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Scholar’s new translation is truer to John Paul’s original
BY ANTHONY FLOTT
There were no
slithering snakes or sword-wielding assassins, but Michael Waldstein still
experienced what you might call an “Indiana Jones” moment.
For years, the Austrian biblical
scholar had hoped to uncover the mystery of the original text of a crucial
papal teaching — radical thinking that one Church scholar has referred to as a
“theological time bomb.”
Finally, in January this year,
Waldstein traveled to Rome
hot on the trail. There, in a papal archive center, the bespectacled scholar
found what he had long sought: John Paul II’s blueprint for the “theology of
“That really just electrified us,”
Waldstein says. “Step by step, we then figured out that that must be the
The find, in the John Paul II
Foundation at Dom Polski, was only part of Waldstein’s quest. For almost two
years, he labored on a new translation of Theology
of the Body, the late Pope’s lengthy, heady work exploring and explaining
sex and human existence. It is perhaps his greatest theological contribution to
the Church, earning the “time bomb” label from papal biographer George Weigel.
Waldstein finished his translation
early this summer and the book, published by Pauline Books & Media, is now
available for ordering.
For “TOB” experts and enthusiasts,
the timing could not be better.
“I was absolutely thrilled when I
heard it was forthcoming,” says author Christopher West, perhaps the theology’s
most popular proponent. “I felt the need for it, but I didn’t have the level of
scholarship necessary to do it.”
Waldstein did. He is fluent in
German, English and Italian, and able to read seven other languages. He’s
chancellor and Francis of Assisi Professor of New Testament at the
International Theological Institute in Austria. Together with his wife,
Susie, he is a member of the Pontifical Council for the Family. He holds a
doctorate in philosophy from the University
of Dallas, a licentiate in sacred
Scripture from the Biblicum in Rome and a
theology doctorate in New Testament and Christian origins from Harvard Divinity School.
Oh, and he and Susie have eight
Waldstein first studied the theology
of the body in 1981 while a philosophy student at the University of Dallas.
John Paul II had begun issuing his masterwork in 1979 during his Wednesday
general audiences. These ran until 1984.
The Italian versions the Holy
Father provided to the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano were translated
into various languages. But because different translators did the work, the
translations were inconsistent.
Waldstein set about correcting
that. While translating the Pope’s work more accurately was the heart of his
task, he also was intent on acquiring a detailed outline of the treatise. “I
was pretty sure there had to be one because it’s so intricately worked out, and
you can’t do that on the spot,” Waldstein told the Register by phone from Gaming, Austria.
“You have to plan it out and then keep to your plan.”
Key in the Cobwebs
Because of the Pope’s intricately
reasoned, phenomenological approach to shaping his thought, the lack of an
outline made challenging reading even more arduous.
“Many people have the experience
that it’s very difficult to know where you are and where you are going in the
text,” says Waldstein. “Like being in the fog.”
The fog lifted in 2006 when
Waldstein and a friend discovered the outline among John Paul II’s archives.
The director there had provided the original, typed version of Theology of the Body in Italian. The
next day, he provided the Polish version, which he believed was a translation
of the Italian.
It turned out to be the original,
typed for then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla by a Polish nun. The Polish version
included elaborate four- to five-level systems of headings, parts, chapters,
sections and subsections. The nun confirmed with Waldstein that the Polish
version indeed had come first and was the one that John Paul II brought from
Krakow to Rome
after his election as Pope.
“When I got the headings, it just
popped open,” Waldstein says. “I could then appreciate the power of his mind —
how carefully he had laid out the different parts of the work, one thing
depending on the other and continuing and so on.”
Accordingly, Waldstein gave his
translation new headings. That was only one of many changes, though.
West points first to Waldstein’s
consistency with the Pope’s use of significato
corp, correctly translated “spousal meaning of the body.” That had
inconsistently been translated at different times as matrimonial, conjugal and,
most often, nuptial meaning of the body.
Waldstein refers to the term as
“the single most central and important concept in TOB,” so translating it
accurately was important.
“The word ‘nuptial’ is … very much
tied to the wedding,” says Waldstein. “‘Spousal’ covers the whole breadth of
life of a man and a woman who are married to each other. That is one of the
great advantages of ‘spousal’ over ‘nuptial.’”
Knowing that “nuptial meaning” had
taken root in the English world, Waldstein asked West if “spousal meaning”
should be used instead. West conducted an informal survey of “lay enthusiasts”
who showed an “overwhelming preference for ‘spousal,’” says West, who reviewed
Waldstein’s work prior to publication and wrote its preface.
Other changes in Waldstein’s
was replaced with “desire” when appropriate — which was often. Waldstein cited
it as most problematic in the original translation. “Lust is a vice and desire
can be good or bad,” he says. “The Pope goes on to make a distinction between
forms of desire that are good and forms of desire that are bad. If you lust for
both, you’re in big trouble.”
Legionary Father Walter Schu, who
has written two books related to theology of the body, also appreciated the
change. “‘Lust’ appeared innumerable times, which gave the idea that the Holy
Father had a negative approach,” Father Schu says.
Pope’s complete reflections on the Song of Songs and Book of Tobit now are
— At the Vatican’s
request the book’s title now is Man and
Woman He Created Them, with the subtitle “A Theology of the Body.”
structure is more faithful to John Paul II’s original (albeit longer) sentences.
comprehensive index of words and phrases is provided based on the Italian text.
The index alone is “one of the great boons for scholars,” says Father Schu.
Will Waldstein’s book advance John
Paul’s thinking ?
“I think that, in scholarship, it
will make a tremendous difference,” says West.
Anthony Flott writes from
Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology
of the Body
by Pope John Paul II
Translated by Michael M. Waldstein
To order: (800) 836-9723