by Fr. Camillus Hay, O.F.M.
by Dr Ludwig Ott

Recently, on a Q & A Forum, Fr. Joe Horn, O.Praem.[2] requested of an enquirer the source of a particular statement; the reply was from Fundamentals Of Catholic Dogma, by Dr. Ludwig Ott. As the particular matter appeared to be questionable, Fr. Horn's response was: "Good book. But it's not an official document of the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, on the other hand, is an official document. It is my duty in this forum (and as a priest) to clarify the official doctrines of the Church, not the opinions of Father X, Theologian Y, or Book Z."

The wisdom of such a statement may be supported by the following article, which was written in 1960:


When it first appeared in 1952, Dr. Ludwig Ott's Grundriss der Katholischen Dogmatik was widely acclaimed and was translated into many European languages. In May, 1955, it was translated by Dr. Patrick Lynch and edited by James Canon Bastible, D.D., under the title Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Three years later, a second edition appeared and the editor, in a foreword, noted that "Dr. Ott's work has appealed not only to priests and religious but to a very wide circle of layfolk." In this article, we shall attempt to assess the value of this English translation.

Two problems, however, confront us. Firstly, we have not been able to procure a copy of the German original and consequently we have been forced to make a comparison between the French translation, Précis de Théologie Dogmatique published by Salvator-Casterman in 1955 (subsequently referred to as F) and the English translation of Bastible-Lynch (subsequently referred to as E). The reader will be left to draw his own conclusions concerning the value of the English translation on the basis of this comparison.

Secondly, the number of discrepancies between the translations is so great that we have been obliged to limit our detailed comparison to a mere ninety pages (E.352-415) which cover the Sacraments in general, and the special treatment of Baptism, Confirmation and the Blessed Eucharist. Even within this narrow scope, we can select only a few of the very many discrepancies.

We may divide our analysis into two main sections. The first concerns patent errors which are found in E; the second details passages which are extremely obscure and ambiguous in E and which are presented clearly and logically in F.


E.329, line 25ff: "This may be seen, in particular, by the use of the prepositions 'out of . . . and 'through' . . . and (in Latin) by the use of the ablative of instrumentality and of the dative." F concludes the sentence as follows: ". . . by the use . . . of the dative or (in Latin) of the ablative of instrumentality." Clearly, distinction is made between Greek which expresses instrumentality by means of the dative, and Latin which employs the ablative.

E.335, line 22: This contains a mis-translation of St. Thomas: 'cuius sacerdotio' is translated 'to whose character.'

E.337, line 9f: "Holy Scripture attests that Christ immediately instituted the Sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, Penance and Consecration." Consecration is not among the seven sacraments instituted by Christ. It seems clear that E has translated 'Weihe'(Orders or consecration) by a meaning which is unwarranted by the context.

E.337, line 32ff: Under the thesis: "Christ fixed the substance of the sacraments. The Church has no power to alter them," we read: "It follows from the immediate institution of the Sacraments by Christ that their substance is immutably fixed for all time. The institution of a new Sacrament would involve a substantial change." The context is not directly concerned with the institution of new sacraments but with the question of substantial change in the seven. F translates the final part of the passage logically as: "Change of the substance would be equivalent to the institution of a new sacrament."

E.337, line 40ff: "Whether Christ ordained the matter and form of the sacraments specifically (in specie) or in general (in genere) is a matter of controversy, that is, whether He laid down the specific nature of the Sacrament or whether He merely gave the idea of the Sacrament in general and left the closer determination of the matter and form to the Church." All theologians agree in affirming that Christ laid down the specific nature of the Sacrament (i.e., its purpose and the graces conferred in it). F is correct theologically when it declares the matter of controversy to be whether or not Christ laid down "the specific nature of the sacramental sign" (i.e., the visible rite).

E.338, line 31: "For the existence of seven Sacraments a seven-fold proof can be adduced." These are then enumerated as 1. Theological Proof; 2. Proof from Prescription; 3. Historical Proof; 4. Speculative Foundation. The rest fail to appear. F invokes a "triple proof," adducing the first three and citing the speculative proof merely as theological reasoning.

E.345, line 16f: "The intrinsic ground is this that the Sacraments receive their grace of conferring power." E obviously means their power of conferring grace.

E.354, line 7ff: "By a decision of Alexander III (1159-81), rejecting a proposition of the Belgian theologian F. Farvacques, by a decision of Alexander VIII (1690), and by the declaration of the Decretum pro Armenis . . ." Alexander III lived 500 years before the Belgian theologian. F. correctly reads: "According to a decision of Alexander III (1159-81), according to the condemnation of a proposition of the Belgian theologian F. Farvacques by Alexander VIII (1690) and according to the declaration . . ."

E.383, line 15: Emmanuel Maignan is designated O.Min. However Maignan was not a Franciscan as this title would indicate, but of the Order of Minims (O.Minim.) as F rightly indicates.

E.387, line 32ff: "That the worship of Latria is due to the Eucharist may be shown directly from Holy Writ in that, on the one hand, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, on the other, the right of Christ to adoration, are indicated. . . ." This can scarcely be called a direct proof. F correctly designates this proof as indirect.

E.392, line 11ff: "In Christian antiquity ordinary, that is leavened, bread was used also in the Eastern Church (St. Ambrose, De Sacr. IV, 4, 14: panis usitatus)." F correctly reads "in the West."

E393, line 16f: ". . . to the whole prayer of thanksgiving, which is contained in the narrative of the institution." Obviously, it is the prayer of thanksgiving which contains the narrative of institution.

E.394, line 20f: "the recipient, the grapes into which the supernatural life of grace flows." F reads, in line with the normal interpretation of the allegory of the Vine, "the branches into which . . ."

E.396, line 33ff: "Supported by St. Augustine (sic!), St. Thomas teaches that, according to the intention of the Church, baptized persons should desire the Eucharist, since Baptism is directed towards the Eucharist, which perfects the work of Baptism, i.e., incorporation into the Body of Christ. S. Th. Ill, 73,3." E. misunderstands St. Thomas completely. The latter teaches not that the baptized should desire but that objectively they do desire the Eucharist in virtue of their Baptism. F gives the correct interpretation of St. Thomas.

E.405, line 19f: "the play upon words in Mt. 5, 23 et seq." In this passage there is no question whatever of any play on words. F correctly reads "the allusion to Matthew." "Anspielen" means to play or to begin to play: "anspielen auf" means simply to allude to!

E411, line 17f: "The theory (i.e., the Mystery Theory of Dom Casel) was rejected in 1947 by Pope Pius XII in the Enc. 'Mediator Dei'." This theory was not so much as mentioned by the Encyclical. F reads "The Encyclical 'Mediator Dei' seems contrary" to it. The difference is considerable!


E.331, line 17ff: "But while these older theologians attributed to the Sacraments a physical causality in respect of the disposition mentioned, Billot ascribed to them an intentional causality, that is, they have the power of designating and communicating a spiritual conception." The latter phrase makes no sense whatever. F reads: ". . . Billot attributes to them an intentional causality, i.e., that they have the power of designating and communicating a spiritual disposition." This is a faithful presentation of Billot's theory. Furthermore, in the critique of the various systems of sacramental causality, E omits any reference to moral causality, though F treats it along with the other theories.

E.335, line 29: The sacramental character distinguishes "the consecrated from the non-consecrated." The religious is a consecrated soul, but is not distinguished from others by means of a character. E. really means "the ordained from the non-ordained."

E.336, line 40ff: "Christ would have instituted the Sacraments mediately only if He had left the determination of the sacramental operation of grace and of the corresponding outward sign to the Apostles and to their successors." It is fairly clear that E has translated "Wirkung' (effect or operation) by a meaning unwarranted by the context. F reads ". . . the determination of the supernatural effect of each sacrament. . . ."

E.337, line 46ff: "The declaration of the Council of Trent . . . on the other hand, seems to favour specific institution, as the expression 'Sacraments,' according to the proximate sense, designates the concrete substance, that is, matter and form. . . ." F reads ". . . because the expression 'substance of the sacraments' designates directly the concrete substance, that is, matter and form. . . ."

E.339, line 10ff: "This is shown in its liturgical books, in its declarations at the Union Council of Lyons . . . and in its official confessional writings." F makes the last phrase clear: "in its official professions of faith."

E.339, line 17ff: "The Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople answered the Tubingen Professors . . . in association with Simeon of Thessalonica. . . ." Simeon died in 1429, 150 years before this answer was given. F translates ". . . resting on Simeon of Thessalonica."

E.342, line 36ff: "As an instrument is effective in virtue of its principal cause, so the efficiency of the Sacrament is independent of the subjective constitution of the minister" (who is only the secondary ministerial cause). E confuses efficiency with efficacy. F reads: "so the efficacy of the sacrament is independent...."

E.343, line 44ff: "Subjectively regarded, an actual intention is that disposition of the will which is present before and during the whole action, but such a disposition is not indispensable." Even objectively regarded, an actual intention may be so defined. F is clear: "From the subjective point of view, the ideal is an actual intention, i.e., that disposition of the will which exists before and during the entire sacramental function; but it is not necessary."

E.346, line 8: ". . . obstacles to grace are lack of faith and unreadiness for penance." It seems clear that E slavishly translates the word 'Unbussfertigkeit which means simply, as F indicates, impenitence.

E.348, line 3ff: "The Old Testament Sacraments wrought, ex opere operate, not grace, but merely an external lawful purity." Lawful means what is permitted; legal, what is according to the prescriptions of the law. F reads legal.

E.354, line 21ff: ". . . Baptism was administered in such a manner that the person baptizing, in association with the apostolic confession of faith, proposed the threefold question of faith to the person being baptized. . . ." F reads ". . . baptism was conferred under this form: the one baptizing thrice proposed to the one being baptized, conjointly with the recitation of the Apostles' Creed, an interrogation on the faith. . . ."

E.372, line 13ff: ". . . the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) officially proposed the doctrines . . . of the exclusive consecration-power of the validly consecrated priest." F reads: ". . . the exclusive power to consecrate of the validly ordained priest."

E.377, line 40ff: "In association with the words of institution he concurs with the older Church tradition in expressing belief in the Real Presence." F reads: "Resting on the words of institution . . ."

When we examine the English translation from a purely literary viewpoint, we feel no little alarm at the thought of the book falling into the hands of an educated non-Catholic. Looseness of construction and grammatical errors abound. "The formal numeral seven presupposes a well-developed concept of a Sacrament," says the author (E.338, line 26). "Necessity is what cannot not be" (E340, line 3) is hardly English. "Quite apart from the validity of the notions," notes E (409, line 19f), when he really means, "Quite apart from the question of the validity." "Multifold" (E.385) and "equiparation" (E.405) are certainly not found in the Concise Oxford Dictionary. We may also note a lack of consistency in the manner in which E designates persons and places, e.g., on page 381 we read St. John Damascene; over the page it becomes St. John of Damascus, and a little further down the same page St. John Damascene appears again.

Let us repeat: the errors and obscurities, we have noted are but a selection of those to be found in ninety pages of the English translation. With regard to the passages mentioned – and those left unmentioned – F is consistently accurate and logical, while E is consistently inaccurate or obscure.

The patient reader of these remarks has, therefore, two choices before him: either the English translation is a faithful reproduction of the original German, and the French translation has corrected the inaccuracies and rendered startlingly clear the obscurities of the original; or the English translation is a grave distortion of the original work of Dr. Ott. Given the first alternative, we wonder why anyone should bother to translate so inaccurate and obscure a work; or why the French translation makes no mention of alterations made to the text.

Our own view is that the English translator has done a grave disservice to Dr. Ott and to the English reading public.

St. Paschal's College, Box Hill, Victoria.

For further comment by Br. Alexis Bugnolo on the above critique, (plus other comment) click here


[1] The above article was provided to Fr. François Laisney (then District Superior of the SSPX in Australasia) on June 25, 1994, and a copy to Mr Silvester Donald McLean, Editor of the so-called "Catholic" monthly paper, and importer and distributor of products from Tan Books and Publishers, Inc.

Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma was "first published in German in 1952, under the title Grundriss der Kotholiken Dogmatik, by Verlag Herder, Freibury...(and) "first published in English in May, 1955, by The Mercier Press, Limited." My copy in English was published by Tan Books and Publishers, Inc. 1974.

[2] Fr. Joe Horn's web-siteNote: the URL for this site will soon be http://www.holyjoe.net/

[3] This article is reproduced from The Australasian Catholic Record. Vol. XXXVII January, 1960. No. 1. This publication is described as "The Official Organ for communications issued by the Apostolic Delegate to Australasia. Nihil Obstat: Thomas Harrington, Censor Deputatus. Imprimatur: N.T. Card. Gilroy, Archiep. Sydneyensis. 1ª die Januarii, 1960.

F. John Loughnan
January 23, 2001.

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