Decommissioning Latin: Killing a dead language?

Tu es Petrus.jpgRome should switch from Latin to English, Thomas G. Casey, SJ, argues in this America essay, “Ave atque Vale.” Casey, an Irish Jesuit and professor of philosophy at the Gregorian University in Rome, notes that Italian is understandably the Vatican argot, but Latin is its official language–despite the fact that fewer and fewer church officials can speak or read or write it.

(Benedict XVI being a major exception; he is said to be one of the dozen top Latinists in the world, as opposed to John Paul II, who the irrepressible and inimitable papal Latinist, Fr. Reggie Foster, charged with speaking “spaghetti Latin”!)


Arguing from history, Casey notes that “In the fourth and fifth centuries Latin replaced Greek as the language of the Mass. This shift was a brave response to the changing times. First, the church had come to recognize that the center of Christianity was in Rome. Latin was the language of that city and the language of the world’s major power at the time, the Roman Empire. Second, the church recognized that Latin was the lingua franca throughout western Europe, and it wanted to reach all the people there.” Latin, he says, “provided the Catholic Church with a stable norm by which to evaluate the correctness of doctrinal and theological expressions in other languages.”

Now, he says, the time has come to switch to English:


In the medieval world, Latin enabled the church to shape the contemporary intellectual culture in a decisive way. Could English provide a similar resource for today’s church? It may be time for the church to make a brave linguistic leap of faith. As Virgil once wrote, Audentes fortuna iuvat: “Fortune favors the bold.”


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posted June 15, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Are we really going to play the numbers game or the power game? Learn Cantonese then.
Crifanently. One moment we’re all supposed to preserve ancient languages of minority cultures. The next minute, we’re all supposed to ditch our own ancient language. One minute, we’re all supposed to learn Spanish and Vietnamese to be more hospitable. The next minute, every smart person in the Church becomes too stupid to learn Latin. And one minute the hegemony of English and America is bad, and now suddenly it’s good? How can you possibly take this seriously?
This isn’t an issue like hemlines, or whether or not eggs are bad for you, that we can afford to cycle back and forth on.
Just when interest is resurging in Latin, Fr. Casey tries desperately to throw himself in people’s way. Well, I don’t think it’s going to impress anyone.

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posted June 15, 2009 at 7:01 pm

I strongly disagree with Fr. Casey on his suggestion. Latin has experienced a renaissance in Catholic worship, with a growing number of people attending the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (i.e. the ‘Latin Mass’). Many parishes who do not celebrate the Latin Mass have begun to sing certain parts of the Mass in Latin. Prayer in Latin is conscious participation in the centuries of liturgy, history, and philosophy that have gone before us.
I would also argue that papal proclamations should continue to be published in Latin first and then translated into vernaculars. The language of papal pronouncement builds upon previous examples and not popular idiom. The vocabulary and style of pronouncements reflect the texts of the recent and distant past, not what’s seen on TV or read in the newspaper. A substitution of English, a living vernacular, would imply that papal pronouncements would have to follow the idioms of the day. Liturgical and ecclesiastical Latin can ignore the evolution of popular language and communicate more clearly using the vocabulary specifically tailored to the Catholic faith.

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posted June 15, 2009 at 10:05 pm

If I’m not mistaken, isn’t latin’s purpose as a dead language to make sure words are understood by their original meaning? That the original intent comes through regardless of modern day interpretation or PC nuances? Like for instance today, what we call the Catholic Left in years past would of been refered to as protester’s. See words change. Words are definitive by nature.
The English language is too multi faceted and a constantly evolving language to be able to properly convey what was meant 10 years ago much less 100 or 1000 years.
Boy I tell you why do people wish to call themselves Catholics if they want to act, look, and sound just like all the protesters… You like them so damn much go join them!

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Phillip Clark

posted June 15, 2009 at 11:48 pm

While Fr. Casey makes a good point, and from a practical standpoint replacing Latin with English might be beneficial in some ways for the Universal Church, in terms of tradition, integrity, and history it just doesn’t make sense. Trust me, I think there are lots of things that need to change within the Church, but changing its official language I don’t think is one of the. All major religions have their own sacred languages, Islam (Arabic), Judaism (Hebrew), Eastern Orthodoxy (Greek, Russian, and the various other languages which are employed in its Liturgy) and Catholicism has Latin. It’s a nice thought, but in the end, I think following through on the idea would be completely counterproductive.

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Your Name

posted June 16, 2009 at 6:34 pm

“In the fourth and fifth centuries Latin replaced Greek as the language of the Mass. This shift was a brave response to the changing times. First, the church had come to recognize that the center of Christianity was in Rome.”
No, actually the center was in Constantinople and the eastern mediterranean where the emperor was, where all the church councils were held, and where the mass was still delivered in greek and continues to be delivered in greek to this day. The eastern church did not at all play second fiddle to the latin church until well after the birth of Islam.

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Lone Star Vanguard

posted June 17, 2009 at 11:10 am

Excerpt from John O’Malley’s book: What Really Happened at Vatican II?
“As Maximos Saigh IV, the great Melkite patriarch at the Council, came from Melkite tradition – he’s probably my biggest hero at the Council – they didn’t have that same problem. He’s the only person in the Council who refused to speak in Latin. He addressed the Council in French; and he kept making the point: “Latin is not the language of the Church. Latin is the language of the Western Church. So I’m not going to speak it, because I’m not a westerner.” And he got away with it. So that’s the whole program with ecumenism. That’s the problem of the reformation. That’s a Eurocentric problem. It’s not a problem in Africa, except as it’s imported in other parts of the world, and so forth.”

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Lone Star Vanguard

posted June 17, 2009 at 11:28 am

Rarely agree with the old man but straight from his own mouth – a reasonable suggestion:
Pope: People must hear Gospel in their language
Jun. 17, 2009
By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
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PDF versionVATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Gospel message cannot be fully part of people’s lives unless it has been faithfully translated into their language and is reflected in their culture, Pope Benedict XVI said.
Talking about the life and mission of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, ninth-century brothers and missionaries, the pope said the two recognized that although the Slavic people of Central Europe had embraced Christianity and were baptized, the people needed to hear the Gospel and praise God in their own language.
At his weekly general audience June 17 in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict said the two brothers not only helped invent an alphabet for the Slavonic language — an alphabet now known as Cyrillic in honor of one of the brothers — but they also carried out a theological battle against what is known as the “Trilingual Heresy.”
The heresy, the pope said, held that Hebrew, Greek and Latin were the only languages in which it is worthy to praise God.
Studying the work of the fourth-century theologian St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Cyril became convinced of “the value of language in the transmission of revelation,” because Jesus Christ is the Word of God addressed to all people of every language, the pope said.
“Cyril and Methodius were convinced that one could not say a specific people had fully received revelation until they had heard it in their own language and read it in the characters of their own alphabet,” the pope said.
The work of the saintly brothers is “a classic example of that which is called ‘inculturation.’ Every people must welcome into their own culture the message received and express the truth of salvation with their own language,” the pope said.
“This presupposes a very difficult process of translation because it requires the identification of appropriate terms to present the richness of the revealed word without betraying it,” he said.

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топ рейтинг казино

posted October 31, 2015 at 1:53 am

Благодарствую за пересказ очевидных вещей.
Воткнул не по детски в истину.
Из текста следует, что продвинуться на этом поприще невозможно?

Приятно удивлен.

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