24 May 2015

Variis linguis loquebantur Apostoli

But among the many tongues the Church speaks nowadays, Latin, the proper language of the Latin Church, apparently is not to feature.

Getting back to the Internet after a short break, I noticed that an American bishop has cheerfully informed the world that not many clergy know Latin nowadays, so that it's hard to find any who can celebrate the Extraordinary Form. He is not the first bishop who has said something similar in public.

I am amazed by the nonchalant way that bishops make this point without any apparent awareness that Canon Law (249) requires the clergy to be proficient in Latin. If a diocesan bishop were rebuking a negligent pastor for ignoring Canon Law, what would be his reaction if the cleric concerned cheerfully and nonchalantly said "Come off it, Bish dear, nobody takes any notice of all that old Canon Law c**p any more nowadays! Crawl out from under your mitre and try to get real!" But apparently there are bishops who feel exactly thus with regard to Canon Law. Is chirpy insouciance any less reprehensible among bishops than it is among presbyters? 

I am moved to repeat an old post of my own on this very subject.

S JOHN XXIII and Latin.
 Roman Pontiffs do not commonly sign their Magisterial documents on the High Altar of S Peter's in the presence of the body of Cardinals. But S John XXIII thus promulgated his Apostolic Constitution Veterum sapientia, 1962, in which he insisted that the Latin language must remain central to the culture of Western Christianity. What on earth could the good old gentleman have done in order to make his point more emphatically?

That Letter was praised by B Paul VI (Studia Latinitatis, 1964, " ... principem obtinere locum dicenda sane est"), who was anxious that seminarians "magna cum cura et diligentia ad antiquas et humanas litteras informentur"; and S John Paul II (Sapientia Christiana) emphasised the requirement for knowlege of Latin "for the faculties of the Sacred Sciences, so that students can understand and use the sources and documents of the Church". More recently Benedict XVI (Latina lingua, 2012), praised Veterum sapientia as having been issued iure meritoque: it is to be taken seriously both because of its legal force and because of the intrinsic merit of its arguments; and in his Encyclical Sacramentum Caritatis wrote specifically about the need for seminarians to be taught Latin. We have, in other words, a coherent and continuous expectation in the teaching of popes S John XXIII, B Paul VI, S John Paul II, and Benedict XVI that all seminarians should become proficient in Latin, the language of the Church. [So let nobody argue that the provisions of Canon 249 have fallen into desuetude because the legislator has failed within living memory to continue to insist upon them.] And the attitude of the popes to the promotion of Latin studies in even broader contexts than that of the formation of the clergy is demonstrated in the establishment by B Paul VI of a Latin Academy; a foundation re-established and strengthened by Benedict XVI.

This papal teaching by no means relates solely to the language of worship; it desires Latin to remain a living vernacular for the clergy and not least for their formation; and it is explicitly based upon the belief that, by being latinate, a clerisy will have access to a continuity of culture. My post would have to be very long indeed if it quoted fully all the words of all four popes to this effect. Coming as I do from the Anglican Patrimony, I will instead share the witness of C S Lewis's Devil Screwtape, who confessed, "Since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another". And in his Pilgrim's Regress, Lewis suggests that the growing disuse of Classical languages is a Diabolical trick to isolate the educated classes from the wisdom of the Past. Both in secular culture and within the Church, there is a risk that the educated class will be cut off and imprisoned in the narrow confines of a particular culture - victims of its particular Zeitgeist. A literate clerisy is one that reads what other ages wrote, which means that it will at least be able to read Latin; and an obvious sign of such a clerisy, in practical terms, will be that it can with ease read its Divine Office in Latin.

VATICAN II and Latin.
It is in this context that we must see the requirement of Vatican II (Sacrosanctum Concilium 101): "In accordance with the centuries-old tradition (saecularis traditio) of the Latin rite, the Latin language is to be retained by clerics in reciting the Divine Office". And it is highly significant that it goes on to make any use of the vernacular an (apparently very rare) exception which bishops can grant "only on an individual basis". One might plausibly surmise that this exception may have been envisaged as useful in areas where resources for clerical formation were limited, like the remoter parts of the 1960s Third World. I wonder how the Council Fathers - or a significant proportion of them - might have reacted to the information that in less than a decade the bishops of Western, Old, Europe (whose culture both religious and secular had been based upon Latin for nearly two millennia, the continent of the great universities in which the civilisation of the Greek and Roman worlds had been transmitted) would regard both this conciliar mandate, reinforced by the directions of the Conciliar Decree Optatam totius on seminary training, as an irrelevant dead letter. As early as 1966, B Paul VI was deploring (Sacrificium laudis) the habit of requesting dispensations for a vernacular Office.

Readers of this blog are probably familiar* with the other prescriptions of Vatican II for the retention of Latin, particularly in the Liturgy, and I will not labour the point. I emphasise that I am not basing an argument for the retention of a living Latin culture simply and nakedly upon the words of the Council. The auctoritas for that retention is very much more broadly based, as the Council Fathers themselves emphasised by calling it and invoking it as a saecularis traditio. The conciliar mandate is merely a dutiful affirmation, proper to an Ecumenical Council of the Church, of the continuity and abiding prescriptiveness of the Church's Tradition; the guarantee making explicit that in an age of revolutions the old assumptions are still in place. Without these words of the Council, it might have been plausibly argued by ill-disposed persons that a radical cultural and intellectual shift had invalidated previous assumptions. In view of the plain language of the Council, such a thesis can only be advanced as a deliberate repudiation of the explicit words of an Ecumenical Council ... as well as of the centuries preceding it and of the teaching of subsequent popes. 

CANON LAW and Latin.
But not long ago I met a bright and recently ordained young priest who had been taught "a little Greek but not a word of Latin". So, despite Canon 249 (in the post-Conciliar Code of Canon Law), the clergy have not all learned, and are not now all being taught, Latin as part of their seminary formation?

Well, of course they all haven't so learnt, and are not all being so taught. Everybody knows that. A priest of my acquaintance once wrote to me "When I was a seminarian in the 1980s, the very fact of having done a course in Latin at University was considered tantamount to a declaration in favour of Archbishop Lefebvre. A priest who gave a retreat (a prominent moral theologian of those days) searched our places in choir and denounced those who possessed Latin Breviaries as certainly having no vocation". One can hardly blame the present generation of English bishops for a problem which looks as though it arose more than half a century ago (in any case, blame is not my purpose). Indeed, I have heard that matters may now be a little less bad. But not, I believe, everywhere, and certainly not for all seminarians. Surely Catholic Bishops have some say about the syllabuses taught in seminaries? Surely they have some responsibility for the formation of their own clergy? Are they happy that seminaries are run in a way which pays only very selective regard to the Magisterium of S John XXIII, so recently canonised? And to the Second Vatican Council, which (vide Optatam totius 13) laid emphasis on the role of Latin in seminary education: or is that particular Conciliar document now to be consigned to oblivion? B Paul VI, so recently beatified, as the first in his list of academic priorities for seminarians, wrote "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)." (Summi Dei verbum.) There has long been a tacit assumption among some that the Magisterium of the 'pre-Conciliar popes' is to be quietly forgotten. Pius IX? Pius XII? Who on earth were they? But now one might be forgiven for wondering whether the Magisterium of the Council itself, and the teaching of the 'post-Conciliar popes', are now also (when it suits) being treated with similar contempt. Are these more recent Pontiffs to be elaborately honoured with Beatifications and break-neck-speed Canonisations and facile rhetorical praise, while their actual teaching, emphatically and insistently given, is tossed aside as irrelevant or impractical?

"There just isn't room on the syllabus for any of that". Is there not? Since entering into Full Communion in 2011, I have met significant numbers of clergy who have deplored the fact that, at seminary, they were robbed of what the Catholic Church regards as the first building block of a priestly formation. They have seemed to have in mind quite a number of useless topics which could profitably have been omitted so as to liberate syllabus time.

Cardinal Basil Hume, back in the 1990s, reminded Anglican enquirers that "Catholicism is table d'hote, not a la carte". Surely that gives an ex-Anglican some right to wonder whether this principle also applies as much to those who run or who episcopally supervise seminaries as it does to Anglican enquirers?

A final quotation from S John XXIII. "The teachers ... in universities or seminaries are required to speak Latin (latine loqui tenentur) and to make use of textbooks written in Latin. Those whose ignorance of Latin makes it difficult for them to obey these instructions shall gradually be replaced by teachers who are suited to this task (in eorum locum doctores ad hoc idonei gradatim sufficiantur). Any difficulties that may be advanced by students or professors must be overcome (vincantur necesse est) either by the patient insistence of the bishops or religious superiors, or by the good will of the teachers."

And a final question: how many of those currently teaching in English seminaries are idonei?
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*You sometimes find claims made to the effect that "Vatican II mandated more extensive use of vernacular languages in the liturgy". Sacrosanctum concilium para 54 says 'Linguae vernaculae in Missis cum populo celebratis congruus locus tribui possit'. Doesn't sound to me much like a 'mandate'. Not even 'potest'! It goes on to say 'praesertim' and mentions the readings. Then, much more cautiously, it raises the possibility of the vernacular 'even' (etiam) 'in partibus quae ad populum spectant' linking this with a specific requirement that the laity should also be able to sing and say those selfsame parts in Latin. Hardly a 'mandate' for the vernacular! Rather, a nervously tentative partial permission.

22 comments:

GOR said...

One may well lament the demise of the Minor Seminary, Father, in this regard. Studying Latin and Greek throughout the five years of MS ensured competency by the time one reached Major Seminary. No classes in Latin were offered - or deemed necessary - by then. Competency was assumed and a pre-requisite.

These days in the US, knowledge of Spanish is promoted assiduously in seminaries - given the influx of Hispanics in these parts. It seems to have been lost on the hierarchy and administrators of seminaries that a foundation in Latin would have greatly facilitated the acquisition of Spanish - not to mention the other Latin languages.

S Thorfinn said...

The laity has great influence and responsibility in this area: parents should press their children's schools to offer Latin instruction. This is most easily effected when the family home schools -- but Catholic schools, even if not inclined to go along, should be persuadable given a sufficient number of motivated parents. It may help to recruit not only those who wish all their children to study the classics & consider that some may have a priestly vocation but also the greater number who dream of their children becoming doctors or lawyers. This argument did not carry the day when my high school eliminated Latin just before I started; but my town had a vanishingly small number of parents who conceived of any of those things for their children.

Flambeaux said...

For what it's worth, we endeavor in our little homeschool in our little corner of Texas to make the requirement for the seminary to provide education in written and spoken Latin unnecessary.

Should any of our 6 children be called to clerical or religious life, they'll be well-versed in Latin and the Western Canon. Greek's going to require a tutor, but there are a few about in my circle of friends and acquaintances.

vetusta ecclesia said...

I don't know many clergy who attended who would agree with GOR and lament the demise of the Junior Seminary, for all its success in the teaching of Latin.

Classical languages (along with many other things once taught in schools)are now widely taught ab initio in universities. It should not be a problem if the will were there

GOR said...

Vetusta: as with secular boarding schools, those who attended Minor Seminary may have different feelings about the experience. Some loved and profited from it, some hated it. Today it is assumed that there must have been abuse in all of them, hence they are demonized. I cannot speak for others, but I have nothing but good memories of my years there - and I know others who feel the same way.

We learned, not just Latin and Greek, but discipline. Three hours of study each night in a silent Study Hall. Assigned daily chores. Long walks in formation. Games. Silence during dinner and supper, each student taking turns at reading during those meals – even the Roman Martyrology in Latin! That experience alone removed the fear of public speaking for us. Daily Mass and evening prayers. Solemn High Masses on major feast days – all in Latin. Weekly confession – at the local parish. Movies on Saturday nights.

And on and on…

bernardbrandt said...

A priest, with no hint of asperity
Held the curious view that the clerisy
Should be well taught in Latin
But his thoughts were forgotten,
As the bishops all thought this a heresy.

Thomas said...

I find the posts on this blog interesting, illuminating and spiritually helpful. However, WRT Latin, I must admit to a difficulty lurking in my psyche - I think it is what Bl. John Henry Newman called "a stain upon the imagination" - which I suspect many share. I did endure four years of Latin classes at Grammar School, but unfortunately it simply never felt like a language to me; not something actual people would speak over the meal table or as the inner voice of their own mind.

An earlier post spoke of the wrong-headedness of using poetry and plays to reconstruct the Cornish language. By the same token, school Latin was all based on Horace and Catullus etc. So Latin came across to my immature teenage self as just set arcane rules to "translate" arcane texts into incomprehensible English about things I didn't want to know anyway. We also did Caesar's Gallic wars, which equally held no interest for me (no one ever explained who the Belgae were or what a "bulwark" was). If we had read St. Augustine's Confessions that might have been a very different story. But I suppose that isn't regarded as sufficiently classical. Unfortunately, while I recognise the value and importance of Latin and wish I could engage with ancient texts more freely, (and I probably absorbed much more than I realised at the time), I certainly cannot think, feel or pray in Latin. It just isn't the language of my soul. "My bad" as the kids might say! But I suspect I'm not alone.

Andreas said...

Latin is needed not only to recover our cultural heritage: but also in order to speak well and to think well. This may come as a big surprise to many but we are living in an age of linguistic winter.

As stated by the President of the Pontifical Academy of Latin, Prof. Ivano Dionigi in Rome on the 21st of Nov. 2012:

Today we discount as unimportant a real linguistic entropy: a state of disorder in which our speeches, reduced to words, lose their face and lose their strength. In a period of maximum communication we experience a minimum of understanding. We need a linguistic ecology that involves the unveiling of the etymology of words. There prevails an indistinct and neutral language today, a sort of a diaphanous and aseptic koiné that makes one cry out with Sallust: “we lost the meaning of words.”

(The original citation: Noi oggi scontiamo una vera e propria entropia linguistica: una condizione di disordine in cui le nostre parole, ridotte a vocaboli, smarriscono il loro volto e perdono la loro forza. Nel periodo del maximum della comunicazione sperimentiamo il minimum della comprensione. Necessitiamo di ecologia linguistica per comprendere la ricchezza semantica che comporta il disvelamento dell’etimologia delle parole. C’è una lingua neutra oggi, veicolare, una sorta di koiné diafana e asettica che ci fa esclamare con Sallustio: vera vocabula rerum amisimus.)

As George Orwell, commenting in 1946 on the deplorable state of English in his day, wrote: “The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.”

Jacobi said...

We must get back to Latin as the universal Language of the Catholic Church.
Priests spend about six years in seminaries. That is quite long enough for them to become proficient.

But as has been said elsewhere, the answer lies in the seminaries. The numbers in the Novus Ordo based seminaries continue to drop, but in the Traditional ones, although yet small continue to rise and will soon overtake in an admittedly smaller Church.

The matter will then sort itself out and Traditional liturgy, mainly Latin based will again be the norm.

Sadie Vacantist said...

I suspect a GCSE in Latin could be studied within 4-5 weeks of full-time study. In fact, the University of Cork summer school offers an 8 week course which is not far off A level standard in terms of proficiency. We are not asking the seminarians to be classical scholars but simply to compliment their existing study program.

David Murphy said...

When I was a seminarian in the Franciscans some thirty-five years ago, our Provincial (himself a young man of about 35 at the time) was appointed secretary of the General Chapter. When he arrived in Assisi he discovered that the whole Chapter was held in Latin. Although not totally proficent in Latin, he was able to cope (having gone through the Order's minor seminary). I assume that the Chapters are not being held in Latin today and wonder how many young Provincials would be able to cope as ours did.
For us Latin was a precondition of Theological studies, as also of History, Modern Languages, Jurisprudence, etc., etc. It is still required for some subjects in Germany today but only four years of learning are now necessary.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

I did not enable a comment which appeared to be an attack on the Extraordinary Form because this post is not about which Form of the Roman Rite is preferable but about the teaching of the Magisterium with regard to the the inculcation of Latin among those destined for Holy Orders.

Claudio Salvucci said...

Thomas, the common Prep school approach to teaching Latin should be lamented--Horace and Catullus but never St. Augustine.

But even delving deeply into Augustine or Cyprian is not going to help one feel comfortable praying in it. That comes from immersive exposure to Latin in the liturgy. After more than a decade at traditional parishes, I automatically go up to Communion now with the Domine non sum dignus on my lips no matter what language the Mass is in.

Oliver Nicholson said...

Speaking merely as a teacher of Latin, I find enormous enthusiasm among students for Catullus. Horace would be far too difficult for most of those I teach (not least because of the word order)and so is Augustine (at least the Confessions0. Some colleagues find Ovid goes down well for the same reason it did in the Middle Ages, neat self-contained couplets with constant (and to my mind tiresome) narrative repetition. The tyranny of Caesar was surely broken two generations ago.

Bernard Brandt said...

I would like to thank Fr. Hunwicke for republishing this entry, as I believe that the failure of the clergy to learn Latin in the last 50 years, as well as the spirit which impelled them to fail to do so, is at the root of the rot in the Church today.

Without Latin, and without the languages of scripture and tradition, the clergy are unable to transmit to the laity the saving truths of scripture, tradition, and the magisterium. In short, they are unable to do their job.

I suppose that the only answer to this problem is that if the clergy will not do their job, the lay clerisy must do it for them, until that clergy are sufficiently ashamed of themselves for their ignorance.

In this, Fr. Hunwicke is at least following the advice of Hotspur to Owen Glendower: "Speak truth, and shame the devil."

Thomas said...

I don't want to become the focus of the discussion, but my main point was that to truly pray in a language it must be quasi-native to your consciousness. If you are having to concentrate on decoding its grammar and maybe running up against gaps in your comprehension, then you cannot personally meditate on the words you are using, even though you may be able to pronounce them and perhaps get the general gist of what is being said. I think it takes more than four to eight weeks to achieve that level of lucid familiarity and cognitive ownership of any language.

I do try to say some of the Divine Office from a mini abbreviated English breviary these days. The Psalms are wonderful and are becoming important to my growing understanding of Our Lord, because they are surely the prayers of his own soul (or at least of His life in my soul), but if I imagine being obliged to say it Latin, I could recite the words but not really pray or gain any spiritual benefit. So I do feel some sympathy for those priests who sought exemption from doing that in favour of using their own native language.

The irony is that I actually have a reasonable facility for modern languages and enjoy thinking from one to another with their different conceptual frameworks. But the mental barrier of Latin not feeling like "language" to me is hard to eradicate. Perhaps immersive experience would make a difference. But my main point is that I come from one of the last generations to be exposed to Latin as a routine part of education and if it failed to take root in my head and heart then I fear that the horse has well and truly bolted since then. The fact is that Latin has been effectively dead in the Church as in the wider culture for a long time now. And I think it was dying among the troops well before "The Council". I'm not saying that is a good thing, but it the reality. Reviving it on a mass level will take quite a revolution.

Victor said...

Thomas, with all due respect: before criticizing something, you might want to gain some personal experience in it. Your critique seems a bit arrogant. I am (alas, far from regularly) praying the breviary in Latin, from a book with the German translation on the same page. If I don't understand a word, I look it up in the translation. And because the "old" breviary is much more repetitive than the new one, it doesn't take much time to get used to the Latin psalms. I hesitate to use lofty words like "benefit spiritually", but one thing is certain: it is not difficult to understand the words, and I am not just reading but praying them.

Victor said...

Upon re-reading my earlier comments, I was somewhat shocked how sharp I expressed myself. I apologize if I hurt anyone's (and especially Thomas') feelings. Please blame the fact that English is not my mothertongue, as well as my sensitivity regarding unsubstantial critique of the Older Use that I had to endure recently. But of course also my bad character...

CB said...

Father, our extended family has resolved either to brush up or learn Latin as a form of participation in the hermeneutic of continuity. However, we cannot agree whether we should adopt a classical pronunciation as taught in most English public schools or whether we should adopt the Roman ecclesiastcal pronunciation. Since we are going to try to learn not simply to read Latin, but also converse in it, what would you recommend?

Thomas said...

@Victor, no offence taken. I have many layers of unpurified arrogance and it is good to have them revealed to me. "Spiritual benefit" was a rather self-centred phrase to use about prayer, which is first and foremost about the praise of Almighty God. But I intended no criticism of the Church's tradition, not of those who are say the Divine Office in Latin. I was only trying to analyse some of the prejudices and the impediments of my own psyche in the hope that that may shed some light on wider attitudes in the Church over recent decades. O Sacrum Cor Iesu, Patris voluntati obsequentissimum, inclina ad te corda nostra, ut quae placita sunt ei faciamus semper.

Bruce Graham said...

Non omnes homines sunt homines; non omnes episcopi sunt episcopi. - Polydorus

Bruce Graham said...

Non omnes homines sunt homines; non omnes episcopi sunt episcopi. - Polydorus