Giulio Colombi, Ratzinger’s translator, dies the day after the Pope emeritus

Of Ilario Bertoletti

With his translations he helped to make Ratzinger known in Italy after the Second Vatican Council: his masterpiece is the Italian rendition of “Il Signore”

Leave the date of the date to a mystery death of Professor Giulio Colombi, who passed away on January 1, 2023 at the age of 97, the day after the death of Joseph Ratzinger, the theologian who with his translations he helped to make known in Italy after the Second Vatican Council. The pain and emotion for the death of a master recommends the sobriety of the list. Giulio Colombi was above all one of the finest intellectuals in the post-conciliar Italian Catholic world, where by intellectual we mean someone who knows how to guide the public debate with the choice of books and ideas worthy of circulation. Since 1957 Colombi with the Morcelliana – alongside Stefano Minelli and training students – has promoted the knowledge of reference authors of contemporary culture: Guardini, Rahner, von Balthasar, Danielou, Ratzinger, Biser, James, Otto, and dozens of still others, ranging from theology to philosophy, from the sciences of religions to biblical exegetics. It was the way in which he understood fidelity to the original dictates of the Morcelliana: a Catholic publishing house that with an adult gaze converses with the secular world, after, to quote Guardini, the end of the modern era.

Colombi was also a translator whose term of comparison is names of the caliber of Ervino Pocar and Giovanni Moretto. Translating more than one hundred books and hundreds of articles from German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Colombi has perhaps given his best in translating Romano Guardini. His masterpiece is the Italian rendering of Il Signore by the Italian-German theologian. Di Guardini also made the meaning of translating his own: interpreting the spirit (‘pneuma’) of a source language in a target language. A spirit that hides in the style of an author. In this sense, Colombi was one of the greatest contemporary Italian translators. Colombi understood these activities as the fulfillment of his being a man of the Catholic Church, which has its point of reference in the teaching of Paul VI, to whose spirituality he dedicated his only book. Deacon since 1982, Colombi has served the Church of Brescia in many pastoral activities. Father Manziana liked to remind Stefano Minelli that Morcelliana’s fortune was to have a ‘saint’ educated in the editorial office: a saint because of a unique humility, capable of listening to anyone who asked him, be it for a translation or for the need to help a needy. Finally, Colombi was a teacher who trained generations of university students, helping them to arrange texts for publication.

His editorial interventions were also sought after by authors that we published with other publishing houses. With Paolo De Benedetti, jokingly, the publishing house went so far as to say that Giulio Colombi had de facto inaugurated the first university chair for editorial merits. And the letters in which, having won the professorships, many professors felt obliged to thank the professor, inviting him to undertake a university career, remain memorable. Which, with ‘understatement’, he refused: he was still the real professor. And it is no coincidence that everyone called him Professor Colombi: the pedagogical inspiration was one with the intransigent rigor of the judgement. Dear teacher, now that you are in the circle of scholars of the Communio sanctorum you will finally have to reveal to von Balthasar where you had found those sources noted at the foot of the translations of the Swiss theologian. Notes so erudite as to amaze von Balthasar: he asked Minelli who was that young Italian professor who was more expert than him in German mysticism.

January 3, 2023 (change January 3, 2023 | 10:35 am)

Giulio Colombi, Ratzinger’s translator, dies the day after the Pope emeritus