The Translation of Clerical Titles of the Catholic Church in China, Japan, and Vietnam


Author: Leopold LEEB, Professor at School of Liberal Arts, Renmin University of China.


This study intends to show the historical development of the translations of Catholic clerical titles into the languages of China, Japan, and Vietnam. The Catholic hierarchy bases its terminology on certain passages found in the New Testament. The three terms of major importance are the words for “bishop” (from Greek “episkopos”), “priest” (from “presbyteros”) and “deacon” (from “diakonos”). The course of the translations shifted from Buddhist terms (seng, “monk” for “priest”) to transliterations, such as “pa-te-ren” for “padre” and then to more or less indigenized translations like “spiritual father” (shenfu in Chinese and Japanese) or “pastor of souls” (linh mục in Vietnamese). The problems of translation also mirror the actual difficulties of finding an acceptable social position for the clergy within the traditional societies of China, Japan, and Vietnam. A comparison shows that the translations in Vietnam express the original meaning of the terms better than some Chinese versions which may lead to misunderstandings.


clerical titles, translation, China, Japan, Vietnam

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Leopold LEEB jscc