Pope Francis has managed to get himself in the papers again, this time over remarks to the Italian bishops’ TV magazine program, Padre Nostro. The episode that is the source – or at least the occasion – of the controversy aired on the Italian bishops’ TV2000 network this past Tuesday. In the episode, the Holy Father noted the recent change in the official French translation of the Our Father, as the prayer appears in the official French translation of the Ordo Missae – the Missal of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
The headlines were, predictably, breathless and misleading.
“Pope Francis wants to change line of ‘Our Father’” is what we got from Fox News, while the BBC gave us, “Lord’s Prayer: Pope Francis calls for change”, and NPR offered, “Pope Francis Suggests Changing The Words To The ‘Lord’s Prayer’”.
What he did was use a part of a serial conversation about the Lord’s Prayer to address a basic point of theology. Only, he did so by invoking a drawn-out and at times acrimonious controversy under the tent of French Catholicism, over the official liturgical translation of the Our Father. Hold on to your hats: it gets awfully confusing awfully fast.
First, the Pope was talking about the prayer in Italian, as Italian-speakers know and recite it.
“This,” i.e. the Italian, non ci indurre in tentazione (“…lead us not into temptation”), “is not good [as] a translation,” Pope Francis told don Marco Pozza, host of the program. “The French have even changed the text now, with a translation that is: ‘let me not fall into temptation.’ For, I am the one, who falls into temptation,” Pope Francis explained. “But it is not He, who tosses me into temptation, in order to see then, how I fall – no – a father does not do this. A father helps [one] to get right back up. The one, who induces you into temptation is Satan,” the Holy Father continued. “That is Satan’s office.”
Questa è una traduzione non buona. Anche i francesi hanno cambiato adesso il testo, con una traduzione che è: ‘non mi lasci cadere nella tentazione.’ [Per]ché, sono io a cadere nella tentazione. Ma, non è lui che mi butta alla [sic] tentazione, per poi vedere come sono caduto – no – un padre non fa questo. Un padre aiuta a alzarsi subito. Quello che t’induce alla tentazione è Satana. È quello, [l’]ufficio di Satana.
The Pope is right about the language, by the way: the now obsolete French translation, which read, ne nous soumets pas à la tentation – “do not submit us to temptation” is – was – pretty awful. One French parish priest, Fr. Emmanuel Schwab, was quoted in the National Catholic Reporter as saying, “The version, ‘do not submit us to temptation’, made some people think God threw banana peels in front of people to see if they would slip and fall, but that is absolutely not the biblical view of God.”
It was perhaps this idea – this misconception – that Pope Francis was addressing, though one does wonder who ever really had the idea, not to mention how Pope Francis got to the catechetical concerns of grunt priests in the pastoral trenches of Paris by way of the long-standing Italian version of the world’s oldest and most recognized Christian prayer.
There’s a good half-dozen stories in there.
While there is a great deal, indeed, that one might say about the merits of the Pope’s remarks to don Marco, themselves, it is necessary to note a point of fact at the basis of the whole controversy, which is being almost entirely overlooked.
The French bishops were making a change to the liturgical texts, which are a translation of the Latin editio typica.
This is important for several reasons, not least of which is that, whatever the merits of the French bishops’ preference for et ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation – “let us not enter into temptation” as a rendering of, say, the Aramaic – a subject on which very few in the world are equipped to speak – it is not a translation of the Latin text, ne nos inducas in tentationem, which is the text of the prayer as it appears in the editio typica.
Whatever the deficiencies of the old French rendering, it was defensible as a way of translating the Latin. This new French version is not at all recognizable as a translation of the Latin text it is supposed to render.
This is significant because – forgive me, but repetita iuvant – the Bishops were translating an official liturgical text, and liturgical texts have their own authority. The Church at prayer, in her official public worship, is a source of faith that is both chronologically and ontologically prior to any written record of Christ’s words and deeds – and the words the Latin Church prays officially and publicly, are: ne nos inducas in tentationem.
Translators have a job: to translate text.
If the text they are translating is in Latin, their job is to translate the Latin text – and though that task might benefit from consultation of other, older texts that are the putative source of the words they are charged with rendering, the translators miscarry in their duty when they ignore the text they are supposed to translate.
The really alarming thing in all this, in other words, is that we seem in part, at least, to be returned to the heady post-Conciliar days, in which a great deal of confusion was created and more consternation caused, not by bad men intent on destroying the Church (there were a few of those, too), but by basically good men failing to stop and ask simple but absolutely necessary questions, like, “What are we doing here?” and “Is this what we’re supposed to be doing?”
In defense of Pope Francis, his theological point is sound, even if it does belabor the obvious and needlessly heap abuse on an innocent straw man. God does not toss us into temptation to see how we fall (though there are reliable accounts that have Him allowing Satan to do his nasty work on righteous men, in order to prove a point – once, we’re told, to win a bet).
I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do have a nickel that says this tempest will not transcend the walls of the teacup in which it is now churning. When it comes to the broader issue, of which the French episode is merely an illustration, all bets are off.