Here it is at last. And well worth the wait: the Catechism of the Catholic Church in English, and not only in English, but good, English. Comparing it with the original French, one can see immediately that this is a faithful, careful and accurate translation, and with no 'de-sexing' of the language. The English is natural, pure and dignified, in keeping with the stature of this magisterial text.
The first translation completed quite some time ago by the American priest Fr Douglas Clark has been subject to major revision. The London Tablet (21 May 1994) reported that in April 1993 Archbishop Eric D'Arcy of Hobart received Fr Clark's translation and worked on it for over 3-1/2 months with the help of Fr John Wall, lecturer in English at the University of Tasmania. Archbishop D'Arcy is quoted as saying that "The first translation departs from the original and the patient has suffered and needs some healing ... Our revision isn't meant at all to be insensitive. It's trying to convey faithfully what's there in the French original."
When the French says: "God, Father, Holy Mother Church, man and men", the English says precisely that. But The Tablet, in its usual prejudiced fashion, remains wedded to the flawed Clark version and reacted bitterly against the revised translation. The extracts they were able to publish in their issue of 19 March 1994 are exactly as in the final version, indicating that someone hostile to the Catechism leaked it to The Tablet so that the text could be condemned before publication.
But so-called 'inclusive' language apart, the Clark version was not acceptable as a translation for it had systematically doctored, de-sexed and degraded the entire text.
The Scripture quotations in the final version are from the Revised Standard Version (RSV) or New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible. The RSV keeps close to the biblical text, as does the NRSV, except when de-sexing. However, there are no obviously de-sexed Scripture quotations, so possibly the NRSV was used judiciously, and only when thought better than the RSV for particular citations. The choice of the RSV was a good one, with, for example, the use of "Blessed" for the Beatitudes rather than "Happy."
Despite the overall excellence of the finalised English version, however, a number of errors or flaws remain - albeit small in relation to the whole. Among these might be noted: in 903 "Lay people" should read "Lay men," with "viri laici" in brackets to indicate it means men as opposed to women, on the basis of Canon 230.1 from which it comes. Then at 645, the last sentence has missed the French word "que" and so reversed the meaning. It should read: the risen Jesus appears "in the guise of a gardener or in forms other than those familiar to his disciples, precisely to awaken their faith."
Often two or three footnotes from the French are joined together into one footnote. Occasionally this is confusing and makes one wonder which bit of the text refers to which one of the references in the footnote.
At 1402 "a pledge of the life to come" slavishly follows the French rendition of a Latin prayer which actually says "a pledge of future glory." The word "glory" should have been used, as it is in that paragraph's subheading and at 1130 and 1323 which refer to the same prayer.
At 2558 "Great is the mystery of the faith!" again slavishly follows the French, which is the French Missal's translation of "Mysterium fidei" said by the priest after the consecration. In the English Missal it is "Let us proclaim the mystery of faith," an equally arbitrary translation. The Catechism would have been better off simply translating it as "The mystery of faith."
On the more positive side, the Catechism makes fresh translations from the Latin of the Roman Liturgy (e.g., 277, 647,661,1065,1221,1383,1386,1404,1742, 2005, 2854) where it was needed, instead of using the ready-made ICEL official mistranslations. Since the ICEL Mass translations are all being revised in any case, there was no duty to keep to them. Where the ICEL translation was acceptable it was used (e.g., 477, 631, 1012, 2046, 2818), but on other occasions it was used even when not exact (e.g., 63, 839, 857, 1037, 1217, 1218, 1219). The ICEL translation of the Creed is given at 184-185, but it would have been better to see the Creed newly and literally translated, as to have "I believe" instead of "We believe," as well as "consubstantial", a technical word coined with good reason precisely because no phrase did the work so well. In fact at 242 a portion of the Nicene Creed is quoted and this is translated literally and correctly, using the word "consubstantial". Why not therefore when the Creed is given in full?
The Apostles' Creed at 184-185 is not quite right for it says "at the right hand of the Father" instead of "at the right hand of God the Father Almighty."
At 2366 Humanae Vitae art. 11 is quoted in its usual inept translation: "each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life." Janet Smith (Humanae Vitae - a Generation Later, p.270) and others have shown that, following the Latin, it is more correctly rendered "each conjugal act must remain ordained in itself (per se destinatus) to the procreating of human life."
Symeon of Thessalonica, quoted at 1690, is called "Saint" by mistake, for, as James Likoudis has pointed out, he was a Greek Orthodox archbishop (died in 1429) who wrote against the Roman primacy!
Sometimes the Catechism gives a short Latin quote in a footnote (e.g., 118, 647, 700, 1404) which is very helpful, but on other occasions too it would have been of benefit to see the Latin as well (e.g., 257, 412, 526, 617, 1381, 1398, 1402) instead of having to go searching in books for it. The French edition on computer disc has a lot of Latin. It was the French publisher and now the English publishers who have omitted so much of the Latin.
Readers might be amazed at 1283 which is in fact a perfectly correct translation. It is meant to be an "In Brief" resumŽ of 1261, but it is not! The forthcoming Latin edition, which alone will be official, might fix it up.
Nearly all the mistakes and misprints in the French text have been corrected in both the Italian and English translations, except for those in the indices which seem to have been copied without checking.
However, leaving the above quibbles aside, the clarity, the tranquillity, the evenness of style and the beauty of the exposition shine through in both the original and in this translation. Paragraph 1022 is a paragon of clarity and conciseness: "Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgement that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven - through a purification or immediately - or immediate and everlasting damnation."
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is by far the most important document of the Magisterium of the 20th century. Every Catholic should get a copy of this book and read it from start to finish, have it as a ready reference on the Catholic Faith and consult it any time for instruction and inspiration.
As Cardinal Ratzinger has put it, the four parts of the Catechism beautifully express "what the Church believes, celebrates, lives and prays."
Fr Peter Joseph is a priest of the Diocese of Wagga Wagga and lectures in Scripture and at the diocesan seminary, Vianney College.