QUAERITUR: Latin and languages in seminary

From a seminarian:

I am a seminarian from the southern region of the US. Here at seminary, there are many guys, I myself included, who are more traditionally minded who enjoy Latin and orthodoxy. Others however, see that the hispanic populations are rapidly growing and they say that Latin has no place in the Church, but rather, spanish should be learned and used in many parishes in every diocese. Personally, I do not see a problem with Spanish. I am favorable to Latin, but I am very open to Spanish. I do not see a reason for conflict.

My first question is, “Why do you think many people prefer one language over another instead of realizing that both can be learned? Is one better than the other?” My second question is, “What are your thoughts? What do you think should be practiced in seminaries to prepare us for the priesthood?”

I circle back to this topic from time to time.  The Code of Canon Law can. 249 requires… it doesn’t suggest… it requires that all seminarians be taught both Latin so that they are very proficient and also any other language useful for their ministry.  In your case that would be Spanish. So, as far as the law is concerned for the program of formation, this is not an either/or question, this is a both/issue.

The problem is, by the time men come to seminary, and men are often older today than once upon a time, it is a little late to bring them from zero to 60 in four years.  So, what do we do?  Add a couple more years of formation?  Have a couple propaedeutic years for Latin and Greek, other basics of a classical liberal education which they ought to have had and which a Catholic seminary formation presupposes?  What do we cut from the curriculum to make room?

The fact is that men have to have a foundation in Latin long before they get to major seminary.  This simply has to happen.

That doesn’t mean we should give up at the major seminary level.  Start with Latin and keep it going all the way through.  It just has to be done.  If the men need Spanish, and that need will be greater in, say, Texas than in Maine, then have them learn Spanish.  Spanish and Latin aren’t quantum mechanics, they are just languages.

And, yes, some of you have been saying “But Father! But Father! Remind people that if you learn Latin first, Spanish comes more easily!”

Okay.  If you learn Latin first, Spanish comes more easily.

A focus on Latin is better for seminarians than Spanish, because a) they are being trained to be priests of the Latin Church, b) it is the language of their Rite, c) they need Latin for their academics, d) it helps them learn English (which more more can’t be assumed), e) the law requires it and, at their ordination, someone has to attest that ordinands were properly trained and f) armed with Latin they can learn Spanish more easily.  I am sure you can think of other reasons to obey the Church’s law about this matter.

Why do people prefer one language over another?  I assume you mean “how could Latin Church seminarians prefer some inferior language to Latin”?

How about … maybe they just don’t know any better?  Maybe they have misplaced priorities?  Nah… because they are silly, that’s why.  They are silly, and dim, and probably killed their pets when young.

I don’t know.  My psychic powers are weak today.

What do I think you should do during seminary?

Since major seminary is big-boy-underwear time,

  • smile a lot,
  • say very little,
  • don’t whine,
  • read WDTPRS,
  • pray lots,
  • confess often,
  • and study until blood pours out of your eyes.
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43 Responses to QUAERITUR: Latin and languages in seminary

  1. ray from mn says:

    Fr. Martin Fox said once that the principle job of a seminarian is to get ordained.

  2. Tom in NY says:

    Two years of college-level Greek, Latin and Hebrew each make it possible to read the Bible and the Fathers in the original. And they help the student use the two theological dictionaries for Bible study. Does not the Church offer the Bible and the Fathers to the faithful?
    And if Spanish, Portuguese, French or Italian are useful for US seminarians, learning Latin helps learning its daughters. I’ve done it myself. And don’t forget the Latin-French side of English, brought by the Norman Conquest.
    Salutationes omnibus.

  3. Supertradmum says:

    I am sorry to state that I know of two seminaries, major, which offer a choice between Latin and Spanish as a language requirement. And, if one is a bi-lingual Mexican-American, one can test out of the requirement.

    If one objects to this, one is told, “There is no need for seminarians learning the Latin” . Why the Vatican does not crack down on such seminaries, I do not understand.

    In addition, when seminarians in these seminaries are chosen from Mexico or Central America, they not only do not want to learn Latin, but, they are not encouraged to do so.

  4. Faith says:

    Back in the day, before Vatican II, we had our choice of Masses: High, Low, Teen, Children’s, Lithuanian (meant homily). Why can’t we do this today, e.i., Latin, Teen, Children’s, Bi-Lingual?

  5. Since major seminary is big-boy-underwear time,
    smile a lot,
    say very little,
    don’t whine,
    read WDTPRS,
    pray lots,
    confess often,
    and study until blood pours out of your eyes.

    Thank you Father – I shall remember that if I manage to get there in the next year or two.
    LF

  6. FrSam says:

    Fr. Z, I couldn’t agree more…it’s a question of learning both languages, not one or the other. Unfortunately for me, my Latin is pretty poor (hence I read WDTPRS for slavishly accurate translations!), but I was fortunate enough to become fluent in Spanish during my seminary years. For the purposes of hearing confessions, counseling, preaching, etc, it has been an extraordinarily useful language, and I am grateful that my vocation director asked me to learn it. It’s also been a language that has opened doors for me in friendship with religious communities and others. That being said, one great lacuna for me is that I struggle to read the Fathers, Canon Law etc in Latin. I know enough to read it aloud and pronounce it correctly, but comprehension is poor. My advice to seminarians – learn languages that will be useful in ministering to the people entrusted to your care, learn languages that will enhance your study of theology, learn languages that will enable you to celebrate the Sacraments. Engage your formation program wholeheartedly, confess often (as Fr. Z says), and if you notice something missing from your academic, pastoral, spiritual or human formation, find a way to do it yourself. Much of formation is self-formation. In regards to learning Latin, don’t follow my example (learned minimal Latin)…buy a book, watch videos, do whatever it takes. Most of all, be holy.

  7. AnAmericanMother says:

    This is not rocket science.
    I arrived at college with a fairly good grounding in Latin and an idea of majoring in Classics, but no Greek.
    Got distracted by some really good professors and wound up in the history department.
    But here’s my point: my two years of college Greek are adequate for me to read and study, with a dictionary to hand. I cannot correspond (as scholars as recently as C.S. Lewis did), translate off the cuff, or hold an airy conversation about the weather. (Can’t do that very well in Latin either, but that’s another story.) But I can recite good sized chunks of Homer from memory and limp along through the Bible or the Philokalia. It’s good enough to get along.

  8. Cephas218 says:

    Speaking of learning languages, I cringe every time I see the wrong homonym, like your for you’re or there for they’re or their. You get the idea. [I get the idea that you would like to be my proof reader.]

    And now by the power conferred on me by the august study of English grammar, I most humbly request and beseach thee, Pater Z, to most kindly remove from thy blog the insipid misuse of ‘their’ for ‘they’re’ in the fourth paragraph following the learned above quæritur quote.

    Gratias ago tibi.

    [You misspelled “beseech” and you split an infinitive. Fail.]

  9. catholictigerfan says:

    at our seminary saturday is spanish liturgy day, we say lauds vespers and the mass in spanish. I don’t have any issue with it because well we are in the south and we are in an area that has a big spanish heritage so its important for us futre priest to know spanish. The school also is making us learn latin, even though I strugle through it I still have to learn it. I haven’t heard anyone here say some of the things that are claimed in the article, I may have not heard it yet, and also I don’t like to det into debates on liturgy issues as you said father I will smile alot say very little will not whine will pray alot and confess alot, and study till blood comes out my eyes.

  10. CPT TOM says:

    Other than the obvious agenda behind not teaching Latin, this should be a moot point. The US Catholic Church, and the English Speaking Church alone is a big enough market that the Church should be able to convince a company like Rosetta Stone to publish a Latin software package. Considering how important this is to the reform of the reform, you’d think this would be happening. I again stand in awe of the fact the Vatican does NOTHING about this long standing breach of Canon law. There are priests in my diocese (Rochester) who are retiring who have never learned Latin. Is it possible this has been going on since before the council?

    One of my sisters is (unfortunately) a Presbyterian Minister. She had to learn Greek, Hebrew and Latin to complete her Seminary. It is scandalous that Priests of the true Church are not doing the same, especially since it is Canon Law to do so.

  11. CPT TOM: Your comment gvae me an idea. Could perhaps Serra Clubs and/or individuals pony up to buy Rosetta Stone software for seminarians?

  12. CPT TOM says:

    BTW Rosetta stone already does have a Latin software package. Levels 1,2 &3 and a homeschooling version.

    So it would be possible to start the diocesan seminarians off on Level 1 while they are in discernment, or the summer before they enter the seminary, with 2 & 3 finished by the time they are done.

  13. Rich says:

    Many priests I know could have benefited from formal instruction in speaking English while in the seminary.

  14. CPT TOM says:

    It’s an idea…how do that…we need a “Buy a Rossetta stone Package for a Seminarian” and build the Army of the Reform of the Reform of the Reform website. I wonder if Rosetta Stone would be interested in a volume discount. Not sure how to coordinate all that though. Sounds Like a project for the Knights of Columbus or we can figure something out. Ideas anyone else?

  15. CPT TOM says:

    Seminarian” and build the Army of the Reform of the Reform of the Reform website”

    sorry about that got a little carried away with the “reforms” PIMF.

  16. Gail F says:

    I had a year of high school Latin and two years of college Latin (history major) and I never mastered it. That said, I can read the Bible and St. Augustine in the original with a dictionary and table of declensions in front of me. I can’t speak Spanish at all but my public school system began foreign language in 6th grade so I had six years of French and can speak it if I need to. Seems to me that seminarians should learn Latin because the entire heritage of Church documents are in Latin. But there is no reason for them to be fluent in Latin unless they are going on to further study. They should be familiar enough with it to know how to proceed next if they need to — saying Mass in Latin does not require the same skills as reading and writing about Cicero or St. Ambrose.

    In many areas, Spanish is VERY important for priests to know. But conversational Spanish is different — it can be studied in high school, at the undergraduate level, or even through a language school or night classes or summer programs. There are many options. I think all seminaries ought to require a year or two of Latin and/or Greek (personally, I’m terrified of Greek), and handle Spanish or other languages as best fits their area and needs. Latin is important for a connection to the historical Church, which so many people lack; Spanish is important for a connection to Spanish-speaking people now — but not every priest will need it.

  17. guatadopt says:

    Couple years ago (and about 5 years removed from my last year of Latin in high school), I was called upon by my pastor (who is in his 50’s) to translate a Latin inscription on the altar in our parish. Our pastor is actually quite conservative (the whole black/red thing) which is great. However, he told me that he didn’t get even one course in Latin during his seminary years and he was ordained in the early 80’s. I told him that even after high school, I continued to study Latin as well as Greek on my own (at least reading the New Testament). Not sure if he got my drift :)

  18. AnAmericanMother says:

    Father Z,
    Rosetta Stone in fact has a Latin course — I suppose the question is whether it is easily adaptable to the needs of seminarians. Their big selling point is conversation, usually.
    But if somebody starts a program, count me in!

  19. I may be able to add some perspective for the seminarian and his classmates. I am a Lutheran pastor, with degrees from two different seminaries. In days gone by, we too learned Latin as undergraduates, and were expected to show up at seminary (by which I mean major seminary) conversant with the language. I didn’t, and nobody cared.

    I arrived with some workable French and rough Spanish. My further education included Greek and Hebrew, as well as a little bit of Spanish and German. But neither seminary offered Latin as part of its curriculum (although I believe tutorial classes were available for doctoral candidates).

    Now, mind you, I am a Lutheran. There are very, very few circumstances under which I will ever be expected to lead worship in Latin. (Let me add another “very”.) But there is a vast amount of theological literature in Latin — the Fathers, to be sure, and lots more, including a significant amount of Protestant writing from the 16th and 17th centuries. Some of it has been translated, but some of it has not.

    So the bottom line is that I have been forced to learn enough Latin to get by, using books and Rosetta Stone and so forth. At this point, I use it nearly every day. But it remains slow going — I need my dictionary and grammar charts, and a whole lot of time. It would have been a lot easier to have done it right at the beginning.

    Modern languages are important — I have used French, Spanish and Romanian for parish ministry, and wish my German were better. But for a student of theology, there is no substitute for Latin.

  20. William says:

    Rich says: 29 September 2011 at 8:24 am
    Many priests I know could have benefited from formal instruction in speaking English while in the seminary.

    I second the motion!

  21. Brian2 says:

    Over all, our Church is weak when it comes to language learning. At the airport I met a man studying at Dallas Baptist University to become a pastor. He is required to take four semesters of Hebrew and eight semesters of Greek, in addition to coursework. the Greek course culminates in seminars on Paul in Greek. And he is doing it part-time. If DBU will ask that of those who will be (in his phrase) “handeling the Word”, so much more should the Church, where seminarians do not go part time. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask them to learn classical languages (especially Latin) and Spanish. They should also learn Latin, from day one until the last day; the should also learn Spanish in need be. That can be done in a relatively short time if the bishop is creative: a few semesters in classrooms, and then immersion.

  22. Cristero says:

    As a native Spanish speaker, I found even more riches in my language once I started to learn just a little Latin, and it helped in learning English as well.

    Here is my experience at Seminary:
    “smile a lot,” (Tried to!)
    “say very little,” (Why are you teaching that there is no ned for Priests? Then why am I here!?”
    “don’t whine,” (Tried NOT to!)
    “read WDTPRS,” (Not around)
    “pray lots,” (Got in a wee bit of rouble for praying a Latin Breviarium)
    “confess often,” (Offered for 10 minutes on Saturdays)

    Yeah, where was WDTPRS back in the day? Oh right, hardly any Internet. We only had BBS and Telnet!

    Where was WDTPRS

  23. CPT TOM says:

    BTW, from a google search of “learning latin” there are actually many free or nearly free resources out there for learning Latin…
    I have not used these yet, but these options look interesting as alternatives to, or in addition to formal courses:
    Learning Latin Online which seems to be a combination of text and youtube videos. They have level 1 and 2 classes. They ask for donations but it doesn’t. seem to be restricted.
    Next one is this site from Father Gary Coulter Has Latin Resource Links as well as course material from Experience Latin with Fr. Reginald Foster, “the Pope’s Latinist”

    Your Mileage may Vary…there is lots of stuff out there, it is a question of getting it all together I think.

  24. merrydelval says:

    Having taught modern languages and served as a translator before entering the seminary, I have found that many dioceses and seminaries have very little notion of sound pedagogical methods for teaching languages. First of all, teaching classical languages to read them in theological texts is very different than teaching a modern language for ministry.

    My diocese has required that all of its newly ordained priests be able to know enough Spanish to celebrate the sacraments. So often seminarians do a year course of three hours a week and then still can’t even read the Missal properly. In the meantime, the Protestants and Mormons are training up their missionaries like crazy to speak at an almost native fluency. And the Catholics continue to bumble around with half solutions to the problem.

    My bishop sent me to an Italian and not an American seminary, after I had already lived in Italy. So I was ordained speaking Italian like a native. I am not sure why bishops won’t send seminarians to places like Navarre in Spain where they can be with Latin Americans (the seminary there is mostly Latino), live in Europe and have an excellent theological education in a sound seminary environment with a world-class university. A few hours a week for a year is pretty much useless, I think. I have since studied in France and Austria, and that was much better for learning French and German than Rosetta Stone or a few hand me down books.

    As per classical languages, ditto. I am all in favour of having a propaedeutic year for classical languages and spirituality. I had two years of Latin in college, two more years with Reggie Foster, and still find it not enough. Two years of Koine Greek and a semester of Hebrew were pointless, because they were so badly taught, in my case. The universities are waking up to the fact that many future theologians simply have no access to the ancient texts or the Bible. And I have been playing catch-up for years. I mean, I speak five modern languages fluently. And I would trade all of them in for the same competency in Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

  25. To be fair, if you know Spanish it will help with Latin also. But one thing that’s helpful for Spanish learners today that I didn’t have in school — there are etymological dictionaries and regional vocabulary dictionaries of Spanish now which are easily available. Both will help you a lot. For example, a lot of “weird Spanish words” are derived from Visigothic, Basque, Arabic, or French (when French was cool). This will help you to know what’s going on with them, just like knowing the general provenance of “weird words” in English.

    Similarly, I couldn’t look stuff up in Lewis and Short when I was taking high school Latin (I didn’t even know it existed!), but today people easily can.

  26. Penta says:

    I must, respectfully, disagree with Father Z’s thought that there is anywhere in the US today where Spanish would not be a requirement for parish ministry; [I respectfully ask: Did you read what I wrote? Did I say there was any place where there isn’t a a need for Spanish? I suggested that there was GREATER need in Texas than in Maine.] We’re within a decade or so of the US Church becoming majority-Hispanic, if I recall correctly. There are plenty of Hispanic migrant workers in Maine – and if we do not care for them, they will easily go to the Pentecostal or Protestant church (or “independent Catholic parish”) that will.

    If it were me designing a base seminary program for all US seminaries, I would do it like this: Require textual fluency in Latin at the time of admission (this accounts for the reality that most US universities would teach Latin in the Classical, not Ecclesiastical, manner); At the same time, however, require textual and conversational fluency in at least one modern language, in addition to English. Most people who know languages say that after the first additional language, it gets easier – so leverage that. At the time of ordination, require fluency in Latin, English and Spanish as minimums to be ordained; any additional languages should be a definite bonus. Yes, this would tend to select for seminarians with language ability; if all other things are equal, that’s not a terrible thing, in my eyes. If I were feeling really, really ambitious, I might want seminarians to know Italian or German, too, simply so they can keep up with theological developments in either of these languages.

  27. Speravi says:

    I believe that the decision of MANY seminaries to make Latin “optional” is a serious INJUSTICE.
    In my experience, most of the new seminarians are good men and more or less orthodox. However, they are often very ignorant of the tradition of the Church and the importance and utility of Latin. Seminary is already an overwhelming experience for many. When the seminary tells them that they don’t need to take Latin, even if canon law says otherwise, they will usually believe them. I have heard with my own ears a young orthodox priest working in a seminary say that if we did everything in seminary that canon law and the documents say we need to do, seminary would last 10 years.
    After the first few years in seminary, or after ordination MANY of these men will come to recognize the value of Latin. However, they will then feel that it is too late. I personally heard one newly ordained priest of 2011 say, “I would love to learn the extraordinary form but I don’t know Latin.” The same individual, a year or two earlier, mentioned that he wished he could learn Latin, but it won’t fit in his schedule. MANY MANY good and orthodox seminarians are too ignorant to fight to get Latin into their schedule early on, and then end up regretting it later on.
    The SEMINARIES, whose JOB it is to FORM their seminarians, are doing a great injustice to their men by not telling them of the importance of Latin while there is still time for them to study it.
    In the seminary I have the most experience with, students have only a very limited number of electives. If they want to take three semesters of Latin, they have to try to work it into their schedule and are then prevented from taking many other electives. Other electives offered include certain other courses that the PPF REQUIRES, but that the seminary considers to be optional.
    IF IT TAKES 10 YEARS to add everything WHICH THE CHURCH ASKS FOR, why not DUMP EVERYTHING WHICH THE CHURCH DOESN’T ASK FOR?!?!

  28. CPT TOM says:

    It is amazing that the seminaries of today do not have the time to teach Latin since for centuries they managed to do it. What has changed? Is that they lack the will or the ability to do it? What do the SSPX, FSSP, Society of Christ our King, and other traditional orders do in their seminaries? Would it be an accurate assumption that they manage to teach their seminarians Latin? Why can we not do what Protestant denominations seem to do and that which the Church used too for Centuries?

    Sorry if this sounds naive, but in my 47 years of life I have yet to receive what is a real answer instead of excuses. Probably my military experiences speaking through, but much of the problem seems to be a combination of lack of will, fortitude, and agenda. We need proper training for the priests if the Church Militant is going to succeed in this war with the culture of secularism and death. Latin needs to be so we can unify the Church more fully. As a dead language it is not associated with one country and forces us to view beyond our local view of the faith and Church.

  29. albinus1 says:

    In my experience, most of the new seminarians are good men and more or less orthodox. However, they are often very ignorant of the tradition of the Church and the importance and utility of Latin. Seminary is already an overwhelming experience for many.

    About 20 years ago, I was offered a part-time job teaching Latin in the Catholic seminary in a major US diocese that I won’t name. (I ended up not taking it because they weren’t able to pay me enough to make it worth my while, given the other demands on my time. Now I wish I had taken it, just for the experience.) The librarian at the seminary had been filling in as the Latin teacher, and he told me that that, in one academic year, he had been able to get through only 16 chapters of Wheelock (there are 40 chapters, and at the university where I now teach, we get through the whole book in an academic year, or even in an intense 10-week summer session). He told me that the seminary candidates they were receiving were very spiritual and sincere in their faith, but in general were — how can I put this delicately? — not the sharpest knives in the drawer. He said that there was a limit to the amount of academic rigor that the seminar was able to require of its students.

    Perhaps things are better now — I hope they are! — but perhaps one of the negative effects of everything that has happened in the Church over the past 40 years is that many diocesan seminaries were not attracting the most intellectually gifted candidates, and that as a consequence, the academic program had to be “dumbed down” to an extent, or else these dioceses wouldn’t have had any priests at all to ordain.

  30. Penta says:

    And Father Z teaches me the wisdom of reading things three times before commenting…My apologies.

  31. disputationist says:

    “Spanish and Latin aren’t quantum mechanics, they are just languages.”

    I personally found quantum mechanics much easier to learn than heavily conjugated languages like Latin and Spanish..

  32. donantebello says:

    @merrydelval

    I think that a solution for priests in the US to learn Latin and Spanish would be to inundate seminarian formation with Latin (once again!! ie. get back to NORMAL!) And then for 2-3 summers send seminarians off to Latin America or Spain (or both!) to achieve fluency and cultural literacy.

    And as far as whether Latin or Spanish is better. I would say just learn both because they both reinforce one another. If computer programmers can learn multiple code languages and engineers and physicists put in the time, blood sweat and tears, often with families and many other obligations, to learn complex systems of theory and science, why in the world can’t us priests and seminarians; who are supposed to be arbiters of culture and civilization, eat some fire, kick the word mediocrity out of our vocabulary, and get some of these languages under our belts!

    Remember it was St. Alphonsus Ligouri who took a vow at the age of 16 never to waste time!

  33. Father S. says:

    I know that we do not all learn in the same way, but here are my two cents.

    I had eight years of Latin and seven 0f Greek between high school and college. When I arrived at the seminary, I was asked to study Spanish. I went for one summer to Mexico. My teachers there thought I was lying when I said that I had never studied Spanish. At the end of two months, I had completed a three year course in Spanish. The reason for this is that Latin and Spanish are almost twins when it comes to grammar, excluding the declined noun. Once a student can see the pattern for the development of Latin in Spanish, the language becomes quite simple.

    In my current parish, I offer the Holy Mass regularly in Latin (EF), English and Spanish. Thanks be to God, I have found much use for all of those hours studying!

    I know a large number of priests who never studied Latin who went straight to Spanish. It is my experience that their Spanish suffers a great deal. This is because of the method commonly used to teach Spanish. Verbs are not learned using principal parts and grammar is not drilled. Students learn about the names of pieces of clothing or types of fruits and vegetables. They rarely get focused teaching on grammar. I recall Latin I being effectively a course in grammar. We got to read a bit about Caesar and Cicero, but we mainly figured out the difference between moods, tenses and declensions–not to mention to the wonderful ablative absolute! Perhaps if Spanish were taught in this way, there would be more success; I can’t say. What I can say is that the study of Latin and Greek was incredibly useful for me in the study of subsequent languages. (Aside: They were useless for Arabic and Hebrew, however. In fact, the difference between Semitic and Romance languages being what it is, the transition was very hard.)

  34. Mitchell NY says:

    I checked into the Rosetta Stone a while back and from what I remember they only offer a beginning course in Latin. They do not have complete studies as they do for all the other languages. That being said, interest must be going up because several years before that it was not available at all.
    Seminary NOT having to teach Latin is simply outrageous. In the face of Canon Law on the subject, not to mention Veterum Sapientia, an Apostolic Constitution on par with Pope Paul VI’s Missale Romanum. In an age where the internet is available and language study is so much easier than before, VS should and could be implemented without exception. It disorients all the Faithful when some Constitutions are held up like the Holy Grail and others are completely ignored. It confuses us as to out own obligations. Bishops ignoring things like this really do have an effect on the minds of lay people. How would any Bishop explain to a lay person, if asked, why a Priest does not know Latin in spite of Canon Law and the Apostolic Constitution which states that wherever Latin has fallen off or into disuse that it will be restored with full vigor, no exception?. And right after they explain it away the conversation can be followed with a lay persons “reasoning” for using artificial birth control and the backround in their lives for not implementing Humanae Vitae.

  35. jmgarciajr says:

    Just some observations.

    I’m a native-bilingual (i.e. learned both Spanish & English from birth) and having learned (and studied) Spanish made learning and studying Latin a lot more manageable for me. Granted, my knowledge of Spanish was pretty far along by the time the good Jesuit fathers began to teach me Latin, but I found them mutually supporting and I see the “either/or” debate as a false choice. In fact, I would require learning both languages. Once one has established a proficiency in these, other languages come far more easily. In my case, this background has allowed me to learn Italian and Portuguese and get a working grasp on French.

    Just one man’s opinion.

    P.S. These good Jesuit fathers are still teaching boys Latin. But don’t snitch on them, please.

  36. bourgja says:

    Um, regarding the picture in the right-hand corner, Italian is an actual *language* on the same level as French and Spanish, and not just a set of dialects!

  37. daveams says:

    Just curious…has Bl John XXIII’s motu proprio Veterum Sapientia ever actually been abrogated? Or is it just ignored?

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

    Hence professors of these sciences in universities or seminaries are required to speak Latin and to make use of textbooks written in Latin.

  38. Fr_Sotelo says:

    It is all nice and well to be outraged about the deficiencies in Latin in the seminaries. But in defense of seminary professors, they have a hard enough time just getting students to study and learn their philosophy and theology. There is something about our culture, and American students, that is repulsed and horrified at the thought of learning any other language but English. It isn’t until most students are ordained and ministering among the Spanish-speaking that they start to exert themselves in Spanish.

    Those with a traditional bent will learn Latin because they wish to administer the sacraments in the Extraordinary Form. The rest, regardless of theological leaning, will want to get by, just get by, in English. Perhaps, as merrydelval states, it is an issue of teaching poorly the classical and modern languages. Perhaps, as albinus1 states, it is an issue of seminarians in general not being academically inclined.

    On a slightly different tangent, the Spanish-speaking, by and large, are very happy with the Mass in Spanish. They have never had to endure sloppy translations. In fact, the Spanish Missal has always been written in beautiful, elegant, and poetic Spanish. When priests get upset that they choose not to abandon the vernacular in favor of the Latin, it isn’t because they are anti-Latin. It is because for many decades now, they have enjoyed Mass with wonderful translations which are very faithful to the Latin. They have, for instance, always heard “ineffable” in the Spanish Mass.

  39. albinus1 says:

    Um, regarding the picture in the right-hand corner, Italian is an actual *language* on the same level as French and Spanish, and not just a set of dialects!

    I’ve heard it said that a language is a dialect with a flag and an army, so French and Spanish had a head start of a few centuries! ;-)

  40. Dave N. says:

    I do not recall ever having read a post here with which I agree more. A few Catholic seminaries set very high standards in regards to language and somehow–through the grace of God and a lot of studying no doubt–seminarians are able to meet them.

    Other than some conversational French and enough high school Spanish to say “hi” and find out where the restrooms are, I did all of my language study after the age of 40. It’s a lot of work, but it’s possible. I’ve studied German, Hebrew (ancient, rabbinic and modern), Greek (Attic and Koine), Ugaritic, Akkadian, Syriac, Aramaic (standard and rabbinic) and enough Arabic to decipher texts and look up words in the dictionary. And of course Latin. I’m not saying I’m particularly smart by any means—so it IS possible, even though you’re no longer in your teens or twenties.

    As far as Latin itself goes, I’d say that being able to read the “Pange Lingua” of Fortunatus in Latin rather than a lame-o English translation would alone make all the effort worthwhile. There’s tremendous spiritual value in so many of these old Latin texts if people could only recognize this fact.

    As for: “He told me that the seminary candidates …were…not the sharpest knives in the drawer. He said that there was a limit to the amount of academic rigor that the seminar [sic] was able to require of its students.”

    If you lower the bar, people will always stoop to meet it.

  41. Dave N. says:

    I think we should match up seminarians with personal language tutors. I would be overjoyed to tutor any seminarian free of charge.

  42. “Um, regarding the picture in the right-hand corner, Italian is an actual *language* on the same level as French and Spanish, and not just a set of dialects!”

    The point is that what we call “Italian” is really Tuscan, and that there are a huge number of other Italian dialects, both dead and still in existence, with equal age and distance from Latin. (Many not mutually comprehensible, but still similar enough in structure to be dialects.) In terms of language development, it’s not fair to treatTuscan as different from the rest; and in diagram construction, fitting in all those dialect names is a pain in the Powerpoint.

  43. And yes, historical linguists are more interested in being accurate in their own field than concerned with what other people think. :)