Introduction to the Devout Life, translation reliable?

This wonderful book, Introduction to the Devout Life (aka Philothea) by St. Francis de Sales, is just wonderful and I love reading it!

However, I realized that the version I’ve purchased, translated and edited by John K. Ryan, and published by Image Books / Doubleday, has no Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur.

When I purchased it, there were two copies, one by TAN and this one, and I picked this one assuming they were roughly identical, and guessing it did not have these marks because they simply hadn’t applied for them in time for publishing, or some other technicality.

But once I bought the TAN copy, and started to compare and contrast them out of curiosity, I see that Mr. Ryan has taken great liberalities in expounding upon certain things St. Francis had said, even adding entire paragraphs where the Saint was somewhat brief and ambiguous.

This makes me quite nervous, so I began trying to research Mr. Ryan online to no avail. So, does anyone know what is the cause of this? Or even more importantly, would you discard this highly edited but more readable version, and use only the approved version?

I’ve been reading this book considering it to hold great authority, and applying it to my life without question, so I would hate for it to contain something against faith or morals which I would take for granted would be safe. But perhaps this isn’t a real concern. What is your opinion?

Disclaimer: I’m aware this might not be the best forum for this question, but I’m not a member of the CA Book Club and I don’t see a more appropriate place to ask it, even after reading the forum titles for several minutes. According to that review, Ryan is a Monsignor.

Personally, I tossed in the trash a translation of a work of St. Teresa of Avila by Mirabi Starr when I discovered that her intent was to “remove the Catholic bias” from traditional Catholic works.

I have the Tan copy of “Introduction to the Devout Life” and I would keep it and pitch any copy that deviated from it or added to it, no matter who translated it.

Call me crazy, but “translate” does not mean, “embellish, change, fix, make it say what I want…” :slight_smile:

Everything I have read about John K Ryan’s translation of Introduction to the Devout Life is favorable. Scholars say Ryan’s translation is by far the best. However, Ryan did put some antiquated terms into modern language for today’s reader.

This guy was apparently a Catholic so that doesn’t concern me, only the lack of such stamps. Having gotten halfway through the book so far, I can’t find anything that obviously stands out against Catholic doctrines, but perhaps some parts which I just assume are good might actually be against faith or morals. That’s my concern.

That’s what I feel is the right thing to do, it just makes me sad because the other translation is so much easier to read in the style it’s written.

Somehow when I bought it I didn’t think much into “translated and edited by” which apparently means a lot more than what I thought it meant.

I had no problem with his language, in fact I kind of liked that he used older English because it helps me broaden my vocabulary, and because I have an interest in philology and etymology anyway. Besides, the approved TAN translation has even more antiquated words and uses less modernized English.

I am not sure about this particular translation. However, I did discover I had spent some time reading a bad translation of another book many years ago. I was not happy! Now, I check for books from these sources: -
Tan books -
Ignatius Press -
Scepter Publishers -

These stores are reliable.

I forgot one more - Roman Catholic Books -

Most of Tan’s translations are going to be reliable and orthodox. However, it is good to always seek out the best translations for any author before diving into their body of work. For example, with any writings by Carmelite saints St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Therese of Lisieux, I would always recommend the translations offered by US Carmelite publishers ICS Publications.

The translation of “Story of a Soul” translated by John Clarke is simply the best translation out there in my opinion. The Common Translation was based on originals heavily edited by the Martin family to project a more “saintly” Saint in the writings. The newer translations are based on the original manuscripts, with the edits left intact. Here’s a comparison of the same paragraph from the two translations to give you an idea of the difference that a few slight edits can make:

Common Translation

How wonderful is the power of prayer! It is like unto a queen, who, having free access to the king, obtains whatsoever she asks. In order to secure a hearing there is no need to recite set prayers composed for the occasion—were it so, I ought indeed to be pitied!

Apart from the Divine Office, which in spite of my unworthiness is a daily joy, I have not the courage to look through books for beautiful prayers. I only get a headache because of their number, and besides, one is more lovely than another. Unable therefore to say them all, and lost in choice, I do as children who have not learnt to read—I simply tell Our Lord all that I want, and He always understands.

With me prayer is an uplifting of the heart; a glance towards heaven; a cry of gratitude and love, uttered equally in sorrow and in joy. In a word, it is something noble, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites it to God. Sometimes when I am in such a state of spiritual dryness that not a single good thought occurs to me, I say very slowly the “Our Father” or the “Hail Mary,” and these prayers suffice to take me out of myself, and wonderfully refresh me.

John Clark Translation

How great is the power of Prayer! One could call it a Queen who has at each instant free access to the King and who is able to obtain whatever she asks. To be heard it is not necessary to read from a book some beautiful formula composed for the occasion. If this were the case, alas, I would have to be pitied! Outside the Divine Office which I am very unworthy to recite, I do not have the courage to force myself to search out beautiful prayers in books. There are so many of them it really gives me a headache! and each prayer is more beautiful than the others. I cannot recite them all and not knowing which to choose, I do like children who do not know how to read, I say very simply to God what I wish to say, without composing beautiful sentences, and He always understands me. For me, prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed to heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy; finally, it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus.

However, I would not want you to believe, dear Mother, that I recite without devotion the prayers said in common in the choir or the hermitages. On the contrary, I love very much these prayers in common, for Jesus has promised to be in the midst of those who gather together in His name. I feel then that the fervor of my Sisters makes up for my lack of fervor; but when alone (I am ashamed to admit it) the recitation of the rosary is more difficult for me than the wearing of an instrument of penance. I feel I have said this so poorly! I force myself in vain to meditate on the mysteries of the rosary; I don’t succeed in fixing my mind on them. For a long time I was desolate about this lack of devotion which astonished me, for I love the Blessed Virgin so much that it should be easy for me to recite in her honor prayers which are so pleasing to her. Now I am less desolate; I think that the Queen of heaven, since she is my MOTHER, must see my good will and she is satisfied with it. Sometimes when my mind is in such aridity that it is impossible to draw forth one single thought to unite me with God, I very slowly recite an “Our Father” and then the angelic salutation "Hail Mary, full of grace, etc.]; then these prayers give me great delight; they nourish my soul much more than if I had recited them precipitately a hundred times.

The Blessed Virgin shows me she is not displeased with me, for she never fails to protect me as soon as I invoke her. If some disturbance overtakes me, some embarrassment, I turn very quickly to her and as the most tender of Mothers she always takes care of my interests. How many times, when speaking to the novices, has it happened that I invoked her and felt the benefits of her motherly protection!

The story of the Rosary is completely left out of the Common Translation, as is the added section about the Blessed Mother. This story about Mary and her Rosary has brought me so much consolation during my own struggles with the Rosary, and with really getting to know Mary as my mother, and I never would have read it had I not read the translations by John Clarke.

Here’s another example, one of my very favorite stories from Story of a Soul (that wouldn’t fit in my first post :blush:) about how to offer up even little sufferings to God. The John Clarke version just brings the story alive! While the common translation tells of a trial, in the John Clarke version you can see that she is writing in a specific style in an attempt to amuse her sister. Therese had the habit of capitalizing, underlining and double underlining words to emphasize her points in her handwriting. In the quote below, the italicized words are the ones she underlined. Knowing this makes the story even more endearing.

Common Translation

The practice of charity has not always been so pleasant as I have just pointed out, dear Mother, and to prove it I will recount some of my many struggles.

For a long time my place at meditation was near a Sister who fidgeted continually, either with her Rosary, or something else; possibly, as I am very quick of hearing, I alone heard her, but I cannot tell you how much it tried me. I should have liked to turn round, and by looking at the offender, make her stop the noise; but in my heart I knew that I ought to bear it tranquilly, both for the love of God and to avoid giving pain. So I kept quiet, but the effort cost me so much that sometimes I was bathed in perspiration, and my meditation consisted merely in suffering with patience. After a time I tried to endure it in peace and joy, at least deep down in my soul, and I strove to take actual pleasure in the disagreeable little noise. Instead of trying not to hear it, which was impossible, I set myself to listen, as though it had been some delightful music, and my meditation—which was not the “prayer of quiet”—was passed in offering this music to Our Lord.

John Clark Translation

The practice of charity, as I have said, dear Mother [Mother Agnes, i.e., her sister Pauline, prioress at the time], was not always so sweet for me, and to prove it to you I am going to recount certain little struggles which will certainly make you smile. For a long time at evening meditation, I was placed in front of a Sister who had a strange habit and I think many lights because she rarely used a book during meditation. This is what I noticed: as soon as this Sister arrived, she began making a strange little noise which resembled the noise one would make when rubbing two shells, one against the other. I was the only one to notice it because I had extremely sensitive hearing (too much so at times). Mother, it would be impossible for me to tell you how much this little noise wearied me. I had a great desire to turn my head and stare at the culprit who was very certainly unaware of her “click.” This would be the only way of enlightening her. However, in the bottom of my heart I felt it was much better to suffer this out of love for God and not to cause the Sister any pain. I remained calm, therefore, and tried to unite myself to God and to forget the little noise. Everything was useless. I felt the perspiration inundate me, and I was obliged simply to make a prayer of doing it without annoyance and with peace and joy, at least in the interior of my soul. I tried to love the little noise which was so displeasing; instead of trying not to hear it (impossible), I paid close attention so as to hear it well, as though it were a delightful concert, and my prayer (which was not the Prayer of Quiet) was spent in offering this concert to Jesus.

Thank you to the person who put this topic up for discussion. I have been trying to find out who would be the most faithful translator of ‘The Devout Life’ by St Francis.

I think a person would be influenced by a bad translation of a book. It could, for instance, be a translation of a book that has been commisioned out of commercial interest pandering, that is, to the modern reader of today. It is for this one reason in particular that I am trying to find a faithful translation.

Thank you for this great web site.

Vince :slight_smile:

Remember an Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat only means a given work does not directly go against the Catholic Faith. They don’t necessarily mean the translation is faithful to the original work, or easily readable.
I would be surprised if a book published by Image/Doubleday in 1955 did not have an Imprimatur if one was required for translations at that time. Image was a pretty reliable department of Doubleday at that time, so just going on that alone I would be inclined to trust their books. Perhaps the Imprimatur was left off this particular edition in your hands.
John K. Ryan has a pretty good reputation as a translator of many classics. Materials added by Mr. Ryan might reflect newer information or original manuscripts not available to the translator of Tan edition.

What year was the Tan edition translated? If it is a lot earlier that 1955, keep in mind there might be places that Frances’ meaning could be lost due to changes in English. If there are added footnotes to either edition, those might not be covered by an Imprimatur.

I recommend the version published by Baronius Press. They always produce great products.

The person who made the original post was banned almost three years ago and banished from the forum.

You are new and perhaps do not realise that the forum does not allow old posts – this one being over five years old – to be revived and added to.

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