L’Osservatore Romano: Who is addressed by Francis of Assisi in the opening words of the new encyclical?

The title of Pope Francis’ third encyclical, with its incipit Fratelli tutti”, sparks strong reactions in some quarters. In fact, Francis of Assisi, who is quoted here, addresses all believers and all people – brothers and sisters in the entire world. The following article identifies the source of the name of the new encyclical and calls for accurate translation.

Weeks before Pope Francis’ third encyclical will be signed in Assisi and its text (1) published, a debate over its title has already been triggered. In some German and English-speaking areas, for example, there are women who are set not to read a written work that is addressed only to “fratelli tutti”. Translations with little sensitivity ignore the fact that in the cited work, Francis of Assisi is addressing both women and men. The medieval author endorses, as does the new encyclical, universal fraternity. Pope Francis highlights a spiritual pearl of the Middle Ages capable of surprising modern readers, both male and female.


A quotation of Brother Francis

When the encyclical was announced, various media rightly wondered if Pope Francis had placed a discriminatory quotation at the beginning of his third encyclical. How is it possible that he, whose first public words after his election were “brothers and sisters”, would now address only “fratelli tutti”? Why does the incipit – the first few words of a text that also serve as its title – exclude women and thus exclude half the Church? “Only brothers – or what?”, asks a critical article by Roland Juchem (2). The director of the Vatican service of KNA (Catholic News Agency) explains that the new encyclical consciously begins with the words of the Medieval mystic of Assisi, which were translated faithfully. Since Brother Francis is addressing his brothers, the expression “omnes fratres” should be formulated in the masculine. According to this logic, however, the correct translation would be “Frati tutti” [“Friars all”]! And so the text would be read only by an infinitesimal minority in the Church. Pope Francis begins his new encyclical with a maxim of wisdom authored by his model. Those who, with presumed faithfulness to the text, insist on a translation only in the masculine, do not recognize the true addressee of the medieval collection. Francis of Assisi, with the final composition of his text, addresses all Christian men and women. Translations into modern languages must express it in an accurate and immediately comprehensible way.


Read the complete article “‘Fratres omnes – Brothers and Sisters All” by Br. Niklaus Kuster, OFMCap at osservatoreromano.va