Monday, June 29, 2015

Let's Talk a Bit About the Pope's New Encyclical.......

But not about what you may think.  I am happy to post this fascinating report from reader Chris, who examined the translations used throughout Laudato Si.  Thanks for this!  I know that you all will be fascinated by this.

As a Catholic, I offer my thanks to the Holy father for issuing Laudato si’ as a gift to the human family. He reminds us of moral impact of “throwaway culture,” that in using and reducing the material world to rubbish, we do so as well to the human beings with whom we share it.

As a former United Methodist seminarian and a Bible geek, however, it wasn’t just his stance on climate change and creation I wanted to dive into. I was also curious to see which Bible translation the official English text selected for the Pope’s Biblical citations. Though I count myself among the few who actually admire the balanced artistry to the NABRE Old Testament, I do wish the English-speaking Catholic world would settle together on a common translation from the original languages. The closest we are likely to get to an official Vatican English Bible is to pay attention to the source text chosen by the Pope’s translation team..

From paragraph 65 (II. The Wisdom of the Biblical Accounts) to paragraph 77 (III. The Mystery of the Universe), the Holy Father cites the Old Testament 24 times, including passages of short and medium length.

So, what Bible does the Holy Father use? Apparently, any Bible he likes!

Encyclical
Pope
Year
Quote
Reference
Translation
Laudato si
Francis
2015
God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good
Gen 1:31
RSV
Laudato si
Francis
2015
have dominion
Gen 1:28
RSV
NRSV
NABRE
Laudato si
Francis
2015
till it and keep it
Gen 2:15
RSV
NRSV
Laudato si
Francis
2015
The earth is the Lord’s
Ps 24:1
RSV
NRSV
NABRE
Laudato si
Francis
2015
the earth with all that is within it
Dt 10:14

Laudato si
Francis
2015
The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me
Lev 25:23
RSV
Laudato si
Francis
2015
he commanded and they were created; and he established them for ever and ever; he fixed their bounds and he set a law which cannot pass away
Ps 148:5b-6

Laudato si
Francis
2015
You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and withhold your help… If you chance to come upon a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting upon the young or upon the eggs; you shall not take the mother with the young
Dt 22:4, 6
RSV-2CE
Laudato si
Francis
2015
that your ox and your donkey may have rest
Ex 23:12
RSV-2CE
NABRE
Laudato si
Francis
2015
the Lord rejoices in all his works
Ps 104:31

Laudato si
Francis
2015
the Lord by wisdom founded the earth
Prov 3:19
RSV
NRSV
NABRE
Laudato si
Francis
2015
What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground
Gen 4:9-11
RSV
ESV
Laudato si
Francis
2015
I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them
Gen 6:13
RSV
ESV
Laudato si
Francis
2015
the wickedness of man was great in the earth
Gen 6:5
RSV
ESV
Laudato si
Francis
2015
was sorry that he had made man on the earth
Gen 6:6
RSV
Laudato si
Francis
2015
liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants
Lev 25:10

Laudato si
Francis
2015
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very border, neither shall you gather the gleanings after the harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner
Lev 19:9-10

Laudato si
Francis
2015
who spread out the earth on the waters, for his steadfast love endures for ever
Ps 136:6
RSV
Laudato si
Francis
2015
Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created
Ps 148:3-5
RSV
NRSV
ESV
Laudato si
Francis
2015
Ah Lord God! It is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you… You brought your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders
Jer 32:17, 21
NRSV
ESV
Laudato si
Francis
2015
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless
Is 40:28b-29
NRSV
Laudato si
Francis
2015
Great and wonderful are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways!
Rev 15:3
RSV-2CE
Laudato si
Francis
2015
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made
Ps 33:6
RSV
NRSV
ESV
Laudato si
Francis
2015
For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made; for you would not have made anything if you had hated it
Wis 11:24
NRSV

The RSV holding strong
Using BibleGateway to look up and compare each citation across translations, I expected to see a clear preference toward either the NRSV or the RSV. For the most part, that’s what I found.

Typically, where the English text presents a Biblical citation in language from the RSV, the NRSV language is often identical, leading me to believe that the default translation must be the RSV. Moreover, where an RSV quote differs from the the NRSV, the encyclical does skew toward the RSV. For instance, the English text of Laudato si’ renders Leviticus 25:3:

The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me.

This is clearly a lift from RSV, and it is markedly different from its analogue in the NRSV (“with me you are but aliens and tenants”).

Not so fast...
However, reading further, I was surprised to see that the translation doesn’t seem to adhere strictly to any one version. In at least two instances, the Pope’s English translators opted for the NRSV over the RSV.
  • Jeremiah 32:17 lacks the RSV’s archaic pronouns, and renders it “Ah Lord God! It is you who made the heavens and the earth…”  
  • Isaiah 40:28b-29 is identical in the RSV and NRSV, until the very last phrase. “He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless” gives it away as a quote from the  NRSV. The RSV opts instead for: “and to him who has no might he increases strength.”

So the Vatican opted for the NRSV as readily as it did the RSV. In fact, the former passage is rendered identically in the ESV, but it seems unlikely that the translators chose it as their base translation, since (so far as I know) there is no full ESV version that has been approved for Catholic use.

With a very special guest star
It gets interesting, as soon as the Holy father starts mentioning livestock. Two passages really stood out for their use of the modern “donkey” instead of the RSV’s more traditional “ass” (Ex 23:12, Deut 22:4, 6). I was surprised to see that neither instance was quoting the NRSV.

You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and withhold your help… If you chance to come upon a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting upon the young or upon the eggs; you shall not take the mother with the young. (Deut 22:4, 6)

Amazingly, the source of this citation is none other than the RSV-2CE!

The shorter that your ox and your donkey may have rest” (Ex 23:12) also aligns with the NABRE, as do a few other isolated phrases. This seems to be a function of the brevity of the quote where it doesn’t conflict with a similar translation choice in the RSV / NRSV counterparts, so I’m confident saying that the NABRE isn’t actually represented here.

The English translators also opt for the RSV-2CE when they render Rev 15:3

Great and wonderful are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways!

Says who?
Then there is a large portion of the citations that simply diverge from any text I could find. These usually start out like the RSV / NRSV, and then add or drop modifier or helping verb. I suspect these are either wholly original translations, glosses pulled from lectionaries, or simply the RSV “cleaned up” by the Vatican translators! Only here does:

  • Lev 19:9-10 refer to “your” harvest (the RSV is rendered identically, except for “the” harvest)
  • Deut 10:14 use “within” (i.e. “the earth and all that is within it”)
  • Psalm 148:6 end “he set a law which cannot pass away”

And the winner is
Surprisingly, the RSV-2CE seems to be one of the main two English texts quoted by the Pope’s translators, supplemented by the NRSV. At first glance, that may seem like a stretch. After all, most of the quotations aren’t different between the first and second catholic editions.

It dawned on me after reviewing these citations, though, that although the RSV is quoted extensively (and possibly adapted when convenient), the only indication we have of one edition over another is specifically when the RSV-2CE is quoted to avoid an archaism. Since the RSV-2CE is cited at all, it is likely the source of all the RSV quotes throughout, both those it shares in common with the original 1966 edition, and those unique to itself.

In other words, the Vatican team now seems to be translating with the RSV-2CE in one hand and the NRSV in the other as back-up, freely supplementing with their own edits as needed! This is both exciting and frustrating if, like me, you are frustrated by the confusing status of the RSV-2CE’s imprimatur. Perhaps someone with a print edition of the encyclical can see if the permissions page specifies the sources of its Biblical citations?  

18 comments:

Tom said...

Wow. Knock me over with a feather. I'd have bet large sums of money RSV-2CE wasn't used in translation whatsoever. Very interesting.

Anonymous said...

As you said Timothy, absolutely fascinating.
Thanks to reader Chris for the analysis.
EC.

Steve Molitor said...

Woah, yeah fascinating! Great detective work Timothy!

I would like to know who the English translators are.

Steve

CarlHernz said...

As I have mentioned before, the last five encyclicals released do not employ any English version.

If you went and compared all these encyclicals, as well as several other documents from the Vatican, the quotes from Scripture are often directly from the Latin. Unlike what happens in Liturgy (where an English version is substituted for a direct translation of the Neo-Vulgate unless a stark contrast exists), these documents which generally quote from the Latin get translated directly into English. They DO NOT use an English version in this process, and it has been an "urban legend" that the RSVce (especially the 2nd edition) has been employed. Nothing of the sort has happened.

And these verses from Scripture don't get rendered in any standardized manner. The same verse can get translated slightly different in one encyclical verse from what you will find in another, not to mention a little different in the very same encyclical if the verse gets used more than once.

After a similar comparison I made when Pope Emeritus Benedict released his encyclicals, I believe in some cases verses are rendered from memory (and not directly from any particular version), sometimes from a version from another language (i.e., German, Italian), and other times from the Latin. It does appear in a couple documents from the Pontifical Biblical scholars that the NRSV in its anglicanized version is employed in its English version documents, with a slight change in a few places. The reason I say this is that several of the NRSV translations are highly unique and would not be the automatic choice in a translation from Latin. Outside of this what you are often reading in an encyclical is a translation of the Latin as that version has its own particular earmarks that come through when you reading it in the vernacular.

Steve Molitor said...

Hi Timothy it might make your point more clear if you changed the chart to list the RSV-2CE along with the RSV in the translation column when the two are identical.

Steve

rolf said...

Years back, I remember looking at a portion of the Catechism to see how they used the RSV and NRSV in their translation into English, and it seemed to be the same thing that is going on here. There was no RSV-2CE at the time, so it appeared that they would use the RSV until it used archaic language then they would switch to the NRSV. If the NRSV was using inclusive language in that same verse, then it appeared that the Vatican would intertwine the two and come out with a hybrid that had neither archaic (thees and thous especially) nor inclusive language. This was just the impression I got while studying some of the Scripture quotes in the CCC, not a thorough analysis!
I had always felt that if the RSV-2CE had been released prior to the CCC in English be published, that they would have used that translation. After all (according to Fr. Fessio) most of the changes made to the RSV-CE to allow it to be used in the Catholic Lectionary (resulting in the current RSV-2CE) were made at the request of the Vatican.

Timothy said...

Please keep in mind this great post is a guest post by Chris, who is a reader of this blog. 😀

Christopher Buckley said...

Thanks all. Carl may be right: all the verses could be original translations of the Latin standard text of the encyclical, or quoted from memory.

That certainly seems to be the case in a few of the renderings, as I stated.

However, that doesn't explain how and why most quotes hew so closely to specific existing Bible translations. It seems like far more of a leap to reason that the English translators of the Latin source text happen to freely translate a Bible verse in a way that precisely mirrors one of two modern translations.

Especially if those translators were swapping in verses from memory, one might assume the Jerusalem Bible to at least be represented, since most European translators on the team would have heard that more often than the NRSV!

While I agree, no programmatic standard text strategy seems to be at work here, it seems to me far more likely that, when translating, the team did grab one or two nearby Bibles to look the verse up before inserting it. Hence the similarities to existing texts.

Again, none of this proves anything. Just making reasoned theories out of observed patterns.

Timothy said...

Might we say, with considerations already mentioned about the Latin by the comments, that the official documents are going to seek out a more formal translation like the RSV/NRSV?

Timothy said...

Let me rephrase that question: In light of the Latin, may those involved in the English translation of this document, and others, find that the RSV/NRSV heritage is preferable as opposed to something from the the other two major English Catholic translations, the JB/NJB and NAB(RE)?

CarlHernz said...

First, kudos to Chris. This was definitely some very good in-depth work you've provided us with, and a wonderful article altogether. Thank you so much!

Tim has a very good point. In all the verses I have checked in my encyclicals, I also have found that a tradition closer to the RSV heritage has always been preferred over the JB and NAB versions. This is why I think most have concluded that the RSV was being quoted.

When it comes to translating from the original language, I too tend to sound like the RSV or NRSV, and come to think of it when it comes to the Old Testament, Jewish folks I know tend to do the same--even without coming from a tradition that has a familiarity with it! That says a lot, me thinks! (The JPS Tanakh itself is closer to the RSV than to the JB or NAB too, and it was done from scratch, not dependent on any previous English version.)

While one might say that the translators of encyclicals into English are just more familiar with the RSV tradition (and this is likely as it has been around longer and more accessible worldwide), I think it speaks for the scholarship of the RSV and NRSV too. The NAB(RE) does a marvelous job of capturing the essence of the Hebrew better with greater fine accuracy in many places, but it isn't an easy read and sometimes unnecessarily technical. And the Greek of the NAB reads like the RSV/NRSV in many places (Romans is practically a mirror copy in some places).

What we are seeing in the encyclicals may not be a total favoring of one version over another as much as it is the reality that when you render from Hebrew, Greek (or Latin for that matter) the majority of folks tend to sound like the RSV tradition regardless.

Christopher Buckley said...

I would think so. The JB is certainly a dynamic translation (that said, I do really like it's diction throughout the pastoral letters). The RSV and its descendants at least cling a bit closer to the underlying source text, in terms of capturing phrasing and word order. This is the significant desk Bible of academics of that generation.

The NABRE's new OT is, I think, a very close second. I believe the preface when it says that, in many ways, it is a more literal translation than the original NAB OT. I think it does a fine job balancing the pace and patter of the source language, while smoothing out nouns, verbs, and especially pronouns for modern readers. I only hope the NABRE NT revision project meets the same same standard.

By the way, has anyone else noticed that the CBA's NT revision microsite has been unexplainedly down for over a month?

http://catholicbiblical.org/news-archives/nabnt-revision

Anyone been in contact with the any of the translation board about why that is? Last time I visited it (January or February, maybe?) they had outlined their intentions for the translation process, included a news release, and gave some estimated completion dates.

Now that's all gone, and I wonder what that means.

Anyway, thanks for taking my guest post.

David Garcia said...

Ok I don't wanna be the buzzkill here but we basically have six catholic translations to choose from (DR, Rsv/2, nrsv, nabre, and jb) and three or four of them were used in the translation of the encyclical. So what is the point?

CarlHernz said...

I think the point is not that the encyclical translators are using various Catholic editions when preparing them for Englsih readers, but that it is quite possible we are looking at ad hoc renditions. Note in the chart that there are three texts in this current encyclical which do not match any rendition found in an Englsih version, and that those that do often contain variations. I found the same thing in the past five, including numbering of certain verses and citations that sent me on goose chases until I looked them up in the Latin.

There are even examples in the past several encyclicals by Pope Emeritus Benedict that quote the same scripture but in different words. It appears the translators get the text in Latin and then translate them into English without attempting to get their words to match any particular version. This would not be e case if they were translating them and substituting the Biblical quotes with the wording from a particular version. The quotes would always be the same in the latter paradigm.

The lack of uniformity suggests ad hoc renditions, and this would make sense in light of how quickly these documents must be made available. But such a conclusion is only a hypothesis as it is still possible they are checking their renderings with various versions first before settling on the result (but that would be painfully slow and cumbersome). The only thing we can be sure about is that uniformity is not a priority for the Holy See when it comes to rendering encyclicals into English.

Marin Spokane said...

First question: Is the English version of LS a translation from a Latin text or an Italian text? My understanding is that the original text is in Italian and all the vernacular translations, as well as the official Latin version, are being made from that version. So, that being the case, are the scripture verses in the LS master text in Latin or Italian? Since Francis is not a trained Bible scholar or biblical theologian (I haven't read anywhere that he can read the biblical languages, for example), I assume that he was using either a Spanish or Italian version of Bible when he was composing his Italian draft, which then got polished by curial officials into the final, master Italian text.

Second question: how similar do the standard Catholic versions in Italian or Spanish compare with the RSV tradition of translations?

Francesco said...

Is it safe to assume that the original of Laudato Si' is Latin? The Vatican website has it in Arabic, German, English Spanish, French, Italian, Polish, and Portuguese, but not Latin.

My guess is that a key factor may be that there are multiple people translating encyclicals in sections and each translator gets some leeway in which translation they use for scripture quotes.

CarlHernz said...

It appears this encyclical was not composed in Latin but that its primary version was Italian. The CEI may have been the version used in this case, and this is what we are seeing in the text, namely an ad hoc rendering of the CEI into English. But this is just an educated guess.

Ed Rio said...

Very interesting! Thanks Chris for the work you did on this.