My friend and frequent CS collaborator John Donaghy has a post up on his theological blog on translating Pope Francis.
John looks at some specific words: base communities (which he has written to be about), fetishism, mistrust and disenchantment, protagonists, and sacrifice.
One is that English translators don’t seem to like the word “fetishism” which Pope Francis has used a number of times. They usually translate it as “idolatry,” which is understandable, but misses the strong sense that fetishism has. Perhaps the relation of this word to Karl Marx’s “fetishism of commodity” has made some translators squeamish. But there is a discussion of fetishism in a Catholic context by John Kavanaugh’s Following Christ in a Consumer Society on pages 33-35 in the 25thanniversary edition. That discussion opens up the meaning of fetishism and, for me, seems very much closer to what Pope Francis says than the concept of idolatry.
I think John’s points are well-taken. The traditional route for a formal Roman document is that the official version is Latin, and from there, it is communicated in vernacular languages.
We know the pope’s primary languages are Spanish and Italian. I’m not sure we know if he wrote the apostolic letter in Spanish, and the Roman communication media took things from there.
Even if Evangelii Gaudium was written in Latin, would the Holy Father have formulated the ideas in his native language, then written from there? If so, you’d have to say the Spanish version would be more authoritative than a pedestrian translation, wouldn’t you?
Hopefully, I’ll keep all these words in mind as we review Evangelii Gaudium in the coming year.