Friday, 19 January 2018


Emmaus Helge Boe

1746 words, 9 min read

Back in 2015, Pope Francis visited a Lutheran church in Rome and answered three questions from the congregation: one, from a 9-year-old boy, on what he liked about being Pope, another, from the community’s treasurer who was involved in a project for refugees, on how to avoid resignation and people turning to erecting walls, and the final one, which I’d like to take a look at here, on intercommunion. In particular, I would like to present Pope Francis’ answer more fully and, as always arguably, more closely than the Vatican’s official English translation.

As a result, the following account of his words will be a combination of the official English translation, which I will seek to follow as much as possible, and of my, coarse translation of his words when it departs from a more verbatim translation of the original Italian. Details about my departures from the official translation will be provided in the endnotes, not to interfere with a reading of his response to this important question.

Before proceeding, I’d like to thank the Vatican for its prompt and broad translation of the pope’s words into English - having access to them in this way is not something I take for granted and my alternative translation exercise here is not meant to be an attack or even a criticism, merely a different translation, possibly done with different objectives to the official one. E.g., I will favour closer, more verbatim English choices wherever these are available, even at the cost of a result that may sound odd or flow less well than other alternatives. The matter at hand is highly delicate and important and I believe that as close a rendering of the pope’s words as possible is preferable here, also because these were off-the-cuff remarks rather than a prepared text.

So, let’s begin at the beginning, with the question put to Pope Francis about intercommunion:1
“My name is Anke de Bernardinis and, like many members of our community, I am married to an Italian, who is a Roman Catholic Christian. We have been living together happily for many years, sharing joys and sufferings. And therefore it hurts is very much that we are divided in our faith and that we cannot partake together in the Lord’s Supper. What can we do to, at last, reach communion on this point?”
The pope then responds (all changes are highlighted in bold type, bold text without an endnote indicates a word missing from the official translation but present in the Italian original):
“Thank you, Ma’am. Regarding the question on sharing the Lord’s Supper, it is not easy for me to answer you, especially in front of a theologian like Cardinal Kasper! I’m afraid! I think the Lord told us2 when he gave us this command: “Do this in memory of me”. And when we share in the Lord’s Supper, we remember and imitate,3 we do the same thing that the Lord Jesus did. And the there will be the Lord’s Supper, there will be the final banquet in the New Jerusalem,4 but this will be the last one. Instead on the journey, I ask myself5 — and I don’t know how to answer, but I am making your question my own — I ask myself: “Is sharing the Lord’s Supper the end of a journey or is it the viaticum for walking together? I leave the question to the theologians, to those who understand. It is true that in a certain sense sharing is saying that there are no differences between us, that we have the same doctrine — I underline the word, a difficult word to understand — but I ask myself: but don’t we have the same Baptism? And if we have the same Baptism, we have to walk together. You are a witness to a journey that is also profound6 because it is a conjugal journey, a journey properly of the family7, of human love and of shared faith. We have the same Baptism. When you feel you are a sinner — I too feel I am quite a sinner — when your husband feels he is a sinner, you go before the Lord and ask forgiveness; your husband does the same and goes to the priest and asks for8 absolution. They are remedies for9 keeping Baptism alive. When you pray together, that Baptism grows, it becomes strong; when you teach your children who Jesus is, why Jesus came, what Jesus did, you do the same, whether in Lutheran language or in Catholic language10, but it is the same. The question: and the Supper? There are questions to which only if one is honest with oneself and with the few theological “lights” that I have, one must respond the same, you see. “This is my Body, this is my Blood”, said the Lord, “do this in memory of me”, and this is a viaticum that helps us to walk11. I had a great friendship with an Episcopalian bishop, 48 years old, married with two children, and he had this concern: a Catholic wife, Catholic children, and he a bishop. He accompanied his wife and children to Mass on Sundays and then went to worship with his community. It was a step of participating in the Lord’s Supper. Then he passed on, the Lord called him, a just man. I respond to your question only with a question: how can I do [things] with my husband12, so that the Lord’s Supper may accompany me on my way13? It is a problem to which each person must respond. A pastor friend of mine said to me: “We believe that the Lord is present there. He is present. You believe that the Lord is present. So what is the difference?” — “Well, there are explanations, interpretations...”. Life is greater than explanations and interpretations. Always refer to Baptism: “One faith, one baptism, one Lord”, as Paul tells us, and from there draw the consequences14. I would never dare give permission to do this because it is not my competence15. One Baptism, one Lord, one faith. Speak with the Lord and go forward. I do not dare say more.”
From the perspective of translation it could be argued that 14/15 of my changes don’t do much to the resulting meaning, and I would agree with that. My objective there was only to make subtle changes of nuance and not to suggest that what an English reader would understand from the original translation would be different in essence from what an Italian reader would get from reading the official, Italian transcript.

However, I made one rather substantial and important change: the translation of the Italian “competenza” as “competence” instead of as “authority” as in the official English version. Since the English language contains the word “competence”, which not only has the same origin, but also the same meaning and polysemic scope as the Italian “competenza” (i.e., it is not a so-called “false friend”), choosing a synonym for it that narrows meaning and changes polysemy is, to my mind, an unnecessary change to Francis’ words. Further, to map “competenza” to “authority” is particularly serious in the case of the pope, who enjoys “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church” (cf. Cann. 331-334).

Rendering “competenza” as authority leaves Francis’ words sounding like giving permission for intercommunion is something he cannot do. This is certainly a possible interpretation of “competenza”. Another is that he meant that this decision is not for him to make, that he does have the power to make it, but that the most “competent” party is the person who faces this situation directly. I believe that if Francis had wanted to get the former interpretation across, he could have used another Italian word that was equally open to him: “autorità”. But he didn’t.

Instead he did the following, which, to my mind, is more consistent with my translation: he presents the choice of two interpretations of the Eucharist - as sign of having arrived at the end of a journey (the Eschaton, the New Jerusalem), or as a viaticum (provisions for a journey - that which gives the sustenance needed for journeying). Having presented the two alternatives, Francis then comes down on the side of the latter. He links his choice to Jesus’ words from the Last Supper and, importantly, he also does so on the basis that we, Christians are all journeying together on the one journey, which our shared baptism opens to us and to which it introduces us. Francis further underlines this oneness of journey - the journey that needs a viaticum - by repeating St. Paul’s kerygmatic “One faith, one baptism, one Lord” not once but twice in the course of his answer. Now, why doesn’t he just use his authority to permit what his interlocutor asks? I believe it is because the answer depends on where one is on this journey, on whether one is on this one, shared journey or not.

“One faith, one baptism, one Lord.”

1 For a start, the question is not translated in the official English version, which only provides the following account: “Then Anke de Bernardinis, the wife of a Roman Catholic, expressed sorrow at “not being able to partake together in the Lord’s Supper” and asked: “What more can we do to reach communion on this point?”.”
2 Italian: “ci ha detto”; English: “gave us [the answer]”.
3 Italian: “la Cena del Signore, ricordiamo e imitiamo,”; English: “, remember and emulate the Lord’s Supper,”.
4 Italian: “E la Cena del Signore ci sarà, il banchetto finale nella Nuova Gerusalemme ci sarà”; English: “And the Lord’s Supper will be, the final banquet will there be in the New Jerusalem”
5 Italian: “mi domando”; English: “I wonder”
6 Italian: “un cammino anche profondo”; English: “an even profound journey”
7 Italian: “un cammino proprio di famiglia”; English: “truly a family journey”
8 Italian: “chiede”; English: “requests”
9 Italian: “rimedi per”; English: “ways of”
10 Italian: “in lingua luterana che in lingua cattolica”; English: “in Lutheran or Catholic terms”
11 Italian: “che ci aiuta a camminare”; English: “which helps us to journey”
12 Italian: “come posso fare con mio marito”; English: “how can I participate with my husband”
13 Italian: “strada”; English: “path”
14 Italian: “e di là prendete le conseguenze”; English: “and take the outcome from there”
15 Italian: “non è mia competenza”; English: “I do not have the authority”