The Holy Father, in his letter Porta Fidei, has described the Second Vatican Council as a tutissimus index, a profoundly safe pointer for our age (index means your index finger which you point with when giving directions; vernacular translations have employed the term compass .... readers may wonder whether this is quite the same thing). As we prepare for the Year of Faith, I suspect that many of us will be meditating upon what lies at the heart of the significance of Vatican II. An understanding of this is essential; for example, by using the phrase hoc tempus in the heading of Gaudium et spes the Council itself makes clear that much of the detail of that document will inevitably be of less immediate relevance in a world, fifty years later, whose problems were undreamed of a couple of generations before. Illud conciliare tempus non est hoc nostrum tempus! Amidst so much that is bound to be transient, where can we find the safe and enduring dogmatic heart of the Council? Its tutissimus index?
Pope Benedict XVI gave us a pretty tutus index here in his celebrated 2005 Discorso ai Membri della Curia. He referred us to and quoted from the Discorso d'apertura del Concilio of Blessed John XXIII, delivered on the Feast of the Maternity of our Lady, October 11 1962. But ... what did Blessed John actually say? Here there is a most lamentable confusion which is still extant and which is even perpetuated and accentuated by - it appears - current Vatican employees. Let me explain ... even if this does take me into some intricacies.
I presume that the authentic text of the Holy Father's Address to his Curia, since I cannot find a Latin version, was delivered in Italian. In this version, he cites the words of Papa Roncalli about expressing the Faith in ways adapted to our own time, concluding, as Pope John did, with the phrase conservando ad esse tuttavia lo stesso senso e la stessa portata. In the original Latin of Pope John, this is eodem tamen sensu eademque sententia. But the English version of Pope Benedict's quotation from Pope John concludes "The substance of the ancient doctrine of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another ..." In other words, the quotation is cut short in such a way (after "another ...") as to imply that Pope John did not say eodem sensu eademque sententia. Then, after those quotation marks, the English quotation continues retaining the same meaning and message. This is indeed, in my view, a fairish, if not particularly good, rendering of eodem sensu eademque sententia. But the point is that the English translator implies .... and presumably thought ... that those words were not part of Pope John's original text but had been added by Pope Benedict.
It then becomes clear why the English translator has made this rather significant and profoundly deplorable mistake. In brackets, he gives his source: "(The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, S.J., p 715)". Abbott's English translation of the Conciliar documents was what my generation put upon its bookshelves. But here, Abbott is not giving an accurate rendering of the Latin. In fact, Abbott omitted the words eodem sensu eademque sententia from his rendering of what the Pope had actually said. I think, I hope, that I should blame the English translator of Pope Benedict's words for simple error rather than for conspiracy. Here is what must have happened.
He had, on his bookshelf as I do on mine, Abbott's yellowing little paperback, and he looked at that rather than bothering himself with silly old Acta Apostolicae Sedis. But, in doing so, he has, as far as Anglophone readers are concerned, considerably muddied the waters for anybody who is trying to trace the lineaments and history of a phrase which is of very considerable Magisterial significance, and he has badly blunted the intended impact of the Holy Father's teaching with regard to the Second Vatican Council and the hermeneutic by which it should be understood.