Bible scholar restores John Paul's Theology of the Body

An American biblical scholar has published a new translation of John Paul II's famous lectures on the Theology of the Body following a discovery of Polish manuscripts including the original headings and division of the text on which the lectures were based.

The new translation is the work of Dr Michael M Waldstein, Director of the International Theological Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in Gaming, Austria.

A respected doctor of theology and professor, Dr Waldstein had studied and taught John Paul II's concepts of the spiritual communion of life, love, marriage, and sexuality for 10 years.

In a series of essays, the late Pontiff's work shows the divine plan for human spousal love and the spousal meaning of the body as proclaimed by Christ.

"I had worked very hard to understand the order of the argument," Dr Waldstein remembers. "I thought I had made real progress, but I always wished I could get my hands on a division of the work by John Paul II himself."

The many problems inherent in translating the inspirational lectures the Pope delivered in his General Audience talks between 1979 and 1984 were well known to scholars. Given the circumstances under which these translations occurred, problems were inevitable.

Soon after each catechesis was delivered, it was sent to the English editorial office of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, to be translated by whoever was on duty.

The results were inadvertent omissions, intentional edits, and many inconsistencies. For example, the key concept "spousal meaning of the body" is translated in eight different ways, according to the biblical scholar.

Sensing the need for a new, systematic perspective that considered the Theology of the Body as a whole, Dr Waldstein felt that the original outline must exist somewhere among John Paul II's papers.

With a Polish colleague, Fr Wojtek Janusiewicz, he therefore decided to delve into the John Paul II archives in Rome's Casa Polacca.

Probing led to the discovery of folders containing a Polish version of the Theology of the Body, but the archivist insisted that the Italian text was the original and the Polish simply a translation.

When Dr Waldstein and his colleague examined the documents, they were astonished to find that the Polish text contained an elaborate system of 219 section and sub-section headings - a crucial element of the work - consisting of some 1,600 words.

They realised that this evidence proved that the Polish was not a translation from the Italian but the exact opposite.

Their conclusion was later confirmed when the scholars managed to track down the religious sister who had typed the original manuscript for Cardinal Karol Wojtyla while he was still in Krakow and before his elevation to Pope.

Based on this original document, the new edition restores John Paul II's original system of chapter headings which has been translated from Polish for the first time.

"That alone would have made it worthwhile to produce a new edition," he explains. "Restoring the Pope's own structure and headings really breaks open the text. I think the orientation people will feel when they read it is a qualitative leap from what was possible before."

Six additional catecheses printed in the Polish edition are also published for the first time in English. The Pope's trademark use of italics, much of which had been lacking in the first translation or removed by subsequent editors, has been restored. Inconsistencies caused by different translators have been corrected, and sentences have been properly reconstructed.

"The biggest difference my translation provides is the rigor of the Pope's thinking and the clear order of thought throughout the work. The task of the translator is to disappear as much as possible," says Dr Waldstein. "I wanted to make John Paul II's own words available."

Biblical Scholar's Unexpected Discovery Leads to New, More Faithful Translation of "The Theology of the Body" (Catholic Online, 18/8/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
International Theological Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family
General Audiences: John Paul's Theology of the Body (EWTN)

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23 Aug 2006