A Flawed Translation?

Author: Peter Roman


by Peter Roman

Early reviewers of John Paul II's , have generally failed to note that the English-language edition leaves much to be desired, several Roman sources have told .

In November, a Carmelite priest stationed in Rome brought of his own accord to our Rome offices a photocopy of the first pages of the Pope's book in both its English and Italian versions. The priest told us he believed the English translation was "just terrible," filled with "minor and major changes" in comparison with the original. Several others in Rome we queried on this matter advised us that they, too, were unhappy with the translation.

In all honesty, the changes seemed rather minor to us, but we only had a half-dozen pages before us.

We grew more concerned when a Polish author living in Britain contacted our offices in England, again without any prior initiative on our part, and told us that she had compared the English translation with the original Polish, and found the English version extremely problematic. We asked the author to provide us with a detailed list of the alleged problems, and she agreed, but as of press time we had not received her report.

Our own re-reading of the text suggests to us that in at least one area, there has been a type of "ideological" tension at work, suggesting that this book has not escaped the current language battle in the Church.

As we are daily reminded, the creature labeled by science, and by traditional theologians, is now called by most writers in English. The translators of the Pope's original Polish favored the term for most of his remarks about the species, but the quotations he cites from Scripture were from a gender neutral translation which has in places where man formerly appeared.

The result is an occasional linguistic schizophrenia between John Paul's general use of the traditional and the Scripture translators use of and its variations.

We await further information on this matter, and will publish a fuller account when we have that information in hand.

The early commentators have tended to see the book as more or less an innovative catechism. The question and answer exchange between the Pope and Italian journalist Vittorio Messori invites such an approach, at least initially. (See , November, 1994.)

In catechetical fashion, questions are asked about God, faith, redemption and salvation, Mary, prayer, the Church (especially the "Scandal and Mystery" of the papacy and Vatican II), other religions, evil, heaven-hell-purgatory, the present age, human rights, and the coming millennium. Thus, a reader tends to look for the Pope's answers to specific moral, dogmatic, historical, and philosophical questions.

His answers have inevitably drawn responses that reflect the predisposition of individual reviewers. Those with little or no appreciation for traditional Christianity reject his responses as too traditional. Some who apparently detest hierarchal religion even accuse Messori of collusion with the Pope, as though the two were involved in a rigged quiz show. Others have alleged that the book is an plot, aided and abetted by crass, multi-national commercial interests.

But seekers of various persuasions-despite what might appear to be the case from notices in the publications like the and - have, generally, found the book rich and informative. This includes Catholics of both liberal and conservative sympathies. Msgr. F. X. Murphy, "Xavier Rynne" of Vatican II fame, for example, judged that the book "surpasses the usefulness of the Catechism."

One thing that needs to be stressed is that is Karol Wojtyla's testament for this age and for the ages. The 74-year-old Christian, Pope, priest, poet, mystic, theologian, wrote this work to tell the widest possible audience what he believes, what he thinks should be believed, and in the course of doing this, he also tells why he has lived the life of faith that he's lived.

Totally caught up in his labor of love for Christ, he stole minutes from his fiercely self- punishing Pauline evangelizing to reveal, in a conversational, informal manner, his total commitment to Christ and His Church, One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.

The soul of this book is a man's absolute belief in God, and his conviction that this world is leading to an eternal world.

Though there are 244 pages of reflections on history, other religions, theological and philosophical subjects, all doctrine, analysis, and argument is secondary to the writer's belief and faith. One could compare the intellectual discourses to the vestments, words, petitions, music and hallelujahs that lead to and surround the Real Presence. That presence, in this book, is the living God who loves his creature, who has fashioned a world in which mankind not only share but must share in God's existence if His will is truly to be done.

In essence, this book is a long, discursive meditation by a man of prayer.

The relationship between the triune God of Christianity and his human creatures is central to the book.

John Paul feels that one of the chief sources of the bleak view most moderns have of their species can be traced to the extreme rationalism of French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650), the man who gave us one of philosophy's most memorable one- liners: "I think, therefore I am." John Paul argues that defining mankind by mental activity without reference to God destroys the creator-creature, Father-child relationship that is absolutely fundamental to mankind's true sense of itself, its world, and God. Following St. Thomas, he stresses that existence determines thought, thought does not define existence: "I think the way I think because I am that which I am-a creature-and because...I am-a creature-and because He is He who is, . If he were not Mystery, there would be no need for Revelation...." (p. 38)

Since the 17th Century increasingly negative views of have been dominating Western intellectual life, until today the Western seems to view human beings as a botched job. The human creature is now held to be a product of impersonal, mindless, random elements. It enjoys a short period of consciousness, and is soon annihilated. The only comfort this view offers human beings is momentary pleasure-acquired by power, possessions, and the distractions of sensual life. This scheme of things sees the highest pleasure as physical, the most lasting the esthetic-the arts.

For John Paul this view is destructive and is caused by fear and the absence of hope. Thus, his insistence that human beings "Be not afraid!" He would have creatures concentrate on the joy implicit in the very act of creation itself (p. 20). He, not surprisingly, expresses the traditional Catholic view of creation, found (again) in St. Thomas Aquinas: human life is best explained as a loving Creator's expression of his love. Human beings must become active participants in the Creator's expression of love, by recreating themselves, by creative acts, especially by love (), prayer, meditation, contemplation, which will unite the creature with the Creator.

The initial and absolutely crucial truth John Paul would have us grasp to realize our true identity is: "the certainty that Someone exists who holds in His hands the destiny of this passing world; someone who holds the keys to death and the netherworld (cf. Rev 1:18)... And this Someone is Love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8, 16)-Love that became man, Love crucified and risen, Love unceasingly present among men. It is Eucharistic love. It is the infinite source of communion" (p. 222).

Only one who comes to believe "in the essential goodness of creation is capable of discovering all the secrets of creation" and able "to perfect continually the work assigned... by God." For, the great work of men and women "is to perfect creation- be it oneself, be it the world."

In the eyes of the secularist, life is birth, 70 or so years of higher animal consciousness, then annihilation; for John Paul life is creation, redemption, salvation and eternal fulfillment in that abode of "essential joy" (p. 21), creation perfect and unending-that is, heaven.

So, how does see creatures made for eternity getting there? What does it recommend for this modern secular and consumer generation? It recommends precisely what holy people of God, the mystics and saints, have always prescribed-loving God entirely and neighbor as self. What is fresh about the Pope's recommendations is his enthusiasm, his optimism, his fervor, his insistence on joy, and his personal example. His words ring with the sincerity of a man who has lived the life he is advocating others live.

Yet, his teachings are the centuries-old teachings of the Church: man comes to a knowledge of God by God's grace, through the Holy Spirit, by Scripture, by faith, hope, and charity (love), by prayer and the sacraments.

No one is more ready to admit than the Pope that the process whereby the creature of nature "puts on Jesus Christ" and becomes Christlike is a mystery, and not completely open to rational analysis. He has no twelve-step program. The Pope does, however, describe a process that reminds us we must be ready to deal with mysteries. He does deal in the images, contradictions, and paradoxes presented by Scripture and the poet- mystics. In these remind us, if we need reminding, that he himself is one of those mystic poets -and at the same time one of the clearest and most rational expositors of doctrine.

Both the mystic-poet and the rational expositor are at work in this book. To take just one significant example, the book's title. The image of someone a into hope captures the essence of the book -the mysterious movement into hope, faith and charity.

The title where this image is embedded is the Pope's own, Messori tells us in his preface. And even if we had not been told, it would soon dawn on us that the words in the title are symbols of an essential passage a believer undergoes, not once, but many times, and in many ways. It is a life-process and a faith-process that goes back to the earliest of John Paul's writing-his poetry.

The word does not really mean what it at first seems to mean. It does not really describe a simple movement like "crossing the street" to enter "the abode of hope."

in John Paul's usage depends on the Holy Spirit. "Men will not cross the threshold of hope," he tells us, "without the help of the Holy Spirit." (p. 25) Again, speaking of the title in the next to last chapter of the book he says: "It is very important... to let oneself be led" (p. 224). , then, means by the Spirit.

Every important action in the search for God is like this in that it is an undertaking made possible by God's guiding hand. Consider John Paul's reply to the question, "How does the Pope pray?" "As the Holy Spirit permits him to pray" (p. 19).

Instructive instances of the common and sacramental nature of s are frequent in the poetry Karol Wojtyla wrote over a 40-year period, from 1939-1979. Much of the poetry is published in (Cracow, 1980), has been translated by Jerzy Peterkiewicz's in (New York, 1982). The quotations that follow are from that translation.

What these poems demonstrate is that numerous everyday instances of thought, reading, encounters with others, withdrawal from the world, provide almost sacramental occasions to for God to lead us. is a meditation on :

this drawing into...more inward than any visible world-this drawing in by the Word: by silence rather than speech, this drawing in by Love which both moves and halts motion, this drawing into "the shattering and enchanting mystery"- it must have a sign.

The sign is Christ, and the is both going into the silence of one's inmost being and going out to meet "Him who walks always ahead."

When one is drawn into Christ, one is led into an intensified inner awareness, but not without pain. It can be like the pain of carrying a cross:

I would not carry it. And now this pain- how much longer is it to last?- feebly accepted at first, now like the moth slowly eating its way through the fabric wearing out iron.

The Pope's book insists that Christianity is a demanding religion, but if will prove a light burden. The poetry told us that the reality of God's "leading" turns out to be "more magnificent than painful." ()

emphasizes the influence of St. John of the Cross had on the young Karol Wojtyla: "Before entering the seminary, I met a layman named Jan Tyranowski, who was a true mystic. This man, whom I consider to be a saint, introduced me to the great Spanish mystics and in particular to Saint John of the Cross.

"Even before entering the underground seminary, I read the works of that mystic, especially his poetry. In order to read it in the original, I studied Spanish. That was a very important stage in my life. (p.142)

The Spanish mystic is hovering in the background of Wojtyla's poetic journeys and crossings, upward or downward. In a series of poems about "The Woman at the Well," the descent into the well and the drawing up of "living water" each images union with the divine. "Maturing" is seen as "a descent into a hidden core."

Even a footbridge can lead to a thought and to a mystical drawing in: "I take my first step on a footbridge./ My heart... Is thought a footbridge?" itself is as sacramental an action as any the poet experiences. But it is in silence that the deepest serenity occurs:

The distant shores of silence begin at the door. You cannot fly there Like a bird. You must stop, look deeper, still deeper, until nothing deflects the soul from the deepmost deep. ()

The books title makes it quite clear that follows the crossing, but what precedes "being led"? What enables one to cross to the "Place Within," or to live in the landscape of hope in the face of the world's hopelessness? God's grace, is the book's response. Moving toward hope is comparable in some ways to being able to pray, which is the worship of God in "Spirit and truth" (p. 142).

But also somehow a part of all is the paradoxical overcoming of fear and being moved by the "fear of the Lord." There is no easy explanation of how fear is both prevents and makes it possible. But the book does state clearly is that "fear of the Lord" is fear that originates with a loving father, not a fear of authority or punishment.

The two bedrock texts of John Paul's pontificate are ("I am completely yours, O Mary.") (p. 212), and "Be not afraid." How Mary is connected with overcoming fear is instructive. The Pope writes: "When I inherited the Ministry of Peter in Rome, more than anything else, it was... devotion to Mary in my native land which I carried with me." He goes on to remark that Christ did not address the words "Be not afraid," to Mary because, "Strong in her faith, she had no fear." (p. 220)

Shortly after, when speaking of the attempt on his life on May 13, 1981, the anniversary of the day Mary appeared at Fatima, he writes: "With this event, didn't Christ perhaps say, once again, 'Be not afraid'? Didn't he repeat his Easter exhortation to the Pope, to the Church, and, indirectly, to the entire human family?" (p. 221)

Earlier examples of the Pope's associating courage with the hope that leads to faith are assertions in the poetry such as: "We must not consent to weakness," and "Weak is a people that accepts defeat" ().

The Pope cites the courage of the Polish patriots as significant to his own faith: "I think of the Warsaw uprising in 1944-the desperate revolt of my contemporaries, who sacrificed everything. They laid down their young lives. They wanted to demonstrate that they could live up to their great and demanding heritage. I was a part of that generation and I must say that .

The courage of soldiers is, of course, but a reflection of the almost unimaginable love that Christ showed in accepting crucifixion. The Gospel text that John Paul repeatedly uses to demonstrate that sacrifice love comes from John 3:16: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life."

The word itself evokes the need for courage and the necessity of not being fearful, as does the of the Red Sea and, above all, the Paschal crossing into eternity.

The Pope stresses that Christianity is an active, not a passive faith, one that engages the world, not withdraws from it. In his chapter on Buddhism he takes pains to insist that one cannot save the world by becoming indifferent to the world. The Christian's withdrawal is to find God, his mysticism to share in Christ's love for the world.

Of this he writes: "When Saint John of the Cross... speaks of the need for purification, for detachment from the world of the senses, he does not conceive of that detachment as an end in itself.... This Doctor of the Church does not merely propose detachment from the world in order to unite oneself to that which is outside of the world. He proposes detachment from the world to unite oneself to that which is outside the world... a personal God. Union with Him comes about not only through purification, but through love. (pp. 86-87)

As the word suggests the need for courage and willingness to sacrifice, so also do the roots of the word . The word now simply means an entrance way, doorway, or door sill. But of the two original root words, both from Indo-European roots, one means to thresh, the other the place where the threshing takes place.

Threshing is the breaking open of grain-wheat, corn, barley-to prepare it as food. In passing over the , the believer may be seen as being changed, transformed, as grain must be transformed.

Christ himself pointed to the transformation of wheat into bread as an analogy of his own sacrifice, whereby he became the bread of life for all.

Then there is the word in the title. Why hope and not faith, or love? Perhaps for the same reason John Paul's gives for choosing "Be not afraid" as the first words of his pontificate, because the Holy Spirit led him to. And the Spirit probably led him to choose because the age most requires hope.

The poetry, one final time, also provides additional insight into John Paul's mind. In , he meditates on the relation between hope and death.

Hope rises in time from all places subject to death- hope is its counterweight. The dying world unveils its life again in hope.

A few lines later he says, "Death is the experience of... annihilation." He then concludes:

I use hope to detach my own self, I must tear myself away to stand above annihilation ..................... I wrestle with myself, with so many others I wrestle for my hope.

, then, is at the beginning of the struggle for faith. Faith's "basic usefulness," say John Paul, "lies precisely in the fact that a person believes and entrusts himself," and comes to realize the good of "rational natures" (pp. 189,192).

St. Paul's "faith is the substance of things hoped for," (Heb 1:11) seems to say that hope is antecedent to faith. Perhaps the book's title also says that. Regardless of the order, the book describes a relationship among the virtues in which the Spirit, being led, the over- coming of fear, and prayer always have a part. And as for hope, once one has courage to "to stand above annihilation" and "wrestle" for hope, prayer has already occurred, that prayer which "is a search for God but... also a revelation of God." (pp. 25-26)

This article was taken from the December 1994 issue of "Inside the Vatican."

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