A note on the Latin text of Amoris Laetitia

When Amoris Laetitia was first released in all the various modern languages, the geeks among the onlookers were frustrated to find that no Latin text was available on the Vatican website.  Months went by, and eventually a Latin text appeared, long after the debate over Amoris Laetitia was underway.  Just looking at the Vatican website, one would suppose that the Latin text was not the original text but was created some time after the various modern language editions.

Is this true?  I became curious.  Now that there is a Latin text, we can check.  If the Latin is original, then one will expect to find that the various translations render the Latin various ways, with the Polish sometimes agreeing with the Latin against the Spanish, and the Spanish sometimes agreeing with the Latin against the French, and so on.  But if the Latin was later, then one would expect to find sometimes that the various translations all agree with each other against the Latin, and one would expect to find this in a situation where a given phrase is especially hard to get into the Latin.

Check out paragraph 36:

Nonnumquam theologicum matrimonii exemplar demonstravimus nimis abstractum, quasi artificiose confectum, quod longe abest a certa condicione necnon a certis familiarum, quae re sunt, facultatibus. Haec nimis excelsa interpretatio, in primis cum gratiae fiduciam non concitavimus, haud effecit ut matrimonium desiderabilius sit et gratius, sed utique non est ita.

The phrase nimis excelsa interpretatio, translated literally, refers to an “excessively high interpretation” of marriage.  That’s not a bad way to put it, even in English.  But check out how the English renders that phrase:

At times we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families. This excessive idealization, especially when we have failed to inspire trust in God’s grace, has not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite.

“Excessive idealization”–that’s a nice phrase for it!  Captures the Latin nicely, although one could have translated it other ways.  Now let’s look at a bunch of other translations from the Vatican website:

Altre volte abbiamo presentato un ideale teologico del matrimonio troppo astratto, quasi artificiosamente costruito, lontano dalla situazione concreta e dalle effettive possibilità delle famiglie così come sono. Questa idealizzazione eccessiva, soprattutto quando non abbiamo risvegliato la fiducia nella grazia, non ha fatto sì che il matrimonio sia più desiderabile e attraente, ma tutto il contrario.

“Idealizzazione eccessiva” Exactly how the English renders it!

Otras veces, hemos presentado un ideal teológico del matrimonio demasiado abstracto, casi artificiosamente construido, lejano de la situación concreta y de las posibilidades efectivas de las familias reales. Esta idealización excesiva, sobre todo cuando no hemos despertado la confianza en la gracia, no ha hecho que el matrimonio sea más deseable y atractivo, sino todo lo contrario.

Idealización excesiva. Again!

Andere Male haben wir ein allzu abstraktes theologisches Ideal der Ehe vorgestellt, das fast künstlich konstruiert und weit von der konkreten Situation und den tatsächlichen Möglichkeiten der realen Familien entfernt ist. Diese übertriebene Idealisierung, vor allem, wenn wir nicht das Vertrauen auf die Gnade wachgerufen haben, hat die Ehe nicht erstrebenswerter und attraktiver gemacht, sondern das völlige Gegenteil bewirkt.

And again: “übertriebene Idealisierung”.

Nous n’avons pas non plus bien accompagné les nouveaux mariages dans leurs premières années, avec des propositions adaptées à leurs horaires, à leurs langages, à leurs inquiétudes les plus concrètes. D’autres fois, nous avons présenté un idéal théologique du mariage trop abstrait, presqu’artificiellement construit, loin de la situation concrète et des possibilités effectives des familles réelles. Cette idéalisation excessive, surtout quand nous n’avons pas éveillé la confiance en la grâce, n’a pas rendu le mariage plus désirable et attractif, bien au contraire !

Idéalisation excessiveIt’s uncanny!

Innymi razy przedstawiali?my idea? teologiczny ma??e?stwa zbyt abstrakcyjny, skonstruowany niemal sztucznie, daleki od konkretnej sytuacji i rzeczywistych mo?liwo?ci rodzin takimi, jakimi s?. Ta nadmierna idealizacja, zw?aszcza gdy nie obudzili?my ufno?ci w dzia?anie ?aski, nie pozwoli?a na to, aby ma??e?stwo by?o bardziej po??dane i atrakcyjne, ale wr?cz przeciwnie.

I don’t know Polish, and I can still make out our phrase: nadmierna idealizacja.

Given that every translation agrees on this phrase, and given that the agreement cannot be explained by the Latin text, one can only conclude that the translations are translations from an original Italian or Spanish text.  The Latin came later, and is derivative.  It is still the authoritative text, in official terms, but it cannot be used against all the translations to establish what the Pope was really thinking.

And it tends to take the wind out of the sails of an argument like this one from Robert Fastiggi and Dawn Eden Goldstein.  They chastise critics of Amoris Laetitia for commenting negatively on the word “ideal” in, for example, paragraph 303.  The Latin word is exemplar, they urge, and that does not admit of the same criticisms.

Unfortunately, the word in every modern language text of Amoris Laetitia, is “ideal”.  The word exemplar translates the word “ideal,” not the other way around, and so if you follow the word exemplar all the way through the Latin text of Amoris Laetitia, you find that the text uses the word exemplar to mean–surprise!–what we mean by the word “ideal”.  Moreover, as the above examples show, the language of “idealization” is even more present in the original text than in the Latin translation.

Inasmuch as the Latin text is the authoritative text, I would love to see a new translation of Amoris Laetitia. The Catechism was first translated from French to other languages, including Latin, and then from Latin back into modern languages.  Maybe that can happen here!


The lexicon of recent Latin words maintained by the Vatican translates the Italian “idealità” as exemplaris dignitas.  So it would appear official that exemplar is a Vatican way of handling the notion of “ideal”.

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Author: Dr. Holmes

Dr. Jeremy Holmes teaches Theology at Wyoming Catholic College. He lives in Wyoming with his wife, Jacinta, and their eight children.

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Peter Kwasniewski
Peter Kwasniewski
6 years ago

What you have discovered here is all the more striking in light of John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor, n. 103: “It would be a very serious error to conclude that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an ‘ideal’ which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a ‘balancing of the goods in question’. But what are the ‘concrete possibilities of man’? And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: THE REALITY OF CHRIST’S REDEMPTION. Christ has… Read more »

6 years ago

Thank you for your interest in the Sept. 26 La Stampa article I co-authored with Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein. I appreciate the points you have raised. In retrospect, Dr. Goldstein and I would have done better to speak of the “official” Latin text instead of the “original.” This, though, is actually a minor point because we all agree that the Latin text in the AAS is normative. The change from “ideal” to “exemplar” was only one of several points we made in our article. The change, though, is significant because an “exemplar” is a model, pattern, or example to follow… Read more »