Friday, July 17, 2009

Charity or Love ?

Tino da Camaino (1285, -. 1337)
c. 1321
Marble, height: 136 cm
Museo Bardini, Florence

I am glad to see that Anna Arco has raised the question of the English translation of the new Papal Encyclical Caritas in Veritate on the Vatican website.

She raises the question of of paragraph 67 of Caritas in veritate : the notion that the Pope is calling for a "a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth." (as per the English translation).

In other translations (including the German) he talks of such institutions to be "given a real and concrete form".

Translation is of course an art and not a science.

I have a problem with the English translation with its use of the words "love" and "charity". The words "love" and "charity" seem to be used interchangeably in the English translation. Both can be used to translate the word "caritas" (agape, the highest form of Love). But in modern English the word "charity" has a rather antique feel and sound and can easily confused with the doing of good.

Wikipedia states:

"Note that the King James Version uses both the words charity and love to translate the idea of caritas / ἀγάπη: sometimes it uses one, sometimes the other, for the same concept. Most other English translations, both before and since, do not; instead throughout they use the same more direct English word love, so that the unity of the teaching should not be in doubt. Love can have other meanings in English, but as used in the Bible it almost always refers to the virtue of caritas"

The French, German, Italian and Spanish translations generally use the word "Love" not "Charity": L’amour; Liebe; L`amore; et cetera. There are occasions where they also use the word for "charity"

By deciding to use the word "Charity" over "love", the English translation can come out different from other translations.

The first words of the Encyclical demonstrate this:

"Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace."

But the French translation of the same sentences is slightly different and uses the word "amour":

"L’amour dans la vérité (Caritas in veritate), dont Jésus s’est fait le témoin dans sa vie terrestre et surtout par sa mort et sa résurrection, est la force dynamique essentielle du vrai développement de chaque personne et de l’humanité tout entière. L’amour – « caritas » – est une force extraordinaire qui pousse les personnes à s’engager avec courage et générosité dans le domaine de la justice et de la paix."

See also the German:

"Caritas in veritate – die Liebe in der Wahrheit, die Jesus Christus mit seinem irdischen Leben und vor allem mit seinem Tod und seiner Auferstehung bezeugt hat, ist der hauptsächliche Antrieb für die wirkliche Entwicklung eines jeden Menschen und der gesamten Menschheit. Die Liebe – »caritas« – ist eine außerordentliche Kraft, welche die Menschen drängt, sich mutig und großherzig auf dem Gebiet der Gerechtigkeit und des Friedens einzusetzen."

Note the use in the first sentence in the French and German texts of the Latin title which is entirely missing from the English translation.

Further there are occasions where the use of the word "charity" hides the meaning of what the Pope is saying.

See this passage when the Pope is talking about the devaluation of the word "love":

"I am aware of the ways in which charity has been and continues to be misconstrued and emptied of meaning, with the consequent risk of being misinterpreted, detached from ethical living and, in any event, undervalued. In the social, juridical, cultural, political and economic fields — the contexts, in other words, that are most exposed to this danger — it is easily dismissed as irrelevant for interpreting and giving direction to moral responsibility."

Compare the German:

"Ich weiß um die Entstellungen und die Sinnentleerungen, denen die Liebe ausgesetzt war und ist, mit der entsprechenden Gefahr, daß sie mißverstanden, aus der ethischen Lebenspraxis ausgeschlossen und in jedem Fall daran gehindert wird, in rechter Weise zur Geltung zu kommen"

However it does have to be said that the French and Italian translations in this sentence use the words "la charité" and "la carità "

The same possible obscurity is also seen in paragraph 5. The English translation reads:

"Charity is love received and given. It is “grace” (cháris). Its source is the wellspring of the Father's love for the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Love comes down to us from the Son."

The German translation (is this the language which the Pope used to write the Encyclical ?) is different:

"Caritas ist empfangene und geschenkte Liebe. Sie ist »Gnade« (cháris). Ihre Quelle ist die ursprüngliche Liebe des Vaters zum Sohn im Heiligen Geist. Sie ist Liebe, die vom Sohn her zu uns herabfließt. "

By intelligent use of italics for the words "Caritas" and "cháris", the German translation gives a proper understanding of the first sentence which has been rendered rather obscure in English by the sentence "Charity is love received and love given."

Again it should be said that for this sentence the French and Italian translations in this sentence use again the words "la charité" and "la carità "

The problem is of course the rather long and complex argument with subtle nuances which has to be translated so that it is both faithful to the text as well as being understandable to a very large English speaking culture which spans several continents. Translation of a work has to be considered as whole and not simply by way of line by line dissection.

But I wonder whether it would have been better and would have allowed more people accessibility to the Pope`s text if the English translators had decided to use the word "Love" more and give greater weight to using the word "Love" in preference to the word "Charity" in the same way as the French, Italian and German translations seem to do

And in the same way the situation appears to have been handled in the translation of Deus Caritas Est

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