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A key error in translation of Evangelii Gaudium

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Nov 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sorry to bother you on a day when I hope you are relaxing, but with the help of a sharp-eyed reader I’ve discovered what seems to me a critical error in the translation of Evangelii Gaudium.

(In passing let me ask rhetorically why the translation errors always seem to tilt in the same ideological direction. Almost makes you think they aren’t really “errors.”)

The passage in question, in the official English translation, is rendered thus:

54. In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.

Here’s my own inexpert translation from the Spanish version:

54. In this context, some people still defend “spillover” [“trickle-down”] theories, which suppose that all economic growth, favored by the free market, by itself brings about greater equity and social inclusion in the world.

I wouldn’t venture to try translating from Italian, but Google gives me a result that’s closer to my rendering of the Spanish than to the Vatican’s English version. I’m guessing, but have not confirmed (it’s supposed to be a day off!) that either the Spanish or the Italian is the original.

Notice the differences:

  • The Spanish version states that the free market favors economic growth; the English version makes that sound like a mere theory.
  • The Spanish version says that growth by itself will not bring about social equity—a proposition that all but the most doctrinaire libertarians would accept. The English omits that important phrase.
  • In the next sentence, the Pope says that the theory described in #54 “has never been confirmed by the facts.” If he is saying that economic growth has not brought about greater equity, as the English version suggests, the facts are actually quite heavily stacked against him. If he’s saying that growth by itself hasn’t done the trick, that’s a much easier argument to defend.

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: unum - Dec. 06, 2013 9:13 AM ET USA

    Well said, Phil. Those who dismiss the need to "get it right" are saying in other words that the messages the Holy Father sends us don't really matter. I for one am very interested in both what this Pope has to say and the meaning behind it. It is clear that the Holy Spirit is involved in needed change to Christ's Church and it is vital that the people of God get the message.

  • Posted by: geardoid - Dec. 04, 2013 4:06 PM ET USA

    You may have missed the more subtle difference if `equity` replaces `justice`, taking some marxist thunder from liberation theology; but as for `by itself`, this is as good as sufficiency, and that is practically indistinct from inevitable success. Besides, what the pope says here equally questions the wisdom of free trade with a morally corrupt regime, such as communist China: don`t expect market-materialism to alter China`s human rights abuses under atheistic materialism!

  • Posted by: oakes.spalding7384 - Dec. 02, 2013 3:12 AM ET USA

    The Pope is not an economist. He's been marinated in a left-wing economics environment for all of his life, and therefore it's pretty much a no-brainer that he will issue vaguely anti-capitalist statements at intervals. So what? Why is it so important to show that some translation or another gets it slightly wrong? Surely the Holy Spirit is not guiding his every word on these matters.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Nov. 29, 2013 3:34 PM ET USA

    While the offending phrase "por sí mismo" in Spanish literally means "by itself", I think it is risky to bet that this pope has any patience at all left for free-market economics as it has developed in the West. Further on Francis says, " Ya no podemos confiar en las fuerzas ciegas y en la mano invisible del mercado" (We can no longer trust the blind forces and the invisible hand of the marketplace). I think it is VERY clear that this pope has had it with economics of the Chicago School variety.

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