Rewording the Lord’s Prayer: Pope Francis and the Complexities of Translation

by Fr Feidhlimidh Magennis, Director Liberal Arts

The perils of translation and complexities of textual analysis are highlighted as Pope Francis and the Italian bishops are engaged in seeking to render in contemporary Italian the sense of a prayer composed two thousand years ago transmitted to us through many languages and traditions of interpretation.

There was great media interest in the recent approval by Pope Francis for the revision of the Italian text of the Lord’s Prayer used in the liturgy. But much of the reporting was fr-feidhlimidh-magennisconfused as to what Pope Francis was actually approving. Was he changing the words of the Lord’s Prayer from “lead us not into temptation” to “do not let us fall into temptation”, or simply the wording of the translation? And what were his reasons for doing so? A little clarification on what actually happened will allow us to answer the two questions.

For celebration of the Mass in the Roman Rite, the Catholic Church issues the Roman Missal in Latin. The current missal is in its third edition (editio typica) of the Missal first promulgated by Pope Paul VI (1969) after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). All vernacular translations of the Missal are based on the editio typica and require approval by the Holy See. Following the promulgation of the third edition in 2000, there has been need to review and update, where needed, the vernacular translations. The English translation of the third edition, prepared by the International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL) on behalf of the episcopal conferences of a range of English-speaking countries, came into use at the end of 2011. The Italian Episcopal Conference is currently revising the Messale Romano, their translation of the Roman Missal and, as part of that process, they sought permission to use a revised translation of the Lord’s Prayer. It is this approval that has generated the recent media interest. There has been no change to the Latin text of the Lord’s Prayer in the editio typica. Rather, the changes are in the translations.

The actual change under consideration concerns the line ne non induces in tentationem, (lead us not into temptation). The line in Italian has changed to non abbandonarci alla tentazione (do not abandon us to temptation). This follows, according to O’Hanlon (2019), a similar change made by the Spanish bishops, who for several years now have been using the equivalent of “do not let us fall into temptation”. The French bishops in 2017 revised their translation to Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation (do not let us enter into temptation). In January 2018, the German bishops’ conference chose not to change their translation of the Our Father. They noted “philosophical, exegetical, liturgical and, not least, ecumenical” reasons to leave the translation untouched (Brockhaus, 2019). While ICEL has released a statement indicating that it is not currently considering the text of the Lord’s Prayer (Dodd, 2019), the Irish Bishops’ Conference has indicated that it is giving special attention to the change: “The bishops will look at the implications for both the Irish and the English translations of this much loved and universal prayer” (Catholic Communications Office, 2019).

So in conclusion, the media interest focuses our attention on the process of translation. All translation is a matter of interpretation, and this process has repeated itself many times in the history of the Lord’s Prayer. First delivered by Jesus in Aramaic, we have three ancient versions in Greek – two in the Gospels (Matt 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4) and one in the Didache (8:2), a very early Christian document of disputed date of composition. Those Greek texts (particularly the Matthean version) were used in early Christian worship which, in the Western Roman Empire, shifts from Greek to Latin. The Latin text is then translated on numerous occasions into vernacular languages in processes that continue to today’s revision of the Catholic Church’s Roman Missal. Pope Francis and the Italian bishops are engaged in seeking to render in contemporary Italian the sense of a prayer composed two thousand years ago and which has been transmitted to us through many languages and traditions of interpretation. Good scholarship today requires us not only to seek the original form(s) of the prayer when we translate it today, but also to pay attention to the traditions of interpretation which are represented in this long history of usage and interpretation.

The Lord’s Prayer comes to us from the early Church in three versions – the Lukan short version of five petitions (Luke 11:2-4) and two closely related long versions (Matt 6:9-13 and Didache 8:2). It is the Matthean version that is used predominantly in Christian worship. The prayer divides into two parts of three petitions each: the three you-petitions (using second person singular in verses 9c-10) and the longer we-petitions (first person plural in verses 11-13). So what is at stake in the rendering of what is considered the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer?

Greek kai me eisenegkes hemas eis peirasmon         alla rusai hemas apo tou ponerou
Latin et ne nos inducas in tentationem:                      sed libera nos a malo
English and lead us not into temptation                         but deliver us from evil


non abbandonarci alla tentazione                      ma liberaci dal male

non ci indurre in tentazione                               ma liberaci dal male

There are two key issues for translating the first half of this petition. Firstly, what does peirasmon refer to? The word can be translated as “temptation” or “test”, and the choice is often based on whether we understand this as an everyday occurrence (an affliction, suffering or temptation) or a reference to the tribulations of the end times (the final testing). Use of the word in the New Testament and in Jewish literature of the time almost always takes the first option (Luz, 1989, 384). However, later Christian asceticism began to consider all of human life as a testing and as preparation for the final tribulations, shifting the understanding of peirasmonto ‘test’. Yet this line of thought is present in the Gospels where Jesus and others after him interpret the difficulties of the present time as part of the eschatological woes of the end time (Davies & Allison, 1988, 613). From such a perspective, it would be reasonable to petition God not to bring us to that situation but rather (as in the second part) to save us from such a situation. This petition asks for God’s assistance in present difficulties, for divine support now, so that one does not fall foul of apostasy in the final moments.

The second issue has absorbed much consideration throughout the traditions of the Church and of biblical scholarship: how can one avoid the statement that it is God who leads us into temptation. As stated in the Letter of St James (1:12-13), God tempts no one, and as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 10:13 “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it”. In an oft-quoted statement in an interviewwith Italian Catholic television network TV2000, Pope Francis lauded the French bishops’ decision, and he expressed concern that certain translations could give the impression it is God “who pushes me toward temptation to see how I fall” (O’Hanlon, 2019). However, it is understandable that in prayer, the subtle analysis of philosophy and theology are not in view. Instead, the prayer focuses on God’s absolute power and authority over the life of the petitioner.

While the media focus has been on the change of wording introduced into the Italian translation, this debate challenges us to consider carefully the wider context of the whole petition. Its location in the linguistic and theological perspectives of the Gospels and early Christianity suggest a creative ambiguity. The petition asks for action by God that is complex: both negative (“do not”) and positive (“do”). As is common in biblical poetry, the two parts are in parallel to give two perspectives on one reality, the saving power of God. Secondly, there is the ambiguity of living in the eschatological end times where the Kingdom of God is here already but not yet fully manifest. If earlier generations were more conscious of the imminance of the end time and prayed that God would lead us from that “testing”, perhaps our generations are more conscious of the immanence of God’s protective presence in daily life and pray God does not let us fall into the temptations that surround us. Who would think that a matter of translation would open up such vistas of eternal life?



Schools Promoting a Culture of Positive Mental Health

Denise McKee, Senior Lecturer in Education, St Mary’s University College, Belfast

Children and young people’s mental health is very often a topic for debate in the media, and, recently, we have seen a reported rise in the number of cases of self-harm and suicide among young people. It is suggested that social media apps are to blame for this, but perhaps it is too easy for us to have a scapegoat. Although social media apps have a part to play in creating situations where a child’s mental health is compromised, they should not become the whipping boy for all of society’s ills.

denise-mckeeAccording to the World Health Organisation, neuropsychiatric conditions—such as depression, anxiety, ADHD and eating disorders—are among the most common causes of universal disability in young people. In addition, it is reported that three quarters of life-long mental health illnesses emerge between the mid-teens and mid-twenties, and one in ten children aged between five and sixteen years has a diagnosable mental health disorder (WHO). The most common of these are categorised as emotional, conduct and hyperkinetic disorders. These conditions include “phobias, anxiety, depression … defiant antisocial behaviour” and problems with  “inattention, impulsivity and overactivity” (Nagel, 2016, p. 7). Based on the above statistics, on average, a class could have three pupils with a diagnosable disorder, and, furthermore, there may be other pupils who are experiencing mental health difficulties who do not fall under a specific diagnosis but who are struggling to meet their full potential at school (Nagel, 2016).

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Teachers are often the first people to whom children agree to disclose a problem, and they are likely to be the first to recognise the changes in a child’s behaviour; however, for them to be proactive in supporting a pupil, it is important that they have an awareness of the risk factors which may result in a pupil developing a mental health problem. Nagel (2016) categorises three main sources of risk: issues directly related to the person—for example, the child’s personality type—learning difficulties, and physical illness. The family and wider environment are identified as an environmental factor, which includes family dysfunction, poverty and “chaotic parenting”. Major life events are identified as a second environmental factor, e.g., bereavement, parental divorce or the transition between primary and post-primary schools. Unfortunately, in many cases, the risks do not appear singly, and some children may experience a complex mix of factors triggering a heightened level of anxiety that can be difficult for them to manage appropriately within the boundaries of a classroom or school environment (Howard et al., 2017).

Adverse Childhood Experiences

Among the risk factors identified, the majority are beyond the child’s control and are a result of domestic difficulties. This is very apparent from the range of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) described in Felitti and Anda’s (1995) research. The ten categories used to identify ACEs include physical, sexual and verbal abuse; emotional or physical neglect; substance abuse among household members; adults in the household with mental health problems; domestic violence; imprisonment of adults in the household; parental abandonment or separation. It was found that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are very common: they occur between birth and eighteen years, and multiples of these traumatic experiences have been shown to have far­-reaching effects on children throughout the remainder of their lives. Indeed, they are “strong predictors of adult social functioning, well-being, health risks, disease and death” (Felitti and Anda, 2010).

It is recognised that childhood adversity can cause detrimental levels of stress that impact on brain development; for example, abuse and neglect have an effect on the part of the brain which controls levels of fear and anxiety. Furthermore, abuse alters the performance of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for our cognitive functions resulting in effects on our ability to reason, plan and think logically. Ultimately, such impacts can lead to behavioural and academic problems at school.

Teachers Need to Be Alert

Mental health disorders or problems do not appear overnight, and, apart from being aware of the risk factors, teachers also need to be alert to the signs of changes in conduct or mood, which may be the first indicators of the onset of a problem. Out-of-character confrontation and aggression in the classroom is probably the most noticeable behaviour change that may signal a pupil is experiencing severe anxiety or is recovering from a traumatic incident. Such acting out, although not desirable, if managed with empathy, can result in the pupil getting the attention and support he or she requires. However, not all changes in behaviour are communicated as strongly as by non-compliance and disruption. For example, within a secondary school environment, there may be a delay in a teacher noticing that a pupil has become withdrawn or lacks motivation, a possible indication of the beginning of depression. Also, a change in behaviour may be misinterpreted as a natural part of adolescent development (Howard et al., 2017) and therefore be taken less seriously. Young people may also conceal the mental problems they are experiencing. A pupil who is self-harming in response to negative feelings or stress is unlikely to show this to others. A child who is being abused may be afraid to disclose the abuse because of the control of the abuser. Likewise, a young person who is suffering from an eating disorder because of “an idealised body image” (Glazzard and Bostwick, 2018) may try to conceal his or her weight loss by avoiding PE lessons or wearing baggy clothes.

A Culture of Positive Mental Health

It would seem that there are many pitfalls which conspire to prevent a young person from receiving the help and support he or she requires, and there exist many risk factors which are beyond a school’s ability to control. Therefore, it is essential that schools adopt practices and strategies that enhance a young person’s resilience, enabling him or her to cope better with the challenges experienced (Nagel, 2016). First and foremost, all schools should promote a culture of positive mental health. This culture can be shown in a commitment to challenging all forms of discrimination, cherishing diversity, modelling respect and equality and offering genuine opportunities for young people to voice their opinions and have an input into whole-school development plans. It is recommended that in every school there is a designated senior leader who is responsible for the promotion of good mental health strategies and for ensuring that such strategies are embedded into the curriculum (Glazzard and Bostwick, 2018).

On an individual level, a pupil’s resilience in the face of adversity can be enhanced if he or she feels secure at school and can readily seek support from caring adults or other children in the school community. It is important that a pupil has goals to work towards and is involved in activities which develop a sense of self-efficacy. Furthermore, a pupil’s interpersonal skills should be developed and opportunities offered to encourage the pupil to problem solve with others (Nagel, 2016). Mental health disorders and problems are complex and challenging. Although social media apps have a part to play in creating situations where a child’s mental health is compromised, they should not become the whipping boy for all of society’s ills. If a child’s self-worth is diminished because of problems they are experiencing at home, then it is not surprising that he or she is vulnerable to unhealthy suggestions or practices on social media. Furthermore, if a child feels insecure, unsupported and worthless at school, the strength of character required to disregard offensive material on social media apps may be severely diminished. Therefore, it is the responsibility of adults to ensure that children’s mental health is protected, and it is the responsibility of schools to create safe, secure, social environments where children develop and enjoy a culture of positive mental health.


  • Felitti V.J., Anda R.F. 2010. “The Relationship of Adverse Childhood Experiences to Adult Health, Well-being, Social Function, and Health Care.” In The Effects of Early Life Trauma on Health and Disease: the Hidden Epidemic, edited by R.A. Lanius, E. Vermetten, C. Pain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 77-87.
  • Glazzard, J. and Bostwick, R. 2018. Positive Mental Health a Whole School Approach. St Albans: Critical Publishing.
  • Howard, C., Burton, M., Levermore, D., Barell, R. 2017. Children’s Mental Health and Emotional Well-being in Primary Schools. London: SAGE.
  • Nagel, Paula. 2016. Mental Health Matters: A Practical Guide to Identifying and Understanding Mental Health Issues in Primary Schools.. London: Bloomsbury.
  • WHO. (2018) Child and Adolescent Mental Health. Accessed 12/8/19.


What Is the Value of a Liberal Arts Education?

Reflections on the Current Role of the Liberal Arts in Higher Education


By Jonathan Worley, Lecturer in Written Communications

In 2002, St Mary’s University College Belfast, a college of Queen’s University, proudly graduated its first cohort of students on its newly established Liberal Arts Degree, the first degree of its kind in the UK. It drew upon ideas from American liberal arts colleges and was based upon visits by St Mary’s staff to several of these institutions followed by the establishment of more permanent relationships. (The term “college” in America is a roughly equivalent term to “university” in the UK.) Liberal arts colleges are popular and ubiquitous in the United States; I know because as a young American, I chose to be educated at one.

In spite of their prevalence and popularity, liberal arts colleges have received more than their fair share of criticism, having been regarded by some as impractical, a luxury and not leading directly to a particular career and a high salary. The terms of such criticism are often based upon a conservative, neoliberal economic model, which a priori contains readily identifiable weaknesses. Nussbaum points out many of these: “The goal of a nation, says this model, should be economic growth. Never mind about distribution and social equality, never mind about the preconditions of stable democracy, never mind about the quality of race and gender relations, never mind about the improvement of other aspects of a human beings’ quality of life that are not well linked to economic growth” (Nussbaum, 2016, p. 14). Neoliberalism and the liberal arts, in spite of sharing the same root word “liberal”, are virtual opposites. What neoliberalism leaves out, the liberal arts regard as central. What do the liberal arts, in particular, value?

Andrew Delbanco, an American scholar and lecturer at Columbia University in New York has encapsulated the arguments for the liberal arts in a recent book (2012). First, he considers economic arguments. After surveying the American scene, he concludes that liberal arts students obtain good and rewarding jobs, although their route to an ideal job is usually not a direct one. He further concludes that these students tend to find jobs in areas in which they have a passionate interest. While these students may not become millionaires, he continues, they appear to generate enough income to meet their needs. Secondly, he concludes that the Obama administration policy was right: without broadly educated students, America will fall behind other countries both educationally and economically. There is something about the creativity and independence that come with a liberal arts degree that is essential to American vitality, he argues. This economic argument has gained a significant number of adherents in the UK and Europe and, to a lesser extent, in China where the government has been concerned about a lack of innovation. (St Mary’s has a student exchange with such a Chinese liberal arts programme.)

Delbanco’s second argument has its basis in ideas foundational to American democracy. To have a legitimate, viable democracy, the American Founding Fathers believed the electorate must have a sound education. Public education in America has been based upon this ideal of  an educated and enlightened citizenry. As reinforcement of the importance of this value, Delbanco offers the following words of early twentieth-century advice from an Oxford professor to his students: “Nothing that you learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you—save only this—that if you work hard and intelligently, you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot” (Smith, A., 1914, quoted in Delbanco, 2010, p. 19). In an era when national leaders on both sides of the Atlantic appear to be talking “rot”, the importance of a broadly educated citizenry is evident.

The American democratic ideal of education is often infused with a strain of liberalism that believes individuals should be limited only by their talents and depicts ideal citizens as “free from the tyranny of circumstance; with healthy bodies and alert and trained minds: enjoying a raw equality of opportunity to make the most and best of their powers for their own advantage and that of the community” (The Liberal Way, 1914, quoted in  Eccleshall, R., 2014, p. 18). Education is therefore also the means for a citizen to achieve within a democratic society. Abraham Lincoln is frequently cited as a quintessential example: the log-cabin boy who rose to become a successful lawyer and then President of the United States through qualities of character, hard work and education. Thus, a liberal education in America has been perceived as the bedrock for a sound democracy and for the full development of human potential.

Delbanco’s third and final argument is the one that conservative ideologues most frequently critique. After giving a lecture at Columbia on the importance of a liberal education to citizenship, Delbanco received this comment from one of his students, who told him that his lecture had missed the point: “Columbia taught me how to enjoy life”, he said (p. 32). A narrowly constructed neoliberal or conservative economic argument might view this kind of “enjoyment” as irrelevant: neoliberalism tends to perceive enjoyment as the product of wealth, exclusively. Delbanco, however, further elaborates on this  student’s point: a liberal education creates the capacity, for example, to enjoy reading “demanding works of literature and to grasp fundamental political ideas” but also to enjoy “colour and form, melody and harmony” (p. 32). By using the terms colour, form, melody and harmony, Delbanco is mounting a deliberate assault on utilitarian values. He refers not merely to the appreciation of cultural artefacts—such as works of art, literature or music, although he values these—but to the alternative ways in which individuals create and acquire knowledge and understanding, search for meaning and express their aspirations. A liberal arts education embraces this kind of range in human experience. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”, Hamlet tells his friend (Shakespeare, 1625, Hamlet, 1.5.167-8). The liberal arts do not discard the additional “things in heaven and earth”. As a consequence, a liberal arts education has the ability to inspire “the invaluable experiences of a fulfilled life” (Delbanco, p. 32).

Returning to my own life (fulfilled or otherwise), I began my liberal arts education with a study of the English literature from Beowulf  to Virgina Woolf and with the study of the history of Western civilisation, as well as the study of calculus, biblical literature, advanced French and political science. In my spare time, I joined the chess club, wrote for the college newspaper, sang in the college choir and joined a Christian fellowship group. If anyone had asked me why had I wanted engage in all this activity—and if I could have articulated my thinking at the time—I might have said it was because it was interesting, it rewarded hard work, and it felt meaningful and purposeful. It was also exhilarating to be surrounded by people excited by learning and making use of it. I see the same kind of enthusiasm in many of today’s St Mary’s students. When, for example,  liberal arts students recommend books to me or establish a European Studies Forum, they are tapping into that enthusiasm.

In spite of all this (apparently) widespread enthusiasm, in my years as a student, late at night, I would occasionally worry (as I am sure my students do) about the ability to support myself after college— a scary thought! Yet counterbalanced against that fear was engagement with new learning and new people. In experiencing this, I simply had to believe that all this new knowledge, all this inquiry, all these new skills and new insights were leading me in a proper direction.

A liberal arts education appears to have been at least partly responsible for placing me at the doorstep of St Mary’s, applying for a position as a lecturer in written communications. It wasn’t my skills as a teacher of academic writing, alone, however—a direct product of my liberal arts education—that secured the position. It was also the kind of person that I had become as a consequence of a liberal arts education. That education gave me a seemingly eternal interest in learning. It encouraged my embryonic longing for a Christian identity and developed my sense of social responsibility. It helped me to to identify and to aspire to a become a particular sort of person. It added an element of generosity and kindness to my sense of  humour. It led me to want to take on more, and more challenging, kinds of work, to try harder to understand the world and to more fully appreciate the many different ways humans express themselves. I discovered just how much I enjoyed interesting and useful conversations. When I appeared on the St Mary’s doorstep, these aspects of my character walked in the door with me.

Girl's 1949 graduation
BEd Class of 1948 (52 Years Before First Liberal Arts Graduation)

In an age driven by conservative economics and neoliberal ideology, where STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) subjects become so privileged that the humanities (and even the study of medicine) have been devalued by our national politicians, the importance of the liberal arts becomes more clear: humans are ultimately not meant to be cogs in an economic and technological machine where the exclusive goal is the creation of wealth and ease. Wealth does not efface the need for meaning and identity, nor can it address the full range of crucial problems threatening our world today. Humans have a greater need for authentic learning, meaning, purpose and significant action than they do  for “sustainability”, “wealth” or “efficiency”.  At St Mary’s, when students study the liberal arts, they are being encouraged to pursue a serious and sustained engagement with the world. Spellmeyer (a twenty-first century defender of the humanities) asserts it is to “this fragile, fearful world that we must turn with all our energy, intelligence and care” (2003, p. 247).

  • Delbanco, A. (2012) College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be. Princeton: Princeton UP.
  • Dirkson, J., Kontowski, D., Kretz, D. (eds.) (2017) What Is Liberal Education and What Could It Be? Lüneburg, Germany: Liberal Education Student Conference.
  • Eccleshaw, R. (2014) Political Ideologies: An Introduction. London: Routledge.
  • Nussbaum, M. (2016) Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. Princeton: Princeton UP.
  • Spellmeyer, K. (2003) Arts of Living: Reinventing the Humanities for the Twenty-First Century. Syracuse: SUNY UP.