Rerum novarum

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Members may know that all papal encyclicals issued through the Vatican are named by their opening words.

I am concerned with an encyclical called "Rerum Novarum", which was issued by Pope Leo XIII on 15 May 1891. It opens with this sentence:

Rerum novarum semel excitata cupidine, quae diu quidem commovet civitates, illud erat consecuturum ut commutationum studia a rationibus politicis in oeconomicarum cognatum genus aliquando defluerent.

The official English translation on the Vatican website renders that sentence as:

That the spirit of revolutionary change, which has long been disturbing the nations of the world, should have passed beyond the sphere of politics and made its influence felt in the cognate sphere of practical economics is not surprising.

The words "Rerum novarum" literally mean "Of new things" but they have been translated as "... the spirit of revolutionary change..."

The principle of equivalence of meaning in translations permeates Vatican documents which, of necessity, must be issued in many languages. However, I am interested to know whether there is any precedent in secular usage for the interpretation of "Rerum novarum" as "[the spirit of] revolutionary change".

Can anybody help please? And would anybody like to comment on the translation of the rest of the sentence?
 
  • Scholiast

    Senior Member
    saluete omnes!

    res nouae (or motus noui) is regularly attested by respectable classical authors in the sense of political sedition or constitutional revolution. OLD (under nouus, § 10) cites passages from Cicero, Caesar, Sallust, Livy and Tacitus, as well as others. So who are we to quarrel?:)

    To my mind the rest of the translation is perfectly adequate, if more functional than rhetorically elegant.

    Σ

    Edited afterthought: Rerum novarum semel excitata cupidine..., the (ablative absolute) opening words, seem to me on reflection to mean more 'desire for revolutionary change, once aroused' than 'the spirit of revolutionary change &c.'. I'm keen to learn others' thoughts and reactions on this.
     
    Last edited:
    • Agree
    Reactions: Dib
    saluete omnes!

    res nouae (or motus noui) is regularly attested by respectable classical authors in the sense of political sedition or constitutional revolution. OLD (under nouus, § 10) cites passages from Cicero, Caesar, Sallust, Livy and Tacitus, as well as others. So who are we to quarrel?:)

    To my mind the rest of the translation is perfectly adequate, if more functional than rhetorically elegant.

    Σ

    Edited afterthought: Rerum novarum semel excitata cupidine..., the (ablative absolute) opening words, seem to me on reflection to mean more 'desire for revolutionary change, once aroused' than 'the spirit of revolutionary change &c.'. I'm keen to learn others' thoughts and reactions on this.
    That's the Vatican for you. Until the past couple of decades, Vatican documents, in both the Latin originals and the English translations, have been tiresomely indigestible. (I'm Catholic, by the way, so I'm entitled to say that!)

    Thank you to everybody who answered.
     
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