Pope John Paul II: June 2006 Archives

New Theology of the Body translation

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Zenit has a two-part interview (1, 2) with Michael Waldstein, who is editing a forthcoming new translation of Pope John Paul the Great's Theology of the Body.

There are two very interesting revelations in the first interview. First, Waldstein claims that the existing English version of TOB is somewhat deficient because of translation inconsistencies. As most reading this will know, the Theology of the Body consists of sequences of addresses that John Paul gave at his weekly Wednesday general audiences over the first several years of his pontificate. The English translation we have now was compiled from the translations published by L'Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper. As Waldstein tells it, from week to week as the adresses were delivered:

the Italian text was sent over to L'Osservatore Romano and whoever was on duty at the English desk translated it. The translators did not have the work as a whole before them, but they translated each catechesis individually. These various inconsistencies indicate that there were several translators.

Later translators could not go back and change the translation, because it had already been published. The edition by Pauline Books and Media is simply a compilation of these translations.

The second revelation is Waldstein's discovery that the Theology of the Body was originally written in Polish before John Paul even became pope. Waldstein describes coming across the original edition in the John Paul II Archives:

So about half a year ago I went with a Polish friend to the Dom Polski, the Polish Pilgrim House in Rome, on the Via Cassia, where the John Paul II Archives are kept.

We looked through the Italian materials, but found nothing. We were disappointed, but asked the director of the archives if he had anything else. Yes, he said, we have the materials of the Polish translation, but you will not find anything there that is not in the Italian, because the Italian is the original text.

We decided to take a look nevertheless and found a Polish text that had a five level division with headings I had never seen before. It turns out that Cardinal Wojtyla wrote the theology of the body in Polish before his election in 1978. It seems to have been ready for publication.

We became fully sure about the priority of the Polish text only when we managed to contact the sister who actually typed the manuscript in Krakow before John Paul II's election.

In the archives we also found a handwritten note from John Paul II to his secretary that explains that the structure of the theology of the body would remain exactly the same when he adapted it for the series of catecheses.

Having these headings is a revelation. It opens up the text in amazing ways. You see how rigorous John Paul II's writing really is.

The reason why other editions don't have these headings seems to be the relatively isolated life of the individual catecheses. John Paul II delivered them one by one without, of course, saying, just to take one example, We are now in Part Two -- The Sacrament; Chapter Two -- The Dimension of Sign; Section Two -- The Song of Songs; Subsection Three -- Eros or Agape?

That would have been unintelligible. When he was finished, the catecheses were collected and assembled, but the knowledge of the structure of the whole was lost. Only John Paul II's Polish collaborators had this knowledge. I don't know why it did not cross the language barrier into Italian.

Maybe it's the pope-geek in me, but I find that fascinating.

The second interview is more meaty and worth a look as well. I love the story about John of the Cross having the monks at his deathbed read the Song of Songs.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Pope John Paul II category from June 2006.

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