Apr 15, 2001

Why there is no Catechism in Japanese

Online Edition – Vol. VII, No. 2: April 2001

Why there is no Catechism in Japanese

Conflict over translation has delayed publication for eight years

by Francis Mutsuo Fukushima

The "Terminology List" | Theological underpinnings | New terms reflect changed theology | Past presages present problems

For eight years, Japanese Catholics have been denied the inspiring teachings of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Although a Japanese translation of the Catechism was completed more than five years ago, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan (CBC-J) has not approved it.

A dispute among the nineteen Japanese bishops over the renderings of some key theological terms has caused the delay, as Cardinal Peter Seiichi Shirayanagi — Bishop Emeritus of Tokyo, Peter Takaaki Hirayama and several incumbent and former members of the secretariat of the CBC-J have attested.

In 1992, soon after the original French version of the Catechism was published, the Bishops’ Conference appointed a Hungarian missionary-theologian and a Japanese nun to make the translation. Father Peter Nemeshegyi, SJ, former chief of the Theology Faculty of Tokyo-based Sophia University, and Sister Therese Takako Kikuchi of the Congregation de Notre Dame completed the translation within three years.

Sister Kikuchi, a graduate of the University of Montreal, Canada, and author of a biography of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, completed her translation of the entire Catechism from the original French in 1995. Father Nemeshegyi, a dogmatic theologian, checked all the details of her translation carefully before submitting all four parts to the Bishops’ Conference for approval.

The Publications Department of the CBC-J sent Part I to Father John Bosco Masayuki Shirieda, SDB, designated by the Vatican as the censor of the translation. In an official reply from Rome, Father Shirieda, then an official at the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, said he confirmed the accuracy of the translation.

But the CBC-J secretariat did not send the remaining three parts to the Holy See for approval. The reason is that a bishop, Bishop Paul Shinichi Itonaga, vehemently opposed the translation even after the Holy See had approved Part I.

Bishop Itonaga and two other bishops Peter Takeo Okada and Joseph Satoshi Fukahori began rewriting the translation, according to a source close to the CBC-J who spoke on condition of anonymity. The CBC-J set up a Catechism Censorship Commission, naming these three bishops as its members.

Cardinal Shirayanagi said in an interview on August 7, 1999, that the publication of the Catechism has been delayed because "a dispute arose over how some terms related to the liturgy should be translated".

"Bishop Itonaga of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Compilation of the Catechism (of the CBC-J) is now dealing with the Catechism project", the cardinal said. "Father [Peter Takehito] Ano of the secretariat of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan is directly in charge of the Catechism project".

In October 1998, the Standing Committee of the CBC-J instructed Father Ano to rewrite the Japanese translation of the Catechism, taking into consideration a list of substitute words to replace the traditional translations of some liturgical and theological terms.

In a telephone interview in February this year, Father Ano said, "I was given the terminology list and was instructed to rewrite Sister Kikuchi’s translation in accordance with it". He said he has received conflicting requests from several bishops concerning how to translate the term "sacrifice". Some bishops demanded that the word be translated as hoken (offering), while others asked him to translate it as ikenie (sacrifice/victim), the traditional Japanese rendering of "sacrifice".

Clearly, there are divisions within the conference. "Bishop Itonaga does not like some terms used in the Japanese translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church", said Bishop Peter Hirayama of the Oita Diocese said in a conversation with this writer last September.

A serious theological dispute underlies the translation problem. The cause of the delay in publishing the Catechism in Japanese appears to be the objection of some members of the CBC-J Liturgy Committee to the dogma of the real substantial presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. This can be inferred from a list of words used to translate twenty-three key traditional theological and liturgical terms. The CBC-J approved the terminology list at their plenary meeting in 1997.

The "Terminology List"

In December 1994, a Terminology Study Commission was appointed to compile a list of acceptable Japanese words to use in all translated texts. The terminology list was published in the official "Meeting Report" of the CBC-J in July 1997, with the following introductory comments:

The Terminology Study Commission has been studying the terminology, especially the terms concerning the "Orders of the Church" which have the close relationship with the translation work of the Ordinal for the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The extraordinary plenary meeting of the Japanese Bishops’ Conference of 1996, which preceded this meeting, approved a part of the list of terms, whose use had been proposed by the Terminology Study Commission (c.f. Meeting Report, 1997 March issue).

The terms which were not approved then and remained unapproved were re-examined by the Terminology Study Commission and presented to a meeting in May of the CBC-J Standing Committee as the terms whose use was proposed again.

The Standing Committee, on behalf of the entire Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan approved a proposal to use the following terms as the official ecclesiastical terms which should be used in all publications to be published by the Publications Department of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan.

The terminology list includes such words as "sacrifice", "Eucharist", and "Eucharistic sacrifice", and gives several options as substitute words for each of the key words. The options include equivocal words whose meanings do not correspond with those of the traditional terms.

One theologically misleading element on the list is the suggestion that translators use the term "offering" (hoken) or "present" (sasagemono) or "offering to a deity" (sonaemono) to translate the crucial term "sacrifice" into Japanese. Although the list does include such traditional words as "victim" (ikenie, gisei) and "sacrifice" (gisei) among the options, they appear only at the end of the list.

Father Peter Takehiko Ano, commissioned by the CBC-J to rewrite the translation of the Catechism to conform to the terminology list, said he has been told to use the term "hoken" (offering) to render the word "sacrifice".

The three terms, hoken, sasagemono, sonaemono are not adequate rendetions of the word "sacrifice", because they do not express the crucial dogma that the sacrifice of the Mass is essentially identical with the sacrifice of the cross, according to Father Francis Keisuke Uchiyama, a Passionist priest who was the translator of the Holy Father’s Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris.

The words hoken and sasagemono are not appropriate to mean the sacrifice of the Mass, because they usually mean gifts of inanimate things to another, usually to a person with a socially high position. Hoken and sasagemono can be money, rice, gold, jewelry, or silk clothes. The words do not connote self-sacrifice or self-surrender of a person’s life.

Since Jesus volunteered to give up his life on the cross to redeem us, a Japanese word that could designate His noble act of self-immolation must be used to translate into Japanese both His sacrifice on the Cross and the Eucharistic sacrifice on the altar. The essential identity of the sacrifice of the Mass with the sacrifice of the cross results from the transubstantiation effected by the Divine power of Jesus the primary sacrificing priest at all Masses who converts the substance of bread into His Body through the action of the priest.

The words gisei and ikenie are appropriate to signify both a self-surrender of life by Jesus on the cross and the sacrifice of the Mass. The Catholic Church in Japan has used these two words for almost 100 years to signify the sacrifice of the Cross and the essence of the Eucharist from the period when Western missionaries began re-evangelizing Japan with a fresh translation of Catholic books following the 1873 repeal of the 260-year government ban on Christianity.

When Father Emile Raguet, MEP, a Belgian missionary, translated the New Testament in 1910, he translated Saint Paul’s reference to the sacrifice of the cross (letter to Corinthians, 5-7) as "ikenie" (like Protestant Bibles) by consulting a trilingual Japanese intellectual who was not a Catholic.

"The term sacrifice must be accurately translated as ikenie or gisei…. The fate of the Catholic Church in Japan will deeply depend on the issue of what word will be used to translate the term in the upcoming translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church," Father Uchiyama said.

He further cautions that persistent Japanese theologians are misleading other theologians, priests, and even some bishops by denying transubstantiation, the virgin birth of Christ, the divinity of Jesus and Biblical accounts of Jesus’s life.

Furthermore, the terminology list recommends that Catholic writers translate the term "Eucharist" as "Thanksgiving" (kansha) and the words "Eucharistic sacrifice" as "offering of thanksgiving (kansha-no-hoken)". These equivocal words for translation are at the top of the list, while the list does not authorize the use of the traditional words Seitai no gisei to translate the key term "Eucharistic sacrifice".

The terminology list has been applied since 1997 to various liturgical publications, according to a priest who is a former member of the secretariat of the CBC-J, and who spoke on condition of anonymity. "To the best of my knowledge, there is a requirement that the Japanese translation of the Catechism and other books and documents to be published by the CBC-J be subject to the terminology of this list", he said. 

Theological underpinnings

"When I first read the terminology list, I immediately realized that the list is an embodiment of the theory of Father (Francis Yoshimasa) Tsuchiya", the priest said. "I felt that the list was compiled on the basis of Father Tsuchiya’s theory, because I have long known his theory".

Jesuit Father Tsuchiya, the most influential liturgist in Japan, has long asserted that the term "sacrifice" should be translated as "an offering". Father Tsuchiya studied at the Liturgy Institute in Trier, Germany, and has exerted his influence over the CBC-J and the Japanese theological community for decades in his capacity as a key member of the Liturgy Commission of the CBC-J and as the president of the Faculty of Theology of Sophia University.

The priest wrote in his famous book, the Tenrei no Sasshin (Innovation of the Liturgy), "the Latin word, sacrificium, has long been translated here as gisei and ikenie, but the word has come to be translated as hoken under the new Liturgy, as the sacrifice is merely one of a range of forms of offerings and because the word signifies offerings of the rites of pagan-religions and during the age of the Old Covenant" (Oriens, a research institute of the Fathers of the Scheut Mission Society, 1985, Tokyo, Page 224).

Father Tsuchiya, addressing a debate on November 28, 1998, at the Shirayuri College in Tokyo, said that the word "sacrifice" should not be used in Catholic publications, because the concept of sacrifice is not agreeable to the sense of Japanese people who have historically been an agricultural people. The concept of sacrifice, the liturgist asserted, derived from the culture of nomadic races and hunting people. He further emphasized that the Church should use the word "offering of thanksgiving" in rendering the word "Eucharist," which has been long translated as "seitai".

At the same debate, Tsukuba University Professor Emeritus Paul Akio Sawada, observed that if the Catholic Church in Japan stops using the word "sacrifice", many Catholics would forget that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is made present in each Mass and that Jesus instituted the Eucharist to perpetuate His Sacrifice of the Cross.

Professor Sawada, a student of the late Professor Hubert Jedin of Bonn University, warned in an article in a Catholic magazine that a loss of faith in the essential identity of the Sacrifice of the Mass with the Sacrifice of the Cross has led to destroying Faith in God in many souls. (The Way to the Vatican, 1999, Tokyo, Page 11).

Sophia University Professor Emeritus Chin Eisho also dismissed Father Tsuchiya’s argument that the concept of sacrifice is alien to the Japanese culture. He pointed out that Japanese people have historically eaten wild animals. Further-more, Shintoist priests at the Ise Shrine, a major shrine of Shintoism, have long offered valuable fish such as sea bream to a Shintoist deity.

"If Japanese people had historically refrained from eating protein-food like the meat of wild animals and fish and sought to subsist only on rice, the Japanese race would not have been able to survive and exist until now", said the professor of physics, who is a devout Catholic.

"The two words, hoken and sasage, only mean an act of offering or inanimate things offered, so they neither connote nor suggest anything about what was offered on the cross", the professor said. "Because Jesus redeemed mankind by giving up his life on the cross, any theory that His Sacrifice of the Cross should not be translated as ikenie (sacrifice) is nonsensical".

A Shintoist priest from Ise Shrine substantiated Professor Chin’s explanations that Shintoism has a tradition of offering the sacrifice of living creatures to a deity.

Still today, Shintoist priests there offer fish, chickens, and other living creatures to please, thank, and praise God, the priest said. He said these Shintoist offerings are presented to God to ask for Divine blessings such as bumper crops and abundant fish catches. "We call these offerings ‘shinsen‘", he said.

But there appear to be deeper theological reasons why Father Tsuchiya and other influential liturgists in Japan have vehemently opposed the use of the word "sacrifice" in describing the Sacrifice of the Cross and the essence of the Eucharist.

New terms reflect changed theology

In his book, Tenrei no Sasshin, Father Tsuchiya questions the objective efficacy of the seven sacraments. In Chapter 9, "The Holy Eucharist in Modern Times", he writes that one should not accept the Church dogma that sacraments communicate grace to their recipients by the power of the sacramental rite performed by a validly ordained priest (ex opere operato).

Father Tsuchiya gives the strong impression that he supports the view of Protestant Reformers who recognized only a subjective psychological efficacy in the seven sacraments. His interpretation of the concept conflicts with the Church’s definition. This is serious in view of his far-reaching influence on seminarians and priests as the former president of the Faculty of Theology at Sophia University.

The following are direct quotations from his book, which has been long used as a textbook at the Faculty of Theology of Sophia University.

Since Scholastic Theology was introduced … the Church began to perform sacramental rites by believing as if, in the sacraments, the graces given by the work of God in the past (the Redemption) were united with prescribed things (prescribed sacramental words and materials) comprising the things perceptible to the senses, while believing as if the graces could be obtained by the work performed by a human (priest). [p. 317]

But the formula maintaining that the Sacraments operate by the power of the completed sacramental rites (ex opere operato) and the doctrine upholding their validity (validitas) are imperfect legal expressions which attempt to mean that the work of God is experienced in a symbolical manner collectively by people who are present on the venue (where the sacraments are conferred). The Catholic theories on the sacraments do not hold that those expressions signify the essence of the sacraments. [pp. 317-318]

German theologian Odo Casel distinguished between mere recollections and remembrance (memorial) during the Liturgy. He made it clear that the former activity is to recognize anew an event of the past as an occurrence of the past, while the latter is to interpret an event of the past as an event which is present here and now (that is, the activity of making present). [p. 318]

The term presence (praesentia) means being present in time and being together in the same place, and the term "repraesentatio" means that a person experiences the presence.(p. 319)

The term experience, in this context, is equivocal. The author did not make it clear whether the word experience implies a subjective, psychological experience or an objective experience.

The Catholic Church has long used the word "repraesentatio" to designate the objective reality that Jesus makes present His Sacrifice of the Cross on the altar of the Mass. Father Tsuchiya’s explanation of the "repraesentatio", however, gives the impression that Catholic dogma on the renewal of the Sacrifice of the Cross in each Mass should be interpreted as merely experiencing a subjective, psychological phenomenon.

This undermines Catholic dogmas that the Eucharist objectively contains sanctifying grace and confers it to Catholics who are in the state of grace. His explanations obscure the truth that the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is made present in each Mass.

The destructive influence of this book is compounded because it carries an imprimatur (given by Bishop Paul Kazuhiro Mori), thus people assume that the work contains nothing contrary to the faith and accept it uncritically.

Father Tsuchiya’s theories have already made a serious impact on the Church in Japan. He and the late Bishop Lawrence Satoshi Nagae (then chairman of the Liturgy Committee of the CBC-J) jointly translated and published the Japanese version of the Roman Missal in 1978. They rendered the word "sacrifice" as "Sonaemono" (offering to a deity) in some key places. For instance, they translated the oration of supplication toward the Heavenly Father in the Eucharistic Prayer I, Te igitur … accepta habeas et benedicas haec dona, haec munera, haec sancta sacrificia illibata (literally, "We humbly pray and implore You … to be pleased to receive and bless this gift, this present, this holy unblemished sacrifice") as simply "Please receive and bless this precious offering".

Bishop Nagae’s influence on Japanese liturgists and some bishops is still evident. His disciples appear to be trying to obliterate the dogma of transubstantiation and the Real Presence by altering the meaning of the Catechism, the Roman Missal, and other official Church publications.

Bishop Nagae commented on his address to his brother bishops during a General Session of the Second Vatican Council in an interview with the Japan Missionary Bulletin (Winter 1990).

"I spoke advocating … that the use of Latin be discontinued, and that each country should use its own language for the liturgy", he said. In his book Shingaku Shohinshu (Theological Essays), he also claimed that "After the age of the Apostles, the Church has re-interpreted the Bible to respond to questions from each age’s people when necessary…."

Past presages present problems

The conflict over translation of the Catechism in many respects seems to parallel similar conflicts in the past. What is at stake is conveying accurately the fundamental teachings of the Church.

In an interview before his death, Bishop Dominic Yoshimatsu Noguchi said that "there were bitter squabbles about the liturgy of the Mass during meetings of the episcopal conference" in the 1960s.

In translating the formula of the consecration into Japanese, Bishop Noguchi recalled, "a bishop rejected the form ‘This is my Body’ and demanded changing the form into the narrative ‘Now, this became the Holy Eucharist’" .

"At that time," continued Bishop Noguchi, "Cardinal Joseph Asajiro Satowaki declared to the bishop … that the use of such a form would be heretical…. Disputes continued at the episcopal conference for one month. Cardinal Satowaki, who was then an archbishop, strongly defended the traditional form of consecration and had the dissident bishop accept the form". (It was the late Cardinal Satowaki, who, as a seminarian studying in Rome, had invited Saint Maxmilian Kolbe to come to Japan as a missionary.) Bishop Noguchi did not identify the dissident bishop.

Should the episcopal advocates of the term hoken remain adamant in demanding that the sacrifice of the Mass be translated with this term, and if their demand is met with no opposition, then Article 1366 of the Catechism on transubstantiation would be translated as follows:

The Eucharist is an offering, because it symbolizes [arawasu] the offering of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit.

The translation of this same article by Sister Kikuchi and Father Nemeshegyi, is as follows:

The Eucharist is a sacrifice, because it makes present the sacrifice of the cross; because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit.

(This translation uses the word gisei for "sacrifice", and saigensuru for "makes present".)

It is still unclear whether Japanese Catholics will be given an accurate translation of the Catechism. The final translation as rewritten by Father Ano can only be published following its approval by the three bishops on the Catechism Censorship Commission, Bishops Okada, Fukahori, and Itonaga.

Bishop Fukahori was head of the CBC-J Liturgy Committee when the translation of the Roman Missal appeared in 1978. At that time, he translated the word "sacrifice" as "offering of thanksgiving". He omitted mentioning other purposes of the Mass the sacrifice of praise rendered to the Holy Trinity, the propitiatory sacrifice for sin, the making-present the sacrifice of the cross, and the application of the fruits of the sacrifice of the cross to mankind in need of salvation.

It is worrisome that Bishop Fukahori presented the following translation of Article 47 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy:

"Our Savior instituted an offering of thanksgiving during the Last Supper, so that He may perpetuate the offering of the Cross through the generations until His Second Coming and entrusted to the Church the ceremony of a commemoration of His death and resurrection" (emphasis added).

Contrast this with the original and accurate Japanese translation of Article 47, which reads as follows:

"Our Savior instituted the Eucharist which is a Sacrifice in His flesh and blood, during the Last Supper the Lord did so to perpetuate His Sacrifice of the Cross through the generations until His Second Coming and entrusted to His beloved Spouse, the Church, the memorial of His death and resurrection" (emphasis added).

It seems clear that the presence of the "terminology list" poses a far-reaching possibility that the meanings of key Catholic teachings can be significantly changed by the words used to translate them not only in the Catechism but in all other translated documents and in publications of the Japanese Bishops’ Conference.

It should be obvious that Japanese Catholics must no longer be denied the compendium of the faith in Catechism of the Catholic Church. But other translations may be affected as well. A re-translation of the Roman Missal is planned. The current version, provisionally approved in 1978 by the Holy See, omitted some texts from the Latin typical edition of the Roman Missal.

It is crucial to the future of the Catholic faith in Japan that Church teachings be transmitted clearly and accurately.

Francis Mutsuo Fukushima is a Japanese journalist. This is his second contribution to the Adoremus Bulletin.

Read his first contribution, "Translation Wars Loom in Japan".



Francis Mutsuo Fukushima