Biblical Scholar’s Unexpected Discovery Leads to New, More Faithful Translation of “The Theology of
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Norma Vavolizza
New York, NY, August 18, 2006—The Theology of the Body remains one of John Paul II’s greatest gifts to the universal Church. However, official translations could not deliver the work in the form the Pope had intended.
Thanks to the meticulous research of a noted biblical scholar, John Paul II’s masterpiece has been newly translated and restored to its original meaning. In a series of essays, the book shows the divine plan for human spousal love and the spousal meaning of the body as proclaimed by Christ.
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. Dr. Waldstein was no stranger to The Theology of the Body. The highly respected doctor of theology and professor had studied and taught its concepts of the spiritual communion of life, love, marriage, and sexuality for 10 years. “I had worked very hard to understand the order of the argument,” he 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 to his General Audience between 1979 and 1984 are well known and frustrating to clergy, scholars, and lay readers alike. 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 whomever was on duty at the time.
Because the several translators were dealing with individual catecheses, 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. Subsequent translators could not go back to change earlier text because it had already been published.
Therefore, existing English translations were simply a compilation of these slightly errant Osservatore transcripts. While theologically true and pedagogically helpful, they lacked the coherence originally conceived by John Paul II.
Realizing the compelling need for a new, systematic perspective that considered The Theology of the Body as a whole, Dr. Waldstein was confident that somewhere among John Paul II’s papers there had to be an outline he himself used while writing such a large and complex work.
Based on that conviction, Dr. Waldstein decided to delve into the John Paul II archives in Rome’s Casa Polacca. Not knowing Polish, he took with him a Polish colleague, Fr. Wojtek Janusiewicz.
The director of the archives said he was not aware that any outline existed. He gave the men folders of documents pertaining to The Theology of the Body, which contained the Italian typescript of the catecheses and some handwritten corrections by John Paul II. Initially, their investigation led to nothing new.
Further probing led to additional folders containing a Polish version of The Theology of the Body, but the archivist explained that the Italian text was the original and the Polish simply a translation. He insisted that they would not find anything that was not in the Italian.
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.
After careful consideration, they realized that this evidence proved that the Polish was not a translation from the Italian, but in fact the exact opposite. In their hands, they held an original manuscript of The Theology of the Body that was completely unknown to scholars.
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. This revelation was further supported by a note in John Paul II’s own handwriting, explicitly stating that the structure of the work remained the same when he adapted it for his Wednesday audiences.
Preparing to bring this original text to the English-speaking public, Dr. Waldstein realized the responsibility that lay before him. “As a scripture scholar, my main focus is to study the word of God, and to make it more accessible to people,” he explains. “When I began my translation, I was flooded more and more with a great sense of urgency, that this work desperately needed be made available to the Church.”
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