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The complicated context of Pope Francis’ confusing remarks about the “Our Father”

The Holy Father’s remarks, made to the Italian bishops’ TV magazine program, invoked a drawn-out and at times acrimonious controversy under the tent of French Catholicism, over the official liturgical translation of the The Lord’s Prayer.

Pope Francis is pictured next to Msgr. Guido Marini, papal master of ceremonies, as he looks up at statue of Mary near the Spanish Steps in Rome Dec. 8. The pope led a brief prayer service at the statue to mark the feast of the Immaculate Conception. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

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’”.

He didn’t.

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.

Nota bene.

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.

About Christopher R. Altieri 34 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is co-Founder and general manager of Vocaris Media and the author of The Soul of a Nation: America as a Tradition of Inquiry and Nationhood.

30 Comments

  1. Matthew
    4:1 “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
    The old way has a point….according to 4:1.

    • 1 Peter 1:6-7
      In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;

      What “lead us not into temptation,..” means is that we ask God not to put us to the test, where in all likelihood being weak and sinful, we would fail. We ask Him to deliver us from temptation, a test of faith, and deliver us from evil. I see us as acknowledging the fact that God can test us at any time, and in any manner but we know that without Him we are doomed to fail.

    • Yes, and the old way is always the best.

      The article circumvents the issue by making a complication out of nothing. Never mind AP’s editing of Francis statement. The pope said: “It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation.”

      The pope is attacking, not a translation, but the original text of prayer that Jesus gave us. The original text from the Lord’s Prayer, as taken from the Latin Vulgate, reads, “et ne inducas nos in temptationem sed libera nos a malo,” which translated is, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:13)

      The pope is accusing the Our Father of inducing temptation, and in so doing, is inducing his own temptation. He is saying that the prayer, as said in English and Latin speaking countries down through the centuries “is not good.”

      Not so. The prayer needs no change. Christ’s words on the mount were perfect.

      When we say, “lead us not into temptation,” we’re simply asking God to help us choose right from wrong, good from bad, God from Satan. It is God, our leader, who leads this enterprise, therefore we ask him to “lead us” thus. A seven-year-old CCD student can understand this perfectly, yet the leader of the world’s Catholics can’t seem to get it!

    • No. In this text of Matthew 4,1 that you cite, the Spirit leads Jesus to a physical place (the wilderness), but it is always Satan the one responsible for the actual temptation, as is very clear in the text. So unlike what you state, the old way doesn’t have a point.

  2. A good Biblical event that compares to the original Gk text that refers to suffering and trial is Job. God permitted Satan to test Job to prove his loyalty. The other is Christ’s temptations by Satan during His forty days trial in the desert. God permitted [we might say allowed or led] Christ to enter a place of suffering trial and test. For benefit of all Mankind. If that was true for Christ we must assume it also includes our own participation with Him in resisting the Evil One. Satan’s presence is coupled with that last sentence, But deliver us from the Evil One to affirm that. Unfortunately the Pontiff seems to overlook that significance, the necessity of trial and our willingness to practice the virtue of Fortitude and reject evil. That dynamic is paramount during this time of Darkness within the Church.

    • True. While it is not a sin for us to have disordered inclinations, it is a sin to not desire to overcome these disordered inclinations, so that we are not lead into temptation, but become transformed through Salvational Love, God’s Gift of Grace and Mercy.

    • Fr., the words of Scripture are clear in Matt 4 that the Spirit LED Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Mark is even stronger saying that the Spirit drove Him into the desert. The event is the typological fulfilment of Moses and the Israelites being led into the desert by God to be put to the test or tempted. While it may be the world, the flesh or the devil which actually do the tempting, it is clear from Scripture that God can and does lead His people through a testing at various times.

      • Amen to that. I have no religion, I have simply faith in the Lord JESUS CHRIST and our father God. The GOD of all Gods. Creator of all the universe. I have faith in his words. I am afraid of his power. I tried everyday to follow him and repent and I am Hopi g that he gives me Grace through faith in my life. As being a good person from the Gospel of JESUS CHRIST. Amen!

  3. The French translation is not, as you say. I shudder to think what the bishop’s conferences are going to come up with now that they have been given their heads. Jerome’s Latin is a word for word translation of the NT Greek. If there were something theologically askew here, surely the Church Fathers/Doctors would have noticed long before now. Are there ancient commentaries to that effect? What no one seems to have commented on is the way the sentence ends : sed libera nos a malo, BUT deliver us/free us/liberate us from evil. That, to be freed from all evil, is what we are asking of the Father in this last petition of the prayer.

  4. As I understand the Cathecism the difficulty was translating from Greek and arriving at “lead” in the English translation.

  5. Ya know why Francis wants to change the “Our Father”? Coz he’s so humble! No, don’t laugh! It’s taken us 2,000 years to get to this point. Those other pitiful sinners throughout the millenia couldn’t figure this out.

    But what about “Tradition” you say? Pffffffttt………….tradition……shmadition! You’re rii-gid! Riiiii-ggiiidd!!!

  6. Let’s hope the Pope doesn’t start reading the Old Testament. What would he make of the following?

    “And he smote the men of Bethshemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter.” 1 Samuel 6:19

    Perhaps that also is a bad translation? Maybe “smote” should be translated as “he took them to the naughty step and asked them to try and be good next time”

    I may be wrong, but I sense a tinge of Manichaeism here.

  7. Once again we see the Pope who is always promoting discernment ignoring the primary discernment of the Church for its flock – The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Why couldn’t Pope Francis have just said ” I encourage all to read the Catechism of the Church which reflects on this in consideration of tradition and sacred scripture” – but that would of course assume that he is not hankering to play volley ball with the Catechism (for the sake of perpetual discernment).

  8. Would it be disrespectful to suggest that Pope Francis should consider putting less effort into making the Our Father “less confusing” in favor of putting more effort into fixing his own confusing remarks?

  9. Hmm … in all of the commentaries and comments, I haven’t heard anything about Liturgiam Authenticam. Perhaps we need to take a different view of the Holy Father’s statement.

    Perhaps, just perhaps mind you, Francis is giving a round-about approval for his notion that every episcopal conference should be able to translate the liturgy any way they like. Remember this is primarily about the translation used in the liturgy!

    Kind of like if he were to write an ambiguous teaching about, say, who could receive the sacraments, and then obliquely acknowledges a bishop’s conference in South America as having the correct interpretation without actually addressing said ambiguous teaching. This kind of fits his pattern of tossing something out there and then winking and nodding his approval when someone else puts it into actual practice.

  10. I always thought that “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” was an admission to God that we know we are weak sinners, so he doesn’t need to put us to the test so that we become aware of that.

    God already knows us through and through; the test would be for our sake, not His. The test, if God decides we need it, is for our own good; it keeps us from becoming self-satisfied and self-righteous like the pharisees. Even if we don’t “flunk it” we become aware of our inclination to sinfulness and our need of God’s grace.

  11. Regretfully this incident of gross imprudence on the part of the Bishop of Rome merely reflects the personal comportment of broad component of the clergy class bent on their own notions, without depth reflection, but merely unleashed by the absence of impulse control.
    They must spray paint their “tag” on everything.
    Its purpose ultimately is self aggrandizement. Its immediate consequence is to “lead us into error” at the hands of “pastors.”
    Utterly tragic.

  12. If he, Pope Francis is not changing the Lord’s prayer in that phrase, Lead us not into temptation, then why at mass last evening, Saturday, 2-17, did our priest say from the pulpit, the Pope wants us to say,,,,and he repeated the phrase the Pope has said we should now say. It was a shocker to many. I don’t believe many said the new phrase though. I have been saying the Lord’s Prayer for 80 years and since I was 3 when my Mother taught me. I am not about to change for anyone else because I believe this is the way the Dearest Lord Jesus taught it to be said.Correct me if I am wrong.

4 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. The complicated context of Pope Francis’ confusing remarks about the “Our Father” -
  2. ASK FATHER: Does Pope Francis really want to change the Lord’s Prayer? | Fr. Z's Blog
  3. No changes, please, to the Lord’s Prayer | Anglicanorum Coetibus Society Blog
  4. MONDAY CATHOLICA EDITION – Big Pulpit

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