Sacrament of: a) Love? b) Charity? c) Piety?

It is possible at times to get really pissed off with the official English translations from the official Latin documents from the Holy See.

Let us just go with “Sacramentum Caritatis” for a moment. With that exact phrase, okay? We are told that the official translation into English is to be “Sacrament of Charity”. BUT, Benedict himself tells us in the Exhortation itself that he named the Exhortation to emphasise the link to his Encyclical “Deus Caritas Est”, which, in English, is officially: “God is Love”. Go figure.

But it gets more fun than this. The Exhoration uses the word “caritas” about 16 times–but the word “amor” about 60 times. But in the English version there is no consistency between the way in which these words are translated. In English, the word “love” appears about 75 times, and the word “charity” about 10 times. Yeah, great.

Now, if you like these things, you will have already checked and found that the Catechism of the Catholic Church, at paragraph 1323, uses the phrase “a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity” which is a quotation from the Vatican II Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. If you look up paragraph 47 of Sacrosanctum Concilium you will find that it acknowledges St Augustine as the author of this this phrase. Aha! you think, Pope Benedict the Augustinian is using an Augustinian phrase here.

But no, would that it were so simple. When you look up the Latin of the Constitution, you see that the actual phrase from St Augustine is “sacramentum pietatis, signum unitatis, vinculum caritatis“. Crash goes that theory. Augustine was talking about a “Sacrament of Piety”, not a “Sacrament of Charity”. The phrase “Sacramentum Pietatis” does not occur anywhere in the Exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis”, although a brief word search of magisterial documents for the phrase “Sacrament of Love” will throw up both references.

So where on earth did this phrase come from? Well, it appears that St Thomas Aquinas was the author, after all (I don’t know if it was earlier). He uses the phrase in the Sententiae (IV Sententiae, d. 8, q. 1).

But it is frustrating when the translations do not allow for a precise theological analysis of the text.

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