A big day for lovers of Latin

Few know that today is the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of Pope John XXIII’s apostolic constitution “Veterum Sapientia” on the promotion of the study of Latin. Watch the video below posted today by our Rome bureau on how one group of American students there is trying to keep the language alive.

When we asked this morning on Twitter if anyone knew of today’s anniversary, The Criterion, archdiocesan newspaper of Indianapolis, promptly tweeted back that they were aware of it because it was on their front page 50 years ago. Scroll down and take a look at a portion of Page 1 of their March 2, 1962, edition (.pdf) that trumpeted the story.

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Screenshot of the lead story on The Criterion's front page 50 years ago.

31 Responses

  1. Although I have many years behind me in the study and day-to-day use of Latin, I do not feel it belongs in any other place than what is now called “the extraordinary rite” in the Roman church. Most people do not know Latin, and I don’t know it well enough to stumble through it with the text in front of me. Even that will not suffice.
    I accept the emphasis Pope Benedict has placed on the importance of accurate translation of the sense of the original texts, however, and the free-wheeling nonsense we got once the “liturgists” got to work on them was out of line. On the other hand, there’s something to be said against words like “consubstantiation” as well.
    Give us great English, even if it requires a phrase rather than a mere word. In linguistics it is not always possible to translate a word in one language into just one word in another.

  2. Duane, your post is incomprehensible. “Consubstantial” is a key word dating back to the Latin version of the Nicene Creed of 325. The Church, then and now, emphasizes the theological truth that the Son is consubstantial with (of the same substance as) the Father. The inclusion of “consubstantial” combats against heretical views that the Son is inferior to the Father. If you look at the history of this phrase, you will see its magnitude. We should not water down theological phrasing; that only risks the adoption of heretical views.

  3. “Give us great English”

    Words taken from today’s negative comment. Well, “great” English was invented by men and women steeped in the Latin Classics. English has the ability to be great because people who know Latin have used it.

    The tired old “Most people don’t know Latin” and therefore we shouldn’t learn/use it argument is inspired by the same spirit which urges us always to throw into the trash can and buy a new one instead of repairing or caring for a perfectly good old one, whether it’s a hammer or a car or a house, and it’s precisely that spirit that has gotten us into a lot of trouble.

    It’s a spirit of wastefulness and consumerism that lets our appetites rule our wills.

  4. >>Duane Lamers, on February 23, 2012 at 3:42 pm said:
    >Although I have many years behind me in the study and day-to-day >use of Latin, I do not feel it belongs in any other place than what is >now called “the extraordinary rite” in the Roman church. Most people >do not know Latin, and I don’t know it well enough to stumble through >it with the text in front of me

    Duane doesn’t realize that at least 40% of English is derived from Latin and Greek roots; that the sciences for medicine, biology and other fields still use Greek and Latin nomenclature; and that students who study Latin score higher on college entrance tests average than those who do not.

    Latin indeed, has it’s place in modern life and usage as does Greek.

  5. Intelligent Catholic, you’ll have to explain your judgment that my post is incomprehensible. I’ll listen.

    I know what “consubstantial” means–to the extent anyone can know this, it being partly based on Aristotelian philosophy, including epistemology. My point is that most worshippers today do not know this. Perhaps, after a generation or two of real catechesis, we might be able to say that Catholics know the meaning of the term and it can have its proper place in the translation.

    I would also say this: These Trinitarian arguments have been waged for millenia. The Trinity is a mystery of our faith. There will be no adequately explaining it. We begin and end with Faith. Understanding will not take us sufficiently far. “Equal with” is more understandable to most people. There are other possibilities. Perhaps.

  6. Duane knows very well the percentage of our language that is derived from Greek and Latin–and the derivation of Latin from Greek. Yes, I know the place of Latin in physiology. All those posters at the fitness center help reaffirm that fact.

    All this has no bearing on the fact that most worshippers do not have this background. Their native language is the only one that makes sense in their worship, unless we want to place the Catholic liturgy somewhere closer to voodoo.

    I would not deny people’s choice in worshipping in Latin. At the time of the “great change” I was still in seminary and couldn’t wait for English. Agreed, the earlier translations are regrettable, as are numerous translations of the Bible.

  7. No, we needn’t trash the Latin liturgy. It should have a place for those wishing to use it. That’s far different from saying everyone should use it.

  8. Boring. Speak in the language that Protestants can understand. If we did not English, we would not have Scott Hahn and others.

  9. Mt friend Mr. Duane,

    I do not speak nor have I ever studied it. I am not even a blue-collar worker. I am a middle-aged unskilled labourer, and yet I try my best to sound out the words. I have learned so much by looking at the prayers and Bible in Latin. I can hardly believe it. A few minutes per day, a little extra effort, I am sure God doesn’t mind.

    For what it is worth I can count the number of times I’ve seen Latin used at Church on one-hand. I mean, I basically live in the middle of the Great Basin on the edge of vast desert.

  10. Jim from Utah, I suggest yours is a minority view; but I also wish that you have every opportunity to worship in Latin. Everyone must derive emotional satisfaction from worship because emotion is an important component of a human being.

    I only suggest to you that the Latin language is not sacred. The first Mass in Jerusalem, you can bet, was not celebrated in Latin but in Aramaic.

    You live in a beautiful part of the country. May that beauty assist you as you worship each day, and may you have the benefit of the Mass every day that you wish to celebrate.

  11. Msgr. Ronald Knox translated the entire Old and New Testaments into English from the oldest Greek and Hebrew sources available to him in the 1940s. The translations won him enthusiastic critical praise from biblical and literary scholars throughout the English-speaking world. They are available for free download from the internet. Knox also wrote a small book about his work entitled “Trials of a Translator”. Present-day critics and others who react negatively to the Engligh version of the Roman Missal would do well to read what Knox had to say about modern English translations of the Church’s official Latin biblical and liturgical texts.

  12. Nice you tube channel for Learning Latin is “EVAN1965″. Also latinum.org.uk

  13. Wow. Mr. Lamers would have us say “equal with” instead of “consubstantial.” Clearly, Mr. Lamers places a high value on the rich historical traditions of our Church. He also has great faith in the cognitive abilities of the laity. No doubt it would take (at the very least) two generations for them to understand the concept of consubstantiality. If only they were equal with Mr. Lamers. Then we could ask them to use meaningful, unambiguous language.

  14. We offer the Neo-Vulgate New Testament for free on iPhone, iPad and all Android devices. Text and audio. Search for Biblium.is in the App Store or Android Marketplace.

    We also recently presented this on an iPod Touch to the Holy Father.

    http://www.prweb.com/releases/2012/1/prweb9106622.htm

  15. D.A. Howard: I’ll take the sacred language nearly every canonized saint would recognize in the Mass over a bastardized vernacular “Protestants can understand” or to please “Scott Hahn and others.”

  16. Re. Duane’s point. The Paschal ritual was a rite performed by the father of the family (or eldest son) according to a traditional form. The prayers were ancient and certainly offered in Hebrew not Aramaic, which was the “vernacular” then for Palestine’s Jews. So, Christ Himself did not offer the Paschal prayers or perhaps even the words of the New Covenant consecration in the vernacular, although the latter is not known either way. Too, outside of Palestine, the Mass was offered, even by the apostles, in ancient Greek, or “Koine, common, Hellenistic Greek, the universal language up until around the year 300. It was also the language used by the Alexandrian Jews in the Septuagint Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. The local vernacular Greek, which varied throughout the eastern empire, was not used in the liturgy. Mass began to be offered in Latin, in much of the West, by the third century. And, again, this Latin (probably Old Italian, as spoken in Italy) had by that time replaced Greek as the commonly understood language. The earliest Roman sacramentaries were written in Latin. My point being: The Church has for the most part always employed the more ancient and universal languages of Greek and Latin in its Roman liturgy. .And the eastern liturgies employed ancient Greek for the most part, or ancient Syrian (Chaldaic) not the vernacular dialects.

    Finally, Duane, there is no liturgical word “consubstantiation;” what you mean is “consubstantial.” And Trinitarian controversies did not go on “for Millennia.” The Church settled its Trinitarian and Christological theological terminology during the first four ecumenical councils, to protect what had been revealed as to the nature of the Incarnation of Christ, the Son of God. We say the same Trinitarian Nicene Creed (adding the Fiioque inserted by the fathers at the next council in 381) that was approved by the world’s body of bishops in 325. The fact that there were heretics who denied the Creeds of the Church does not mean there was uncertainty within the Church. These heretics, Arius in the fourth century, or even Mohammed, the most anti-Trinitarian zealot of all, in the seventh, were outside the one true Church. By Faith, in our intellect, we do believe in and know imperfectly the Trinity, whom we do not see. Yet we do visibly see the vestiges of the Trinity in God’s creation. Everything that exists physically, and every spiritual act of knowing and loving, involves a threeness in oneness. Even when we see God in Three Persons in eternity face to face, however, we will not comprehend Him. For He is Infinite.

  17. From Latin Lover: “It’s a spirit of wastefulness and consumerism that lets our appetites rule our wills.”

    Nobody suggested burying the Latin liturgy. I suggest, however, that it is not “wastefulness and consumerism” that wants to rule our wills. How about “understanding,” knowing what you’re saying or doing? That should be in charge of our wills. It is precisely the failure to bridle our wills over the past few decades that has given us the in-your-face decadance we have with us all the time and virtually everywhere.

    May all the lovers of Latin have their wish, and may the rest of us be allowed ours–with the best translations.

  18. I am a Latin student, and I am frequently amazed at the depth with which Latin is organized. Mayhap I am a minority view, but I die with delight every time I hear the Mass in Latin and can follow at least parts of it, if not the whole thing. I think everyone should learn Latin. It assists with verbal skills, logical thinking, and the vast majority of foreign languages. I will never forget the time I spoke with an Italian girl. She spoke Italian, and I spoke my ‘vulgarized’ Latin.

  19. Well, let’s look at the fruit of the liturgy in English. Yes, understanding and knowing what you are saying and doing is good. It is eventually necessary, but it is not required as a starting point. So we are left with both on equal footing, so to speak. One not being understood and one so well known that it makes Mass just one other thing, like everything else. As humans, we are intimately tied to language, and changes in the use of language signal changes in status, mood, relationship and so on. Mass is not an everyday thing and requires things to be different, if even a little.

    The crux of the whole thing really is the Paschal Mystery and its proper instruction, which really needs to be in the common language and outside of Mass. That was supposed to happen, but in large part did not, during the first part of the 20th century. The shift in language, I would argue, has not helped in the least, unless it is felt that the church is the proper place for gossipy chatter, frolicking teens in attire unbefitting their human dignity at or outside of church, a wanton disregard for the Eucharist, and so on.

    The whole discussion on which language and why is a decoy. It is a distraction to keep us emotionally tied up in something that is ultimately unimportant. What is important is listening to God and allowing Him to work in each of us, to make our relationship with Him right. I would offer that this process is not easy, not common everyday, not loud, noisy, or normal, not what we think it might be and most certainly not emotionally satisfying. (And of that last point I am not relying on my own experience or authority, but that of the Saints, the Church Fathers, the Scriptures, the Apostles and Christ Himself.)

  20. Learning the Latin language and memorizing a few prayers are totally different. In this day and age of the itnernet it is easier than ever for people to memorize the Latin prayers needed to understand the Ordinary of Mass. If the Jewish people could revive a dead form of Hebrew and make it living there is no reason Catholics can not learn a bit. Centuries of use does make Latin Sacral. That is what the Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia is based on. We should never turn our backs on it. If at 43 I am starting to memorize prayers with no schooling in Latin all you folks who are a lot smarter than I can learn as well. As for Priests, Canon law requires a thorough knowledge of Latin before Ordination. And Vatican II states Latin will be retained and that Priests are obligated to teach the parts of Mass to the Faithful that pertain to them in Latin. Latin workshops should be in every parish.

  21. I have been reading the Nova Vulgata in Latin and my experience is that Latin is a dead language and it deserved to die, with all due respect to our sainted Pontifs. Ordinary people never spoke or read or wrote in the Latin used in the N.V. or prior Vulgates either. The only value I can see in them is to serve as a guide to those in the Church responsibel for accurate translations into the Vernacular.

    I would however appreciate a cleaned up and approved Latin edition of the Vulgate. Inspite of many overhauls the Vulgate still contains many errors or needlessly complex phrases. Why this is so, I have no idea. For example, we find in Psalm 22 (23):5 the latin verb ” impinguasti, ” which means ” you have fattened. ” Why this error has been repeated for nearly two thousand years is beyond me. A perfectly good Latin word ” inunxisti ( or older-inunuxisti ), ” meaning ” you have anointed.” The acceptible word should have inserted centuries ago. So I am pretty sour on the Latin right now.

    Give me a decent translation any time. I intend to buy the NABRE. But I keep the old Douay-Rhiems with Haydock commentary as a back up. I’m 73 now and went through the Latin purist stage but have been converted to the Vernacular, warts and all.

  22. Sorry for the poor grammar above, its a little early and my cat was romping around the key board. I meant to say ” inunxisti ” or the older form ” inunuxisti ” should have been used. The dictionary entries would be ” inungo ” and the older form ” inunguo ” respectfully. Both are similar in appearance to ” impinugo, ” which was the incorrect word used. I know that at least some dictionaries ( Lewis and Short for instance) show ” anoint ” as an alternative translation for ” impinguo, ” but it does so only out of deference to the Church and it notes that it is ” Ecclisiastical ” from the Douay-Rhiems. In otherwords the repeated error and its incorrect translation has been noted. That is not to say, it is acceptible. It is never acceptible to repeat an error in any work, especially in a work like the Bible, supposedly done by scholars.

  23. Latin is a dead language for many reasons. All those defending the divine qualities of Latin will be gone in 25 years. Trying to keep the church in a museum like a static display is like wake. Looks beautiful, but it’s dead. Don’t worry about it, the Holy Spirit has every under conrol, and if this is to much to hear, again don’t worry about it because we’ll be dead. You don’t have to play God by controling Latin, or translation or whateve. Your talking to each other, and the not the real world.

  24. Much of what I have read about Jesus in the Gospels is that Jesus spent a great deal of His ministry sharing in stories, parables, common language… I sincerely understand the historical dimension of why we have used Latin in the past, but not anymore! Other than a High Liturgy in Rome from time to time, Latin should not be used. If we as a Church are in the business of transforming hearts, we should do so in the manner that Jesus did….

  25. Kelso, after reviewing more carefully what I had written and posted above, I do not find that I wrote “consubstantiation.”

    No, the Trinitarian controversy did not go on long within the Church itself. “The losing sides” were read out of the Church, so to speak.

    Are you suggesting that we know for certain that Aramaic was not used by the Jews of Palestine? Are there sufficient numbers of written texts to demonstrate that the liturgical language of the Jews was static? Can the same be said about the Greek texts?

    Equally to the point, neither Judaism nor Christianity has THE original text for any portion of Scripture. There is no reason to believe that Jerome had it, either.

  26. Mitchell, why should anyone have to memorize the Roman Missal in Latin or even those parts assigned to the people to speak? To me this sounds too much like “ya gotta learn the secrets otherwise ya can’t be part of the group.” I would not deny anyone the opportunity to do so, even to the extent of considering it a duty to do so. That is not for me.

    The Church has the responsibility to insure that translations are accurate and represent the best of those languages.

  27. Kenneth J. Wolfe I will take the language that many canonized saints would recognize, including the Apostles. Oh, that is right, the first Christians spoke in the Aramaic vernacular, than some worshipping of Latin.

  28. Philp K Eichner, SM

    I have just read the dialog above coming from the aniversary of Veterum Sapientia. I know the history of that document — Was it part of John XIII’s aggiornamiento? Did he know what he was signing or was it a curial document like the one requiring the wearing of the galero by the Roman clergy. Fortunately, Latin was my major and I was very comfortable with it in the seminary. However, Veterum Sapietia came out a year before I began my seminary in Fribourg, Switzerland. It gave my fellow seminarians such grief because our rector and ardent canonist and Ciceronian now insisted that any published notes taken in the Latintheology caless (and all were in Latin) also had to be in Latin.
    Then came the Council; the vernacular was in; almost all American seminaries dropped Latin. To say that the knowledge of Latin today is necessary for ordination is nonsense. There are very few priests under 50 today who can handle Latin well.

    I have taught Latin for fifty-four years. I am an ardent vernacularist pre-cisely because I know what the Latin really means.and I want people to understand it. The early fathers struggled for a long time in working out words to adequately approximate the Christian mysteries. In the course of time some words were invented (like consubstantial). Others had a hard time travelling from the Greek or Roman phiosophical context to Church language — such as persona and the Greek ousia.
    These became words of art — like legal, or scientific terms. They are not communicative terms and liturgy is about communication not documentation. Consubstantialis is a word of art, not communication. Nothing is lost in the English expression of sixty years ago — long before the Council — one in being with the Father.
    there is notning unorthodox about that nor”male sonans”. Anyone can understand it because it is English.

    As a native English speaker I can speak my native tongue in Latin derivatives or in anglo saxon derivatives. The former is usually abstract and the latter usually concrete. It can be hearty or cordial or cadiac; it can be water, aequos, hydrate; it can be livel, vital, or biological. It can be remit or send bakc, encompass or grab, gift or offering.

    The recent English translation is an abomination for many reasons. It emphasizes hierarchy (the Latin inserts “priest” into the collect of certain male saints when it was not there before); it emphasizes clericalism (at a time when it is the last thing that we need) by “my sacrifice and yours” instead of “our sacrifice” (even through in the lines before it has the priest say silenty [sacra susurration] “our,” and a relatinization of anglo saxon terms {and even a super relatinization of a Latin term such as sustituting oblation for offering}. There are other anachronism that abound: “we pray, O Lord”, instead of we ask, or “like the dewfall,” or “brethren.” In canon IV why can’t we say “we, us, our” instead of “man?”

    What is even more disturbing isthe failure (or refusal) to realize that the linguistic structure of English is quite different from that of Latin. Our use of clauses, phrase, vocatives, participles, appositives is quite different from Latin and needs some genius to put it into an English idiom that is faithful to the Latin, but understandable (and readable out loud!! Try this on some of texts). Some of it sounds like sophomore Latin students translating Cicero. In some of the places, in imitating the properly involuted Latin text an “and” is inserted which just makes the sentence just a “run-on sentence.” Try to diagram the first preface for advent. What are “heavenly delights?” How does “our fasting give you thanks? English does not put a vocative (direct adress) in the middle of a sentence or at the end of the sentence (introduction to the preface).

    I realize that this is really ecclesial politics: progressive or conservative; reactionary or liberal, etc. The conservatives won in l961, but their victory as short lived, The Council opened the door and the liberals swarmed in (may Annibale rest in peace), creating a counter-reaction that has lasted the past forty years and has finally been victorious (now we hear that the Tridentine mass was never forbidden, etc.). Is there a movement now to have a special indult for the use of the 1971 missal? Why “missal” when the word “missile is a confusing homonym in English? Why not Massbook?

    This is my first blog. I do not have time to go over it for typos or clarity. I haveto go teach my two senior honors Latin classes. Valete

  29. Father Eichner’s comments got me thinking that I need to find a Massbook (I almost said “Missal”!) of the new English translations–such as they are–of the Mass because, since the First Sunday in Advent, 2011, I can understand only an occasional word or phrase spoken by the celebrant–the exact experience I had with Latin in the 1930s before I discovered a Latin-Engish “Massbook”! Has such a thing been published? Can anyone help me find it?
    Jedesto

  30. Perhaps Benedict himself does not fully appreciate the differences between languages and the difficulties encountered in translating from one to the other even though he is polyglot.

    Certainly, his objective is correct: Vatican II did not throw out the older rite and the use of Latin, and the “modernists” simply are wrong to suggest that the Council marks an abrupt turn from the historical course.

    On a related point: Many of the Latin-lovers no doubt enjoy seeing the Pope or any celebrant dressed in the Tridentine chasuble, the rectangular cut horror that was with us so long. However, a cursory view of any of the statuary found on the great Gothic cathedrals will reveal not a single cleric dresssed in this get-up.

    It is interesting to note that those who pine for the “old days” take their pining back only so far and not a bit farther.

  31. Bring the Latin back!!! Amen, Deo gratias, laudetur in seacula saeculorum!

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