|Msgr. Michael J.Wrenn is the author of Catechisms and
Controversies (Ignatius Press, 1991), and the translator of ten
books from the French. Kenneth D. Whitehead is the author of Catholic Colleges and Federal Funding (Ignatius Press,
1988), and the translator of eighteen books from French, German, and
Italian, of which ten are from the French.
On December 10, 1992, Pope John Paul II officially promulgated the
new Catechism of the Catholic Church, the first "universal"
Catholic Catechism in over 400 years. Seven years in preparation by a
drafting committee composed of bishops from various parts of the world,
the new Catechism was presented to the world by the holy father in a
moving ceremony in Rome in which he called it "a sure and certain
standard for the teaching of the faith."
The Catechism had already attracted considerable attention in the
course of its preparation. Following its promulgation, it quickly
became, in the United States at any rate, one of the most popular of all
themes for articles, speeches, conferences, symposia, and the like, and
the months following its promulgation saw a steady stream of expositions
and explanations and appreciations of the new Catechism. Few
ecclesiastical subjects have attracted more attention over the past
years or so, as a matter of fact, than this particular document. One
anomaly, however, considering all the attention steadily being focussed
upon it, has been that as week followed week and month followed month
after its promulgation, there hasn't really been any
That's right. The official text of the Catechisms has not been
available in English. Nor, as of the time of this writing, is it yet
known when an English version will be available. All of those who have
written or spoken about it have had to work from the French text, which
was the official text promulgated by the holy father. The document was
originally written in French, apparently, because that proved to be the
best common medium for the bishops form various countries who were
writing it. It was expected that translations into all the major
languages would quickly follow the publication of the French text, and
this has proved to be the case for such languages as German, Italian,
and Spanish. A common English version for the whole English-speaking
world was known to be in preparation as well.
By the summer of 1993, however, no English translation had yet made
its appearance, prompting the American bishops themselves to urge Rome
to approve and English translation expeditiously. But it seemed that
Rome was not to be hurried in the matter. Although public indications
were sparse, several news stories did appear, confirming rumors that the
English translation was being held up in the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith, no less.
Considering all the fanfare and ballyhoo which had accompanied the
preparation and promulgation of the Catechism worldwide, its continued
non-appearance in English could not help creating something of an
anti-climax, if not constituting an embarrassment. In some quarters, the
continuing delay even gave rise to the expression of various
"anti-Roman" sentiments, since the CDF was neither releasing
the translation now known to exist, nor was it issuing statements or
calling press conferences, American style, to explain what the hold-up
was all about. The whole affair could thus be viewed as one more example
of Rome adopting the stance of "never apologize, never
explain," meanwhile leaving everybody hanging.
The writers of this article have both been professionally engaged,
among other pursuits, in translating books on Catholic subjects from
French into English. Both of us have also long since had the occasion to
go over the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church in French. As a
result of our perusal and study of this document, we are entirely in
agreement with Pope John Paul that this new Catechism is "a
precious, splendid, profound, and timely gift for all." We yield to
none in our eagerness to see this magnificent document made available in
English and, especially, made the new basis of the teaching of religion
in Catholic religious instruction at all levels in this country.
However, we have now also been in a position to read and study the
translation of the Catechism that was made for English-speaking
Catholics the one still being held up by the CDF in Rome as we write.
Regretfully, we have not been reassured by what we have found in this
Speaking primarily as translators although also as educators,
another pursuit in which we have both long been professionally involved we are obliged to judge this translation to be a very bad one. If
this translation had been successfully foisted off on the
English-speaking world as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in the
form in which we have studied it and in which apparently it went to the
CDF for approval, we believe it would actually have brought discredit
upon the whole catechism enterprise, to the detriment of the faith and
In our opinion, the CDF will be seen to have performed an outstanding
service for the Church by insisting upon holding this translation up.
The text of it is in very serious need of correction on not a few points and many not unimportant ones. Whatever the embarrassment flowing
from the long delay, the embarrassment of coming out with an English
version of the Catechism reflecting so imperfectly the text which the
holy father actually approved would have been a very much greater
embarrassment. The principal aim of the present article is to bring this
Without pretending to be able to deal comprehensively with the
translation and its defects within the compass of a single article, we
believe that the publication of at least some varied and salient
examples of just where and how the translation falls short can and will
contribute to greater public understanding and acceptance of what has
already proved to be a very long delay in bringing out a usable and
acceptable English version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church; but
it is a delay that will prove to have been justified if the appropriate
corrections and revisions are made.
Dozens and even hundreds of other examples of errors in the
translation could be cited than the ones we are going to cite in this
article. Many of them individually, no doubt represent small points.
Nevertheless some of them do not represent small points; and
cumulatively, they do all add up dismayingly, in fact. Besides, why
not get the thing right? It is not an impossible task; and
English-speaking Catholics deserve no less.
In the translation which went to the CDF for approval, then, we have
found numerous cases where words and phrases have simply not been
translated correctly. There are other cases where the
English version is evidently not complete; things that were found in
the French are not found in the English. There are other cases where
things have been added into the English version, apparently on the
translator's sole authority. In yet other cases, these translation
problems turn out to be no mere translation problems; they possess
theological and doctrinal significance as well, sometimes major
Finally, there is in this translation what turns out to be the simply
enormous problem of the so-called "inclusive language" that
was unfortunately used in it. Inclusive language is the contemporary
term used to describe the avoidance of using "man" or
"men," or "he" or "him," when what is
meant is "mankind, "everybody," "people in
general," "both men and women," "the human
race," and so on. Ideological feminists today claim that women are
not "included" if "man" or "he" is used in
a generic sense; hence language must now be used which, in their view,
does "include" them. No longer can we affirm, for instance,
that "all men are brothers"; apparently we now have to say
that "all men and women are brothers and sisters" but then
what about children, who are neither men nor women? Are they left out
when contemporary "inclusive language" is used?
This contemporary "inclusive language" is believed by some
to be necessary today in spite of the fact that the English language and
its Anglo-Saxon ancestor have been using "man" and
"he" and the like in a generic sense for well over a thousand
years; but that, apparently, does not cut any ice, either with today's
ideological feminists or with those fellow travelers of theirs who
imagine that these feminists somehow "represent" women and
constitute the wave of the future, when everybody will presumably always
naturally and automatically say "he and she," "him and
The Funk and Wagnells Standard English Dictionary,
published in 1967, defines "man" as: 1) a member of the genus
Homo; 2) the human race; 3) anyone, indefinitely; and 4) an adult
male, as distinguished from a woman or a boy. Today's radical feminist
claim amounts to saying that this last definition of "man,"
given only in the fourth place in a standard, recent English dictionary,
is the only valid definition. As late as 1986, Webster's new
World Dictionary was still defining "man" as 1) a
human being; 2) the human race and
in the third place this time 3)
an adult male human being. Thus "man," as the English language
has always viewed him and still does view him, already includes
"woman" when used in specific contexts and the meanings,
according to these contexts, are always perfectly understandable by
everybody, by the way.
Unfortunately, however, under modern ideological feminist influence,
some dictionaries such as The Random House College
Dictionary, published in 1985, have now taken to listing the
definition of "man" as "an adult male human being"
as the first definition enumerated. But this represents a major,
unprecedented novelty. Nor is it necessarily something that is going to
last. Moreover, even such dictionaries as the Random House one are
nevertheless obliged to list the other definitions of "man" as
legitimate too while the call for "inclusive language"
implies, precisely, that these other usages of the word "man"
are not legitimate; otherwise why is it necessary to switch? The
dictionaries could scarcely omit these other meanings, however, since
these other meanings do reflect the way English continues to be used,
regardless of the preferences of the ideological feminists
defying reality, thus refuse to recognize as legitimate the majority
of those uses of the word "man" which every dictionary
necessarily does continue to recognize.
Now the problem, for our present purposes, is that French, like
English, uses "l'homme," "man," in the same generic
way that English does, and the official version of the Catechism of the
Catholic Church is therefore replete with many hundreds of cases,
beginning with the very first numbered paragraph of the document, in
which "man" is used precisely in the way that stirs up
ideological feminist ire: for the text of this first paragraph of the
Catechism declares that "God...freely created man" ("l'homme") which the English translation under consideration here renders
"God...freely created the human race." This same first
paragraph goes on to affirm that God is "close to man." The
translation gives this as "close to us." The passage goes on
to affirm that "He gathers all men" (tous les hommes)
which, as anyone can guess by now, the translation then renders as
"God gathers the human race" (note not "He" but
Thus does it appear that the translator, apparently acting in
response to the ideological feminist imperative certainly no
principle of translation would ever justify it has laboriously and
relentlessly gone through the entire text of the Catechism of the
Catholic Church changing "men" to "people" or
"humanity" or something of the sort and adding
"sister" wherever "brother" happens to appear and
ever repeating the nouns "God" or "Christ" in order
to avoid using "He" or "Him" for them as much as
possible everywhere that such changes are thought to be necessary.
When the Catechism teaches (402) that "all men are implicated in
Adam's sin," this becomes, in this translation, "all humanity
is implicated in Adam's sin." Later, in the same paragraph,
"all men" becomes "all people." In Paragraph 543,
exactly the same French expression, tousleshommes, becomes
"everyone." And so on.
This kind of alteration aimed at adding "inclusive
language" into the text of the Catechism was apparently believed
necessary by the translator even in the case of many of the passages
quoted from papal and conciliar documents, from the Fathers of the
church, and even from Scripture itself; such a proceeding goes far
beyond what could ever be justified as "translation"; rather,
it is an ideological statement.
Nor are the results happy. The text generally ranges from banal
through awkward to jarring. Sometimes the results are downright
deplorable; other times they are merely absurd. Occasionally the almost
maniacal concern which is evident to avoid generic language at all costs
can lead to actual distortions and misstatements of Christian revelation
and essential Catholic doctrine.
The upshot of all this is that, in the case of this translation,
"the Catholic faith that comes to us from the apostles," finds
itself joined in a rather crude and uneasy me'salliance with a brand
of feminist ideology that comes to us from the American
"sixties." Such an outcome would seem to be a terribly high
price to have to pay, apparently in order to attempt to appease a school
of contemporary ideological feminist thought, which, for the most part,
is bitterly anti-Catholic and hence unappeasable anyway. It is hard to
imagine how anyone not blinded by this reigning feminist ideology could
ever consider this translation as suitable for the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The CDF should thus clearly not be blamed for holding up this
particular translation; the CDF is only doing its plain duty in this
instance. Responsibility for the delay belongs rather to those who ever
presumed to put forward such a translation as this as anything that
could possibly be acceptable for English-speaking Catholics.
There are many words and phrases in the translation which are not
correctly translated. "La plus pure" does not mean
"supreme" in English, as this text translates it (64); it
means "the purest" or "the most pure ." A "diffe'rend"
in French does not mean "difference" (247) but a "point
of disagreement." Nor does "sollicitude" in French mean
"supervision" (303), but rather the same thing that its
cognate means in English. The French verb "se de'voyer"
basically means "to go astray"; to translate it as in the text
(311) as "to become corrupted" is much too strong for the
normal usage of this word. French "services," again meaning
roughly the same thing as its cognate word in English, is unaccountably
translated "ministries" in Paragraph 794, while in Paragraph
1509, "ministry" is the English word used to translate the
French "charge" (meaning being made responsible for
something). "Schismes," which means exactly the same thing in
French as it does in English, is blandly translated
"divisions" (1206); "symbole" is wrongly translated
as "emblem" instead of "symbol" (1220). "Ope're'"
is translated as "achieved" instead of "effected" in
Paragraph 1221, while "achieved" in Paragraph 1275 turns out
to stand for yet another word, "s'accomplit," which, again, is
not the proper rendering. "Signifier" does not mean "to
express" (1333) but "to signify."
In Paragraph 1532, "passage" to eternal life becomes "passover,"
which is simply ludicrous in English (although "passing over"
would no doubt be acceptable). "Offense'" is translated
"attacked" instead of "offended" (1469). "Cle'ment"
becomes "gentle" instead of "merciful" or
"clement" (2086). "Re'v`e le" does not mean
"portray" (2259); it means "reveal." Nor does "promesse"
mean "sign" (2347); it means "promise." In Paragraph
1334, "definitif" is translated as "conclusive,"
while in Paragraph 1340, the same word is translated as
"ultimate" when all the while the English cognate
"definitive" could and should have been used in both cases.
And "biens," "goods," most certainly does not mean
the same thing as "blessings" (2590).
Paragraph 2238 speaks of the Christian's "right and sometimes
[his] duty" as we are translating the French here "of
making a just protest against that which may appear harmful to the
dignity of persons and the good of the community"; in the
translation before us, however, the French "juste" in this
passage is translated "lawful," which could imply that the
kind of protests in question would not be legitimate if they were
"against the law"
not "lawful," in other words.
This kind of translation will not do in a society where abortion, for
example, now is "lawful" and regular protests against it
are both necessary and just. The translation however, rather strangely
seems to favor "lawful" in a number of cases where it does not
precisely fit. Paragraph 2778, for example, on the subject of
euthanasia, speaks of "les inte'rets le'gitimes," "the
legitimate interests," of the patient; and again, the translation
renders this as "lawful interests" which will presumably
then no longer obtain as soon as euthanasia is made "lawful,"
as it has apparently already partially been made so in the Netherlands.
"Legitimate interests" is clearly the proper translation here.
All these are examples of mistranslated words. Many other examples
could be cited. Many French expressions are likewise not rendered
correctly considering the context in which they appear. For example
"toujours acutuelle" does not mean "ever
appropriate," as it is translated in Paragraph 1351, but rather
"current," or "going on now." Similarly, "des
maintenant" does not simply mean "now," as in Paragraph
1404, but "from now on" or "henceforth." Nor does
"la pre'sentation des oblats" in any way mean "the
preparation of the altar," as it is translated in the text (1350);
apparently, in the context, it refers to the bringing up of the gifts.
Speaking of the Mass as both a sacrificial memorial and a sacred
banquet, Paragraph 1382 of the translation merely says "both"
leaving out the French "`a la fois et inse'parablement,"
"at once and inseparably."
Whole clauses or sentences are also sometimes wrongly or misleadingly
translated. In Paragraph 197, for example, it is stated that "the
whole Church...communicates the faith to us as the matrix of our
faith." Besides being almost nonsensical (how is it possible to
"communicate faith" as the "matrix" of itself?),
this reading fails to translate the French properly; the French says
"l'Eglise toute enti`ere...nous transmet la foi μ et au sein de
laquelle nous croyons." What this means is: "The whole
Church...transmits the faith to us, and in her bosom we believe."
(It is significant, by the way, that "communicate faith" is
preferred to "transmit the faith"; one can communicate
whatever one decides upon whereas one can only transmit what one has
Dealing with a similar subject, Paragraph 1253 informs us that
"of necessity, the faith of each believer participates in the
Church's faith." However, the French here says "ce n'est que
dans La foi de l'Eglise que chacun des fid`eles peut croire"; and
this means: "It is only in the faith of the Church that each
believer can believe."
In Paragraph 1350 we read that "in Christ's name the priest will
offer... the bread and wine in the Eucharistic sacrifice when they
have become his body and blood"
(emphasis added). This translation implies that the priest will offer
the bread and the wine only after they have somehow already become his
body and his blood. A more correct translation would be a more literal
one: "The bread and the wine...will be offered by the priest in the
name of Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice where they will become the
body and blood [of Christ]" (emphasis added again). The French
reads: "Le pain et le vin...seront offerts par le pr/e\tre au nom
du Christ dans le sacrifice eucharistique ou ils deviendront le corps et
le sang [du Christ]."
In paragraph 2009, the translation says that "as God's adopted
children, justified and given a share in the divine life by God's free
gift, we can truly merit." The French for this says something quite
different, however: "L'Adoption filiale, en nous rendant
participants par gr/a\ce `a la nature divine, peut nous confe'rer,
suivant la justice gratuite de Dieu, un ve'ritable me'rite." This
sentence would be much better translated by the following: "Filial
adoption, by making us participants through grace in the divine nature,
can confer on us, following God's justice freely accorded, a true
merit." Now it is simply not the same thing to say that we can
freely merit, which is what the translation says, instead of saying that
God can "confer...a true merit" on us by filial adoption,
which is what the original French text says.
Or, again, speaking of confirmation, Paragraph 1288 speaks, rather
weakly, of "the fulfillment of Christ's wish," whereas take
French text has "pour accomplir la volonte' du Christ," which
is to say, "to fulfill the will of Christ."
Paragraph 517 tells us that Christ's whole life is a mystery of
redemption [including] ..."in his Resurrection by which he
justifies us" "Dans sa Re'surrection par laquelle il nous
justifie." The translation of this clause, however, gives "in
his Resurrection because he justifies us," which could imply that
Christ's Resurrection is "mystery" only in that he justifies
us. Also, for those modern theologians who see the Resurrection not as
an actual historical occurrence but rather as some kind of a "faith
event, " the Resurrection would logically flow from the fact of our
justification. But, of course, it is precisely the other way around, as
the original French text makes abundantly clear.
We could go on. At length. Not a few of the passages in this English
translation are marked by inexactitude and imprecision. Admittedly some
of them do involve rather difficult texts which any translator might
have difficulty with; and many of them may concern only fine points.
Nevertheless the fact remains that there are far too many such
mistranslations in this text; on these grounds alone, it must be
considered to be wholly inadequately translated.
Moreover, some of the mistranslations can seem to be inexplicable,
even frivolous as if the translator was not paying close attention.
For example, in Paragraph 1446, there is a quotation from Tertullian
speaking about "the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck
which the loss of grace is" "la seconde planche [du salut]
apr`es le maufrage qu'est la perte de la gr/a\ce. In the translation
this passage becomes "as the shipwrecked grasp the support of a
plank," without any reference to the subject of grace at all, or
apparently any understanding that the word "plank" here really
means something like "the second item" relating to salvation.
Or, again, there is Paragraph 2125, quoting Vatican II's Gaudium
et Spes #19, which the Flannery translation of the Vatican II
documents renders, "Believers can have more than a little to do
with the rise of atheism"; the French for this is: "Les
croyants peuvent avoir une part qui n'est pas mince...dans la diffusion
de l'athe'isme." The text before us, however, translates this same
passage as "the rise of atheism is largely attributable to
believers" (emphasis added).
Finally, in Paragraph 484, our translation renderers Luke 1:32, quite
arbitrarily, it would seem, as: "how can this be since I am a
virgin?" Even though it is presumably not doctrinally wrong to have
Mary affirming her own virginity, it is not what the French original
says; nor is it what the Gospel of Luke says. They both say: "how
can this be since I do not man?" No translator can legitimately
take such liberties with a text, even if what he says happens to be
As already noted above, there are many instances in this English
translation of the Catechism of Catholic Church where things have either
been left out or have been added in. In this single article we can
supply only a few illustrative examples of these omissions and
additions; but there are plenty more where these came from for anyone
who wants to take the trouble of comparing the English translation with
the original French as we have done.
Omissions. One fairly regular omission appears to be the dropping,
even when quoting Church documents, of words like "sacred" in
expressions like "sacred council," or of words like
"Holy" and "mother" from the expression "Holy
Mother Church" (1203, 1667). The translator seems to have an
aversion to the idea of the Church as a "woman" or a
"mother," in fact; this would seem to be the necessary obverse
of the radical feminist demand for so-called "inclusive
language." Like the latter, it does not enhance the literary style
of the translation, though.
Other omissions include such things as Paragraph 425's omission of
"d'abord," "first of all," or "primarily,"
from the sentence declaring that "the transmission of the Christian
faith consists in proclaiming Jesus Christ"; for although the
transmission of the faith does consists in proclaiming Jesus Christ,
it does not consist only in that. Similarly, Paragraph 479 in the
translation omits "inseparably" from the statement that the
Church "confesses that Jesus is both true God and true man."
Paragraph 1205, quoting in part Vatican Council II's Constitution on
the Sacred Liturgy (#21), states that "the liturgy, above all, that
of the sacraments, 'is made up of immutable elements, divinely
instituted, and of elements subject to change'"; but he translation
omits here an important phrase in the French that "the Church is
the guardian of the liturgy." Paragraph 1174, speaking of
celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours "in the approved form,"
also leaves out the intelligence that this approval is something given
"by the Church."
Paragraph 1467, discussing the secrecy of the confessional, drops the
adjective "absolute." In Paragraph 1567, where it is stated
that priests owe their bishops "love and obedience," the word
"love" is dropped in the translation and the same sentence in
English instead reads "obedience and respect." In paragraph
2039, the translation arbitrarily drops the adjective
"fraternal" coming before "service" probably for
reasons that by now we should have no difficult guessing.
Paragraph 2366, quoting Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae (#12)
on the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative
meanings of conjugal intercourse leaves out the encyclical's important
statement that this teaching has "often been expounded by the
Magisterium of the Church." In fact, the translator would seem to
have a thing about "the Magisterium." On occasions too
numerous to enumerate, the translator regularly uses the phrase
"teaching authority" to translate the French "Magist`ere"
(e.g., 2036). Why not "Magisterium"? It is true that this word
means the "teaching authority" or "teaching
office" of the Church an "authority"" and an
"office" that have existed in the Church since Christ first
pronounced the words contained in Luke 10:16 addressed to his apostles.
But the word "Magisterium" has appropriately come into wide
use in relatively recent times in order to re-enforce the claim that the
Church does, precisely, teach truth (Cf. Vatican II, Dignitatis humanae
#14; Sacrosanctum concilium #16) as opposed, for example, to those
Christian communions who apparently hold that "truth" emerges
from the "private Judgment" of the believer reflecting on
Scripture or whatever; and, especially, in an era and in a culture that
strongly tend to deny that truth what the Church does objectively
teach can even be knowable at all. In any case, the language of the
Catechism, in the original, regularly reflects this established and
valid modern use of the word "Magisterium." So why not just
Additions. Paragraph 1313, indicating that the ordinary minister of
confirmation is the bishop, goes on to say that the bishop, "may,
for serious reasons, delegate to the priest the faculty of confirming children
baptized in infancy" the italicized phrase, again, has been added into the English without
any warrant in the French text to do so. Paragraph, 1371, speaking of
the faithful departed who have died in Christ, once again adds, without
any warrant, that these faithful departed "are therefore assured
of their eternal salvation."
In Paragraph 1069 concerning the liturgy, the text adds
"whole" before "the people of God" and in Paragraph
1071 it adds "effective" before "visible sign" for
no apparent reason in either case. In paragraph 1210, the word "chrismation"
is added as a synonym for "confirmation" although this is
surely a word most speakers of English have never even heard; nor is it
to be found in a couple of the standard desk dictionaries we consulted
at random. The text of Paragraph 2263, speaking of "legitimate
defense," adds "deliberate" before "murder,"
although murder is by definition deliberate; and the text of Paragraph
2278, speaking of medical procedures, adds "unnecessarily"
A systematic review of the text of the transition would reveal
numerous other additions of this same type. Again, some of them may well
involve minor matters. Nevertheless, their occurrence can only serve to
undermine confidence in the integrity of the whole translation both
the process and the product.
It should be apparent from a number of the examples already cited
that some of the mistranslations, omissions, and additions to be found
in the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church are
not without doctrinal significance. This is unhappily the case. In too
many instances it should of course be "in
where a "catechism" or simple compendium of the faith is
concerned this translation evidences a definite
parti pris with
regard to some of the theological controversies that have raged in the
Church over the past generation. This parti pris can surface even in
such seemingly small things as the title Constitution
Hie'rarchique to be found directly above Paragraph 874; the
translation gives Hierarchical Structure for this
particular title. But it happens to make a difference whether the
Church's sacred hierarchy is part of the Church's organic
"constitution," as the latter was originally established by
Christ himself, or not; or whether the hierarchy is just another one of
those hated church "structures" which we read about in The National Catholic Reporter and which the editors,
writers, and no doubt also the readers of that popular journal appear to
imagine could be swept away, perhaps any day now, on some new and
progressive wave of modern enlightenment.
Similarly, the language of the translation in such passages as the
lasts two sentences of Paragraph 1577, concerning who is able to receive
sacred ordination, can be of some doctrinal significance; the
translation here reads: "The Church considers itself bound by [the]
choice of the Lord. For this reason the ordination of women is not
possible." But this translation could imply that, since the whole
question is merely something that the Church "considers," then
the Church might well sometime equally be brought to "reconsider"
the question especially if feminist pressure in the matter continues to
be as effective as it has proved to be in apparently persuading some
that the Church needs "inclusive language" in the English
version of her universal Catechism. The French in this text says,
however, that "l'e'glise se reconnait lie'e," that is,
"the Church recognizes [the reality] that she is bound," and
that therefore, the implication of this retranslated text is, no change
in the matter is ever going to be possible.
Comparable loose wording is found in the translation of Paragraph
2382, where it is stated that "the Lord Jesus insisted upon the
original intention of the creator who willed that marriage should be
indissoluble" (emphasis added). The question immediately arises:
Maybe it should be, all right, but is it? Given one of the very common
meanings of the word "should" in English, this translation
might well be interpreted by some to mean that what the Creator willed
was merely the desirability of a marriage bond that is permanent and
unbreakable. However, the French in this sentence is very clear:
"Le Seigneur Je'sus a insiste' sur l'intention originelle du
Cre'ateur qui VOULAIT un mariage indissoluble"; that is "The
Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who willed marriage to be indissoluble" (emphasis added).
The translator also apparently has problems with both the word and
the essential theological idea of "the Fall." In Paragraph
410, the sentence, "After his fall, man was not abandoned by
God" ("Apr`es sa chute, l'homme n'a pas e'te' abandonne' par
Dieu"), comes out in the English translations: God did not forsake
our first parents after their sin" (emphasis added). In the
sentence following this one, "lifting [man] up from his fall"
("le rel`evement de sa chute") becomes, again, "removal
of their sin," that is, Adam and Eve's sin. Similarly, in
Paragraph 289, the triad "creation, fall, promise" ("cre'ation,
chute, promesse") once more becomes "creation, sin,
promise" (again emphasis added). In Paragraph 385, where the word
"fall" is used, it is placed, significantly, within
quotation marks (even then, it comes out as the "fall" of
"humanity," not of "man" this for "chute de
l'homme" in the French). Why this aversion to the very word
Consistently for this translation, the word "hell" is
another no- no, as so many fashionably dissenting theologians have been
so quick to suggest in recent years. Whereas the French text, speaking
of the descent of Christ "aux enfers," that is, "into
hell," the translation prefers to speak of Christ descending
"to the dead" (e.g. 631, 634). In Paragraph 633, where the
word "hell" is found in the English version, it is placed
between quotation marks. In Paragraph 634, where the French text
actually does use the expression "se'jour des morts,"
"abode of the dead, " the translation again gives, invariably,
"to the dead." (After awhile, the question inevitably does
arise of what kind games the translator thinks he is playing with these
kids of variations).
More serious yet is the way the whole notion of sin is treated in
this translation. Although the Catechism of the Catholic Church
carefully delineates the Church's traditional understanding of mortal
and venial sin (1854-1864), the translation nevertheless succeeds in
rather thoroughly obfuscating that distinction just as it thoroughly
obfuscates the distinction between "grave" and
"light" matter in moral matters. Generally, it tries to avoid
using the term "light" entirely, substituting "not
grave" for it (e.g., 2073). In many other places, "pe'che'
grave," "grave sin," is translated instead as
"serious sin" (e.g. 1385, 1457 ); "grave sin," in
fact, appears to be a distinctly unpopular notion in this translation.
There is method here, though, not just muddle, since "serious
sin" is not only the most frequently mentioned type of sin
recognized in the translation; it is also, instead of "mortal
sin," sometimes explicitly contrasted with "venial sin"
(e.g. 2480), not only implying thereby
for this is the implication that venial sin is
not all that serious; but also, more
importantly, explicitly recognizing the categories of sin postulated by
the so-called "fundamental option" theory. This modern moral
theory introduces between the traditional categories of venial and
mortal sin another category of sin which it styles, precisely,
"serious sin." For the fundamental-option people, a sin may be
"serious" but not necessarily "mortal"; for them a
sin is "mortal" only when the sinner has explicitly decided to
reject God in the process of acting against his will.
Now the fundamental option theory, of course, has been expressly
rejected by the Magisterium of the Church (cf. CDF, Persona humana #10,
1975). Thus it would seem to be a rather singular thing that its
characteristic moral terminology should nevertheless suddenly re-surface
here in this translation of this compendium of authentic Catholic
doctrine which the Catechism of the Catholic Church is supposed to be.
If not corrected, the kind of language used here to characterize sin
could well dispose some of those being catechized from the Catechism in
the future to be influenced by the superficially plausible but erroneous
fundamental option theory. This kind of theory is exactly the sort of
thing that does appeal to our dominant secular "culture" today
(this "culture" is hard enough to fight without having a
Catholic Catechism come along seeming to lend it further credence!)
We can only wonder whether there is not some desire at work here,
conscious or unconscious, to try to accommodate the harsh world in which
we are obliged to live today. The same kind of question arises when we
see dropped in the translation, as we do see dropped, the word
"all" in the Catechism's paragraph concerning "the moral
evil of all procured abortion" (2271). For its part, the particular
world we are obliged to live in today finds the Catholic view of
morality and sin excessively rigid; and so the temptation perhaps to try
to meet the world half way is always strong; but it is not a temptation
to which a Catechism aiming to transmit the integral faith of Christ can
afford to yield.
Far be it from both of us, however, to insinuate motives other than
what the translator was charged to produce. Nevertheless there are
certain perceptions which have arisen in the course of our examination
and analysis of the translation. We have merely sought to allow our
observations to assist tens of thousands of English-speaking Catholics
here and abroad in understanding some of the reasons for the protracted
delay in the publication in English of the Catechism of the Catholic
In spite of all of the above, the fact remains that the most serious
deficiency in this English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic
Church is still its almost all-pervasive use of so- called
"inclusive language" its conscious rejection of what is
clearly a fundamental part of the original French text, namely, the use
of "man," "men," "he," "his,"
and "him" used in a generic sense to mean "men and
women," "the human race," "everybody," etc. Nor
are the results of the decision to adopt the radical feminist idea of
what kind of language is acceptable today happy results for a compendium
of Catholic doctrine. These results are so bad, in fact, paragraph after
paragraph, page after page, chapter after chapter, that the only
conceivable merit of publishing the Catechism in its present form in
English would be that it might very quickly convince all but hard-core
feminist ideologues that today's attempt to introduce so-called
"inclusive language" into Catholic teaching and worship can
never end in anything but failure.
One occasionally hears in discussions concerning the fate of this
English translation still being held up in Rome as we write that
it employs "inclusive language" only "horizontally,"
that is, only when referring to human beings; never
"vertically," that is, when referring to God. And what, some
ask, is so bad about that?
One of the things that is bad about it is that it is not true. We saw
in the very first paragraph of the Catechism how the word
"God" had to be unnaturally and awkwardly repeated in order to
avoid using the term "He"
even when applied to God! Once
the feminist premise about language is accepted, it would seem the
feminist bias steadily re-surfaces.
For example, the simple title above Paragraph 203, which in French
reads "Dieu Re'v`ele Son Nom," becomes in English the much
more bland and abstract "The Revelation of God's Name." In the
same paragraph, the exposition suddenly shifts from the third person
singular to the first person plural "a name expresses
essence" for "le nom exprime L'essence" evidently in
order to be able to avoid using "his" later on in the passage
when referring to the name of God. As we remarked above, this is
game-playing; and it is not amusing when what is involved is the truth
In Paragraph 212, "hormis Lui" "besides Him,"
becomes, gratuitously, "besides YHWH." In paragraph 221, in
the sentence, "God is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and
Holy Spirit, and has destined us to share in that exchange," the
"He" that is included in the French text indicating who has
thus "destined" us is quietly dropped, as is surely the case
hundreds of times in the course of the translation. In Paragraph 383,
the scriptural text of Genesis 1:27 itself is changed in response to the
feminist imperative and "he created them" has to be made to
read "God created them." If there is conflict between what
Scripture says and what the feminist imperative demands it would be
unwise to bet on the former and against the latter as far as this
translation is concerned. In Paragraph 442, Galatians 1:15, "He who
set me apart," again becomes "God who set me apart."
And so on.
These few citations represent only a few examples of how feminist
assumptions dictate the translation not only of "horizontal"
language referring to human beings, but also of at least some
"vertical" language referring to God and to Christ. It is
astonishing, in fact that anyone should think that these feminist claims
and assumptions should be accepted as justification for changing the
words of Scripture itself. Who has the right to change Scripture?
What these feminist locutions do for normal language most of us have
now long since had sufficient experience of, and therefore we do not
need to provide extensive examples. What typically happens, though, is
that an expression such as "pe'che' des hommes," "sin of
men," comes to be [mis]translated as "sinful humanity"
(211). "Les anges et les hommes," "angels and men,"
become not just "angels and human beings," but, absurdly,
"people and angels" as well, all within the confines of the
same paragraph (311). Another passage speaking of "the love that
finds in each man a neighbor, a brother" "la charite' qui
trouve en chaque homme un prochain, un fr`ere" gets translated
in a way that first substitutes "person" for "man,"
and then, compulsively, has to add "and sister" after
"brother" (1931 ). What about "cousin"?
Even those who are perhaps not particularly bothered by how clumsy
and even jarring such phrases and locutions can be should nevertheless
be able to realize that they are simply not English! A translator is
supposed to render as faithfully as possible in his target language what
has actually been said in his source language not deform what his
source language says in his translation in response to the dictates of a
highly debatable modern ideology.
More than that, however, some of these inept substitutions for
natural English actually alter the meaning, sometimes profoundly, of the
text. Paragraph 383, for example, alters Scripture (Genesis 1:27) in
order to say that "God...did not create the human person to be a
solitary." "Human person," of course, is substituted here
for the word "man" (Adam) which is actually found in the
Bible. However, the two terms are not equivalents. For example, Jesus
Christ was a man but he was not a "human person."
Again, Paragraph 364 asserts in the English version that
"humanity...[is] a unity of body and soul." But this is not
true. "Humanity" has neither body nor soul; humanity is an
abstraction. Only individual men have bodies and souls, as the French
text clearly says in speaking of how "l'homme" is "vraiment
un" though possessing "corps et /a\me." In Paragraph 659,
the same abstract word, "humanity," is used to translate
Christ's "body," glorified at the Resurrection; indeed,
according to this passage, it was Christ's "humanity" which
was taken up into heaven! Quite apart from the questionable theological
implications here, this is the kind of writing that wouldn't pass
Oblivious to all other considerations in its single-minded
determination to imprison the Catechism within the cheerless walls of
"inclusive language," then, this translation even proves
capable of changing the inspired phrase in Roman 8:29 familiar to every
Christian, "the first-born among many brethren," into can
this even be believed? "the first-born within a large
family." This absurdity appears not just once (381), not just twice
(501), but at least three times (2790).
Enough then! How much easier it would have been simply to bow to the
millennium-old fact that the word "man" is already
"inclusive." More could be said, of course; many more examples
could be adduced. But enough has now surely been said to indicate the
utter folly of trying to bring out the Catechism of the Catholic Church
in feminist-influenced "inclusive language." The translator of
the Catechism should have stayed away from this minefield as surely as
Adam and Eve should have passed up the forbidden fruit in the beginning.
In view of all the deficiencies of this "Englished" version
of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that we have been examining,
then, it is surely devoutly to be hoped that the protracted sojourn of
this translation in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in
Rome means that it is in the process of being thoroughly revised and