Why teach Latin? Part 2

Of its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every form of culture among peoples. It gives rise to no jealousies. It does not favor any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality to all and is equally acceptable to all.
— Verterum Sapientia

In addition to the many good, and still valid, secular reasons for learning Latin that we discussed last week, Latin is, still, the language of the Church. Pope St. John XXIII was a strong advocate of Latin, and probably gave the best case for it in, on the eve of the opening of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), with the Apostolic Constitution Veterum sapientia: On the Promotion of the Study of Latin (1962). (My emphases.)

“…But amid this variety of languages a primary place must be given to that language which has its origins in Latium, and later proved so admirable a means for the spreading of Christianity throughout the West.

“And since in God’s special Providence this language united so many nations together … it also became the rightful language of the Apostolic See. Preserved for posterity, it proved to be the bond of unity for the Christian peoples of Europe…

And, deliberately repeating myself:

“Of its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every form of culture among peoples. It gives rise to no jealousies. It does not favor any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality to all and is equally acceptable to all.”

This is especially true today: offering a Mass in English, or Spanish, or Chinese is, intentional or not, as much a political statement as it is anything else. Not so with Latin: no one “owns” Latin, not even the Church. Further, in 1962 an English speaker could walk into a Catholic church in Bangor, Maine, Napoli, Italia, or Tokyo, Japan, and follow and participate in the Mass. That is certainly not the case today.

“For these reasons,” Bl. John XXIII continued, “the Apostolic See has always been at pains to preserve Latin … For the Church, precisely because it embraces all nations and is destined to endure until the end of time … of its very nature requires a language which is universal, immutable, and non-vernacular.”

St. John XXIII then goes on to elaborate on all three of these characteristics, in particular developing the importance of the characteristics of immutability (“modern languages are liable to change, and no single one of them is superior to the others in authority…”) and non-vernacular (“…a most effective bond, binding the Church or today with that of the past and future in wonderful continuity…”)

He also develops the educational benefits of Latin, laying out specific provisions for the promotion of Latin studies, and to restore the Latin curriculum in both the seminaries (where it had not, as yet, been so widely lost as is the case today) and in secular schools.

A few quotes from the Second Vatican Council document Sacrosanctum concilium are worth tossing out here:

“… the sacred Council declares that holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way…” (No.4)

“… the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.” (No. 36)

“… the Latin language is to be retained by clerics in reciting the Divine Office…” (No. 101)

“The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy, other things being equal it should be given the pride of place in liturgical services.” (No. 116)

In 1964, Bl. Paul VI wrote an apostolic letter Studia Latinitatis: The Need for Latin remains unchanged.”  This letter was covered very nicely in 2012 by a ZENIT interview from which I quote here:

“… In recent years (2012), tentative beginnings have taken place within the Catholic Church in terms of renewed interest in the study of Latin. Among these are the birth of new religious communities and lay movements that have understood well how a most precious patrimony belongs to the Tradition, to the life itself of the Church, of liturgical, canonical, magisterial, theological expressions whose content is comprehensible only in its linguistic form, namely, Latin…”

One of those “new religious communities” would be The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter established by St. John Paul II in 1988 via the Apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei.

Also in 2012, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI issued a Motu proprioLatina Lingua, Establishing the Pontifical Academy for Latin” called for by Bl. John XXIII and established in an earlier form by Paul VI.

Finally, as a matter of Canon Law, following on St. John Paul II, Sapientia Christiana (1972) is Can. 249 from the 1983 Code:

“The program of priestly formation is to provide that students not only are carefully taught their native language but also understand Latin well (“lingua latina bene calleant”, lit: “let them be very well versed”) and have a suitable understanding of those foreign languages which seem necessary or useful for their formation or for the exercise of pastoral ministry.”

To finish up with an observation from Fr. John Hunwicke,

“We have, in other words, a coherent expectation in the teaching of popes S John XXIII, B Paul VI, S John Paul II, and Benedict XVI that all seminarians should become proficient in Latin, the language of the Church. And the attitude of the popes to the promotion of Latin studies in even broader contexts than that of the formation of the clergy is demonstrated in the establishment by B Paul VI of a Latin Academy; a foundation re-established and strengthened by Benedict XVI.”

Latin is not dead, nor is it irrelevant to either the Church or to education in general. I offer a final thought:

There is a painting in the Sacristy at St. John’s Church here in Bangor. It shows Jesus, and has the caption “Hoc est enim corpus meum.” Does that mean anything to anyone who passes through there today, especially the youngsters? I guarantee you, Fr. John Bapst (who established St. John’s in the late 1800s) knew what it meant, as did every altar boy who ever served under him. I want my children to know what it means. I want them to be able to access their Catholic patrimony, the rich heritage of the Church, which has been locked away in the memory hole these past 50 years. My children need the full strength of this Catholic patrimony, this heritage, as they go forward into a confused and stormy future. Even rudimentary Latin will allow them this.

Why Latin? Part 1

Latin’s dead, it’s dead, it’s dead, as dead as dead can be. First it killed the Romans, now it’s killing me.
— Prof. Hans-Friedrich Mueller

In the not too distant past, Latin was an integral part of every middle school, and even elementary school, education. Why? Simple: it made you smarter. It made you think, it made you learn how to learn a difficult subject (no, Latin is not easy, but neither is it harder than any other language) and these skills – thinking, learning how to learn – that the child picked up along the way were transferrable to pretty much any other human endeavor worth doing. Today, in muchof the country, the teaching of Latin is making a comeback. Two of the highschools in my area offer multi-year programs. But what about middle and elementary schools?

A short search using your favorite engine will bring up a bunch of contemporary comments on why resuscitating (L. resuscitatus, stirring up again) the hoary practice of teaching Latin to children today, Anno Domini MMXVII, is a great idea. I've taken the liberty of cutting and pasting bits from one of them in purple. Please note, these are secular (saecularis, adv: worldly, not of the Church) educators, with no association (or apparent interest in) the Catholic Church. So, here goes:


Latin Grammar is the Best Grounding for Education

“But why should they learn Latin? Dorothy Sayers says it best:

I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar. I say this not because Latin is traditional and medieval, but simply because even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least 50 percent.”
-- From the National Review .


Latin Helps With English Grammar

“While neither the language nor grammar of English derives from Latin, many of our grammatical rules do…” (Noto bene: tons of English words are derived from Latin as well, which has a lot to do with both improved SAT scores and general improvement in written, and oral (orare, v,: to pray, speak) communication – TC)


Latin Makes You More Careful in English

In Latin you have more to worry about than whether a plural pronoun refers to a singular noun (as in the politically correct - grammatically incorrect: each student has their own workbook).

In Latin there are 7 cases with which not only pronouns, but adjectives -- not to mention verbs -- must agree. Learning such rules makes the student careful in English.


Latin Helps You Maximize SAT scores

Through Latin, test takers can guess at the meanings of new words because they already know the roots and prefixes. But it's not just enhanced vocabulary. Math scores also increase.


Latin Increases Accuracy

This may be due to the increased accuracy Professor Emeritus William Harris notes:

"From another point of view, the study of Latin does foster precision in the use of words. Since one reads Latin closely and carefully, often word by word, this focuses the student's mind on individual words and their usage. It has been noticed that people who have studied Latin in school usually write quite good English prose. There may be a certain amount of stylistic imitation involved, but more important is the habit of reading closely and following important texts with accuracy."


There are even living Latin movements which have nothing whatsoever to do with the Church, but are all about the benefits of Latin with respect to education. So, I've taken this opportunity to link a couple of places where you can introduce your kids, and introduce (or re-introduce) yourself to pulchra et aeterna lingua Latina.

Memoria Press
Little Latin Readers
Latin 101 offered through The Great Courses
Seton Homeschool has a bookstore which has a ton of Latin resources (some, but not all, from Memoria Press listed above) which anyone can purchase, regardless of whether you are enrolled in the Seton homeschooling program.
Henle Latin is a very intense program, available through Seton and Memoria Press (and, I'm sure, other places.)
Rosetta Stone has a Latin program, interesting because it has a lot of Latin neologisms like computatoria.

Well, you get the idea. Latin is very much alive, and there's tons of resources out there.


Salvete to all who love the Church!  

My name is Tim Collins, and I have recently become the Chairman of Una voce Maine. Before going any further, I want to thank the outgoing Chair, Stacy Veevers-Carter, for all her fine work and effort. Chairing this organization is no easy task, and I hope I can do even half the job that she has done.

Regarding me, I am a physician – a pathologist – and an adult convert to the Faith, as is my lovely wife. We have six children, five of whom are still at home, and we live in Winterport, near Bangor. Prior to coming to Maine in 2011, I served in the Navy for 20 years and we moved around a lot, getting to see much that was excellent in the Church, as well as some that was not so excellent.

During our time in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia (home of the Atlantic Fleet, among other things), we attended for several years St. Benedict's Parish. St. Benedict’s is a Parish in the Diocese of Richmond, whose priests are members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, more commonly and easily known as the FSSP. When we began attending St. Benedict’s, neither the FSSP nor the beautiful new church you see on the website were there. Rather, the chapel was in a converted car repair garage, a building which is still on the grounds, updated, prettified and expanded as the Parish hall. Anyway, in those days it was a “Latin Mass” chapel, whose chaplain was the blessed (in my opinion, anyway) Fr. Damian Abbaticchio, OSB, a wonderful elderly man and priest. Upon his retirement – he was in his 80’s - he was followed by Fr. Kevin Willis. It was Fr. Willis who got the ball rolling initially on the new church building project. After Fr. Willis left, the chapel became a full-fledged FSSP chapel, the new church was completed, and today it is a Parish. Though I have not been to St. Benedict’s in a few years, when I looked at the website in preparing this post, I was actually not too surprised to see that one young man who I knew as a teenage altar boy – Fr. Rob Schmid – is now an ordained priest. Deo gratias! My oldest son was an altar boy there for many years, both in the old chapel and in the new church.

 So, why am I going on about a church in Virginia, when we are up here in Maine? Here’s why: while I and my family had been in the Catholic Church since 1999, it was not until our time at St. Benedict’s that I to understand how central the rite, that is, the way the Mass is said, is to forming and maintaining Catholic faith. The Church has known this as lex orandi lex credendi lex vivendi (loosely; the law of prayer is the law of faith is the law of life) but I was pretty much oblivious to all this until I was exposed, at St. Benedict's, to how the Church had done Mass for centuries. Then I began to realize that something not just beautiful, but important and central to keeping the faith – my faith, the faith of my family – had been lost somewhere along the line.

Let me be clear: I do not believe that widespread use of the Latin Mass will magically fix the Church’s many problems. I do, however, believe that the Church’s many problems have their roots in two closely related facts: the collapse of reverence and seriousness in the Mass, and the collapse of robust, unambiguous catechesis, both over the past 50 years or so. The road back is one of ten thousand steps, but I firmly believe that the first two steps are (1) a return to the proper public worship of God with one voice (una voce), and (2) a return to the clear exposition of His will through catechesis. The Mass, and how it is said, is key: it is the most visible public sign of who we as Catholics think God is.

That's enough of that for now. Before I go, though, a comment on wording. "Traditional Latin Mass", "TLM", "Tridentine Mass", "Latin Mass" are all used more or less interchangeably to refer more or less generally to the Rite as promulgated in the 1962 Missal, the one in general use prior to the promulgation of the Novus ordo Missal in 1969. The 1962 Missal is the one used by the various "Latin Mass" societies, priestly fraternities (such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter) and, in general, by those Diocesan parishes nationwide (and worldwide) which offer the "Traditional Latin Mass" in addition to the N.O.

Valete! God bless until next time.