Why Priests should study Latin – Fiftieth Anniversary of Veterum Sapientia

Modernists hold the Vat. II to be a farewell to the culture heritage and the venerable tradition of the Church, and they depict Pope John XXIII, the Council’s Pope, as their champion in abolishing what our ancestors held to be good and dear. What an abominable distortion of history! The Vat. II document, Sacrosanctum Concilium, stresses the importance of Latin as a Liturgical language, and Pope John XXIII issued on 22th. Feb. 1962 the Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia, in which the eminent role of Latin for the formation of priests is emphasised. Here is a report appeared in L’Osservatore Romano on 25th. Feb. 2012 which reminds us of the message in Veterum Sapientia:

Why Priests should study Latin

Below are excerpts from one of the talks given at the conference dedicated to the 50 th anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution “Veterum sapientia”. The conference was organized by the Pontificium Istitutum Altioris Latinitatis of the Pontifical Salesian University.

The second half of the 20th century is marked — and not only on an ecclesial level — by a divide in the history of the use of Latin. Fading for centuries as an instrument of erudite communication, the language has endured as a subject of educational programmes in secondary schools and, in general, in the Catholic Church as a means of expressing the Liturgy and through the transmission of the faith and of the great literary patrimony which ranges from the theo-philosophical speculation to law, from mystique and hagiography to the art of writing treaties to music and even to the precise nature of the sciences, including the natural sciences.

With time, however, at least in terms of propaganda, Latin became, in large part, the prerogative of the clerical formation in the Catholic Church to the point of causing a spontaneous, perhaps inappropriate, identification between the Roman Church and the linguistic entity of Latin, which in this critical phase found apparent strength.

“Apparent”, because if we review those circumstances today, everything seems to point to the address given by Blessed John XXIII on 7 September 1959 to a conference of Latin scholars.

His words went unheard and the issue of the use and even the teaching of Latin, also in an ecclesial context, most likely took a path of radical reorganization. “Unfortunately there are many who, overly seduced by the extraordinary progress of science, have presumed to reject or restrict the study of Latin and other subjects of this kind”.

However, despite the great difficulties, today priests are convinced that the goal of studying Latin is to align a civilization with its values, interests and meanings, assessing its teachings and theoretical foundations through a critical understanding of the present. It is a decisively encouraging sign for the world and the modern Church, able to look at the study of the past not as superfluous or retrograde, needlessly focused on recuperating something which has faded, but as a return, direct and without intermediation, to a message of extraordinary doctrinal, cultural and pedagogical wealth. A signal of an intellectual heritage too vast, fruitful and rooted to let it be imagined any caesura of its roots.

Currently it seems improbable that one could make a priest appreciate, and even less in the beginning of his formation, the value of Latin as a language endowed with nobility of structure and with words, able to foster a concise, rich, harmonious style, full of majesty and of dignity, which allows for clarity and gravity, created to advance every form of culture, the humanitatis cultus, between peoples.

It is in through this recovery of one’s own cultural identity, this profound revival of the motivations of the presence of the Church in society which leads to the importance of Latin in the academic studies of those aspiring to the priesthood, freeing the language from any doubt concerning its practical function, which is both incorrect and reductive, and re-establishing its place as a very useful material in formation.

It is in this prospective that Paul VI, in the beginning of his Motu Proprio Studia latinitatis — with which he instituted the Salesian University the Pontifical Institute for the Advanced Study of Latin — firmly asserted the close tie between the study of Latin and priestly formation, reaffirming the unavoidability of the non exigua scientia of Latin.

  Celso Morga Iruzubieta


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10 Responses to Why Priests should study Latin – Fiftieth Anniversary of Veterum Sapientia

  1. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    It is said that Latin has “endured as a subject of educational programmes in schools”. Good choice of word -“endured”. Latin root, too.

    It is claimed that Latin is noble, concise, rich, majestic, clear and so on. Well, possibly, but no more so than English or German or French, say. Such claims for a language as any academic teaching linguistics will tell you, are purely subjective.

    We are told that Latin is too vast a fruitful inheritance to “imagine any caesura” of its roots; but Latin exists robustly in French, Spanish and English, so there is no caesura.

    It could be asked why the article wasn’t in Latin.

  2. Jerry says:

    Modernists hold the Vat. II to be a farewell to the culture heritage and the venerable tradition of the Church

    Well that is a very interesting claim. “Modernist” is a rather (ironically) out-dated term of course. But accepting the label, can the author provide, (not many, ten will do), statements by “modernists” that show that they believe V-II to have been all about getting rid of the cultural heritage and tradition of the Catholic Church??

    He can’t of course. His hyperbole does not further discussion about V-II in any sense. If V-II really had been a “farewell to the culture heritage ..” of the Church, the loss would have been immense. No more reading Augustine, Origen forgotten, the Franciscan order disbanded, every painting by Caravaggio taken down, Bede’s History of the English removed from every Catholic library… etc etc. So once again, can the author name just ten catholic modernists who thought V-II meant getting rid of the cultural heritage of the Catholic Church????

  3. Jerry says:

    The article which is reproduced (and is the substance of the post) is very interesting, a pity about the absurd and unnecessary introduction

  4. toadspittle says:

    .
    “it could be asked why the article wasn’t in Latin.”

    One answer might be that Toad would be able to make even less sense of it than he does now.

    He agrees with Jerry on this one. More manufactured hysteria. Vat 2! The day the sky fell in!

    The real reason to learn Latin is to be able to read Vergil, Seneca, Cicero, Horace, Marcus Aurelius and Co. in their own tongue, as could most educated people up until about 100 years ago.

  5. JabbaPapa says:

    It is claimed that Latin is noble, concise, rich, majestic, clear and so on. Well, possibly, but no more so than English or German or French, say. Such claims for a language as any academic teaching linguistics will tell you, are purely subjective.

    Not purely, no.

    Each language has its own characteristics, and does some things better than others — so that it is objectively true that in some areas, some languages are more efficient than others.

    English, with its extraordinarily large vocabulary, for example, is better than most languages at describing material reality with a high degree of precision as to what, exactly, is being discussed.

    Comparative adjectives are therefore of valid usage when comparing languages.

    And in relationship to English, Latin may not be more noble or more majestic, not *objectively* anyway ; but it is certainly more concise than most languages, and clearer ; as well as being richer than most (but so is every major language, so that this is simply part and parcel of Latin being a major language — though Early Latin was both concise and clear, but certainly not rich).

    We are told that Latin is too vast a fruitful inheritance to “imagine any caesura” of its roots; but Latin exists robustly in French, Spanish and English, so there is no caesura.

    No it doesn’t — Spanish and Sard are the closest of all languages to Latin, but of the two, only Sard could be described as having no real caesura with Latin — because it retains several of the core structures of the language, which disappeared from the other Romance languages towards the 8th and 9th centuries.

    Crucially, the syntax and rhythmic qualities of Sard are structurally very similar to the structures of Vulgate Latin, which is only true of the other Romance languages in the High Mediaeval period, but no later. Sard has also partially retained the case system of Vulgate/Late Latin.

    The precise caesura of Latin > Romance is the disappearance of the case system, and the related shift in semantic focus away from the nouns and towards the verbs, plus the generalisation of the use of prefixes/suffixes and prepositions/postpositions to convey attitudes and relationships instead of using the Latin system. All of these exist in Vulgate/Late Latin, but it retained the case system, as well as the possibilities for shifts in word order that are possible in Latin, but not in Romance.

  6. JabbaPapa says:

    He agrees with Jerry on this one. More manufactured hysteria. Vat 2! The day the sky fell in!

    Toad, there was a concerted effort by the liberal faction in the Church to use V2 as an excuse to rid the Church of its Latin.

    Whatever you may think, this is not a hysterical conspiracy theory or whatever, but it is a real and ongoing political question in the Church at this period of her history.

    Now, you’re obviously not obliged to believe the more extremist descriptions of the nature of the debate, but it would nevertheless be false to just reject the debate in toto as if it didn’t exist (because this is precisely a tactic of both of the main extremist positions).

    The teaching of V2 remains that the Mass is ordinarily expected to be celebrated in Latin, albeit according to Novus Ordo, rather than Tridentine. ALL Masses, even those said in the vernacular, are normally required to include a certain amount of Latin, a requirement that is frequently disobeyed. The generalisation of Masses being nearly always said in the vernacular, rather than rarely, is a massive historical shift that was caused by some huge political success of the liberal faction.

    Most Bishops chose to simply ignore the teachings of V2 on the question.

  7. teresa says:

    Toad, Marc Aurel wrote in Greek, his famous meditations were written in Greek, not in Latin. Oh yes he was a Roman Emperor, but Greek was at his time the language for educated people.

    L’Osservatore Romano publishes in different languages, but not in Latin. And this article is for the broader public to raise their awareness for the importance of the noble language of Latin so it makes no sense to write a Latin article for Latinists who already read and write Latin. The title says “Why should Priests learn Latin” and not “Why should Priests only write in Latin”. The Veterum Sapientia was written in Latin of course. Yes, it says Latin is a language of culture and that is why Christians took it from the pagan Romans and didn’t abolish it. In the first passage of Veterum Sapientia, so the reason to read Latin classics in original is already mentioned and included in it. Quote:

    Ancient wisdom enshrined in Greek and Roman literature, as well as the splendid ancient monuments of doctrine are to be regarded as a heralding dawn of Gospel truth announced by the Son of God, “witness and teacher of grace and discipline and the instructor and guide of the human race.” The Church Fathers and Doctors recognized in those eminent works a certain preparation for the reception of the supreme riches that Jesus Christ communicated to mortals “in the fullness of time”. From which it can be seen that the inauguration of Christianity does not obliterate man’s past achievements and nothing that is true, just, noble and beautiful is lost.

    Therefore the Church has fostered these documents of wisdom, and in the first place the Greek and Latin languages, as wisdom’s golden vestment of a sort, holding them in the highest esteem along with other venerable languages which flourished in the East, indeed she welcomed their use since they proved to be of no small value in the promotion of social and moral progress. Either in religious rites or in the interpretation of Sacred Scriptures, they continue to flourish even to the present day in certain regions, as a never ceasing voice of living antiquity.

  8. toadspittle says:

    .

    “Toad, Marc Aurel wrote in Greek, his famous meditations were written in Greek, not in Latin. Oh yes he was a Roman Emperor, but Greek was at his time the language for educated people.”

    Fie! Doh! Toad’s entire argument about the value of knowing Latin in ruins!
    Totally destroyed by Teresa’s superior knowlege. How about the other people he mentioned? Catullus? Livy? Petronius? Pliny? Juvenal? Let’s go through them one by one and obliterate them!
    Toad is mildly suprised, though not utterly amazed, that a Roman Emperor wrote in Greek. However, next time he will be a bit more careful, and, God willing, possibly even a fraction wiser. Less ignorant, to be sure.
    Weliveandlearn,dowenot?

  9. toadspittle says:

    .
    Toad, of course, numbskull that he is, neglected to add that the educated people who could read and write Latin 200 years ago in receipt of a classical education, could usually also read Greek, anyway.

  10. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Thank you Jabba for that very informed comment, though I can’t agree about French, Spanish and English, which alone has around 30% of its lexis traceable to Latin. But no matter. As always, I could be wrong.

    I like the Latin Mass because it does have as the article says, a mystique. But as I must prefer substance and understanding over style, I have to support the Mass in the language of the country. Yet some time ago I sought out a Latin Mass in St Georges, Lyon, France, not knowing that its clergy were supporters of Lefebvre.

    Jerry asks if the author can name ‘ten catholic modernists’ etc, reminding me of poor old Dawkins who was kebabbed by a similar curveball question recently. But Jerry’s point is sound. IMO.

    Nor did I know that old Marcus wrote in Greek – it just goes to show…

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