The Church in the world today or the modern world?

The long title in English for the Vatican II document often known simply as Gaudium et Spes is “Pastoral  Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” – at least that’s what it says on the Vatican website.

Except that it’s not the correct translation of the original Latin title which is: “Constitutio Pastoralis de Ecclesia in Mundo Huius Temporis” which actually means in a more literal translation: “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the world of this time” or perhaps “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Present Day World”.

Big deal, what’s the difference? Well, apparently the drafters did think there was a difference.

According to Archbishop Marcos McGrath, CSC, late archbishop of Panama, and a friend and collaborator of Cardijn:

“The Latin title De Ecclesia in mundo huius mundo is the result of a deliberate choice. It does not render the expression “modern world”, which could also apply to recent centuries, but rather means the world “hic et nunc” (here and now). This title should thus be translated into English as “The Church in the World Today” or “in the World of Today”. It is an important point because it reflects the currency (topicality), or, one might say, the existential quality of the nature (process) of the document.”

Archbishop McGrath, who worked on the drafting of Gaudium et Spes, made a point of mentioning this incorrect English translation in an article he wrote in 1967, i.e. soon after the Council, L’Eglise dans le monde de ce temps. (in Vatican II, L’Eglise dans le monde de ce temps, Vol II, Cerf, Paris, 1967).

Well, I reckon that he would be well placed to know what he was talking about!

I have also checked other language versions of Gaudium et Spes on the Vatican site.

The French version is: L’Eglise dans le monde de ce temps (The Church in the world of this time). Correct, naturally, since the document was mainly drafted in French.

In Italian, it is Chiesa nel mondo contemporaneo (The Church in the contemporary world). Good.

The Spanish version is: La iglesia en el mundo actual (The Church in the present world). Good.

Portuguese: Igreja no mundo actual (The Church in the present world). Yep.

German: Die Kirche in Der Welt von Heute (The Church in the world today.)

Swahili: Konstitusio ya kichungaji juu ya Kanisa katika ulimwengu wa leo (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in today’s world) according to Google Translate.

Hungarian:  Lelkipásztori konstitúciója az Egyházról a mai világban (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in today’s world). Google Translate again. Fine.

Czech: Pastorální konstituce o církvi v dnešním světě (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in today’s world). Google Translate. Fine once more.

Interestingly, in Bielorussian the translation is as follows:

ПАСТЫРСКАЯ КАНСТЫТУЦЫЯ ПРА КАСЦЁЛ У СУЧАСНЫМ СВЕЦЕ (Pastoral Constitution about the Church in the modern world) (Google Translate), i.e. the same as in English, which perhaps implies that it was translated from the English version.

I couldn’t figure out the Chinese translation!

In any event, I guess this emphasises the importance of getting the English right if it is going to be used as the basis for other translations.

The weird thing is that in the 47 years since the promulgation of Gaudium et Spes, the official English translation has never been updated.

How is this possible?

Stefan Gigacz


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