Rorate Caeli

MCMLXII - Veterum Sapientia - MMXII
A solemn guide for the interpretation of Vatican II

followed by the Latin typical text and an English translation

The Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia, of Pope Blessed John XXIII, on the fostering of Latin studies, reaches its fiftieth anniversary today, Feb. 22, 2012.

The words of Romano Amerio appropriately convey the meaning of this Apostolic Constitution, the most readily forgotten papal document in the history of the Church. If there will ever be a "Hermeneutic of Continuity", it is to be based on the unchangeable Tradition of the Church and on the clear signs left by Pope John XXIII in the conclusions of the Roman Synod conducted entirely by him, and in Veterum Sapientia. 

Pope John intended the council to be a great act of renewal and functional adaptation for the Church and thought he had adequately prepared it to be such, but nonetheless cherished the prospect that it would all be over within a few months; thinking perhaps of Lateran I under Callistus II in 1123, which three hundred prelates concluded in nineteen days, or of Lateran II under Innocent II in 1139, which a thousand prelates concluded in seventeen days. In fact the council opened on 11 October 1962 and closed on 8 December 1965, thus lasting intermittently for three years. All expectations were overthrown because of the aborting of the council which had been prepared, and the successive elaboration of another quite different council which generated itself.

The Roman synod was planned and summoned by John XXIII as a solemn forerunner of the larger gathering, which it was meant to prefigure and anticipate. The Pope himself said precisely that, to the clergy and faithful of Rome in an allocution of 29 June 1960. Because of that intention, the synod’s importance was universally recognized as extending beyond the diocese of Rome to the whole Catholic world. Its importance was compared to that which the provincial synods held by St. Charles Borromeo had had with respect to the Council of Trent. New life was given to the old saying that the whole Catholic world should wish to model itself on the Church of Rome. The fact that the Pope immediately ordered the texts of the Roman synod to be translated into Italian and all the principal languages, also makes it clear that in his mind it was intended to play an important exemplary role.

The texts of the Roman synod promulgated on 25, 26 and 27 January 1960 constitute a complete reversion of the Church to its proper nature; we mean not merely to its supernatural essence (that can never be lost) but to its historical nature, a returning of the institution to its principles, as Machiavelli put it.

The synod in fact proposed a vigorous restoration at every level of ecclesial life. The discipline of the clergy was modeled on the traditional pattern formulated at the Council of Trent, and based on two principles which had always been accepted and practiced. The first is that of the peculiar character of the person consecrated to God, supernaturally enabled to do Christ’s work, and thus clearly separated from the laity (sacred means separate). The second, which follows from the first, is that of an ascetical education and a sacrificial life, which is the differentiating mark of the clergy as a body, though individuals can take up an ascetical life in the lay state. The synod therefore prescribed for the clergy a whole style of behavior quite distinct from that of laymen. That style demands ecclesiastical dress, sobriety in diet, the avoiding of public entertainments and a flight from profane things. The distinct character of the clergy’s cultural formation was also reaffirmed, and the outlines were given of the system which the Pope solemnly sanctioned the year after in Veterum Sapientia. The Pope also ordered that the Catechism of the Council of Trent should be republished, but the order was ignored. It was not until 1981 that, by private initiative, a translation was published in Italy.

Veterum Sapientia.

The use of the Latin language is, not metaphysically but historically, connatural to the Catholic Church, and is closely connected even in the popular mind with things ecclesiastical. It also constitutes an important instrument and sign of historical continuity in the Church. Since there is no internal reality without its appropriate external manifestation, and since the internal realities arise, fluctuate, and are honored or abased together with their external manifestations, the Church has always believed that the external manifestation which is the Latin language should be maintained permanently, in order to preserve the internal reality of the Church. This is all the more true when one is dealing with a linguistic phenomenon in which the fusion of form and substance, of the external and the internal, is quite indissoluble. In fact, the ruin of Latin after Vatican II was accompanied by many of the symptoms of the “self-destruction” of the Church which Paul VI deplored.

We will discuss the value of Latin later. Here we only want to touch upon that difference we are studying between the preparatory inspiration of the council and its actual result.

By Veterum Sapientia John XXIII wanted to bring about a return of the Church to its own principles, this return being necessary in his mind for the renewal of the Church in its own proper nature at the present articulus temporum.

The Pope attributed a very special importance to the document, and the solemnities with which he surrounded its promulgation in St. Peter's, in the presence of the cardinals and of the whole Roman clergy, are unique in the history of the present century. The outstanding importance of Veterum Sapientia is not destroyed by the oblivion to which it was immediately dispatched, nor by its historical lack of success; values are not values only when they are accepted. Its importance comes from its perfect conformity with the historic reality which is the Church.

The constitution is above all an affirmation of continuity. The Church’s culture is continuous with that of the Greco-Roman world, first and foremost because Christian literature has been since its beginnings Greek and Latin literature. The Bible comes in Greek swaddling clothes, the oldest creeds are Greek and Latin, the Roman Church is Latin from the middle of the third century, the councils of the early centuries know no other language than Greek. This is a continuity internal to the Church whereby all its ages are bound together. But there is also what might be called an external continuity which crosses beyond the bounds of the Christian era and gathers up the whole of the wisdom of the pagans. We will not indeed start talking about Saint Socrates, but we cannot ignore the teaching of the Greek and Latin Fathers, recalled by the Pope in a passage from Tertullian, according to which there is a continuity between the world of thought in which the wisdom of the ancients lived, veterum sapientia, and the world of thought elaborated after the revelation of the Incarnate Word.

Christian thought developed a content that had been supernaturally revealed, but it also took to itself a content revealed naturally by the light of created reason. Thus the classical world is not extraneous to Christianity. The latter has as its essence a sphere of truths above our natural lights, and unattainable by them, but it includes nonetheless the sphere of every truth which human thought can reach. Christian culture is thus prepared for and awaited “obedientially,” in the mediaeval phrase, by the wisdom of the ancients, because no truth, no justice, no beauty, remain foreign to it. Christianity is therefore in harmony with, rather than opposed to, the ancient culture, and has always been sustained by the latter; and sustained not merely by turning it into a handmaid and making a purely pragmatic use of it, as is commonly asserted, but by carrying it on her bosom, as something that already was, but was to be made even greater by being made holy. I do not wish to disguise the fact that the relationship between Christianity and the ancient world, mutually congenial though they may be, entails some rather delicate questions and requires one to keep a firm hold on the distinction between the rational and the suprarational. It is impossible to sustain Tertullian’s overly quoted formula anima naturaliter christiana, because it amounts to calling something naturally supernatural. One must tread carefully to avoid the dangers which naturalism and historicism pose for a Christian religion which is essentially supernatural and suprahistorical. The idea that Christianity stretches across time and cultural change is nonetheless necessary, true and Catholic, albeit difficult. I shelter under the authority of St. Augustine, when he asserts this continuity in an abrupt and all-embracing fashion, straddling centuries and forms of worship: Nam res ipsa, quae nunc christiana religio nuncupatur, erat apud antiquos nee defuit ab initio generis humani.

The practical and disciplinary section of Veterum Sapientia is as crystal clear as its doctrine. It is the very precision of its requirements that led to its nullification, when it was not backed up by papal authority. It decrees that the ecclesiastical ratio studiorum should regain its own distinctive character, deriving from the specific nature of a homo clericus; that substance should thus be put back into the teaching of the traditional disciplines, principally Latin and Greek; and that in order to achieve this, secular subjects which had come in or been expanded through the tendency to copy the secular syllabus, should be dropped or abridged. It lays down that in seminaries, the fundamental subjects such as dogmatic and moral theology should be taught in Latin from Latin textbooks, and that if there were any teachers who were unable or unwilling to use Latin, they should be replaced within a reasonable period. As the coping stone of this Apostolic Constitution intended to foster a general revival of Latin in the Church, the Pope decreed the establishment of a Higher Latin Institute, designed to train Latinists for the Catholic world at large, and to bring out a dictionary of modern Latin.

The general collapse of the use of Latin, following as it did upon a project for its general restoration, provides a further proof of the paradoxical outcome of the council. Veterum Sapientia, being concerned as it was with an historically essential facet of Catholicism, called for an outstanding effort on the part of the authorities issuing it, and an harmonious response on the part of those responsible for its implementation. What was needed was the practical force displayed, for example, in the great reform of Italian schools by Giovanni Gentile, which fixed the form of the syllabus for half a century. Thousands of teachers who then found themselves in a position analogous to that in which Veterum Sapientia placed teachers of sacred literature, were mercilessly obliged either to conform or to resign. The reform of ecclesiastical studies, however, was annihilated in very short order, having met opposition from many quarters for a variety of reasons, principally in Germany in a book by one Winninger, bearing a preface by the Bishop of Strasbourg. The Pope, having stood firm to start with, later gave orders that the implementation of the document should not be insisted on; those who would have had the duty of putting it into effect imitated this papal weakness, and Veterum Sapientia, which had been so loudly praised as useful and opportune, was completely wiped from memory and is not cited in any conciliar document. Some biographies of John XXIII do not mention it at all, just as if it did not exist, and never had; while the more arrogant accounts mention it simply as an error. There is not, in the whole history of the Church, another instance of a document’s being so solemnly emphasized, and then being so unceremoniously cast out so soon afterwards, like the corpse of an executed criminal.

The question remains, however, whether it was struck out of the book of the living because of the unwisdom shown in promulgating it, or because of the lack of courage shown when it came to demanding its implementation.
Romano Amerio
Iota Unum
[Latin text - followed by an English translation]





1. Veterum Sapientia, in Graecorum Romanorumque inclusa litteris, itemque clarissima antiquorum populorum monumenta doctrinae, quasi quaedam praenuntia aurora sunt habenda evangelicae veritatis, quam Filius Dei, gratiae disciplinaeque arbiter et magister, illuminator ac deductor generis humani (1), his nuntiavit in terris. Ecclesiae enim Patres et Doctores, in praestantissimis vetustorum illorum temporum memoriis quandam agnoverunt animorum praeparationem ad supernas suscipiendas divitias, quas Christus Iesus in dispensatione plenitudinis temporum (2) cum mortalibus communicavit; ex quo illud factum esse patet, ut in ordine rerum christianarum instaurato nihil sane perierit, quod verum, et iustum, et nobile, denique pulchrum ante acta saecula peperissent.

2. Quam ob rem Ecclesia sancta eius modi sapientiae documenta, et in primis Graecam Latinamque linguas, sapientiae ipsius auream quasi vestem, summo quidem honore coluit: atque etiam venerandos sermones alios, qui in orientis plagis floruerunt, quippe cum ad humani generis profectum et ad mores conformandos haud parum valerent, in usum recepit; iidemque sive in religiosis caerimoniis sive in Sacrarum Scripturarum interpretatione adhibiti, usque ad praesens tempus in quibusdam regionibus, perinde ac vivacis antiquitatis numquam intermissae voces, viguerunt.

3. Quarum in varietate linguarum ea profecto eminet, quae primum in Latii finibus exorta, deinde postea mirum quantum ad christianum nomen in occidentis regiones disseminandum profecit. Siquidem non sine divino consilio illud evenit, ut qui sermo amplissimam gentium consortionem sub Romani Imperii auctoritate saecula plurima sociavisset, is et proprius Apostolicae Sedis evaderet (3) et, posteritati servatus, christianos Europae populos alios cum aliis arto unitatis vinculo coniungeret.

Suae enim sponte naturae lingua Latina ad provehendum apud populos quoslibet omnem humanitatis cultum est peraccommodata: cum invidiam non commoveat, singulis gentibus se aequabilem praestet, nullius partibus faveat, omnibus postremo sit grata et amica. Neque hoc neglegatur oportet, in sermone Latino nobilem inesse conformationem et proprietatem; siquidem loquendi genus pressum, locuples, numerosum, maiestatis plenum et dignitatis (4) habet, quod unice et perspicuitati conducit et gravitati.

4. His de causis Apostolica Sedes nullo non tempore linguam Latinam studiose asservandam curavit eamque dignam existimavit qua tamquαm magnifica caelestis doctrinae sanctissimarumque legum veste (5) uteretur ipsa in sui exercitatione magisterii, eademque uterentur sacrorum administri. Hi namque ecclesiastici viri, ubicumque sunt gentium, Romanorum sermone adhibito, quae sunt Sanctae Sedis promptius comperire possunt, atque cum ipsa et inter se expeditius habere commercium.

Eam igitur, adeo cum vita Ecclesiae conexam, scientia et usu habere perceptam, non tam humanitatis et litterarum, quam religionis interest(6), quemadmodum Decessor Noster imm. mem. Pius XI monuit, qui, rem ratione et via persecutus, tres demonstravit huius linguae dotes, cum Ecclesiae natura mire congruentes: Etenim Ecclesia, ut quae et nationes omnes complexu suo contineat, et usque ad consummationem saeculorum sit permansura..., sermonem suapte natura requirit universalem, immutabilem, non vulgarem (7).

5. Nam cum ad Ecclesiam Romanam necesse sit omnem convenireecclesiam (8), cumque Summi Pontifices potestatem habeant vere episcopalem, ordinariam et immediatam tum in omnes et singulas Ecclesias, tum in omnes et singulos pastores et fideles (9) cuiusvis ritus, cuiusvis gentis, cuiusvis linguae, consentaneum omnino videtur ut mutui commercii instrumentum universale sit et aequabile, maxime inter Apostolicam Sedem et Ecclesias, quae eodem ritu Latino utuntur. Itaque tum Romani Pontifices, si quid catholicas gentes docere volunt, tum Romanae Curiae Consilia, si qua negotia expediunt, si qua decreta conficiunt, ad universitatem fidelium spectantia, semper linguam Latinam haud secus usurpant, ac si materna vox ab innumeris gentibus accepta ea sit.

6. Neque solum universalis, sed etiam immutabilis lingua ab Ecclesia adhibita sit oportet. Si enim catholicae Ecclesiae veritates traderentur vel nonnullis vel multis ex mutabilibus linguis recentioribus, quarum nulla ceteris auctoritate praestaret, sane ex eo consequeretur, ut hinc earum vis neque satis significanter neque satis dilucide, qua varietate eae sunt, omnibus pateret; ut illinc nulla communis stabilisque norma haberetur, ad quam ceterarum sensus esset expendendus. Re quidem ipsa, lingua Latina, iamdiu adversus varietates tuta, quas cotidiana populi consuetudo in vocabulorum notionem inducere solet, fixa quidem censenda est et immobilis; cum novae quorundam verborum Latinorum significationes, quas christianarum doctrinarum progressio, explanatio, defensio postulaverunt, iamdudum firmae eae sint rataeque.

7. Cum denique catholica Ecclesia, utpote a Christo Domino condita, inter omnes humanas societates longe dignitate praestet, profecto decet eam lingua uti non vulgari, sed nobilitatis et maiestatis plena.

8. Praetereaque lingua Latina, quam dicere catholicam vere possumus(10), utpote quae sit Apostolicae Sedis, omnium Ecclesiarum matris et magistrae, perpetuo usu consecrata, putanda est et thesaurus ... incomparandae praestantiae (11), et quaedam quasi ianua, qua aditus omnibus patet ad ipsas christianas veritates antiquitus acceptas et ecclesiasticae doctrinae monumenta interpretanda (12); et vinculum denique peridoneum, quo praesens Ecclesiae aetas cum superioribus cumque futuris mirifice continetur.

9. Neque vero cuique in dubio esse potest, quin sive Romanorum sermoni sive honestis litteris ea vis insit, quae ad tenera adulescentium ingenia erudienda et conformanda perquam apposita ducatur, quippe qua tum praecipuae mentis animique facultates exerceantur, maturescant, perficiantur; tum mentis sollertia acuatur iudicandique potestas; tum puerilis intellegentia aptius constituatur ad omnia recte complectenda et aestimanda; tum postremo summa ratione sive cogitare sive loqui discatur.

10. Quibus ex reputatis rebus sane intellegitur cur saepe et multum Romani Pontifices non solum linguae Latinae momentum praestantiamque in tanta laude posuerint, sed etiam studium et usum sacris utriusque cleri administris praeceperint, periculis denuntiatis ex eius neglegentia manantibus.

Iisdem igitur adducti causis gravissimis, quibus Decessores Nostri et Synodi Provinciales (13), Nos quoque firma voluntate enitimur, ut huius linguae, in suam dignitatem restitutae, studium cultusque etiam atque etiam provehatur. Cum enim nostris temporibus sermonis Romani usus multis locis in controversiam coeptus sit vocari, atque adeo plurimi quid Apostolica Sedes hac de re sentiat exquirant, in animum propterea induximus, opportunis normis gravi hoc documento editis, cavere ut vetus et numquam intermissa linguae Latinae retineatur consuetudo, et, sicubi prope exoleverit, plane redintegretur.

Ceterum qui sit Nobismetipsis hac de re sensus, satis aperte, ut Nobis videtur, declaravimus, cum haec verba ad claros Latinitatis studiosos fecimus: Pro dolor, sunt sat multi, qui mira progressione artium abnormiter capti, Latinitatis studia et alias id genus disciplinas repellere vel coërcere sibi sumant... Hac ipsa impellente necessitate, contrarium prosequendum iter esse putamus. Cum prorsus in animo id insideat, quod magis natura et dignitate hominis dignum sit, ardentius acquirendum est id, quod animum colat et ornet, ne miseri mortales similiter ac eae, quas fabricantur, machinae, algidi, duri et amoris expertes exsistant (14).

11. Quibus perspectis atque cogitate perpensis rebus, certa Nostri muneris conscientia et auctoritate haec, quae sequuntur, statuimus atque praecipimus.
§ 1. Sacrorum Antistites et Ordinum Religiosorum Summi Magistri parem dent operam, ut vel in suis Seminariis vel in suis Scholis, in quibus adulescentes ad sacerdotium instituantur hac in re Apostolicae Sedis voluntati studiose obsequantur omnes, et hisce Nostris praescriptionibus diligentissime pareant.

§ 2. Paterna iidem sollicitudine caveant, ne qui e sua dicione, novarum rerum studiosi, contra linguam Latinam sive in altioribus sacris disciplinis tradendis sive in sacris habendis ritibus usurpandam scribant, neve praeiudicata opinione Apostolicae Sedis voluntatem hac in re extenuent vel perperam interpretentur.

§ 3. Quemadmodum sive Codicis Iuris Canonici (can. 1364) sive Decessorum Nostrorum praeceptis statuitur, sacrorum alumni, antequam studia proprie ecclesiastica inchoent, a peritissimis magistris apta via ac ratione congruoque temporis spatio lingua Latina accuratissime imbuantur,hanc etiam ob causam, ne deinde, cum ad maiores disciplinas accesserint... fiat ut prae sermonis inscitia plenam doctrinarum intellegentiam assequi non possint, nedum se exercere scholasticis illis disputationibus, quibus egregie iuvenum acuuntur ingenia ad defensionem veritatis (15). Quod ad eos quoque pertinere volumus,qui natu maiores ad sacra capessenda munia divinitus vocati, humanitatis studiis vel nullam vel nimis tenuem tradiderunt operam. Nemini enim faciendus est aditus ad philosophicas vel theologicas disciplinas tractandas, nisi plane perfecteque hac lingua eruditus sit, eiusque sit usu praeditus.

§ 4. Sicubi autem, ob assimulatam studiorum rationem in publicis civitatis scholis obtinentem, de linguae Latinae cultu aliquatenus detractum sit, cum germanae firmaeque doctrinae detrimento, ibi tralaticium huius linguae tradendae ordinem redintegrari omnino censemus; cum persuasum cuique esse debeat, hac etiam in re, sacrorum alumnorum institutionis rationem religiose esse tuendam, non tantum ad disciplinarum numerum et genera, sed etiam ad earum docendarum temporis spatia quod attinet. Quodsi, vel temporum vel locorum postulante cursu, ex necessitate aliae sint ad communes adiciendae disciplinae, tunc ea de causa aut studiorum porrigatur curriculum, aut disciplinae eaedem in breve cogantur, aut denique earum studium ad aliud reiciatur tempus.

§ 5. Maiores sacraeque disciplinae, quemadmodum est saepius praescriptum, tradendae sunt lingua Latina; quae ut plurium saeculorum usu cognitum habemus, aptissima existimatur ad difficillimas subtilissimasque rerum formas et notiones valde commode et perspicue explicandas (16); cum superquam quod propriis ea certisque vocabulis iampridem aucta sit, ad integritatem catholicae fidei tuendam accommodatis, etiam ad inanem loquacitatem recidendam sit non mediocriter habilis. Quocirca qui sive in maximis Athenaeis, sive in Seminariis has profitentur disciplinas, et Latine loqui tenentur, et libros, scholarum usui destinatos, lingua Latina scriptos adhibere. Qui si ad hisce Sanctae Sedis praescriptionibus parendum, prae linguae Latinae ignoratione, expediti ipsi non sint, in eorum locum doctores ad hoc idonei gradatim sufficiantur. Difficultates vero, si quae vel ab alumnis vel a professoribus afferantur, hinc Antistitum et Moderatorum constantia, hinc bono doctorum animo eae vincantur necesse est.

§ 6. Quoniam lingua Latina est lingua Ecclesiae viva, ad cotidie succrescentes sermonis necessitates comparanda, atque adeo novis iisque aptis et congruis ditanda vocabulis, ratione quidem aequabili, universali et cum veteris linguae Latinae ingenio consentanea - quam scilicet rationem et Sancti Patres et optimi scriptores, quos scholasticos vocant, secuti sunt - mandamus propterea S. Consilio Seminariis Studiorumque Universitatibus praeposito, ut Academicum Latinitatis Institutum condendum curet. Huic Instituto, in quo corpus Doctorum confletur oportet, linguis Latina et Graeca peritorum, ex variisque terrarum orbis partibus arcessitorum, illud praecipue erit propositum, ut - haud secus atque singularum civitatum Academiae, suae cuiusque nationis linguae provehendae constitutae - simul prospiciat congruenti linguae Latinae progressioni, lexico Latino, si opus sit, additis verbis cum eius indole et colore proprio convenientibus; simul scholas habeat de universa cuiusvis aetatis Latinitate, cum primis de christiana. In quibus scholis ad pleniorem linguae Latinae scientiam, ad eius usum, ad genus scribendi proprium et elegans ii informabuntur, qui vel ad linguam Latinam in Seminariis et Collegiis ecclesiasticis docendam, vel ad decreta et iudicia scribenda, vel ad epistolarum commercium exercendum in Consiliis Sanctae Sedis, in Curiis dioecesium, in Officiis Religiosorum Ordinum destinantur.

§ 7. Cum autem lingua Latina sit cum Graeca quam maxime coniuncta et suae conformatione naturae et scriptorum pondere antiquitus traditorum, ad eam idcirco, ut saepe numero Decessores Nostri praeceperunt, necesse est qui futuri sunt sacrorum administri iam ab inferioris et medii ordinis scholis instituantur; ut nempe, cum altioribus disciplinis operam dabunt, ac praesertim sit aut de Sacris Scripturis aut de sacra theologia academicos gradus appetent, sit ipsis facultas, non modo fontes Graecos philosophiae scholasticae, quam appellant, sed ipsos Sacrarum Scripturarum, Liturgiae, Ss. Patrum Graecorum primiformes codices adeundi probeque intellegendi(17).

§ 8. Eidem praeterea Sacro Consilio mandamus, ut linguae Latinae docendae rationem, ab omnibus diligentissime servandam, paret, quam qui sequantur eiusdem sermonis iustam cognitionem et usum capiant. Huismodi rationem, si res postulaverit, poterunt quidem Ordinariorum coetus aliter digerere, sed eius numquam immutare vel minuere naturam. Verumtamen iidem Ordinarii consilia sua, nisi fuerint a Sacra Congregatione cognita et probata, ne sibi sumant efficere.
12. Extremum quae hac Nostra Constitutione statuimus, decrevimus, ediximus, mandavimus, rata ea omnia et firma consistere et permanere auctoritate Nostra Apostolica volumus et iubemus, contrariis quibuslibet non obstantibus, etiam peculiari mentione dignis.

Datum Romae, apud Sanctum Petrum, die XXII mensis Februarii, Cathedrae S. Petri Ap. sacro, anno MDCCCCLXII, Pontificatus Nostri quarto.


(1) Tertull., Apol. 21; Migne, PL 1, 394.
(2) Eph. 1, 10.
- Textus editus in AAS 54(1962) 129-35; et in L'Oss. Rom. 24 Febbr. 1962, p. 1-2.
(3) Epist. S. Congr. Stud. Vehementer sane, ad Ep. universos, 1 Iul. 1908:Ench. Cler., N. 820. Cfr etiam Epist. Ap. Pii XI, Unigenitus Dei Filius, 19 Mar. 1924: A.A.S. 16 (1924), 141.
(4) Pius XI, Epist. Ap. Offιciorum omnium, 1 Aug. 1922: A.A.S. 14 (1922), 452-453.
(5) Pius XI, Motu Proprio Litterarum latinarum, 20 Oct. 1924: A.A.S. 16 (1924), 417.
(6) Pius XI, Epist. Ap. Offιciorum omnium, 1 Aug. 1922: A.A.S. 14 (1922) 452.
(7) Ibidem.
(8) S. Iren., Adv. Haer. 3, 3, 2; MignePG 7, 848.
(9) Cfr C. I. C., can. 218, § 2.
(10) Cfr Pius XI, Epist. Ap. Officiorum omnium, 1 Aug. 1922: A.A.S. 14(1922), 453.
(11) Pius XII, Alloc. Magis quam, 23 Nov. 1951: A.A.S. 43 (1951) 737.
(12) LEO XIII, Epist. Encycl. Depuis le jour, 8 Sept. 1899: Acta Leonis XIII 19 (1899) 166.
(13) Cfr Collectio Lacensis, praesertim: vol. III, 1918s. (Conc. Prov. Westmonasteriense, a. 1859); vol. IV, 29 (Conc. Prov. Parisiense, a. 1849); vol. IV, 149, 153 (Conc. Prov. Rhemense, a. 1849); vol. IV, 359, 361 (Conc. Prov. Avenionense, a. 1849); vol. IV, 394, 396 (Conc. Prov. Burdigalense, a. 1850); vol. V, 61 (Conc. Strigoniense, a. 1858); vol. V, 664 (Conc. Prov. Colocense, a. 1863) ; vol. VI, 619 (Synod. Vicariatus Suchnensis, a. 1803).

(14) Ad Conventum internat. « Ciceronianis Studiis provehendis », 7 Sept. 1959; in Discorsi Messaggi Colloqui del Santo Padre Giovanni XXIII, I, pp. 234-235; cfr etiam Alloc. ad cives dioecesis Placentinae Romam peregrinantes habita, 15 Apr. 1959: L'Osservatore Romano, 16 apr. 1959; Epist. Pater misericordiarum, 22 Aug. 1961: A.A.S. 53 (1961), 677; Alloc. in sollemni auspicatione Collegii Insularum Philippinarum de Urbe habita, 7 Oct. 1961: L'Osservatore Romano, 9-10 Oct. 1961 Epist. Iucunda laudatio, 8 Dec. 1961: A.A.S. 53 (1961), 812.

(15) Pius XI, Epist. Ap. Officiorum omnium, 1 Aug. 1922: A.A.S. 14 (1922), 453.
(16) Epist. S. C. Studiorum, Vehementer sane, 1 Iul. 1908: Ench. Cler., n. 821.
(17) Leo XII, Litt. Encycl. Providentissimus Deus, 18 Nov. 1893: Acta Leonis XIII, 13 (1893), 342; Epist. Plane quidem intelligis, 20 Maii 1885,Acta, 5, 63-64; Pius XII, Alloc. Magis quam, 23 Sept. 1951: A.A.S. 43 (1951), 737.

[English translation provided by Adoremus:]

The wisdom of the ancient world, enshrined in Greek and Roman literature, and the truly memorable teaching of ancient peoples, served, surely, to herald the dawn of the Gospel which Gods Son, "the judge and teacher of grace and truth, the light and guide of the human race,"1 proclaimed on earth.

Such was the view of the Church Fathers and Doctors. In these outstanding literary monuments of antiquity, they recognized man's spiritual preparation for the supernatural riches which Jesus Christ communicated to mankind "to give history its fulfilment."2

Thus the inauguration of Christianity did not mean the obliteration of man's past achievements. Nothing was lost that was in any way true, just, noble and beautiful.

Venerable languages

The Church has ever held the literary evidences of this wisdom in the highest esteem. She values especially the Greek and Latin languages in which wisdom itself is cloaked, as it were, in a vesture of gold. She has likewise welcomed the use of other venerable languages, which flourished in the East. For these too have had no little influence on the progress of humanity and civilization. By their use in sacred liturgies and in versions of Holy Scripture, they have remained in force in certain regions even to the present day, bearing constant witness to the living voice of antiquity.

A primary place

But amid this variety of languages a primary place must surely be given to that language which had 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 under the authority of the Roman Empire -- and that for so many centuries -- it also became the rightful language of the Apostolic See.Preserved for posterity, it proved to be a bond of unity for the Christian peoples of Europe.

The nature of Latin

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.

Nor must we overlook the characteristic nobility of Latin for mal structure. Its "concise, varied and harmonious style, full of majesty and dignity"4 makes for singular clarity and impressiveness of expression.

Preservation of Latin by the Holy See

For these reasons the Apostolic See has always been at pains to preserve Latin, deeming it worthy of being used in the exercise of her teaching authority "as the splendid vesture of her heavenly doctrine and sacred laws."5 She further requires her sacred ministers to use it, for by so doing they are the better able, wherever they may be, to acquaint themselves with the mind of the Holy See on any matter, and communicate the more easily with Rome and with one another.

Thus the "knowledge and use of this language," so intimately bound up with the Church's life, "is important not so much on cultural or literary grounds, as for religious reasons."6 These are the words of Our Predecessor Pius XI, who conducted a scientific inquiry into this whole subject, and indicated three qualities of the Latin language which harmonize to a remarkable degree with the Church's nature. "For the Church, precisely because it embraces all nations and is destined to endure to the end of time ... of its very nature requires a language which is universal, immutable, and non-vernacular."7


Since "every Church must assemble round the Roman Church,"8 and since the Supreme Pontiffs have "true episcopal power, ordinary and immediate, over each and every Church and each and every Pastor, as well as over the faithful"9 of every rite and language, it seems particularly desirable that the instrument of mutual communication be uniform and universal, especially between the Apostolic See and the Churches which use the same Latin rite.

When, therefore, the Roman Pontiffs wish to instruct the Catholic world, or when the Congregations of the Roman Curia handle matters or draw up decrees which concern the whole body of the faithful, they invariably make use of Latin, for this is a maternal voice acceptable to countless nations.


Furthermore, the Church's language must be not only universal but also immutable. Modern languages are liable to change, and no single one of them is superior to the others in authority. Thus if the truths of the Catholic Church were entrusted to an unspecified number of them, the meaning of these truths, varied as they are, would not be manifested to everyone with sufficient clarity and precision. There would, moreover, be no language which could serve as a common and constant norm by which to gauge the exact meaning of other renderings.

But Latin is indeed such a language. It is set and unchanging. it has long since ceased to be affected by those alterations in the meaning of words which are the normal result of daily, popular use. Certain Latin words, it is true, acquired new meanings as Christian teaching developed and needed to be explained and defended, but these new meanings have long since become accepted and firmly established.


Finally, the Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic, and non-vernacular.

In addition, the Latin language "can be called truly catholic."10 It has been consecrated through constant use by the Apostolic See, the mother and teacher of all Churches, and must be esteemed "a treasure ... of incomparable worth."11. It is a general passport to the proper understanding of the Christian writers of antiquity and the documents of the Church's teaching.12 It is also a most effective bond, binding the Church of today with that of the past and of the future in wonderful continuity.

Educational value of Latin

There can be no doubt as to the formative and educational value either of the language of the Romans or of great literature generally. It is a most effective training for the pliant minds of youth. It exercises, matures and perfects the principal faculties of mind and spirit. It sharpens the wits and gives keenness of judgment. It helps the young mind to grasp things accurately and develop a true sense of values. It is also a means for teaching highly intelligent thought and speech.

A natural result

It will be quite clear from these considerations why the Roman Pontiffs have so often extolled the excellence and importance of Latin, and why they have prescribed its study and use by the secular and regular clergy, forecasting the dangers that would result from its neglect.

A resolve to uphold Latin

And We also, impelled by the weightiest of reasons -- the same as those which prompted Our Predecessors and provincial synods 13 -- are fully determined to restore this language to its position of honor, and to do all We can to promote its study and use. The employment of Latin has recently been contested in many quarters, and many are asking what the mind of the Apostolic See is in this matter. We have therefore decided to issue the timely directives contained in this document, so as to ensure that the ancient and uninterrupted use of Latin be maintained and, where necessary, restored.

We believe that We made Our own views on this subject sufficiently clear when We said to a number of eminent Latin scholars:

"It is a matter of regret that so many people, unaccountably dazzled by the marvelous progress of science, are taking it upon themselves to oust or restrict the study of Latin and other kindred subjects.... Yet, in spite of the urgent need for science, Our own view is that the very contrary policy should be followed. The greatest impression is made on the mind by those things which correspond more closely to man's nature and dignity. And therefore the greatest zeal should be shown in the acquisition of whatever educates and ennobles the mind. Otherwise poor mortal creatures may well become like the machines they build -- cold, hard, and devoid of love."14

Provisions for the Promotion of Latin Studies

With the foregoing considerations in mind, to which We have given careful thought, We now, in the full consciousness of Our Office and in virtue of Our authority, decree and command the following:

1. Bishops and superiors-general of religious orders shall take pains to ensure that in their seminaries and in their schools where adolescents are trained for the priesthood, all shall studiously observe the Apostolic See's decision in this matter and obey these Our prescriptions most carefully.

2. In the exercise of their paternal care they shall be on their guard lest anyone under their jurisdiction, eager for revolutionary changes, writes against the use of Latin in the teaching of the higher sacred studies or in the Liturgy, or through prejudice makes light of the Holy See's will in this regard or interprets it falsely.

Study of Latin as a prerequisite3. As is laid down in Canon Law (can. 1364) or commanded by Our Predecessors, before Church students begin their ecclesiastical studies proper they shall be given a sufficiently lengthy course of instruction in Latin by highly competent masters, following a method designed to teach them the language with the utmost accuracy. "And that too for this reason: lest later on, when they begin their major studies . . . they are unable by reason of their ignorance of the language to gain a full understanding of the doctrines or take part in those scholastic disputations which constitute so excellent an intellectual training for young men in the defense of the faith." 15

We wish the same rule to apply to those whom God calls to the priesthood at a more advanced age, and whose classical studies have either been neglected or conducted too superficially. No one is to be admitted to the study of philosophy or theology except he be thoroughly grounded in this language and capable of using it.

Traditional curriculum to be restored4. Wherever the study of Latin has suffered partial eclipse through the assimilation of the academic program to that which obtains in State public schools, with the result that the instruction given is no longer so thorough and well-grounded as formerly, there the traditional method of teaching this language shall be completely restored. Such is Our will, and there should be no doubt in anyone's mind about the necessity of keeping a strict watch over the course of studies followed by Church students; and that not only as regards the number and kinds of subjects they study, but also as regards the length of time devoted to the teaching of these subjects.

Should circumstances of time and place demand the addition of other subjects to the curriculum besides the usual ones, then either the course of studies must be lengthened, or these additional subjects must be condensed or their study relegated to another time.

Sacred sciences to be taught in Latin5. In accordance with numerous previous instructions, the major sacred sciences shall be taught in Latin, which, as we know from many centuries of use, "must be considered most suitable for explaining with the utmost facility and clarity the most difficult and profound ideas and concepts."16 For apart from the fact that it has long since been enriched with a vocabulary of appropriate and unequivocal terms, best calculated to safeguard the integrity of the Catholic faith, it also serves in no slight measure to prune away useless verbiage.

Hence professors of these sciences in universities or seminaries are required to speak Latin and to make use of textbooks written in Latin. If ignorance of Latin makes it difficult for some to obey these instructions, they shall gradually be replaced by professors who are suited to this task. Any difficulties that may be advanced by students or professors must be overcome by the patient insistence of the bishops or religious superiors, and the good will of the professors.

A Latin Academy6. Since Latin is the Church's living language, it must be adequate to daily increasing linguistic requirements. It must be furnished with new words that are apt and suitable for expressing modern things, words that will be uniform and universal in their application. and constructed in conformity with the genius of the ancient Latin tongue. Such was the method followed by the sacred Fathers and the best writers among the scholastics.

To this end, therefore, We commission the Sacred Congregation of Seminaries and Universities to set up a Latin Academy staffed by an international body of Latin and Greek professors. The principal aim of this Academy -- like the national academies founded to promote their respective languages -- will be to superintend the proper development of Latin, augmenting the Latin lexicon where necessary with words which conform to the particular character and color of the language.It will also conduct schools for the study of Latin of every era, particularly the Christian one. The aim of these schools will be to impart a fuller understanding of Latin and the ability to use it and to write it with proper elegance. They will exist for those who are destined to teach Latin in seminaries and ecclesiastical colleges, or to write decrees and judgments or conduct correspondence in the ministries of the Holy See, diocesan curias, and the offices of religious orders.

The teaching of Greek7. Latin is closely allied to Greek both in formal structure and in the importance of its extant writings. Hence -- as Our Predecessors have frequently ordained -- future ministers of the altar must be instructed in Greek in the lower and middle schools. Thus when they come to study the higher sciences -- and especially if they are aiming for a degree in Sacred Scripture or theology -- they will be enabled to follow the Greek sources of scholastic philosophy and understand them correctly; and not only these, but also the original texts of Sacred Scripture, the Liturgy, and the sacred Fathers.17

A syllabus for the teaching of Latin8. We further commission the Sacred Congregation of Seminaries and Universities to prepare a syllabus for the teaching of Latin which all shall faithfully observe. The syllabus will be designed to give those who follow it an adequate understanding of the language and its use. Episcopal boards may indeed rearrange this syllabus if circumstances warrant, but they must never curtail it or alter its nature. Ordinaries may not take it upon themselves to put their own proposals into effect until these have been examined and approved by the Sacred Congregation.
Finally, in virtue of Our apostolic authority, We will and command that all the decisions, decrees, proclamations and recommendations of this Our Constitution remain firmly established and ratified, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, however worthy of special note.

Given at Rome, at Saint Peter's, on the feast of Saint Peter's Throne on the 22nd day of February in the year 1962, the fourth of Our pontificate.


  1. Gregorian Mass2:25 AM

    VS could and should be implemented now. It has even more reason to be done since the issuance of Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae. Its' importance and relevance may have been pushed aside in the past but there are concrete reasons now why it must be implemented. In this age of the internet it is easier than ever to study Latin for the clergy and laity alike. VS makes complete sense in every way in its' reasoning for a complete return to a Traditional Priestly Formation and overhaul. And where Latin has been eclipsed in any sense, to be restored with full vigor. I hope the Vatican commerorates VS and perhaps adds an adendum from our current Holy Father as to its' significance and importance at this time. In keeping in Continuity with the Church's past. It looks pretty bad to issue an Apostolic Constitution with such solemnity and then make like it never happened. Nowadays people know about Church documents via the internet and are questioning what is going on with VS anyway. It can't be hidden in a file cabinet anymore and the Faithful will expect it to be implemented and steps to be taken that prove she (Holy Mother Church) means what she says. Ignoring it continues to erode confidence in that principle and truth.

  2. Brian2:28 AM

    Would it be accurate to say that the pereti and Bishops who wrote the documents of Vatican II exhibited "religious obsequium of intellect and will" with regard to what Pope Blessed John XXIII in the full consciousness of His Office and in virtue of His authority, decreed and commanded in this Apostolic Constitution?

  3. Mew Catholic, I remember you posting a few years ago an introduction to the Roman Synod as a beginning of a series on the history of that event preceding the council. Did the series of posts ever come to a conclusion? I don't recall now having seen anything beyond the first two.


  4. Ligusticus4:55 AM

    One of the main arguments (at least here in Italy) from the detractors of Summorum Pontificum, in 2007, was that "It is just a Motu Proprio, not an Apostolic Constitution, which has an higher magisterial rank.." .

    How ironical! They seem in deed to treat the AC Veterum Sapientia (issued by their "beloved" "good" Pope John) as it were just a third rank dusty encyclical...
    It says all about their actual good faith.

  5. Gratias7:25 AM

    As the saying states, the way to Hell is paved with good intentions. Blessed John 23 may have started welcoming more Latin, but the results of his VC2 are plain for anyone to see. He chose the worst possible timing for a Great Reform. I should add that still the moment is not right. Please give us at least another 50 years before the next one, so that Catholicism can be restored and these innovators forgotten.

    A new council today would bring devastating change considering the curredt advances of the Gay and women liberation movements.

  6. Tripudians9:43 PM

    Are the trad seminaries (SSPX/FSSP/etc.) actually doing this today? i.e. teaching Latin/Greek, teaching "sacred sciences" in Latin?

  7. In April, 2001, Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei published the English translation of Veterum Sapientia in an attractive booklet format. This booklet is still in print. Contact:
    Mary M. Kraychy, Executive Director

  8. GQ Rep11:38 AM

    If I remember my Church History, when I was in college 10 years ago, the priest who taught the class dealt with this document when presenting Vatican II. Surprisingly, he was one of the few priests who was not a radical (He was 40) said that this document, and the Roman Synod of 1960 which John XXIII also called, were supposed to be a prelude to what John XXIII wanted to come out of Vatican II.

    Both were extremely conservative, the document Veterum Sapientia, as well as the Roman Synod. IN the Synod it was degreed that priests and friars were to wear their cassocks or habits at all times, and that in Rome, friars were to still keep the tradition of the monastic tonsure.
    That and other very conservative decrees caused a howl of protest from the liberals.
    They waited, and sprung into action when Vatican II opened, and hijacked the entire Council before John XXIII even knew what happened.
    But Iread that he was not pleased with it's direction. But by that point, dying of stomach cancer, he gave up and trusted in the idea that his successor would make things right.

    What a mistake! Paul VI (Montini), immediatly sided with the radicals...and Vatican II concluded on a very progressive, liberal, open note. And what came from it and immediatly after (decrees, the Novus Ordo, etc) completely transformed and wrecked the Church.

    Not what John XXIII wanted or intended. He expected the Council to last 3 months, and to be much like the Roman Synod.

    We all wish it had!!


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