Re Translating Francis’ Interview with Eugenio Scalfari – UPDATED

Re Translating Francis’ Interview with Eugenio Scalfari – UPDATED October 1, 2013

Pope Francis called Eugenio Scalfari, the atheist editor of La Repubblica, and said, “how about an interview” and Scalfari, no fool, took him up on it. Reading the first English translation found online this morning, I cursed my poor Italian and kept thinking, “this must be a sloppy translation — some of this isn’t even making sense.”

Well, “Nunblogger” Sister Anne Flanagan, a Daughter of Saint Paul, saw issues too, and since she reads Italian well, she has become a piecemeal translation that offers clarity:

If “everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them,” is the Pope saying that there is no such thing as objective truth, or objective right or wrong? This is where it is really, really helpful to know Italian: “Ciascuno di noi ha una sua visione del Bene e anche del Male. Noi dobbiamo incitarlo a procedere verso quello che lui pensa sia il Bene” is more literally (and helpfully?) translated as “Each one of us has his/her own vision of the Good or even of Evil. We must encourage him/her to move toward that which he/she sees as the Good.” The Pope is not leveling the difference between truth and untruth, right and wrong: he is saying that we all have a duty to encourage people to pursue the Good, knowing that the true Good will not fail to manifest himself, even if “through a glass darkly.”

I will stop here for a second, because someone has already complained to me that this translation is still not enough — that people need more explicit instruction as to what defines good and evil, but I disagree, and I think Aquinas would, too. If Francis seems to be trusting the Holy Spirit to lead people Christ-ward once he encourages them to walk toward the good, it is likely because he knows the sacraments — especially baptism — orient us toward being able to find our way (even if we have been detoured) toward the good, and then toward the light of All Goodness. I do understand the concern that people will take this incorrectly, and call evil good or slip into relativism. But again and again we’re seeing a stripping down to fundamentals in what Francis is saying.

Pope Francis says he is no mystic, but I think he is, and people have to come to grips with mystics. Mystics think this way. They walk and live this way. We get the pope we need. Benedict, bless him, was a catechist when we needed a catechist. Now, as the world seems to make less and less sense and the veils seem to be thinning, perhaps we are in need of a mystic. Mystics have an economic way of teaching; they jump right to the soul, when the soul is willing.

It bears repeating: this Pontiff is continuing a lesson in trust that was begun the moment his predecessor announced his resignation. There is a sense that both Benedict XVI, and now Francis, are quite comfortable tossing everything into the path of the Holy Spirit — and seemingly taking great risks with their words or their actions — and trusting that the Holy Spirit will see it all to rights.

That we need these lessons modeled for us so starkly suggests to me that we are being made fit for something. Perhaps they are only trying to teach us to trust even in what can seem like a benign day-to-day, but I wonder if we are not being prepared for a time when we will, as Catholic Christians, have to run on trust, alone.

These weekly meltdowns people are having over every word Francis utters, seem to me to be the product of having spent too much time (these past couple of decades) giving primacy to our emotions over ordinary reasoning and feelings over a little critical thinking. We’ve become a culture unable to really hear, really listen — our feelings are churning always, and much to the fore, and we’re trained to honor those feelings and let them out, let them out, let them out and then wallow in them. It’s not good for us. It keeps us forever reacting instead of responding. It keeps us easily diverted, unfocused, constantly looking for consolation, reassurance and parenting when in fact it may be time for us to climb out of the abyss of suffocating sentiment and gird our loins a bit. Our spiritual big boy and big girl pants may need putting on.

It is important — in fact necessary — to be confident that the Holy Father is representing our faith and teaching it well. We should be looking at what he is saying. But there is scrutiny and then there is scrupulousness, and sometimes it seems to me that people are bordering on scupulousness, unwilling to allow the movement of the Holy Spirit to speak to and pierce any soul whose understanding is not their own.

Perhaps we need to examine ourselves in all of our reactions. Perhaps we’re supposed to be discerning just how woeful we are in trust — how little we actually do trust the Holy Spirit — and how much we depend upon others to be the church (and define the church) to the world on our behalf — when in the end that responsibility may rest upon our shoulders (or may be about to fall onto our shoulders) in ways we cannot even imagine right now.

Suppose all communication is wiped out due to grid failures and solar blips — or because tyranny has descended upon us with a jackboot of suppression (or at least severe marginalization) — then you and I may have nothing to go on but faith in God, and in his Savior and in the Advocate, and in each other. We’ll do a lousy job of things if we have no developed interior habit of trust, or if we cannot let go of all the ideas that have kept us cocooned and comfortable in our Catholicism.

Ponder it. Ponder Will Duquettes words about being made fit to bear fruit. We are being made fit for something. Here is more from Sister Anne:

Here’s another whopper: “The Son of God became incarnate in the souls of men to instill the feeling of brotherhood.” Um, the Son of God did not become incarnate in souls. He became incarnate in human nature, in his own human flesh and blood. The Italian is “Il Figlio di Dio si è incarnato per infondere nell’anima degli uomini il sentimento della fratellanza”: “The Son of God became incarnate to infuse into the soul of men [could say “the human soul”] the feeling of brotherhood.”

Sister Anne suggests taking the rest of the interview with a grain of salt before a better translation is available. I concur.

Thankfully, there is another translation — a “work in progress” — coming together over at In Caelo et in Terra blog, where Mark de Vries is putting a good Dutch translation from Father Roderick into English.

One of the first complaints I read this morning was echoed by, among others, the Crescat, taking exception to the idea that young people out of work and the lonely elderly were the greatest evils:

. . .that right there leaves me speechless. Unemployed young people and lonely elderly are the worst most serious evil that afflict the world?!“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not be lonely and have a job.” [Narcissus 3:16]: “young people out of work and lonely elderly? THAT’S the greatest evil?

Here is’ Mark’s take on it. It’s quite a bit more nuanced:

“Young people without work, one of the evil of the world”

Mark’s translation: Pope Francis tells me: “The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. The old need care and companionship; the young need work and hope but have neither one nor the other, and the worst is that they don’t even look for them any more. They are being crushed by the present. You tell me: can you live when you are being crushed by the present? Without a memory of the past and without the will to go forward into the future to build something, a future, a family? Can you go on like this? This, I think, is the most urgent problem that the Church is facing.”

What the Pope is describing here is such a terrible isolation as to be almost dehumanizing. And the root of all sin is that it dehumanizes us. And so yes, he is right, these are among our great evils. At some level, the Thingification of Human Beings is the root of all sin. The evil is of a piece.

Your Holiness, people will say that this is largely a political and economic problem for states, governments, political parties and trade unions.

“Of course, you are right, but it also concerns the Church, in fact, particularly the Church because this situation does not hurt only bodies but also souls. The Church must feel responsible for both souls and bodies.”

I would suggest you check back at this site for more translation, and with Sister Anne, too.

Think about this, please: these are conversations, not encyclicals, not ex cathedra pronouncements. We’re being essentially allowed to listen in on a conversation between a pope and an atheist. He’s getting a secular paper to give us a primer on evangelization and ummm…yes, he’s proselytizing. I think portions of the conversation that seem like worrisome Pelagianism or “hippie talk” to some, is the pope trying to demonstrate that he hears Scalfari, has been exposed to those ideas and therefore understands what has formed him.

That’s a first step to being an effective evangelist. Be with people where they are. John Paul II said as much when he told his priests, “you have to deal with the world as it is.” Or, as Mary Eberstadt put it:

He’s suggesting that believers work with the facts on the ground and find creative ways of planting the same eternal seeds in damaged soil.

Every word in a conversation is not meant to be parsed for perfection; if you are sitting at a table and listening, you get it. And we’re watching a man get atheist newsfolk to give us a primer on how to talk to atheists. Have a little patience with the pope and with the Holy Spirit. We deserve excellent translations, yes, but sometimes those are slow coming. They deserve a little patience from us.

And everyone. . .calm the heck down, already. It must be exhausting to have to find energy every day to be enraged, concerned, anxious or offended. As my Auntie Lillie, a taciturn vulgarian who nevertheless got a lot of it right, would say: Lighten up. You’ll be dead a long time. Even longer if you’re going to be a perpetual pisspot while you’re here.

Please check out our Catholic Channel landing page,
where many of the bloggers are writing about this latest interview, and some are not happy, and some are. Several of them have written several posts, so that tells you just how energized everyone is! This pope is killing me. :-)

Dr. Gerard Nadal,
who is pretty darned conservative, speaks up for Peter and also asks for deep breaths:

For many traditionalists, it is the frightful spectre of a Jesuit pope ascending the throne of Peter just in time to undo all of the damage control and growth wrought by John Paul and Benedict in the wake of Vatican II. Now, many fear, we stand to lose all that has been set aright. In this, many speak openly and disparigingly of the new pope, contempt dripping in a manner not unlike the leftists in their assessment of John Paul and Benedict.

Right or left, orthodox or progressive, it is all a manifestation of the same underlying spiritual illness…


Are we only to submit to papal authority when the mood, or mode suits us? Do we place stylistic predilection over our duty to respect and obedience to legitimate episcopal and papal authority? Is our faith on the orthodox side of the aisle so fragile that we get a case of the vapors at the least departure from our preferred norm? To be certain, this pope is dangerous. His style is that of…


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