The Pope’s Decision on Biblical Text: Is It a Political Move?

The latest verdict from the pontiff gives local bishops more control over how they translate scripture

Is scriptural interpretation open to individual churches and individual people — or does the understanding and teaching of God’s Holy Word rely solely on the Catholic Church?

Pope Francis wrote a letter that ultimately gives local bishops translation authority of the Bible, or certainly greater influence. The Vatican, however, holds ultimate approval of all liturgical translations.

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The pope’s “Magnum Principium,” released on September. 9, was written after a committee of Catholic bishops and other experts were appointed to review the “Liturgiam Authenticam.”

The official Vatican commentary states: “In brief, the ‘confirmatio,’ ordinarily granted based on trust and confidence, supposes a positive evaluation of the faithfulness and congruence of the texts produced with respect to the typical Latin text, above all taking account of the texts of greatest importance (e.g. the sacramental formulae, which require the approval of the Holy Father, the Order of Mass, the Eucharistic Prayers, and the Prayers of Ordination, which all require a detailed review).”

One concern has been that priests would be instructed to put forth a political agenda to their church members — that a message of personal persuasion rather than spiritual inspiration would be delivered to enthusiastic priests and then congregations. Another concern was that there would be a misinterpretation of the translation into various languages.

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The changes to Canon 838 add the phrases “recognize adaptations approved by Conferences of Bishops according to the norm of law” and “to approve and publish the liturgical books for the regions for which they are responsible after the confirmation of the Apostolic See” shifts responsibility to leaders within the local churches.

Although the words of the Bible impact believers personally, the meaning of those words is not always open to interpretation. Proverbs 30:5 says, “Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.”

God’s law is not negotiable.

However, Hebrews 4:12 states that “the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”

Scripture is both unchanging and a living document that can apply to life’s changing circumstances.

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Commented Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments: “Attention must be paid to the benefit and good of the faithful, nor must the right and duty of Episcopal Conferences be forgotten who, together with Episcopal Conferences from regions sharing the same language and with the Apostolic See, must ensure and establish that, while the character of each language is safeguarded, the sense of the original text is fully and faithfully rendered and that even after adaptations the translated liturgical books always illuminate the unity of the Roman Rite.”

The core of the Word must remain steadfast — but the way of communication to explain that core is now weighted on the local bishops.

Katie Nations, married for 15 years, is a working mother of three young children. She lives in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 

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