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Iniquitas radix malorum: The Pope's tweet is a variation on a familiar theme

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Apr 28, 2014

Today’s comment on the Pope’s Twitter account has economists all excited. In the English-language version, the comment is: “Inequality is the root of social evil.”

That’s a fairly radical statement, as an a piece of economic analysis a very simplistic one. But before economic conservatives go off on a tear about the Pope’s naivete, let’s take a closer look at what he—or someone representing him-- said.

We don’t know who actually post items on the papal Twitter account, but it’s probably not the Pope himself. Moreover, Pope Francis does not write in English, so we can be sure those aren’t his exact words.

The Latin version of this tweet is even simpler: Iniquitas radix malorum. That phrase has a somewhat different meaning.

Iniquitas can be translated as “inequality,” it’s true. But it also can mean “iniquity” or “injustice,” and in this context either word would make more sense. The same would seem true of the word L’inequita used in the Italian version, which the Pope himself could have written. The Spanish tweet ( desigualdad) admittedly looks more like the English.

(The English version refers to “social evil,” whereas the Latin (malorum) speaks only of “evil” without any modifier. But the Italian (mali sociali) and Spanish (males sociales) match the English, so let’s assume this probably—probably—isn’t simply the translator’s addition.)

However it’s translated, the tweet is an obvious reference to the familiar phrase that “the love of money is the root of all evils.” (Radix malorum est cupiditas) If you assume that the love of money leads to iniquities—and, yes, fosters inequality—then Pope Francis (or his ghost-writer) is making a well-known point in a different way. That's kinda the purpose of Twitter, isn't it?

If the papal tweet had simply read: “1 Tim 6:10,” the message would have been the same.

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: discipleofjesus76 - Apr. 30, 2014 12:46 PM ET USA

    What I find interesting is that Catholic commentators and journalists - the faithful ones - are constantly having to defend the Pope's teachings, saying things like "this is what he really meant to say...", or "this is what he actually said...". What is going on that our highest office, the Vicar of Christ and Bishop of Rome, is constantly having to have his teachings interpreted so that they "appear" more intelligent and orthodox?

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Apr. 29, 2014 8:47 AM ET USA

    “If the papal tweet had simply read: “1 Tim 6:10,” the message would have been the same.” No, I don't think so. St. Francis never compelled the rich to become Franciscans, although many did… He never scandalized their legitimate success by blaming their riches for the misery of the poor. Neither did he justify their sins (of the poor) by their poverty.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Apr. 28, 2014 2:26 PM ET USA

    Phil: If that tweet was in Spanish, the pope's native language after all, and he used the word "desigualdad", then the English translation of "inequality" is the only correct one. The Spanish word doesn't simply resemble the English "inequality"; it is the ONLY meaning that Spanish word has.

  • Posted by: shrink - Apr. 28, 2014 12:00 PM ET USA

    All your points are well taken. Today, it bears repeating that ENVY is the root of most evil when it comes to money. It is not helpful when a socialist president can use this kind of tweet to further reinforce his efforts in stripping families of their economic, religious, and medical rights; all in the name of "inequality", but in reality playing upon the ENVY of the dependency class.

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