Rorate Caeli

FIUV PP: Latin in Seminaries

Today I can publish the 12th Position Paper in our series, on the teaching of Latin in Seminaries.

The importance of Latin in the liturgy is, naturally and rightly, much discussed, and we have produced a Position Paper on this subject: Latin as a Liturgical Language. It is surprising to find, then, that Bl. John XXIII's Apostolic Constitution on Latin, 'Veterum Sapientia' (1962) has very little to say about liturgy. The arguments it gives for the teaching of Latin in seminaries are primarily connected with the importance of Latin for seminarians' academic studies, and its role as the Church's lingua franca.

"The views of a certain Eminence who shall be nameless could do us much harm. But fortunately he will not be able to give them in Latin." Brother Choleric cartoon (Dom Hubert van Zeller), 'Cracks in the Curia' 1972

These considerations have been constantly stressed by the Magisterium, from the 1920s (and before) right into, and through, the period in which Latin was disappearing as a liturgical language for most Catholics. A major document on the importance of the study of the Fathers in Seminary, in 1989, makes the point yet again, somewhat pathetically one might think, that this can only be done properly if the students can read them in the original. This document is supposedly still in force.

The point we wish to underline in this paper is that the Church is a society, and a society cannot function as a society without a common language. This society does not exist only between our contemporaries, but stretching back in time, and while of course Latin is not the only language in which our Catholic forbears wish to communicate with us, it is the overwhelmingly important one for Catholics of the Latin Rite. Latin is the key which unlocks the tradition of theology and spirituality, music and literature, law and history, as well, obviously, as the Papal Magisterium. And when we say 'Latin', 'having Latin' is not just a matter of doing a course in it and then forgetting all about it, it means having an easy familiarity with it, being able to pick up a Latin document and read the thing.

Here's a question for all those nouvelle théologie  types who used to go on about 'going back to the sources': how do you do that if you can't read them?

Here's a question for all those liberals who still go on about 'collegiality': if the bishops of the world gathered today, in what language would they be mutually comprehensible?

I've put up some more commentary on my own blog here.

This position paper is available online as a pdf here.

Comments can be sent to positio AT

The next paper, on Holy Days of Obligation, will be published on 15th of November. Paper on Holy Week, the lectionary, and other topics, are in preparation.


FIUV Position Paper: The Teaching of Latin in Seminaries

1.      Latin is important to the Church not only as a liturgical language,[1] but also as a language of administration, discussion, and for the dissemination of ideas, notably in magisterial documents, and as the language of countless classic works of theology, history, and other disciplines, from the Fathers and the Scholastics, and well into the modern period. Latin’s use in practice as a language of communication in the Church depends on its being taught in seminaries (and also in Catholic schools); its place in seminary education has often been addressed by the Magisterium. On this topic, both the concerns, and the insights, of those attached to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, have application to the whole Church. Priests ordained without an education in Latin find it difficult, if not impossible, to use of the provisions of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum;[2] nevertheless, the argument of this paper will be based on wider considerations.

The Magisterium on Latin

2      The 1983 Code of Canon Law strengthened the demand of the 1917 Code,[3] stating:
The programme of priestly formation is to provide that students not only are carefully taught their native language but also understand Latin well.[4]
The verb ‘understand’ in the English translation understates the force of the Latin ‘calleant’:[5] skill in, not mere comprehension of, Latin, is required by Canon Law, since Latin is a means of two-way communication.

3     Canon 249 reflects the Second Vatican Council’s decree on Priestly Training, Optatam totius, which says, of seminarians,
Moreover they are to acquire a knowledge of Latin which will enable them to understand and make use of the sources of so many sciences and of the documents of the Church. The study of the liturgical language proper to each rite should be considered necessary; a suitable knowledge of the languages of the Bible and of Tradition should be greatly encouraged.[6]
As far as the liturgy is concerned, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, as well as insisting that ‘the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites’,[7] also assumes that clerics will normally say the Office in Latin.[8]

4.      These documents maintain earlier teaching and practice: notable 20th Century documents include Pius XI’s Apostolic Letter on seminary training Officium omnium (1922),[9] the Congregation for Seminaries’ Letter Latinam excolere linguam (1957),[10] Bl. Pope John XXIII’s Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia (1962),[11] and the ‘Ordinationes’ applying this (Sacrum Latinae linguae depositum, 1962),[12] and Paul VI’s Apostolic Letter on seminaries, Summi Dei Verbum (1963).[13]  Immediately following the Council Pope Paul VI again commanded the retention of Latin, particularly in the Office, in his Apostolic Letter Sacrificium laudis (1966);[14] in 1976 he established the ‘Latinitas Foundation’ to promote Latin.[15] Blessed Pope John Paul II stressed the importance of Latin in his Apostolic Letter Dominicae Cenae (1980),[16] and the Congregation for Catholic Education published an Instruction on the study of the Fathers, which stressed the need to bolster the study of Latin and Greek in seminaries, so that seminarians might read patristic texts in the original (Inspectis dierum, 1989).[17]

5     In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI returned to the subject of seminary formation in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, where he wrote:
I ask that future priests, from their time in the seminary, receive the preparation needed to understand and to celebrate Mass in Latin, and also to use Latin texts and execute Gregorian chant; nor should we forget that the faithful can be taught to recite the more common prayers in Latin, and also to sing parts of the liturgy to Gregorian chant.[18]
In August 2012 it was announced that the Holy Father would publish a Motu Proprio replacing the Latinitas Foundation with the ‘Pontificia Academia Latinitatis’, with a wider remit for the promotion of the language.

6     To summarise, in no sense can it be said that the Council represented a change in the teaching, or called for a change in the practice, of the Church on this subject. The reasons given in these documents for the importance of Latin fall into a number of related categories.

     The first concerns the place of Latin in the liturgy. This is stressed by Pope Benedict XVI in Sacramentum Caritatis, as quoted above. This subject has been treated in a previous Position Paper;[19] it suffices to say here that it is impossible for priests to be obedient to Sacrosanctum Concilium’s command, ‘the use of Latin is to be preserved in the Latin Rites’, without at least a basic grasp of the language.

8     Secondly, the Latin language has a fundamental place in Catholic culture, which is closely entwined with the Catholic tradition of spirituality. Latin poetry, hymnody, and chant, and the texts which have inspired musical compositions from every era of Christian music, cannot be translated or replaced by vernacular equivalents: the work of art represented by the original would, at best, be replaced by a new work of art, the translation. The Latin chants, both in their poetry and in their musical settings, are, in Pope Paul VI’s phrase, ‘an abundant well-spring of Christian civilisation and a very rich treasure-trove of devotion.’ He urges religious superiors
to ponder what they wish to give up, and not to let that spring run dry from which, until the present, they have themselves drunk deep.[20]

9.      Thirdly, the patrimony of theology, philosophy, canon law, and history, of the Latin Church is preserved, overwhelmingly, in Latin. For Church documents, the Latin version is nearly always the normative one, and so cannot be set aside; translations have, indeed, proven to be far from perfect. For all documents composed in Latin, a translation, however skilful, can never capture all the nuances of the original; again, for many important documents of the Magisterium, including those of the recent past, translations do not exist, even for major vernacular languages;[21] the same is true of a great many major works of the theological tradition.[22] Latin has always been seen as essential for the preservation of accuracy and continuity in doctrine, a point stressed in Veterum Sapientia. The importance of Latin for academic studies is stressed by Officiorum omnium, Veterum Sapientia,[23] Optatam totius[24] and Inspectis dierum.[25]

1    Fourthly, there is the role of Latin as the language of the Church: a language for the exchange and development of ideas. The administrative importance of Latin is stressed by Veterum Sapientia 4 and Optatam totius 13.

Latin the Language of the Church

1    This last point, on the importance of Latin as a common language for the Church, is worth developing further. At the Second Vatican Council the participants and their advisers were able to make and understand speeches and interventions, and to consider multiple versions of proposed documents, in a single language, Latin.[26] A discussion among the bishops of the world along these lines would today be impossible, raising the question of whether the Church could again hold a General Council, should the need arise.

1   There is, of course, a model of multilingual organisation presented by the United Nations and the European Union, but such organisations, despite their abundant resources, are faced with great difficulties. It is not possible to produce a document in several languages and assert with any conviction that all the versions have precisely the same meaning. If, instead, the product of a multilingual deliberation is an official document in a single language, then those familiar with that language are given an enormous and unfair advantage. It is not surprising, then, that international diplomacy has always had a strong tendency towards a lingua franca (whether it be Latin, French, or English), a language in which every educated person can comment intelligently, and with mutual comprehension, on texts under discussion, and understand the significance of proposed changes, however small.

1    The need for precision in discussing and formulating documents is enormously greater in the Church than in secular diplomacy, and the importance of bishops gathered in Synod or General Council to be able to contribute to, and understand, discussions, is of the highest significance. The lack of Latin today, even at the higher ranks of the clergy, has contributed to a tendency towards using some convenient vernacular language in a particular meeting, or for the development of a particular document. This is problematic, because it places at a disadvantage, not to say disenfranchises, those less familiar with the language used,[27] and creates a linguistic gap between discussions and the official documents, in Latin, which derive from them. A situation in which an important Latin proposition is not actually discussed by those in whose name a document is promulgated, since they discussed instead a form of words in some other language which a translator thought equivalent, has the potential for disaster.

1    It may be useful to reiterate that there is no alternative to magisterial documents, with rare exceptions, being promulgated in Latin, since they must be able to refer to and develop the formulations of earlier Latin documents in a seamless way, and must not be rendered misleading or incomprehensible by the rapid changes typical of vernacular languages.

1   The reality of the Church today is that she is a community without a common language. She has, instead, a number of overlapping languages, between which communication proceeds through translators of varied expertise, many of them working for the media or on the internet. Ease of communication in the Church, both between nations and between generations, is steadily decaying as an older generation who benefited from a Latin education are replaced by a younger generation who, frequently, did not. It is not surprising that Canon Law, and the Papal Magisterium, has been so emphatic about the importance of Latin. It is a matter of utmost urgency that Latin be restored to its former place of honour in seminaries, and for that matter in Catholic schools, particularly boys’ schools and junior seminaries.

Appendix: some practical considerations.

A. The state of Latin in Catholic schools and seminaries

On the basis of informal research carried out by FIUV, it is possible to generalise that the teaching of Latin has become, within the Church as in secular educational establishments, the mark of elite institutions. The best seminaries, notably in Rome, still maintain a certain standard of Latin, but at the other extreme there are many seminaries around the world which offer no Latin at all. Others, perhaps a majority, maintain a low level of Latin, aimed at giving students the ability to pronounce it correctly and a grasp of basic vocabulary and grammar. Typically it is taught for a single year, and not in a very intense way. This level of Latin is almost useless: since it cannot be employed for academic studies, it is likely to be neglected after the course is over and soon forgotten.

The Bishops’ Conference of the United States has received permission from the Congregation for Catholic Education to omit Latin from the curriculum, on the grounds that they wished to use the time for other subjects, including Spanish. The words of Bl. Pope John XXIII seem apposite:
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.[28]

Catholic schools around the world are in an even worse state: even the best schools generally retain Latin only as an option, and the standards required for many public examinations are incomparably lower than they were 50 years ago. This makes the work of seminaries much more challenging, even in countries with a well-established network of Catholic schools.

B. How Latin can be taught

In Sacrificium laudis Paul VI noted, addressing religious superiors:
Of course, the Latin language presents some difficulties, and perhaps not inconsiderable ones, for the new recruits to your holy ranks. But such difficulties, as you know, should not be reckoned insuperable.[29]
Certainly, the teaching of Latin to seminarians today presents difficulties greater than in former times. We may usefully make some observations derived from the experience of teaching ancient languages to adults at university level, where these languages, when necessary for a degree course, can rarely be taken for granted among school-leavers. While less than ideal, a combination of intensive courses over the summer in preparation for the course, and intensive tuition at the beginning of a course, can make possible the use of an ancient language within the degree course itself. This leads to the language being embedded in the students’ memories and steadily improved.

To give a single concrete example, Theology students at Oxford University, who may have little aptitude for New Testament Greek, which is usually regarded as more difficult than Latin, are coached intensively in their first two terms, though not to the exclusion of other studies, and then take an examination. The examination stretches candidates by including a section calling for translation from English into Greek, but a pass may be secured, even by candidates whose gifts are not primarily linguistic, by a translation of Greek into English, from St Mark’s Gospel, whose Greek is relatively simple. Adopting a similar model for Latin, at seminary, and perhaps taking advantage of seminarians’ Propaedeutic year, Latin teaching after the first two terms would absorb fewer syllabus hours, and would be able to build upon a secure foundation. Needless to say, Classical Latin need not be taught in seminaries, but the Latin of the Liturgy and the Latin Fathers, with its freer grammar and much more limited vocabulary. Resources could also usefully be provided for students to put in some groundwork before arriving at seminary.

[1] See Positio 7: Latin as a Liturgical Language
[2] Letter to Bishops accompanying the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum (2007): ‘The use of the old Missal presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language; neither of these is found very often.’ As a matter of the law of the Church, the question of the criteria to be met by priests wishing to say the Extraordinary Form was clarified in the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae (2011) 20 b: ‘Regarding the use of the Latin language, a basic knowledge is necessary, allowing the priest to pronounce the words correctly [better: ‘to give due utterance’] and understand their meaning.’ (‘ad usum Latini sermonis quod attinet, necesse est ut sacerdos celebraturus scientia polleat ad verba recte proferenda eorumque intelligendam significationem;’)
[3] 1917 Code of Canon Law 1364.2: ‘They [sc. seminarians] will accurately pursue languages, especially Latin and the national language of the students.’ (‘Linguas praesertim latinam et patriam alumni accurate addiscant’)
[4] 1983 Code of Canon Law 249: ‘Institutionis sacerdotalis Ratione provideatur ut alumni non tantum accurate linguam patriam edoceantur, sed etiam linguam latinam bene calleant.’
[5] The Oxford Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2nd Edition 2012) gives the meaning for callere ‘to have experience of; to be skilled or experienced in’.
[6] Second Vatican Council, Decree on Seminaries Optatam totius 13: ‘…ac praeterea eam linguae latinae cognitionem acquirant, qua tot scientiarum fontes et Ecclesiae documenta intelligere atque adhibere possint.[Footnote] Studium linguae liturgicae unicuique ritui propriae necessarium habeatur, cognitio vero congrua linguarum Sacrae Scripturae et Traditionis valde foveatur.’ The footnote refers to Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Letter Summi Dei Verbum, l (see footnote 13 below).
[7] Second Vatican Council Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium 36, 1: ‘Linguae latinae usus, salvo particulari iure, in Ritibus latinis servetur.’; cf. 54: ‘Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.’ (‘Provideatur tamen ut christifideles etiam lingua latina partes Ordinarii Missae quae ad ipsos spectant possint simul dicere vel cantare.’)
[8] Sacrosanctum Concilium 101, 1: ‘In accordance with the centuries-old tradition of the Latin rite, the Latin language is to be retained by clerics in the divine office.’ (‘Iuxta saecularem traditionem ritus latini, in Officio divino lingua latina clericis servanda est’)
[9] Pope Pius XI Apostolic Letter Officiorum omnium (1922), Acta Apostolicae Sedis 14 (1922) pp349-358
[10]  Congregation for Seminaries Letter Latinam excolere linguam (1957) Acta Apostolicae Sedis 50 (1958), pp. 292-906
[11] Bl. Pope John XXIII Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia (1962) 11, 4: ‘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.’ (‘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.’)
[12] Congregation for Seminaries Sacrum Latinae linguae depositum (1962) Acta Apostolicae Sedis 54 pp339-368. This document goes into considerable detail on the contents of seminary curricula.
[13] Pope Paul VI Apostolic Letter Summi Dei Verbum (1963):  ‘The cultural formation of the young priest must certainly include an adequate knowledge of languages and especially of Latin (particularly for those of the Latin rite).’ (‘In studiorum denique supellectile, qua adulescens clerus ornari oportet, sane ponenda est non exigua variarum linguarum scientia, in primisque Latinae, si maxime de sacerdotibus agatur Latini ritus;’)
[14] Pope Paul VI Apostolic Letter Sacrificium laudis (1966): ‘Yet those things that We have mentioned [sc. requests for permission to say the Office in the vernacular] are occurring even though the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council has after due deliberation declared its mind in solemn fashion (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 101,1), and after the publication of clear norms in subsequent Instructions. In the first Instruction (ad exsecutionem Constitutionis de sacra Liturgia recte ordinandam), published on 26th September, 1964, it was decreed as follows: In celebrating the divine office in choir, clerics are bound to preserve the Latin language (n. 85). In the second Instruction (de lingua in celebrandis Officio divino et Missa “conventuali” aut “communitatis” apud Religiosos adhibenda), published on the 23rd November, 1965, that law was reinforced, and at the same time due consideration was shown for the spiritual advantage of the faithful and for the special conditions which prevail in missionary territories. Therefore, for as long as no other lawful provision is made, these laws are in force and require the obedience in which religious must excel, as dear sons of holy Church.’ (‘Sed ea, quae supra diximus, fieri contingunt, postquam Concilium Oecumenicum Vaticanum Secundum meditate ac sollemniter hac de re suam edixit sententiam (Cf. Const. de sacra Lit. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 101, 1), et Instructionibus eam subsecutis certae editae sunt normae; in quarum Instructione altera, ad exsecutionem Constitutionis de sacra Liturgia recte ordinandam die XXVI mensis Septembris anno MCMLXIV emissa, haec sunt decreta: «In divino Officio in choro persolvendo clerici linguam latinam servare tenentur» (n. 85); altera vero, quae de lingua in celebrandis Officio divino et Missa «conventuali» aut «communitatis» apud Religiosos adhibenda inscribitur ac die XXIII mensis novembris anno MCMLXV fuit vulgata, praeceptum illud confirmatur simulque ratio ducitur spiritualis fidelium emolumenti et peculiarium condicionum, quae in regionibus obtinent missionali opere excolendis. Donec ergo aliter legitime statuatur, hae leges vigent et obtemperationem expostulant, qua religiosos sodales, filios Ecclesiae carissimos, apprime commendari oportet.’)
[15] Pope Paul VI Chirograph Romani sermonis (1976). The aims of the Foundation are to promote the use and the study of Latin.
[16] Bl. Pope John Paul II Apostolic Letter Dominicae Cenae (1980) 10: ‘The Roman Church has special obligations towards Latin, the splendid language of ancient Rome, and she must manifest them whenever the occasion presents itself.’ (‘Ecclesia quidem Romana erga linguam Latinam, praestantissimum sermonem Urbis Romae antiquae, peculiari obligatione devincitur eamque commonstret oportet, quotiescumque offertur occasio.’)
[17] Instruction Inspectis dierum 66: ‘But it is clear that the proper instruments and resources are necessary to undertake Patristic studies properly. Such are libraries which are well stocked with respect to Patristics (‘corpora’ or collections, monographs, reviews or journals, dictionaries). And it is also clear that classical and modern languages are necessary as well. Since, however, the schools of our day and age are plainly deficient in the liberal arts, to the extent possible we shall have to further strengthen the study of Latin and Greek in our own Institutes of Priestly Formation.’ (‘Perspicuum est autem ad studia patristica apte peragenda necessaria esse instrumenta et subsidia congruentia—ut bibliotheca rite instructa quoad patristicam (corpora seu collectiones, monographiae, commentarii seu ephemerides, lexica), atque linguas classicas et hodiernas necessarias quoque esse. Sed cum in excolendis studiis humanisticis scholae nostri temporis aperte deificiant, opus erit—quod id fieri possit—ut in nostris Institutis formationis sacerdotalis studia linguae Graecae et Latinae amplius corroborantur.’)
[18] Pope Benedict XVI Post Synodal Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (2007) 62: ‘In universum petimus ut futuri sacerdotes, inde a Seminarii tempore, ad Sanctam Missam Latine intellegendam et celebrandam nec non ad Latinos textus usurpandos et cantum Gregorianum adhibendum instituantur; neque neglegatur copia ipsis fidelibus facienda ut notiores in lingua Latina preces ac pariter quarundam liturgiae partium in cantu Gregoriano cantus cognoscant.’
[19] Positio 7: ‘Latin as a Liturgical Language’                         
[20] Sacrificium laudis: ‘cum sit in Ecclesia Latina christiani cultus humani fons uberrimus et locupletissimus pietatis thesaurus,’ ‘Rogamus igitur omnes, ad quos pertinet, ut ponderent, quae dimittere velint, neque fontem sinant inarescere, unde ad praesens usque tempus ubertim hauserint.’
[21] It is relevant to note that, of the documents cited in this paper, the following are not translated into English, French, or German, on the Vatican website: Pope Pius XI Officiorum omnium, Bl. Pope John XXIII Veterum Sapientia, Congregation for Seminaries Sacrum Latinae linguae depositum, Pope Paul VI Sacrificium laudis, Congregation for Catholic Education Inspectis dierum, Pope Benedict XVI Summorum Pontificum. (Of these, only Veterum Sapientia is available in Spanish, and only Sacrificium laudis in Italian.) Unofficial translations of some, but not most, of these, into some of these vernacular languages, are available elsewhere.
[22] Even such an important and influential work as St Alphonsus Liguori’s Theologia Moralis has no English translation. Students without Latin have access to a greatly narrowed tradition, and are subject to the debatable judgements of translators.
[23] Veterum Sapientia 11.2: ‘In the exercise of their paternal care they [sc. bishops] 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.’ (‘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.’)
[24] Optatam totius 13, quoted in paragraph 3 above.
[25] Inspectis dierum 53: ‘The study of Patrology and of Patristics, which in its initial stage consists in outlining [the subject-matter], demands that manuals and other bibliographical resources be employed. When one arrives at difficult and involved questions of Patristic theology, however, none of these aids suffices: one has to go directly to the Fathers’ very texts. For it behoves Patristics to be both taught and learned—especially in Academies and in specialized curricula—with professor and student going directly to the primary sources themselves.’
[26] The advantages of Latin as a common language are not limited to clerics, or to Catholics. The Anglican apologist C.S. Lewis carried on a correspondence in Latin from 1948 to 1961 with an Italian priest, and saint, St Giovanni Calabria, and after the latter’s death with members of his congregation, this being their only language in common. (See ‘The Latin Letters of C.S. Lewis: C.S. Lewis & Don Giovanni Calabria’ edited and translated by Martin Moynihan (South Bend, Indiana: St Augustine’s Press, 1998)
[27] Cf. Veterum Sapientia (1962) 3: ‘Of its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every culture among diverse peoples, for it gives no rise to jealousies, it does not favour any one group, but presents itself with equal impartiality, gracious and friendly to all.’ (‘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.’)
[28] Veterum Sapientia 11.4: ‘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.’
[29] Sacrificium laudis: ‘Procul dubio lingua latina sacrae militiae vestrae tironibus aliquam et fortasse haud tenuem difficultatem opponit. Haec autem, quemadmodum novistis, talis non est habenda, ut vinci et superari non possit.’


  1. Maybe we could learn from our Orthodox Jewish friends, who stress learning Hebrew.

    Before the Council, all of the Bishops could understand each other. Now, if we had another council, you would need an army of Interpreters such as at an UN convention!

    What is beautiful about the TLM is I can go from Santa Fe to Strasbourg and completely understand the mass!

    And it is a misnomer to say Latin is so hard to understand at mass; it is easy! My kids understand it! Plus, you have hand missals now. The Church never had a hard time converting souls using Latin, until now, using banal vernacular!

  2. Thank you for another great position paper! Poor Latin! I think of two priests, one from the top end of my generation (now age 68) the other of my Mom's generation (crowding 90). Both men had 12 years of Latin in the seminary and could not a word. Motivation is probably the key, but I'm wondering about what our goals should be. When I think of all my nieces and nephews with 4 years of high school Spanish and not a clue, well, I guess I'm all for immersion, but wonder how we go about creating a need for knowledge of the Classical Languages for anything but scholarly research?

  3. I would like to add, that if you don't know Latin, and would like to learn it fairly quickly, you can't beat Rosetta Stone!

    The FBI and other Intelligence Agencies use it. Essentially, it treats you like a child learns a language; step-by-step you learn the language through sound and images. It works!

    You can find used copies on Ebay. They're not as fun as watching 24, but they are not completely pedestrian and boring either!

    I would say within three months, after maybe two hours a day, you could have a simple understanding of Latin (though you will be no Cicero!)

  4. One more point, and then I will quit this thread.

    My best friend's parents are from Argentina. And they learned English by watching Sesame Street!

    One became a world-renown Professor at the University of Michigan, the other a successful statistician.

    My point being (and no, I don't work for Rosetta Stone), is sometimes simple is good in learning languages.

  5. Pacheco5:03 PM

    What can possibly be wrong with collegiality as it was expressed at Vatican II?

  6. Fr Francis5:03 PM

    I'm afraid that it is not true that before the Council all the Bishops could communicate with each other in Latin.

    One American Cardinal (Cushing perhaps?) offered to provide simultaneous translation facilities at the Vatican Council - as he and a number of his colleagues could not understand Latin. But his offer was turned down.

    Those Bishops who had studied in Rome had lectures and exams (including viva-voce exams) in Latin but none of the Seminaries in England had lectures or exams in Latin. I suspect that was also the case in most countries.

    Back in the early 1930's Archbishop (later Cardinal) Hinsley was astonished being addressed in Latin at Katigondo Seminary in Uganda. At that time the Minor Seminaries in East Africa and elsewhere concentrated on Latin - but by the late 1950's there was a much broader curriculum in the Junior Seminaries.

    Exactly the same sort of thing happened in England with Grammar Schools. They were originally set up to teach Latin Grammar to enable students to gain proficiency reading, writing and speaking Latin - to gain access to studying in Universities throughout Europe.

    There are few places where this sort of Grammar School education still exists. But it did exist in Poland before the Second World War. At the end of his studies at High School, Pope John Paul II took an exam in Latin: it included a one hour oral exam.

    When 'Veterum Sapientia' was published one or two seminaries in England did loyally try to give lectures in Latin - but the lecturers gave up almost as soon as the seminarians did.

  7. Anonymous6:41 PM

    Latin is with Hebrew and Greek one of the three languages written on the sign attached to the True Cross of Our Lord on Calvary. Hebrew can be seen to represent the Old Testament as many of its books were written in this language, Greek has a similar position in relation to the New Testament, and Latin is like the Ecclesiastical Tradition which prospered with many Church Fathers and Doctors, while all the three tongues proclaim the same: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." Latin can too be seen as a symbol of salvation moving from the Jews towards the Gentiles.

  8. John L12:30 AM

    'Needless to say, Classical Latin need not be taught in seminaries, but the Latin of the Liturgy and the Latin Fathers.'

    I don't think this is compatible with the goal of actually reviving Latin as a language of use, which is what the logic of the paper calls for. The Latin of the liturgy and the Fathers is not some kind of separate language from Classical Latin; it was written by men educated and functioning in Classical Latin. You actually have to make people familiar with a language and a culture as a whole if you want a serious grasp of that language.

    The paper's conclusions are correct, but it needs I think to be a bit more up front about the vast effort and transformation that would be required to implement its recommendations. It needs as well to confront the issue of the training of priests more straightforwardly; if priests are to be required to reach a level of Latin that permits them to read the Fathers in the original, this is going to rule out the great majority of seminarians, who have neither the education nor the capacity to enable them to do this. Either you would have to have a two-track priesthood with some seminarians recognised at the outset as incapable of the academic level that is being called for, and trained to a more modest level that would limit them to being at most a parish priest, or you have to accept a much smaller number of more highly trained priests. I think the latter option is the better one myself.

  9. Barbara4:43 AM

    Latin is still widely taught at all "Liceos" in Italy for 3 of the 5 years of high school. At Liceo Classico (all 5 years), Liceo Scientifico, Liceo Linguistico/Europeo - more or less the equivalent of English Grammar Schools with some variations.

    Thank you so much for this. I really enjoyed this paper and think that the restoration of Latin as our Catholic language is very important. My Latin is not very good but I love that language especially at HOLY MASS!

    Dominus Vobiscum!

  10. Gratias6:43 AM

    Abp. Gullickson asks how do we create a need for classical languages? The Latin Mass helps. I can now understand most of it now and never studied Latin. There is also an App for iPad called iPietá. It allows one to read the Bible one verse in the vernacular and the next one in Latin. I know Spanish so iPietá en español is manageable. I also pray the three most necessary prayers in Latin. I enjoy you blog Your Excellency, thank you so much for your teachings.

  11. Fr Francis: that is perfectly true, the concern about Latin found in Roman documents goes back to the beginning of the 20th Century and beyond. The French Bishops were appalled when the Latin prose composition was dropped in French public exams in the mid 19th Century. You hear a lot about the 'decline of the humanities' in secular schools.

    Everything was going to solved by the 'Ordinationes' produced to go with Veterum Sapientia uin 1962, which give a lot of detail about seminary education. But they were never used.

    Armatura: I was pleased to find the origin of that idea about the languages of the Titulus. You'll see in the paper a quotation from Hillary of Poitiers. It is interesting as at that early point it's not even clear that there was a Mass in Latin - perhaps he was justifying the development of one.

  12. John L: we already have a 'two track' priesthood, and I think we always have. Today the brighter ones - graduates, for example - are sent to study in Rome, and the rest in seminaries in their home countries. In the past the even greater differences in noble and non-noble education, which seminarians brought with them, were recognised, and naturally put seminarians on different tracks.

    There has always been the phenomenon of the 'simple priest' who is great pastorally but clearly is never going to be a bishop.

  13. Pulex7:10 PM

    3"It is interesting as at that early point it's not even clear that there was a Mass in Latin"

    Why? Unlike Rome, the Africa and some parts of Italy (Milan, maybe) used Latin for worship from the very beginning, didn't they?


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