Monday, October 17, 2011

On the Goodness and Necessity of Latin in Religious Education, Part 1

Obj. 1: It would seem that Latin as a part of a comprehensive Catholic religious education program is no longer necessary; indeed, perhaps it never was, except only to fulfill a function of utility. This is evidenced by the fact that the Mass is no longer in Latin, and is now freely available to all in their own language.

Obj. 2: Further, Latin is a "dead language," and therefore, fulfills no practical use in the formation of the Person.

Obj. 3: Still further, owing to globalization and progress in culture, perhaps it is better to form a child in a "practical" foreign language, such as Spanish. This would undoubtedly bring more benefit to a child after they have grown up.

Therefore, Latin as a language to be learned is no longer essential in the 21st century, but merely something that belongs to the realm of academics who would study those antiquities of earlier days.

On the Contrary, the Second Vatican Council states that “The use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rite" (SC 36).

I answer that Latin is not only a good for the Person, but a necessary part of Catholic education, for the following reasons: In the Early Church, the Fathers adopted Latin as the language of the Church, taking what was profane and making it sacred. Thus it is most appropriate for Catholics to be able to understand a basic minimum of the language of their Faith.

     Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Early Church Fathers inexorably bound the Latin language to the Church (and in turn, Christendom) by adopting the language for the official translation of the Sacred Scriptures. As "ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ," and the Latin text is the authority in discrepancy in translation, this necessitates the learning of Latin for any person desirous of knowing Christ without error.

     Further, Latin as the unifying language of the Body of Christ perpetuates unto today that most August event of the 50th day after the Resurrection: The Babel of the Old Testament has been purified and restored into unity in Christ so that all might hear the Truth in one language, the language of God. Therefore, the use of the Latin language is the fullest sign of unity to the Body of Christ, having grace continually poured out on her, just as on that day of Pentecost.

Reply to Obj. 1: With regard to the worship of the Church, the intention of the Second Vatican Council on the use of Latin (as evidenced by the documents that were borne from the Council, and not the so-called "spirit"), was to achieve the full, active, and conscious participation of the Faithful, specifically though their learning of the Ordinary parts of the Mass--the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Credo, the Sanctus, the Mortem Tuam, the Pater Noster, and the Agnus Dei-- in Latin (or Greek, as it were, for the Kyrie). Further, the publication of the typical edition of the Mass is originally in Latin. Translations of that Latin are only then authorized and allowed to be used, and as we have found in the coming of the New English Translation, often these translations are seriously deficient, and in some instances made for ideological purposes, both of which prohibit the person from worshipping in Truth. For these reasons, that the Council desired it and that translations are deficient, it seems to necessitate that a person learn Latin if they desire to more fully participate in the Liturgy of the Church.

Reply to Obj. 2: As the official language of the Vatican City State is Latin, and consequently the Church's official language, as evidenced by all documents being written and promulgated in Latin, it seems that Latin cannot rightly be considered a dead language. Further, the language is necessary to know, in that the original Latin is the authority to settle any dispute of meaning in a derivative translation. Finally, as many documents are never translated, this makes knowledge of the Latin language vital.

Reply to Obj. 3: It is, no doubt, immensely beneficial for a child to learn the Spanish language, or French, or German, or Tagalog, as well! This seems to be a false juxtaposition, as if a person is only capable of learning one language other than their mother tongue. Even still, if one were to take this false premise as a correct one, it seems that, because all of the romance languages have their origins in the Latin language, that to learn only Latin would allow a person a substantial understanding of several other languages, as well. This fact, combined with the sacred character of the Latin language as employed by the tradition of the Church, places a greater priority on the Catholic to learn Latin prior to any other language-- keeping in mind that by placing priority on Latin we do not deny the benefit of learning other languages which will no doubt serve the Person greatly in those secular endeavors.

For all of these reasons, I declare that it is not only practical, but that there is almost a moral obligation for a person desiring to be a faithful Catholic to learn a basic corpus of the Latin language.

Here are some prayers

Latin Mass Parts and More Info

(For more reading, lest you think that this is simply some erroneous notion of this blogger, go read Veterum Sapientia, written by Pope John XXIII, the Pope who called the Second Vatican Council, and in the same year he wrote this document-- my findings are consonant with his own)


Post-Script: Implicit to this whole discussion is the question of pastoral concern in the face of the globalization of cultures mentioned earlier. Part two will focus more on this question, but I simply want to give a practical example of why we should be striving to retain a common language of worship. The problem is in fact not a new one (there has always been multiculturalism, especially in America), but rather the seeming lack of solution has been created with the advent of the use of the vernacular. The problem is thus:

We find that we have large populations of non English speakers residing in a parish. The problem lies in that, for example, unless all English speakers were to learn Spanish, or all Spanish speakers were to learn English, then we will never again gather as the entire Body of Christ to celebrate the Eucharist in a fully unified act of worship. This seems to be a highly unreasonable request on the part of either language group-- to learn the others' language. And perhaps rightly so. So we are left at an impasse: either endure hours long bi-lingual liturgies, which is the only (albeit impractical) solution that the modernists have come up with, and no-one actually enjoys; or be exclusive of one language group in favor of another. The solution, of course, is to discriminate against both languages in favor of the language of the Church, which seems both right and just. It is truly a sad affair, this impasse, that what Christ has restored at Pentecost has been destroyed by man. This is a supreme irony, that the first destruction of Babel was by God because man had the audacity to claim what was not theirs. Then, when God gives man what they desire but do not deserve, man destroys that very same original object of desire.

Obviously, I think that the answer here is found in Latin. But the desire is to start a discussion, rather than leave the elephant in the room unmentioned. I hope you'll chime in with your own thoughts! In part two, I will focus more on some of the natural ends of the current philosophy, which is what compelled me to write on the subject to begin with.

God bless you!


  1. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Early Church Fathers inexorably bound the Latin language to the Church (and in turn, Christendom) by adopting the language for the official translation of the Sacred Scriptures. As "ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ," and the Latin text is the authority in discrepancy in translation, this necessitates the learning of Latin for any person desirous of knowing Christ without error.

    That's a very impressive attempt to report everything as backwards from what actually happened, as possible.

    St. Jerome, who said that "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ", was translating the Scriptures from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, in order to correct various errors in the then-current Latin text. Jerome's translation is considered authoritative, thanks to the Council of Trent's recognizing its quality. However, that does not exclude other versions, such as (say) the original Greek and Hebrew sources (assuming they can be found).

    Moreover, Latin was never bound to any Church but the Western, Latin churches. The Eastern Churches, which dominated the early centuries of Christianity, were bound by Greek. The early church fathers -- including many the West, such as Irenaeus -- wrote in Greek. Indeed, the early ecumenical councils were held in Greek; it was not until the later middle ages that ecumenical councils began to be held in Latin.

    The main body of your argument is shot through with error. This disappoints me, incidentally -- I think it's a great idea to teach some Latin in religious education. But the argument has to be put forward better than this!

  2. I work Latin (and a bit of Greek) into my junior high religious ed classes whenever possible. My kids are public school students from 3 different districts, only one of which still offers Latin at the high school level, so there will unfortunately be little opportunity for them to formally study the language.

    BTW, the page to which you link has an error in the Pater Noster: "Panem nostrum cotidianum ..." should read "Panem nostrum quotidianum ...".

  3. Thank you for your comments!

    I will only respond to one point, and that is the authority of the Vulgate.

    It is a doctrine of the Faith that, with regard to Faith and Morals, the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome is entirely free from error. This was taught at Trent, re-iterated at Vatican I, and further expounded in the Ordinary Magisterium of the Popes since Leo XIII. It is in this sense, then, that we have the assurance of the Church that the fullness of the truth about Christ (with regard to faith and morals) is contained in the Vulgate, and is free from error.

    No doubt that the original texts, were they available, could tell us with greater accuracy perhaps some of the historical details (was it 5,000 or 4,000 that Jesus fed; or 9,000, but on two separate occasions?), and I am not at all disputing that. Of course it is good to know ancient Greek and Hebrew, Tagalog, etc.

    However, with regard to our salvation, and those truths necessary for it, we can only be assured of the truths of the matter, here, today in 2011, through knowing the Vulgate; hence why for a Catholic, or indeed any Christian, as the Vulgate has the assurance of inerrancy, it is imperative that they should know Latin in order to better understand those truths necessary for salvation.

  4. @ Mike

    1) Both my Latin dictionaries (Lewis and Short & Oxford) have 'cottid-' or 'cotid-' as preferred to 'quotid-'.

    2) On the issue of Latin generally, I agree with the sentiment of the posting. But without thorough training in Latin in schools, I'm not sure how ordinary Catholics would generally be able to pick up more than just a very basic knowledge. Perhaps that 'basic corpus of the Latin language' is enough -or at least better than nothing...? Anyway, it would be good to see Catholic education developing a stronger sense of our identity, and Latin could be a key part of that.