The Catechism in English:The Art (or Artifice?)
Catholics in the United States are generally aware that the official translation into English of the Catechism of the Catholic Church has continued for many months as of now to be held up in Rome. The new Catechism received considerable publicity even while it was still in preparation—in this country in large part because of a widely perceived crisis in the teaching of the faith over virtually the past two decades, a crisis for which the Catechism, at long last, was finally supposed to provide the remedy.
When the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, promulgated the officially approved version of the Catechism in French in December 1992, it was expected that the English version would shortly be available. The continued nonappearance 383 of an approved English translation nearly a year later has thus been more than just a little bit anticlimactic.
Why the hold-up? Evidently Rome found a number of things wrong with the translation of the Catechism submitted for its approval and has thus presumably been in the process of revising and correcting the translation before approving it. At least I hope so. For I have had the opportunity to go over this English translation and compare it at numerous points with the French original approved by the Holy Father.
The experience has not been reassuring. Msgr. Michael J. Wrenn and I have even prepared an article-length critique of the translation for Crisis magazine, detailing some of the things we found wrong with the translation, including mistranslations of words, phrases, and entire passages, additions to and omissions from the French version, and even renderings which sometimes appeared to misstate or distort what seemed to us important doctrinal points.
I do not intend to repeat here any of the criticisms already set forth in the article by Msgr. Wrenn and myself. Read the article in the November 1993 Crisis magazine.1 Here I want to deal with a number of other important points concerning the translation of the Catechism, including especially some of the criteria which the translator has stated he followed in making the translation; and also, very briefly, some of the criteria our bishops are currently accepting concerning Church translations.
One important theme that runs through almost everything I will be saying here today—and which is of special interest to Women for Faith and Family—is the degree to which this translation of the Catechism is gravely flawed 384 and marred—I believe even fatally so—by the use of so- called "inclusive language", that is, language which self-consciously avoids using the words "man" or "men", or the masculine pronouns, in a generic sense to mean such things as "everybody", "the human race", "men, women, and children", "people in general", and so on.
The English language, of course—like the French language from which the Catechism has been translated—does use the words "man" or "men" and the masculine pronouns in precisely such a generic way. English has been doing this virtually since Anglo-Saxon times more than a thousand years ago. Today, however, the ideological feminist movement has risen up to claim that women are not "included" when such generic language is used—hence a presumed new need to use language and expressions and locutions which specifically do "include" women.
Unfortunately, many have been persuaded by this feminist claim. Acceptance of the need for inclusive language is even supposed to indicate special sensitivity to women's concerns —as if the ideological feminists truly represented "women". Attempts, some of them strenuous, are even being made in our culture to get this new inclusive language accepted as standard English usage. Most such attempts, however, have neither been very successful; nor have they enjoyed universal approval. Far from it: not rarely these attempts provoke ridicule; some people even find them offensive.
For the fact largely remains true, in spite of intense feminist efforts and pressures, that hardly anybody at all really writes or speaks in the stilted, clumsy, and highly artificial way that consistent inclusive language would impose upon all of us. Inclusive language is not standard English usage. Even pro-feminists do not normally speak this way unless they are consciously thinking about it. 385
Nevertheless the fact that inclusive language is not really standard English did not prevent an unwise decision from being made that the Catechism of the Catholic Church should be translated into English using this inclusive language— just as plans have long since been underway to try to impose the same dubious and unnatural kind of language on the liturgy and worship of the Catholic Church in English.
What the decision to translate the Catechism using inclusive language has really entailed, however, is this: the stated aim of the translation itself, in the words of the editorial committee for the Catechism in English quoted by the translator himself, namely, "to convey the real meaning of the text in idiomatic English which does not in any way distort that meaning", has proved to be impossible of realization! Yes. It has proved to be impossible of realization for the simple reason that inclusive language is not "idiomatic English"; nor is it possible to avoid distorting meanings when using inclusive language.
The text of the translation sadly provides literally hundreds of examples verifying both of these statements. Only a few selected ones of these examples can obviously be provided within the compass of this single presentation, Anyone interested in finding more of them can easily do so by comparing the English translation with the original French text.
One benefit that may nevertheless stem from the fact that inclusive language has been drearily though unsuccessfully employed throughout all the 2865 individual numbered paragraphs of this translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is this: Rome, having seen the dismal results of this misbegotten ideological experiment, has now been given the opportunity to see in a very concrete way that inclusive language 386 simply won't work! It won't work for the liturgy any more than for the Catechism. Having now been obliged to hold up the translation of this Catechism, perhaps Rome will now also begin to see the necessity of taking another look at some of our recent Scripture translations into English and at some of the language being proposed for our new lectionaries and sacramentaries as well.
Speremus. Let us hope.
The main things that I want to address today concerning the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church are some of the stated "criteria" that were employed in the preparation of this translation. Examination of some of these criteria will quickly enable us to identify more than one probable reason why it is that the translation has been held up in Rome. The translator himself, one Fr. Douglas Kent Clark, pastor of St. Anne's Church in Richmond Hill, Georgia, has conveniently provided us with a list of such criteria in an article he published in the summer 1993 issue of the USCC Department of Education's quarterly religious education review, The Living Light.
In this article, entitled "On `Englishing' the Catechism", Fr. Clark explains that, while he worked with two editorial committees in making the translation, one in Britain and one in the United States, and also enjoyed both the services of a research assistant as well as advice and counsel from other experts, the decision was early made that a single translator should perform the task of translation, "in order to ensure a consistent style and a relatively quick translation".
Much of what Fr. Clark says in his Living Light article 387 concerning the problems of translation in general and of translation from French into English in particular few translators would disagree with. It is quite true that translation involves considerably more than, as it were, rote word-for-word substitutions; choices and judgments constantly have to be made. I must admit that I was initially quite impressed with Fr. Clark's exposition of all the problems posed by this particular translation the first time I read it—but that was before I saw the translation itself. In the light of the product, it seems pretty clear that some of the translation criteria employed were at the very least questionable; and more than one of them have turned out to be, in my opinion, grossly erroneous criteria.
In fairness to Fr. Clark, it should be pointed out that he was not himself responsible for all the criteria employed; they appear to have been decided collectively; he was working under direction with his editorial committees and such. Nevertheless that does not make everything right. Committees can make mistakes too. Now that I have looked at the translation in some detail, compared it to the French original, and then have subsequently gone back to ponder the stated criteria used in producing it, I seriously wonder whether any translator could have produced an entirely acceptable translation using such criteria.
Let us examine some of them.
Scripture. The minute we get into the translation's handling of Scripture, we immediately sink deeply into the morass of the problems created by the original decision to go with inclusive language. It is virtually impossible to read even a 388 page of this translation without running into such renderings as the one in paragraph 146 from Romans 4:11, where Abraham, as "the father of all who believe", becomes instead "the ancestor of all who believe"; or the one in paragraph 205 from Exodus 3:15, where "the God of your fathers" becomes "the God of your ancestors". The statement in Acts 4:12 that "there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" becomes in paragraph 452 of the translation "among mortals". The phrase "in the likeness of men" from Philippians 2:7 becomes in paragraph 461 "in human likeness". Acts 5:29 records Peter and the apostles saying, "We must obey God rather than men." Paragraph 2256 changes "men" here to "human authority".
In the paragraph following, to a quotation from Matthew 5:21 beginning, "But I say to you, everyone who is angry with his brother . . .", we are not even surprised by this time to find the translation adding: "and sister". And so on. You get the idea.
Now at the simplest level it must be recognized that, quite apart from the motives of the translator, all these renderings do not represent what the original text says. To state this may strike some as simplistic; nevertheless it remains true, and truth ought to count for something, especially where Scripture translations are concerned.
Reading this translation, though, it seems that Scripture itself is simply being arbitrarily changed to fit the feminist mold wherever this is thought to be necessary. But who has ever been authorized to change sacred Scripture in this fashion (or in any fashion)? To alter the very words of Christ and then give out the alteration as if it issued from Christ? This is a form of falsification. Is anybody at all authorized to do this? 389
But then in our present case it turns out that all these renderings are not just the banal fabrications of the translator of the Catechism; it turns out they are all taken from a new and highly touted published translation of the Scriptures, the so-called New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (NRSV), which Fr. Douglas Kent Clark, in discussing his translation criteria, describes as "the premier scholarly English translation used on both sides of the Atlantic". I fear some of us might wish to demur about that particular judgment.
However, the fact that we are talking about an actual, supposedly standard new translation of the Bible, and not just some arbitrary proceeding of the translator, does put a somewhat different light on the problem. Moreover, as Fr. Clark hastens to point out, this NRSV has not only been approved for liturgical use in the United States (in November 1990; this approval by the American bishops of this version of the Bible has also been confirmed by Rome's Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (on April 6, 1992).
What kind of a translation is this NRSV? We have already encountered some of its renderings as used in the Catechism translation. In fact, it is only too easy to imagine how the NRSV handles many other passages. For example, we read in Mark 1:17: "And Jesus said to them, 'Follow me and I will make you fish for people.'" Or take John 2:24-25: "But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone." Such a stilted, flaccid sentence as this provides an immediate illustration of how the Gospel message is inevitably distorted by using inclusive language to avoid saying: "But Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men and needed 390 no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man."
Many more examples could be given, but I will spare you. The realization that our American bishops, after some two decades of imposing the mediocre New American Bible on us, have now approved this translation, and are apparently contemplating its universal use, is dispiriting if not dismaying. Nor does it help that the NRSV is a so-called "project" of the National Council of Churches, an organization that long ago would seem to have abandoned strict gospel imperatives in order to pursue leftist politics (is the NCC going to get the royalties on all the sales to Catholics too? What a prospect! The Catholic Church helping to subsidize the National Council of Churches!).
We truly must hope that the hot water in which the Catechism translation currently finds itself in Rome will spill over into the liturgical area, and that the current Roman approval of this new NRSV translation will be revisited. We must hope that our own hierarchy will also decide that this decision has to be revisited. Eventually it will have to be revisited. It is incompatible with the faith that has been handed down.2 And the health and strength of that faith on these shores, if not in other English-speaking countries, could be at stake for years to come.
Meanwhile let us call things by their true names. This New Revised Standard Version of the Bible is not a "translation". It is an ideological adaptation. Jesus did not say, "I 391 will make you fish for people." The Greek is: poiesu umas genesthai aleeis anthropun: "I will make you become fishers of men"! To impose the supposed demands or prejudices of our age and our culture upon any text transmitted from antiquity, not just a Gospel text, is a falsification (and this assumes that inclusive language is what our age really wants).
Nevertheless, this is what this translation of the Catechism would now involve the Church in English-speaking countries in: falsification. It is a high price to imagine we have to pay in order to appease ideological feminists whose dedication or commitment to the Catholic Church is hardly the most salient thing about them that might ever strike anybody.
And it is all so unnecessary. From the point of view of faith, for example, the scriptural passage Genesis 1:27 already demonstrates that God's creation of "man" expressly included "woman": "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." The switch to the plural here is precisely intended to make clear that "woman" is included in "man" in the general sense, regardless of how the feminists may grouse. Genesis 5:2 goes farther; it goes on to say: "Male and female he created them and he blessed them and named them 'Man' when they were created" (emphasis added). Scripture is absolutely clear on the matter. Why is this so hard for some people to understand?
"What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him?" This invocation from Psalms 8.4 is familiar to all Christians. The NRSV renders it: "What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?" Here the important biblical phrase "son of man", in Hebrew ben adam—especially important in view of its later extensive use by our Lord—is 392 actually translated "mortals" in the NRSV. This is a wholly arbitrary translation; the question of man's mortality in no way arises in connection with this text; and it seems to be an especially arbitrary choice when we recall that the Son of Man came, among other reasons, in order to overcome our mortality.
So much for the translation of Scripture in the Catechism. Let us go on now to review, at least briefly, some of the other translation criteria mentioned by Fr. Douglas Kent Clark, the Catechism translator, in his article in the summer 1993 issue of The Living Light.
Liturgical Texts. Fr. Clark explains that where liturgical texts appear in the Catechism translation they were taken from the approved ICEL translations from the Latin currently in use in English-speaking countries. Strictly as a criterion, of course, it does make sense for these liturgical texts to be uniform in both the Catechism and the Missal—quite apart from what we may think of some of the ICEL's handiwork.
Fr. Clark adds that the currently approved liturgical texts "were not changed in the Catechism" even when different in some respects from the French. Again, this is all right in principle. Unfortunately, however, what he says does not appear to be entirely true; once again the feminist imperative raises its head, apparently overriding every other consideration. For in paragraph 380, for example, the current Fourth Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass is quoted as: "Father . . . you made us in your own image and set us over the whole world." But the currently approved text of the Fourth 393 Eucharistic Prayer actually reads, as Mass-going Catholics will recall: "Father . . . you formed man in your own likeness and set him over the whole world" (emphasis added). Thus, the currently approved ICEL translation was apparently changed in this case—in order, once again, to avoid those dreaded words "man" and "him".
No doubt the translator in this case was simply "anticipating" the new ICEL translations with inclusive language which are presumably expected to be approved; but if this sort of thing keeps going on, pretty soon we men are going to start feeling "excluded" too. We will have to start demanding inclusive language for us!
Ecclesiastical Writers and Magisterial Documents. Fr. Clark explains that the numerous quotations from these sources were not simply translated from the approved French text. "Patristic and older magisterial documents for which no official translation exists were translated directly from the original texts and not from those texts in French translations", he explains. This may sound impressive and may even seem like a perfectly reasonable criterion.
What it allows the translator to do in practice, however, is, once again, to refashion the text in the feminist image. The result is, in such texts as paragraph 2783, to make such substitutions in a citation from St. Ambrose as "O mortal" for "O man"; and "child" for "man". (Again, though, that is not what St. Ambrose said; a translator who alters what his author said in accordance with extra-translation considerations is no longer really a translator.)
Also, compare the following text of the Catechism found in paragraph 1458 based on an important teaching of St. Augustine, which bears not only upon the topic of sin but upon that of the God-man dichotomy. I give my own fairly 394 literal translation from the French first, and then the translation using inclusive language:
Quite apart from the fact that the important scriptural theme of the God-man dichotomy is obscured here, by using "person" instead of "man", the inclusive-language translation inescapably distorts the meaning in a more fundamental way; the text no longer conveys what St. Augustine said. This is true for the simple reason that "person" is not equivalent to "man". God is a person, for example; Jesus is a person; are they also "sinners"? Did they "make" sinners? The questions answer themselves.
If this is how "ecclesiastical writers" are treated according to these translation criteria, what about "magisterial documents"? A crucial—and I believe fatal—decision was made when the translator decided not to use any of the existing standard English translations of the documents of Vatican II 395 for the literally hundreds of citations from the Council that the Catechism includes. This decision was made, Fr. Clark tells us, because his "editorial committee discovered errors and infelicities of style" in the existing Vatican II translations. This may well be, but the translator's decision to make his own Vatican II translations can scarcely be said to further the aim of "the development of a common theological and catechetical vocabulary for English-speaking Catholics"— which, elsewhere in his Living Light article, Fr. Clark had indicated to be one of the principal aims.
The principal advantage of doing his own Vatican II translations, though, was no doubt so that—you guessed it!— he could also present Vatican II in inclusive language, along with everything else! Certainly the existing Vatican II translations in current use today in English-speaking countries would not help him much there. As it is, he has a field day. In paragraph 541, for example, he changes what in the Flannery Vatican II translation of Lumen Gentium (no. 3) is "raise men" to "raise human beings"; in paragraph 1701, what in the Flannery translation reads "the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and his love fully reveals man to himself" becomes instead "the mystery of the Father and his love fully discloses what it means to be human." Again, you get the idea. You could do this yourself. You don't need to be either a theologian or a French translator.
Gaudium et Spes (no. 13), in the Flannery translation, informs us that "man, enticed by the evil one, abused his freedom at the start of history." The Catechism translation instead renders this in its paragraph 1707 as "humanity was beguiled by the evil one and abused its freedom at the dawn of history." But "humanity", an abstraction, did no such thing, either at the dawn of history or at any other time; only individual human beings with will and intellect would 396 be capable of doing such a thing, and so, once again, the inclusive-language translation distorts the true meaning of the text.
Lumen Gentium (no. I I) in the Flannery translation specifies that the faithful, "reborn as sons of God . . . must profess before men the faith they have received from God through the Church". In paragraph 1270 of the Catechism translation, we find instead the rendering, "reborn as children of God" —the French text also specifies "through baptismal regeneration" here—"the baptized are in duty bound to profess publicly the faith they have received from the Church." Elsewhere in his Living Light article the translator specifically defends this rendering—the use of "publicly" in place of the expression "before men" so often found in Scripture— as being perfectly valid and adequate. In this he is surely mistaken; "publicly" simply does not mean the same thing as "before men", as even the NRSV recognizes, translating such passages as Matthew I0:32—"Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven"—by saying "before others".
Recent Magisterial Documents. Still discussing his translation criteria, the translator declares that "all recent (postVatican-II) documents of the Holy See for which official English translations exist are quoted from the official Vatican translations"—but not, apparently, without adding such things as "or hers" to "his" where considered necessary in such texts as the quotation from the CDF's Instruction Donum Vitae found in paragraph 2375. Inclusive language, like amor, always vincit omnia, apparently.
Code of Canon Law. The translator notes under this rubric in his Living Light article that the American CLSA translation 397 of the new 1983 Code of Canon Law was used by common agreement on both sides of the Atlantic. A similar decision should have been made regarding a single standard Vatican II translation. Many of the problems with this translation would never have arisen if available standard translations of Church texts had simply been uniformly used.
Yet even here consistency would appear to be lacking. In paragraph 2102, for example, if we compare the Canon Law Society of America's actual translation of Canon 1191 §1 with the way in which our Catechism translation apparently modifies (and garbles) this same Canon, we find the following discrepancy:
Now how can a possible "good" simply be—"good"? The Catechism's translation of this Canon is tautological. The CLSA version properly distinguishes that what is at issue is a better good—the object of a religious vow. We are always obliged to do good and avoid evil; but vows "which must be fulfilled by reason of the virtue of religion" involve, precisely, a "good" which is "better".
How much easier it would have been if only the translator and his editorial committees had been willing to utilize existing and surely acceptable English translations of the hundreds and hundreds of quotations in this Catechism taken from popes, councils, Fathers and doctors of the Church, the 398 Code of Canon Law, and so on. But no: once the decision was apparently made to try to improve the product, particularly with regard to modern feminist imperatives, instead of merely translating it—which it was really their responsibility to do—they inescapably entered upon that well-known slippery slope in which the only direction they could henceforth go was downhill.
What we are dealing with in the case of this translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is not a translation at all; it is no more a translation than the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible is a translation. Neither document aims to render in English what its original text says, no more, no less. Both documents are ideological adaptations consciously made in order to serve the ends of what has aptly come to be called today "political correctness".
It is startling, in fact, to realize how much more important modern political correctness appears to be for the artificers of both documents than does the proclamation of God's authentic revelation and his plan for man. This divine revelation and this divine plan constitute the essence of what is truly to be found in the Holy Bible—as it is similarly to be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The translators of both documents had an obligation to render these things—the divine revelation and the divine plan—which should have automatically overridden all other considerations whatsoever.
But no: having set forth his principal translation criteria, Fr. Clark, in his Living Light article, then goes on to state quite plainly what is only too glaringly evident from his product in any case, namely, that what really appears to 399 have driven this translation effort, from beginning to end, is nothing else but insistence upon using inclusive language. "So-called inclusive language reflects a concern that is almost overwhelming in the United States", Fr. Clark declares in his article. Whether this assertion is his own idea, and he convinced his editorial committees of it, or whether, as he indicates, he was "directed" by them to proceed in the way that he did is immaterial. The dismal result is the same.
We can only wonder who the people are such Churchmen talk to when they assert that the demand for inclusive language is "overwhelming" in the United States. Fr. Clark actually claims that what he calls the primary and secondary acceptations of the word "man" have been "reversed over the past half-century, so that one can no longer say 'a woman is a man' and be understood."
I dare say there was never a time when anybody ever said anything like that; such an artificial example does not reflect how generic language is normally and characteristically used in English. Moreover, judging from my own random unscientific survey, I think Fr. Clark might be hard-pressed to find a standard English dictionary older than, say, ten years, which lists the primary definition of the word "man" as "an adult male human being". And I suspect he will not be able to find any dictionary at all which drops or excludes the meaning of "man" as "the human race", "men, women, and children", and so on, in the way that inclusive language wants and tries to exclude this meaning of "man". For the fact is that the generic use of "man" still is used in English and still is legitimate. To imagine that the language has somehow been evolving along feminist lines over the past "fifty years" is not true to the facts.
Ideological feminism is a product of the last couple of 400 decades at most; and there is not only no assurance that characteristic feminist demands are going to be adopted by society as a whole; there is already strong and growing evidence that many people are turning away from radical feminism already. Of all possible institutions the Catholic Church is surely the last that should ever have gotten involved with this particular ideological fashion. The only result that is likely to come of it will be to see realized once again the old adage that marrying the Zeitgeist usually makes for early widowhood.
One final point needs to be touched upon in this discussion of ecclesiastical translations, and that is the unhappy fact that, at the present time, our bishops do seem to have been sold the inclusive-language bill of goods. In 1990 they even issued a set of "Criteria for the Evaluation of Inclusive Language Translations of Scriptural Texts". In point of fact, there shouldn't be any such criteria for the simple reason that there shouldn't be any such translations.
As is usually the case with episcopal statements, however, these particular criteria are very carefully framed and on their face appear to be very moderate and reasonable. What could possibly be amiss? In the criteria the bishops note that "some segments of culture have become increasingly sensitive to 'exclusive language', i.e., language which seems to exclude the equality and dignity of each person." Does it exclude them, or not? What segments of "culture" are even concerned? Is the concern legitimate? The bishops do not say. They nevertheless go on to legitimate inclusive language anyway, regardless of whether or not it is really called for, by the very fact of issuing their criteria. 401
But what a tenuous foundation on which to base what amounts to a veritable revolution! The bishops assume what needs to be demonstrated.
The bishops' criteria go on to say that "impromptu efforts at inclusive language . . . have . . . offended". I would add, on the evidence of the translation of the Catechism alone, that not only "impromptu efforts" have "offended"! Yet the mere fact that impromptu efforts go on appears to be one of the principal reasons why the bishops found it necessary to issue their criteria in the first place. Apparently it never occurred to anyone—or was perhaps thought too difficult if it did—to do what a young priest in my own parish recently did when he told the lectors who were indulging in their own "impromptu efforts at inclusive language": "You have no right to change the words of sacred Scripture", he said. "So don't." The result? Some of the lectors in question have simply not reappeared at the lectern to read; but nobody is changing the Scriptures any longer, either! Many of our other problems today might perhaps be susceptible of solutions as simple as this if it were not, perhaps, for so many moistened fingers being held up to test today's Zeitgeist "blowing where it listeth".
The bishops do go on to point out in their criteria such things as that "not everything in Scripture will be in harmony with contemporary cultural concerns" and that language referring to God and to Christ in particular cannot be inclusive; masculine references must continue to be used for them. The upshot of this is supposed to be that only so-called "horizontal language" referring to human beings can be inclusive, while "vertical language" referring to God and Christ cannot be inclusive.
At first sight it may seem that a knotty'problem has been solved by making such a distinction. Many people sincerely 402 see nothing wrong with making horizontal language inclusive. On the evidence of the translation of the Catechism, however, it turns out that the distinction between horizontal language cannot be that easily maintained in practice. Once caught up in the feminist logic, it would appear, it is impossible not to be affected in more ways than one. Examples of this abound in this translation, beginning with the very first paragraph of the Catechism, and continuing, where we find such things as repeating the noun "God" in order to avoid using "He" or "Him" to refer to God; or in dropping the pronoun "He" entirely, even when it is present in the French original and stylistically or syntactically should be in the English as well. Later on we find turgid sentences such as the subtitle just above paragraph 469—"How God's Son Is Human"—that are framed so unnaturally that, again, they appear to have been written only in order to avoid having to say that God's Son is a man.
Moreover, there are not a few instances where inclusive language creeps in anyway, even when the reference is supposed to be vertical. For example, paragraph 659 uses the term "Christ's humanity" to translate the French "corps du Christ" which means the [physical] "body of Christ". Have we reached the point where it is considered insensitive or indelicate to speak of Christ's physical body because it is male?
Similarly, in paragraph 2214, "la paternité divine", "the divine paternity"—or "fatherhood"—is translated into English as the "divine parenthood", apparently, again, in order to avoid having to say the word with a masculine reference, "fatherhood". Now this is vertical language referring to God; yet the feminist imperative once again rules the translation, contrary to the express criteria of the bishops. In any case, we have surely traveled very far down the wrong 403 road when perhaps the major single fact about God's revelation of himself to us, namely, that he is a "Father", has to be avoided in deference to the imagined sensibilities of "women".
Other examples of this kind of thing could be cited from the text of the translation; they are probably inevitable in the nature of the case, once inclusive language has been accepted.
Furthermore, insistence on inclusive language can distort the meaning of the text, sometimes seriously, even when the bishops' criteria are being followed. Paragraph 480, for example, tells us in translation that "Jesus Christ is true God and true man in the unity of his divine person; for this reason he is the only mediator between God and humanity". But Jesus is not the only mediator between God and "humanity". God, of course, is joined to humanity in and through Jesus (his humanity!); it is for this reason, that is, the fact that he is "true man" at the same time that he is "true God", that he is the only mediator between God and men—that is, between God and all individual men, women, and children (not between God and "humanity"!). The French text gets it exactly right by unselfconsciously using "les hommes", "men", in a generic sense in this passage.
This translation, in using "humanity" to translate the French "les hommes", is in this case in conformity with the bishops' criteria, since the substituted word "humanity" is supposed to refer to us and not to God or Jesus. Yet the use of this word "humanity" here nevertheless does distort both the real reason why Jesus is the only mediator between God and men and what his relationship is as mediator to individual men, women, and children. These are not fine points. What this kind of example shows is that inclusive language does not really work and cannot work. This is a 404 fact that has to be faced by English-speaking Catholics confronted with such a translation as this.
After all, since Jesus had no human father, the only sense in which it is really possible for him to be a "son of man" —the designation by which he most frequently referred to himself in the Gospels—is: as the son of Mary! No other way for him to be the Son of Man! It follows as a necessary consequence that Mary is "included" in "Man" in the term "Son of Man" as used by Jesus in the Gospels. Indeed this is surely a prototypical example of the legitimate generic use of the word "man".
If "man" truly means something "exclusive" of women, as our modern feminists pretend, then Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God—his only human parent—is the first woman who has to be excluded. Can such a prospect even be contemplated in any scheme of things that is truly Catholic? I think not.
We must pray to Mary, conceived without sin—our whole country is dedicated to her under her title of the Immaculate Conception, after all—that she urgently intercede for us in this as in all the things for which we pray. 405
This paper was delivered by coauthor Whitehead at the annual conference of Women for Faith and Family held on November 5-7, 1993, in St. Louis, Missouri, and then printed as it appears here in the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Newsletter, December 1993.
1. See Appendix One supra.
2. On July 27, 1994, Archbishop Geraldo Agnelo, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome, wrote to Archbishop William Keeler of Baltimore, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, withdrawing the earlier Roman permission to use the NRSV Bible in English for Catholic liturgical use.
Copyright ©; Kenneth D. Whitehead and the family of the late Msgr. Michael J. Wrenn. 1996 & 2009.
Version: 8th March 2009