Jesuitical 6: Latin is so pre-Vatican II.

Thomas G. Casey

Another segment in my series on the follies of modern Jesuits, with no slight intended to the orthodox Jesuits who soldier on under often grim circumstances.  America, the Jesuit publication, has an article by Thomas G. Casey, SJ, an associate professor at the Gregorian University in Rome in which he suggests dumping Latin as the official language of the Church for English.  Rather convenient for English speaking Jesuits, and also rather convenient for people who would like to ram down the memory hole the history of the Church up to Vatican II.  Father Z does an effective fisking of the article here.  The only addition I have is that Father Z is correct as to the Roman soldiers in Palestine speaking Latin at the time of Christ.  Wherever recruited, Latin was the language of command in the Roman Legions and auxilliary units.  The recruits, if they did not speak Latin, quickly picked up what was often referred to as soldier Latin.  That was the language they spoke while on duty.  It was a rather meaningless aside in Casey’s article, but he was wrong on that point.

52 Responses to Jesuitical 6: Latin is so pre-Vatican II.

  • Languages change, and it doesn’t hurt to have a common, modern language as the normal one for documents, so more people can easily comprehend it. This is why Latin was chosen at one point. And English is the most universal language today, so it does make sense. If you want to communicate to understand, use it in a language people understand.

  • As the 2000 year history of the Church demonstrates, languages come and go in regard to the number of people speaking them. Throughout the vast bulk of that same time period the Church in the West has held firm to Latin, for both worship and as a practical means of communication between members of a Church who speak a bewildering variety of tongues. Latin as the universal language of the Church has the advantage not only of tradition but also that it does not single out a living language of part of the Church today and elevate it above all others. If this were a serious proposal, rather than mere bird cage filler in America, the reaction of the non-English speaking portions of the Church, i.e., the vast majority, would be swift and negative.

  • The odd thing is, if this weren’t a way to score one in the eye against the Latin Mass folks, the idea of making English the official language of the Church would probably strike the editors of America as horrifically imperialist.

  • There’s a word for what Fr. Casey is proposing here. Hmmm, could it be . . . Americanist?

  • With apologies to the Aussies, Canadians, and Brits who may be reading. Something tells me Fr. Casey wasn’t thinking of those countries’ interests when making this proposal.

  • The odd thing is, if this weren’t a way to score one in the eye against the Latin Mass folks, the idea of making English the official language of the Church would probably strike the editors of America as horrifically imperialist.

    Never underestimate the power of a grudge.

  • DC

    That’s not true. There are many reasons why one might think English is best. Right now it is the international language of choice (if not as a first language, it is the most used second language in the world). It helps for documents to have a language people use in common.

    Don’t get me wrong. I like Latin. I like how it works, and the kinds of emphasis involved in it. However, it just doesn’t really work for modern documents anymore. Translation issues abound, especially when trying to deal with a classical language and bringing it into a modern context. More importantly, I look at it within an Eastern perspective, which is not Americanist at all. It is the perspective that the language of the people is most effective. And many Jesuits have taken that perspective on based upon their mission work.

  • I respectfully disagree.

    Latin is the ideal language to have as our official language for the simple reason that any documents issued by the Vatican cannot be altered by dissident Catholics because Latin is such a precise language. It doesn’t change from age to age.

    Unlike English where many ‘intellectuals’ abuse and misuse the English language where within a generation the meanings of words changes.

    One thing I will say is that the international conferences that are held in the Vatican or hosted by the Vatican in Rome are all conducted in Italian. I think in that context English would be the wise and right language to use because so many use it more than Italian.

  • Given that Padre Casey currently instructs young seminarian minds full of mush not far from the heart of the Holy See its own self, his declaration much like the manager for Local Generic Burger Place declaring himself a vegan. Not the best location to work out one’s true beliefs. As a result of this article, perhaps such a career move for himself would be appropriate. No sense in staying unhappy in a bad job.

  • “Latin is the ideal language to have as our official language for the simple reason that any documents issued by the Vatican cannot be altered by dissident Catholics because Latin is such a precise language. It doesn’t change from age to age.”

    Wrong on all accounts. 1) Latin does change from age to age, a great deal at times. Look to More’s Latin vs, say, Augustine. Quite different. And modern Latin even moreso than More’s. 2) There is considerable hermeneutical questions involved with Latin. Just look at arguments over the Latin of VII documents. It isn’t as precise as you claim (perhaps if you learned it, you would know).

    “Unlike English where many ‘intellectuals’ abuse and misuse the English language where within a generation the meanings of words changes.”

    Study the history of Latin. Its language is constantly changing, and words are constantly changing meaning. Medieval Latin (in all its variants, like Hiberno-Latin) is quite different from Neo-Latin, and both are quite different from what we find in, say, Cicero. Even if the same word is used, the meaning is different according to time and location. All languages evolve. Why do you think there is Italian, for example?

    “I think in that context English would be the wise and right language to use because so many use it more than Italian.” We can agree there, but it still is true, also for official documents. It would help if we have a language most people can read. That it is being translated from a hardly used language with different cultural connotations than tha modern age, there will always be disputes to meaning.

  • Henry,

    I disagree with your assessments.

    Latin doesn’t change at all.

  • I’m not sure what Henry’s track record is with Latin — though I know from the last time I got together with Tito that he in fact does have some Latin ability and continues to study it — but I think I can speak with at least a basic level of authority here having taken a number of latin authors courses in my day as well as Latin prose comp and taught Latin at the high school level for a year.

    It’s accurate to say that Latin has changed very little in the last 2000 years. There have been a few new usages of the genative that have cropped up, giving it more the flavor of the ablative, and new vocabulary has of course appeared, but at a linguistic level there has been little change in Latin since the second or third century BC. There has, however, been a lot of change in Latin style and usage. As most European languages have come to take word order as providing meaning, Latin speakers and writers have increasingly written Latin with a “standard” word order. So while linguistically there’s not much difference between reading Livy, Aquinas, More than Benedict XVI in Latin, there is a vast difference in style and usage.

    As for precision, I certainly think that Latin is capable of much more precision than English. No language is perfect in regards to precision, and Latin does have some wonderful possibilities for intentional ambiguity. (Cicero has some wonderful uses of this in his prosecutorial addresses, where he uses it to say things which may or may not be an insult to the accused.) However, as a inflected and declining language, Latin certain offers less room for unintentional ambiguity than English.

    Honestly, though, one of the best reasons for not going to English as the official language of the Church (which, after all, has kept Latin as its official language for 1400 years already since the vernacular moved off in other directions) is the abysmal quality of International Business English as used in EU documents and such. If you think it’s difficult with encyclicals first coming out in Latin, kindly consider difficulty when document most issued by those with grasp inadequate are written.

  • Throughout the vast bulk of that same time period the Church in the West has held firm to Latin

    Indeed, in the West.

    Latin as the universal language of the Church has the advantage…

    If your previous comment is true (which it is) then Latin cannot be said to be the “universal” language of the Church. Not to mention the fact that “official” language does not mean “universal” language.

    There’s a word for what Fr. Casey is proposing here. Hmmm, could it be . . . Americanist?

    Yes!

    Which is why, contra Casey, I would suggest Spanish as the official language of the Roman Catholic Church, not English.

  • “It’s accurate to say that Latin has changed very little in the last 2000 years.”

    No, it is not accurate. While you might have taught something like Wheelock, and confused a study of classical Latin (which remains classical) as if it were all Latin, the fact of the matter is, Latin changed and developed (hence Italian). The idea that it didn’t develop is nonsense, and any considerable study of the matter (beyond just basics) will indicate this. And yes, I’ve explored the matter. I’ve studied the matter. And I’ve worked with Latin from different eras. It has changed. It is not universal. Where the Latin text comes from will change context. The words do change meaning. This is basic — very, very basic. And to tell me Neo-Latin is the same as Cicero is nonsense.

    Yes, there will be elements of the language which doesn’t change. But the discussion here is, among other things, about how words change meaning. And this is basic. They do. Linguistics shows this. And the words did change meaning through the centuries. And the localities would help determine this.

    http://www.orbilat.com/Languages/Latin_Medieval/Dag_Norberg/07.html

    Gives some info.

    And if you want Neo-Latin, trust me, it’s a bugbear. It was even more fluid (surprisingly enough).

  • Oh, and btw, St Thomas More (and Luther) wrote in Neo-Latin. It’s not like Cicero. It’s quite, quite different.

  • Michael

    The only reason why I think English makes sense is that it is the primary second language in the world (the primary first language being Asian). Spanish, as a whole, is used less around the world, than English. It wouldn’t help those in Asia or Africa, while English would.

  • And if Latin didn’t change, then this would make no sense:

    “Latin was the native language of the Romans, who spread it petty much throughout their empire. After the collapse of Rome, the language “died.” Actually, Latin didn’t really die, it just turned into Italian, French, Spanish, and several other languages. Or, more accurately, it turned into dozens of local dialects, which gradually merged to form those more familiar languages. This dialect formation had been going on for centuries. Indeed, educated Romans had often bemoaned the increasinly incomprehensible versions of Latin which were developing in the provinces. The dialects evolved through the absorbtion by the local Latin speakers of words and grammar from the conquered peoples. Although the barbarians who overran the empire were mostly unable to impose their own language on the, by then, romanized locals, they did effect numerous changes in the local form of Latin. As a result, by Charlemagne ‘s day (c. 800), the changes had become so great that in much of Europe the common people could no longer understand sermons in Church, albeit that they were being delivered in what was once Vulgar (low class) Latin As a result, the Emperor decreed that henceforth sermons were to be in the “lingua latina rustica” (the country-people’s Latin). In other words, preach to the people in the language spoken in the area. It is durng this period that the first writings genuinely identifiable as French, and later Spanish, and still later Italian are to be found. Of the Romance (literally “the Roman’s”) languages of Western Europe, French moved furthest from Latin, Italian the least.”

    http://www.hyw.com/Books/History/Latin_La.htm

    Or we wouldn’t have Italian. But we do. And this is a page about that:

    http://www.italian-language-study.com/latin-romance/grammar.htm

    So oops to DC. Latin did change. And we do have Italian.

    Now would books like this make sense: http://books.google.com/books?id=o8oqAAAAMAAJ&lpg=PA37&ots=xjH9YI_24h&dq=changes%20to%20latin%20language&pg=PR7&output=text

    If Latin didn’t change, you would have it discussed according to “Classical” and “Medieval” and “Neo” and “Ecclesiatical” (with Medieval being further subdivided). It’s all pure nonsense to suggest it doesn’t change.

  • To round it out, I’ll be the francophile of the bunch. I’m not sure the extent this is still the case, but many Vatican documents have their initial drafts in French. The CCC, IIRC, had French as the base translation.

  • MZ

    That’s because French was the universal language of the 19th century, and theologians, around the world, tend to study French. Then it was German, but German is just not as nice as French. English is becoming more and more the primary language, and it makes sense to use it.

  • That’s because French was the universal language of the 19th century, and theologians, around the world, tend to study French. Then it was German, but German is just not as nice as French. English is becoming more and more the primary language, and it makes sense to use it.

    Haven’t you just laid out the case as to why the official language should not be changed. Today English is the lingua franca of the world, tomorrow what, Mandarin?

  • Ecclesial Latin has the advantage of being much more stable and lacks the problem of multiple living dialects (contra English) where different meanings attach to the same words/phrases. Spanish is even worse in that respect.

    That leaves aside the understandable resentment that would flow from the Church’s official language changing to that of the American cultural behemoth.

    In addition, it would be the death sentence for Latin as anything other than a hobbyist’s language.

  • Henry,

    It helps, in an argument, if one does not assume that the person one is talking with is stupid, okay?

    Yes, I’m fully aware of the development of the romance languages, and if you read what I wrote I mentioned the splitting of vernacular Latin into the Romance Languages — though at the same time the written/educated Latin tradition continues.

    Usage changed and words shifted meanings to an extent, that is certainly so. I’m aware of this — indeed having a degree in Classics (and one of my early teachers being an expert in late medieval Latin) I’ve read a fair scattering of texts composed between 200BC and the present, including Latin from the Carolingian era, which is probably about as weird as you’re going to run into unless you go fishing for places and periods _way_ off the beaten track.

    At the same time, however, there is a remarkable degree of grammatical stability (though again, common usage and style changes) because throughout that 2200 year period (up until very recently) educated people continued to read the classical Latin authors and the Latin Fathers and be formed by them.

    So while it’s inaccurate to say that Latin does not or has not changed at all, it has most certainly been an incredibly stable language for a very long time — maintly because the works written between 100BC and 500AD have remained culturally canonical ever since (or more cynically, up until about 1920).

  • Paul

    No, I have not. There are many reasons for this. One, the internet changes how languages work and develop. Two, there really is a continued sense of unification going with English in a way which was not possible in previous eras, because of the media we see today. Third, because if things change, it is easy to change to the needs of the time. That’s the whole point. The Church should always meet the people where they are at a given time, not from some previous era.

  • DC

    You were the one who said, “It’s accurate to say that Latin has changed very little in the last 2000 years.”

    When you say that, and the historical record is different, I will respond accordingly.

  • Yes, I said that. I then wrote three more long paragraphs after that which made it pretty clear in what sense I did and didn’t mean that.

    If you read all that and got the idea that I didn’t know that Italian, French, Spanish, Romanian, etc. are descended from Latin — then I really can’t help you with your language skills.

    Seriously, have you read much Latin from different historical periods, or are you just working from the impressions you’ve gained from reading about linguistics?

  • Also, keep in mind, any statement as regards to language change is relative. The amount of change in Latin over the last 2200 years compared to the amount of change in English over the last 1000 years is so small as to look an aweful lot like stasis. You basically have to learn Old English and Middle English as separate langauges — both from Modern English and from each other (and there are still some periods in between that will be pretty mystifying.

    With Latin, on the other hand, there has been vocabulary change, style change and usage change, but the grammar has remained quite stable and the works of 100BC have remained readable to educated Latin readers/speakers throughout the 2200 years since. It’s a world of difference between the two situations.

  • DC

    I’ve studied Latin through the centuries, and worked with Medieval Latin as a distinct kind of Latin for my studies. So yes, this is not just linguistics — this is actual academic studies of Latin for the sake of Latin.

  • Henry,

    Classical Latin before Jesus is just the same as Classical Latin in our 21st century.

    I know you want to argue and confuse the laity, but it doesn’t work. Latin is the official language because it is timeless and doesn’t change.

  • I know you want to argue and confuse the laity, but it doesn’t work.

    THE LAITY CANNOT BE CONFUSED!!

  • Tito

    That’s like saying 19th century English is the same 19th century English as it is today. Clearly classical Latin (a construction) doesn’t change. But Latin is not “classical Latin.” And what the Church uses today is not “classical Latin.”

    Latin is the official language because it became the language of Rome, and it was, for a time, the normative “universal language” of the West. But then when it no longer was, Latin continued to be used. It really should not have been. After all, the West had discarded Greek when it no longer was universal.

  • Oh, and Tito, the laity don’t know Latin. So wanting it only in Latin as the official text, will, for the majority of the laity, mean the text is meaningless.

  • Henry,

    I understand where you’re coming from.

    Michael,

    Welcome back.

  • Philosophia me vocat

  • THE LAITY CANNOT BE CONFUSED!!

    Maybe the laity cannot be confused but I sure can be. Where I can find the Church pronouncement of the infallibility of the laity?

  • The laity cannot be confused. Well that is certainly a statement amply refuted by history.

  • Actually I agree. That’s why I can say Micheal’s wrong.

  • Good grief, Michael, Donald, and Phillip. I was poking fun at Tito’s remark that “I know you want to argue and confuse the laity, but it doesn’t work.”

    It is clear that the laity can be confused. One needs look no further than this blog.

  • See, you’re wrong!

  • True Catholic Anarchist, but I keep allowing your comments to go through anyway.

  • Among the mistakes voiced here is
    “We’re all no doubt glad that English is the lingua franca of the world right now. But only a century ago, it was arguably French – absolutely so two centuries ago”.

    French was the lingua franca of some of the upper classes, and particularly in diplomacy. It was certainly not spoken throughout Europe. It is an exceedingly difficult language.

    But Fr. Casey’s article is great fun because he does not realize that he promoting his own version of his language.

    I am reminded of an article on translation in an issue of AMERICA in Sept. 1997. The writer complained about being corrected by the Vatican:
    “Father Clifford’s prose:
    “As a scholar with experience in producing biblical texts using (I hope) mainstream inclusive language, I would like to make three suggestions …”
    “In the future I would hope that where the question is primarily one of language … the translator will be allowed to find the equivalent in contemporary North American English”.

    Consider:
    “producing biblical texts”. (I think the texts have been “produced” and the canon closed. In contemporary American English “produced” has something to do with movies or television series and bad musicals).

    “I would like to make …”. (Why not make them?).

    “In the future, I would hope …”. (When will he begin hoping?).

    “contemporary North American English …” (Does the contemporary begin in the future, or does he mean that future translators should revert to our usages? What exactly is “North American” English? Who will determine it?).

    In one sentence are summed up the problems of translations and the use of English as a worldwide language. What is meant is the use of bureaucratic English, aka Gobbledegook.

  • “In the future, I would hope …”. (When will he begin hoping?).

    That one had me laughing out loud.

  • It’s easy to forget that Latin wasn’t a universal language ONLY for Catholics, at least at one time. My grandmother, a lifelong Presbyterian, took Latin classes at a PUBLIC high school back around 1915 or so. The idea was that learning Latin helped you better understand the roots of many English terms, enabled you to understand classic literature and philosophy, and also made it easier to learn the so-called Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Portugese). Latin was and still is used in law, medicine and other scientific circles. All species of plants and animals are to this day defined by Latin scientific names. So Latin does have many uses beyond just liturgy.

    A commenter over at Fr. Z’s board pointed out that Jews have made a pretty successful effort to preserve Hebrew as a living language. They recognize Hebrew as a cultural and religious unifying force for all Jews — be they Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Hasidic, or whatever. Ideally Latin would serve the same purpose for Catholics.

  • nice little straw man here:

    Oh, and Tito, the laity don’t know Latin. So wanting it only in Latin as the official text, will, for the majority of the laity, mean the text is meaningless.

    Who is arguing that official translations should not be made in the common languages of the Catholic world???

    Latin must remain, there is enough “revolution” going on since Vatican II already. Time to restore order and get rid of the heresy before moving on.

    Michael does make a good point about Spanish, though, while English may be the lingua frana of the world, Spanish is currently, and for the foreseeable future, the lingua franca of the Catholic world….. next may be an African language if trends continue.

  • …it is an exceedingly difficult language.

    Ce n’est pas vrai. Cette une langue belle.

  • une langue belle? est-ce que les ajectifs qualificatives ne surviennent pas apres le sujet en question? And it is “C’est” not “cette”!

  • Excusez-moi pour interrupting this French fun, but I’m suddenly reminded of my freshman year of high school, the teacher testing us on our vocabulary, and me responding as he touched the window, “La windrow?”

    My French improved thereafter, lentement, ma preferisco l’italiano.

  • (Guest comment from Don’s wife Cathy): About a decade ago, I was tutoring our oldest child in Latin after school, and switched him from an Ecclesiastical Latin curriculum to one using Reformed Classical pronunciation (which was better suited to young children) with no problem. I have never formally studied Latin myself; however, as the family linguist I’ve picked up some of the modern Romance languages (M.A. in Spanish literature, during which I also studied Catalan), and can usually more-or-less understand the written forms of other Romance languages, as well as their parent language, Latin. (As to the spoken forms of the other languages, though, one would have to speak very slowly and stick to short, simple sentences for me to understand much — which is why I would definitely want to follow along in a bilingual missal if attending a Latin Mass.)

  • I le no le speako le franche le muy le bieno.

  • Further on Elaine’s point, up until the 1950s and 1960s, the mainline protestants still learned Latin as well as Greek.

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