseudo-spirituality of Calvinists and Gnostics who denigrate the dignity of the flesh in the economy of salvation.

Pope Benedixt XVI explained why he chose "love" as a theme for the encyclical:

"Today the word 'love' is so tarnished, so spoiled and so abused, that one is almost afraid to pronounce it with one's lips. And yet it is a primordial word, expression of the primordial reality; we cannot simply abandon it, we must take it up again, purify it and give back to it its original splendor so that it might illuminate our life and lead it on the right path. This awareness led me to choose love as the theme of my first encyclical.

"I wished to express to our time and to our existence something of what Dante audaciously recapitulated in his vision. He speaks of his 'sight' that 'was enriched' when looking at it, changing him interiorly. [The textual quotation in English is: "But through the sight, that fortified itself in me by looking, one appearance only to me was ever changing as I changed" (cf. Paradise, XXXIII, verses 112-114.)] It is precisely this: that faith might become a vision-comprehension that transforms us.

"I wished to underline the centrality of faith in God, in that God who has assumed a human face and a human heart. Faith is not a theory that one can take up or lay aside. It is something very concrete: It is the criterion that decides our lifestyle. In an age in which hostility and greed have become superpowers, an age in which we witness the abuse of religion to the point of culminating in hatred, neutral rationality on its own is unable to protect us. We are in need of the living God who has loved us unto death."

Fr. George W. Rutler
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