The 1997 Vatican Norms for Translation of Biblical Texts

In the Spring of 1997 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, presented to American bishops the "Norms for the Translation of Biblical Texts for Use in the Liturgy" reproduced below. These norms were intended to bring an end to the continuing conflict over inclusive language in the lectionary. They were distributed privately to all the American bishops two weeks prior to their 1997 annual meeting (held June 19-21), at which time they were to take up the question of whether or not they would accept the Lectionary as revised in Rome. The norms were first published by the National Catholic Reporter on July 4th 1997.

Norms for the Translation of Biblical Texts for Use in the Liturgy

1. The Church must always seek to convey accurately in translation the texts she has inherited from the biblical, liturgical, and patristic tradition and instruct the faithful in their proper meaning.

2. The first principle with respect to biblical texts is that of fidelity, maximum possible fidelity to the words of the text. Biblical translations should be faithful to the original language and to the internal truth of the inspired text, in such a way as to respect the language used by the human author in order to be understood by his intended reader. Every concept in the original text should be translated in its context. Above all, translations must be faithful to the sense of Sacred Scripture understood as a unity and totality, which finds its center in Christ, the Son of God incarnate (cf. Dei Verbum III and IV), as confessed in the Creeds of the Church.

3. The translation of Scripture should faithfully reflect the Word of God in the original human languages. It must be listened to in its time-conditioned, at times even inelegant, mode of human expression without "correction" or "improvement" in service of modern sensitivities.

a) In liturgical translations or readings where the text is very uncertain or in which the meaning is very much disputed, the translation should be made with due regard to the Neo-Vulgate.

b) If explanations are deemed to be pastorally necessary or appropriate, they should be given in editorial notes, commentaries, homilies, etc.

4/1. The natural gender of personae in the Bible, including the human author of various texts where evident, must not be changed insofar as this is possible in the receptor language.

4/2. The grammatical gender of God, pagan deities, and angels according to the original texts must not be changed insofar as this is possible in the receptor language.

4/3. In fidelity to the inspired Word of God, the traditional biblical usage for naming the persons of the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is to be retained.

4/4. Similarly, in keeping with the Church's tradition, the feminine and neuter pronouns are not to be used to refer to the person of the Holy Spirit.

4/5. There shall be no systematic substitution of the masculine pronoun or possessive adjective to refer to God in correspondence to the original text.

4/6. Kinship terms that are clearly gender specific, as indicated by the context, should be respected in translation.

5. Grammatical number and person of the original texts ordinarily should be maintained.

6/1. Translation should strive to preserve the connotations as well as the denotations of words or expressions in the original and thus not preclude possible layers of meaning.

6/2. For example, where the New Testament or the Church's tradition have interpreted certain texts of the Old Testament in a Christological fashion, special care should be observed in the translation of these texts so that a Christological meaning is not precluded.

6/3. Thus, the word "man" in English should as a rule translate adam and anthropos, since there is no one synonym which effectively conveys the play between the individual, the collectivity and the unity of the human family so important, for example, to expression of Christian doctrine and anthropology.