Friday, July 24, 2009

Editore, Prego!

Without an editor, the headline of this post might read, "Editore, Play-Doh!"

Or "Editor, Legos!"

Or "Editore Cacciatore."

Perhaps I exaggerate.

Nevertheless, on a more serious note, Peter Steinfels, in a recent New York Times column, makes a good case for a papal editor. Steinfels argues that Pope Benedict XVI's most recent encyclical, "Caritas in Veritate," or "Charity in Truth," makes for ponderous reading. Not that encyclicals are typically knee-slappers or potboilers or beach reading.

But Steinfels laments some of the "molasses-like text" and other elements that make for "hard going." (Of course, the Vatican only approves of "hard going" if used in the service of long as you don't take pleasure in it.)

In effect, according to Steinfels and many otherwise-admiring critics, the encyclical could have used an editor. (I have not read the text [don't you love that deconstructionist word, text? No, I don't.] Nor have I perused the picturebook edition of the encyclical.) The work tackles important issues, such as the rights of workers, wealth, poverty, and markets, and undoubtedly makes statements worth debating and discussing. But the letter's "ungainliness" makes for "hard going" (I'm getting like David Letterman, working on a theme here).

Well, I'm an editor! I'm an editor! [Picture a kid in the back row waving his hand like someone in peril flagging down a police car.]

But I doubt if His Holiness would employ the services of an Episcopalian. . . . even if he promises: no papal bull jokes.

Come to think of it, this is a real hard job. I mean, a difficult challenge.

"Your Holiness, this phrase? Cut it in half. It's ponderous and ungainly. Too turgid a sentence."

"Pardon me?"

"Well, no, Your Holiness, I leave the pardoning, the absolution, to you. I don't do any pardoning. But let's talk about that sentence again, shall we?"

"Pardon me?"

"All due respect, Your Holiness, but we just went over that."

"What about the issue of infallibility, son? Do you dare to edit, redact, modify, or otherwise alter the text of an infallible piece of work?"

"All due respect again, Your Holiness, but infallibility only applies to ex cathedra statements. I don't believe, if I may say so, that it pertains to grammar, syntax [sin tax?! -- stifled laughoristic Laughorist laughter], diction, rhetoric, or style."

Of course, if the pope were American-born, he would possibly say, "Stop with the 'all due respect' already, will you? You sound like a character in 'The Sopranos'!"

Speaking of American-born popes, I nominate Greg Tobin for this position of papal editor, if he is so inclined and interested. (Did that last sentence have a dangling participle? And is that sinful?) His credentials are better than mine, plus last I heard he's in New Jersey.

All due respect.


Mark Murphy said...


Speaking of "ex cathedral" (though NOT speaking ex cathedra):

Your post reminded me of my uncle, who, as I might have once told you, was a Roman Catholic priest and poet who for years was at St. John Fisher College.

In the early 1950s, the college published a book of his poems. He explained in a quick preface that he was definitely not speaking "ex cathedral" -- or "from the chair" -- so the title of his book was:

The Bashful Chair.

I've always like that....

Pawlie Kokonuts said...

The chair will now recognize you. A finely upholstered comment, Monsignor Murphy.