Did you know about the requirement for Patristics in seminary formation? No! Really!

I have in the past posted about this shameful problem.  I actually changed my field because of this document. I am glad that Joseph Shaw of the LMS picked this up:

In 1989 the Congregation for Catholic Education, under the American Cardinal William Baum, published an Instruction, Inspectis dierum nostrorum, on the place of Patristics, the study of the Fathers of the Church, in seminaries. This document is available in the on-line version of the ‘Acta Apostolicae Sedis’ (81 (1990) 607-636) the official record of all curial documents, but only in Latin; it is available on the Congregation’s page on the Vatican website, but only in Italian.

Is this someoe’s idea of a joke? [Do I hear an "Amen!"?] That a series of documents lamenting the fact that fewer and fewer people can read Latin, are available only in Latin? For this is not a one-off. Pius XI’s decree on Latin in Seminaries Officiorum omnium, the hugely important 1962 Veterum Sapientia of John XXIII, Paul VI’s Sacrificium laudis of 1966: all call for more Latin, and by an amazing coincidence the Vatican translators haven’t bothered to put any of them into English – or any other vernacular language, except, bizarrely, Spanish for Veterum Sapientia, and Italian for Inspectis dierum and Sacrificium laudis. And what’s this? They haven’t got round to an official translation of Summorum Pontificum yet either, except into Hungarian. [The chokle point is the Secretariat of State.  Also, click HERE.]

Inspectis dierum is available on the website of the Bishops of the United States of America. This link appears to be broken from the main page but you can get the document here. It is a scan of a printed translation – better than nothing. Veterum Sapientia is available and thanks to the Latin Mass Society so is Sacrificium laudis.

Not having English (or other vernacular) translations freely available is a pretty effective way of ensuring that no-one reads these documents, and asks any awkward questions about the education our seminarians are getting. I’ve heard that the translation of texts is not the task of the Congregation which produces them, but is overseen by the Secretariat of State, so this is an example of un-joined up thinking in the Curia.

Here are some key passages.

11: ‘Furthermore these days many students of theology, evidently graduates of technical schools, do not have that knowledge of classical languages that is necessary for any one to undertake an investigation of the Fathers in a serious way. For this reason, the state of Patristic instruction in institutes of priestly education grievously suffers from those changes in the culture that are observed in a growing scientific and technological mentality that attributes greater importance to the teaching of the natural and human sciences to the neglect of the liberal arts.’

(What of Catholic schools? Don’t they have an obligation to resist this trend against the liberal arts?)

53: ‘The study of Patrology and of Patristics, which in its initial stage consists in outlining [the subject-matter], demands that manuals and other bibliographical resources be employed. When one arrives at difficult and involved questions of Patristic theology, however, none of these aids suffices: one has to go directly to the Fathers’ very texts. For it behoves Patristics to be both taught and learned—especially in Academies and in specialized curricula—with professor and student going directly to the primary sources themselves. Nevertheless, because of the difficulties that often detain students, it will be opportune to place into their hands bilingual editions known to be scientifically reliable.’

(A counsel of despair: having insisted on the necessity of reading the texts in the original, the authors seem to acknowledge that this is practically unattainable. But this is so only because seminaries are not teaching the languages to a decent level.)

64: ‘For the teaching of Patrology and Patristics in Institutes of priestly formation, those are to be preferred who have followed specialised studies in that subject in the Institutes established for the purpose—as in the Roman Patristic Institute called “the Augustinianum” [My school.] or in the Pontifical Superior Institute of Latin (the Faculty of Christian and Classical Literature). This is because it is useful for the teacher to have been instructed in the ability to go directly to the sources themselves.’

(Note the concern here that even Patristics teachers won’t have the languages.)

66: ‘But it is clear that suitable instruments and resources are necessary to deal with Patristic studies properly. Such are libraries well stocked with respect to Patristics (‘corpora’ or collections, monographs, reviews or journals, dictionaries). And it is also clear that classical and modern languages are necessary as well. Since, however, the schools of our day and age are plainly deficient in the liberal arts, to the extent possible we shall have to further strengthen the study of Latin and Greek in our own Institutes of Priestly Formation.’

Popes and the Congregation for Education (and its former incarnations) have bemoaned the low level of clerical Latin, and called for improvements—culminating in Veterum Sapientia of February 1962 —since Leo XIII, himself echoing the alarm of the French bishop fifty-odd years earlier (in the 1830s!) when the French government-run schools dropped the Latin verse composition requirement.

One of the watchwords of progressive theology of the Second Vatican Council era was ‘ressourcement’: ‘going back to the sources’. This was a reaction to the over-use of textbooks in the bad old days. At least, in those days, the text books were usually in Latin, and as a result any seminarian could, with a bit of effort, read the original texts for himself if he wanted to, at least as far as Latin authors were concerned. Have we returned to the sources in seminary education? Alas no: most seminarians can’t even understand the languages. Is reading a summary by a trendy modern theologian in the vernacular a good substitute? The Congregation for Catholic Education says NO!

If you want to know the ideal of pre-Conciliar seminary education, you need to read the document drawn up by the then Congregation for Seminaries which was to implement John XXIII’s 1962 Veterum Sapientia, called Sacrum Latinae linguae depositum. But before you can hear what it says about the importance of learning Latin in order to read the Fathers, you know what you’ll have to do? Learn Latin. That’s the only language in which this document appears to exist. (You can find it in the online Acta: in the 1962 volume, ie vol. 54, it starts on p336.)

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27 Responses to Did you know about the requirement for Patristics in seminary formation? No! Really!

  1. carl b says:

    FWIW, at St John Vianney in Denver, seminarians are required 3 semesters of Latin, 2 of Greek, and 1 of patristics. A third semester of Greek is offered but is optional, and there are reading clubs for those interested in really pursuing Latin and Greek.

  2. Horatius says:

    carl b, as a classicist I can say that that is not enough by a lot. “Reading clubs:” sounds nice, but run by whom?

    The collapse in foreign language, measured by number of majors, in the academy is most noticeable in the early 1960s, and it is at historic lows now.

    As for American seminaries, my guess would be the slide started in the 1950s.

  3. jhayes says:

    Inspectis dierum has this useful comment on the current discussion with the SSPX:

    II(1)(f) The examples and teaching of the fathers, witnesses to tradition, were particularly valued and put to good use by the Second Vatican Council. Due precisely to them, the council was able to achieve a keener understanding of the church itself and to identify the sure path particularly for liturgical renewal, for fruitful ecumenical dialogue and for the encounter with non-Christian religions by making the ancient principle of unity in diversity and of progress in the continuity of tradition bear fruit in present-day circumstances.

    Inspectis Dierum

  4. Supertradmum says:

    Most of the seminarians coming out of diocesan graduate seminaries in the Midwest do not know Latin. Period. They can opt out of the language requirement with Spanish. Last time I looked, Spanish was not the official language of the Roman Catholic Church. As to Patristics, ah–left to individual professors with their likes and dislikes.

    The new orders are much, much better on this, as is the SSPX. And, Father Z., is it not true that all priests should be saying the Breviary in Latin? [We we take seriously what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council required in SC 101.]

  5. aquinas138 says:

    Sadly this is not just limited to seminaries. Unfortunately there are many who pontificate on the Bible and the Church with at best a rudimentary knowledge of the relevant languages.

  6. TZ says:

    At last. I feel vindicated. ;-)

    –Latin tutor, who took a B.A. in the language instead of the ‘practical’ degree her father wanted for her

  7. carl b says:

    Horatius,

    Trust me, I know it isn’t enough, but sadly I suspect we’re better off than a lot of seminaries. Our reading club is led by the classics prof, and last semester we worked our way through book one of the Confessions.

    Sadly, I think our Latin is just enough to make us technically able to do liturgical Latin. Where I’m at is able to do the breviary in Latin: I can comprehend everything but the second reading at Matins, typically, and the hymns can be a bit tricky for me.

  8. Mark R says:

    As one would expect, there was a form of Patristics at my Byzantine Catholic Seminary. It consisted of one year of lectures on the first seven ecumenical councils and another year on mostly Eastern church fathers. There was no reading involved. The lecturer was very good and was one of the few on staff who seemed to really believe what he taught and walked the talk. That said, some kind of text would have be great. Little was expected at this seminary because most of the seminarians were capable of little and it had been the case that the parishes were made up of fairly simple folk.

  9. arotron theou says:

    There’s a similar requirement for permanent deacons to study Patristics (Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons, #81). We do the best we can. In my diocese, that means exposure to some of the most important Fathers, in translation (Cyprian, Augustine, Leo I, Gregory I, Basil, Chrysostom, etc). It’s nowhere near systematic, but at least it shows them what’s out there, and encourages them to continue reading the Fathers. We can also stress the point of continuity in the content of Faith.

    Fr. Z., I am surprised by your association of “ressourcement” with the progressives at Vatican II. I can’t recall seeing this association so bluntly put. Yes, certainly, it can be taken in such a way, reducing theology to the clash of opinions, and pitching the Scholastic synthesis needlessly. This obviously favors certain modern and progressive approaches that bear scant fruit. Perhaps it even started with that camp, at the Council. But I don’t believe that’s intrinsic to the need for “ressourcement.” The Church has been calling for knowledge of the Fathers since Boethius; and Scholasticism itself makes little sense without the body of theology of the previous thousand years which it was trying to systematize. Perhaps you might even agree that the renewal of the Extraordinary Form is itself, as I think, a fruit of “ressourcement” correctly understood?

    [I am surprised that you attributed to me something that I did not write.]

  10. arotron theou says:

    Fr. Z., I am sorry if I misunderstood what you meant when you wrote, [again??] in your penultimate paragraph, “One of the watchwords of progressive theology of the Second Vatican Council era was ‘ressourcement’…”. It was this association of “ressourcement” with “progressive theology” to which I was referring.

  11. acardnal says:

    @arotron theou: go back to the very top of Fr. Z’s post. He did not write what you are referring to. He is quoting the author from this link: http://www.lmschairman.org/2012/07/a-forgotten-instruction-on-patristics.html.

  12. Horatius says:

    Carl b, thank you. I understand.

    I think you will find the Latin of the Church easier if you concentrate on classical Latin, poetry as well as prose.

    God bless.

  13. fvhale says:

    Multiple choice test. Choose one:

    A. Resourcement–do the hard work of learning Latin and Greek to be able to work with the sources of the Church’s patrimony, from New Testament and Apostolic Fathers through all the Patrologia (L & G), the abundance of the Middle Ages (in Latin), and up to modern times.

    B. Aggiornamento–chuck out everything before 1970, use exclusively the vernacular, and study pop psychology and sociology with an emphasis on pastoral needs. Language should be the most modern of modern in order to relate.

    Which choice was made?

  14. arotron theou says:

    Oh! Acardnal, thanks! Fr. Z., mea culpa! I did not follow correctly the end of the quotes from the obscure document not also being the end of the article you were linking to and quoting from. So sorry!

    May I be permitted to rephrase the question and ask what the readers, and you, Father, think about the linked article’s association of “ressourcement” and “progressive theology?”

  15. lucy says:

    There must be some good person who has enough interest and study in this world to translate these documents into English for the seminarians. Am I wrong?

  16. Parasum says:

    “Is this someoe’s[sic] idea of a joke? [Do I hear an "Amen!"?] That a series of documents lamenting the fact that fewer and fewer people can read Latin, are available only in Latin?”

    ## LOL. A lot of stuff on the Vatican website is in Latin only – unfortunately. In no way is this unusual.

    @lucy:

    “There must be some good person who has enough interest and study in this world to translate these documents into English for the seminarians. Am I wrong?”

    ## Ask the Finns :) –
    http://yle.fi/radio1/tiede/nuntii_latini/nuntii_latini_-_in_english_24554.html

    Not forgetting this:
    http://ephemeris.alcuinus.net/

  17. Parasum says:

    “(What of Catholic schools? Don’t they have an obligation to resist this trend against the liberal arts?)”

    ## What is objectionable about them ? The quotation that constitutes par.11 is not a rejection of them, but a plea in their favour.

    “(A counsel of despair: having insisted on the necessity of reading the texts in the original, the authors seem to acknowledge that this is practically unattainable. But this is so only because seminaries are not teaching the languages to a decent level.)”

    ## Not necessarily. For many Fathers, no satisfactory modern edition of their works exists – as the editors of various works in the Ancient Christian Writers series point out on occasion. The text of Arnobius of Sicca is (or was 60 years ago, according to his 1949 translator) in a very unsatisfactory state. For some Fathers, Migne’s edition which is the most recent – & that is a long time ago: 150 or so years, or more. Not everyone has attracted the attention St. Augustine or the Apostolic Fathers have. So it is not fair, because not realistic, to require the reading of the Fathers when there are no satisfactory editions in existence, let alone in print. Sometimes make-shifts, however unreliable, are all that are available. So ignorance of Latin is not always the problem. And Latin is in any case far from being the only language in use by the Fathers: Lack of attention to St. Ephraem the Syrian is not going to be perfectly remedied by Latin translations of him, but by knowledge of Syriac & access to critically satisfactory editions of his works (His Pneumatology & Mariology are not going to be accurately represented, if editions of his works omit his genuine work, or include works attributed to him in error.)

    So the reasons for lack of Patristic texts can’t be blamed on nothing but inability to study in Latin.

    Latin texts can at least be read in a familiar alphabet. Students of Assyriology have to contend with many problems: they have to familarise themselves with cuneiform script, which is (in part) syllabic, not alphabetic; there are often no satisfactory modern editions of texts available; the original works almost always have to been transcribed from broken fragments of clay tablets which need to be pieced together, & are usually incomplete even so. Reading the Fathers in Latin is the easiest thing in the world by comparison.

    http://www.sron.nl/~jheise/akkadian/

    http://www.sron.nl/~jheise/akkadian/Welcome_cuneiform.html

  18. Tom in NY says:

    Learned readers can consult the students’ friends at the Loeb Classical Library. Its list includes Ehrman’s collection of The Apostolic Fathers and Augustine. It also includes Josephus and Philo of Alexandria. In my own experience, three terms of university Latin will be enough to get you through the Vulgate (which means Officium Divinum as well), and through the Latin text of the Mass. Remember, there was a time 10-yr old boys memorized the server’s parts of the Mass.
    High school students of Greek can start Homer in three terms, the equivalent of two at university. Reform seminaries show two terms of biblical Greek, where offered (cf. the Mounce book). Students who would try biblical exegesis want as much Greek as possible. The student will need to be able to get into the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, with its Greek entries. The Reader’ Greek New Testament may not be the perfect basis, but it has in footnotes vocabulary words used less than 50X, a boon. The LXX in Greek and English is on line, http://www.katapi.org.us, as well as in hard copies on line.
    Salutationes omnibus.

  19. Tom in NY says:

    Causa patientiae vobis gratias ago.
    erratum: http://www.katapi.org.us
    corrigendum
    http://www.katapi.org.uk

  20. Lori Pieper says:

    “Multiple choice test. Choose one:

    A. Resourcement–do the hard work of learning Latin and Greek to be able to work with the sources of the Church’s patrimony, from New Testament and Apostolic Fathers through all the Patrologia (L & G), the abundance of the Middle Ages (in Latin), and up to modern times.

    B. Aggiornamento–chuck out everything before 1970, use exclusively the vernacular, and study pop psychology and sociology with an emphasis on pastoral needs. Language should be the most modern of modern in order to relate.

    Which choice was made?”

    fvhale,

    I have no idea why you decided to put forth a straightforward factual version of A and then turned the caricature dial up to 11 on B, but once adjusted for that, both are valid and a great deal of both have been done. Ressourcement and aggiornamento weren’t meant to be opposed to each other, but to work together.

    An example: I belong to the Secular Franciscan Order, and one of the great blessings of our order is to have our new Rule, promulgated by Pope Paul VI a couple of months before his death in 1978; it which was developed with both ressourcement and aggiornamento in mind. In accordance with the first, the order went back to its sources and provided a rule much closer to the original ideas of St. Francis of Assisi, with his recently re-discovered letter to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance as its preamble. In accordance with the second, we are required to ask constantly – as we did at our national Congress in Chicago earlier this month — “what does our rule ask and what does St. Francis ask of us now, today, in our cultural climate; that is, how do we reach people with the Gospel message and the spirit of St. Francis in today’s language?” We would not be able to answer this accurately, if we hadn’t had the ressourcement first. This doesn’t mean we have always answered the question perfectly, but at least we have the proper tools to do so.

  21. Tom in NY says:

    Ad sequendum:
    Viz. p. 348, Cursus novem graduum positus est, primo anno: “… sententiae integrae et elegantes, ex Auctoribus decerptae…parabola filii prodigi, ovis perditae, etc.), saltem 100 versiculi,… nonnulli etiam memoriae mandandi sunt…vel brevissima Ciceronis epistula…”, ad viii-ix anno, “selecta … SS. Patribus (Minucio, Lactantio, Ambrosio, Augustino etc.) ; ex Documentis Romanorum Pontificum”.
    That means nine years of Latin in the equivalent of American high school and college. The first year starts with “real” sentences, moves on to the Lost Sheep, Prodigal Son, and 100 lines to be memorized. It moves on by the final years to selections from the Fathers and papal documents.
    Nor do you escape Latin in graduate seminary:
    “§ 1. Seminarii Maioris alumni studium latinae linguae non … deponere debent,” p.352 ” Students in graduate seminary are not allowed… to set aside study of the latin language.” Roma locuta est.
    Salutationes omnibus.

  22. Stephen Matthew says:

    If you want anything to actually happen with any of these ideas, you need to work at having them included in future version of documents like the Program for Priestly Formation (PPF) which sets out how to… translate… as it were, the universal norms to the particular circumstances of the USA for seminary formation. The PPF is the go to document for everyone from diocesan directors of seminarians to seminary formators in the USA, so it is the documents at this level which would need to stress such a subject before it will actually be incorporated.

    The trouble is the requirements for seminary formation are under considerable pressure to grow as it is, with both an extra year of philosophy and an extra year of spiritual formation being talked about, and some areas requiring pastoral year (parish internship, more or less) as well, such that the formation program for a diocese may end up longer than the infamous programs of the Jesuits and Dominicans.

    There is a practical limit to how much resources can be given over to seminary formation. Each diocese has limited budgets, and also a limited number of men in the pipe. If you increase formation requirements, expect to see more requests for funds and a longer lag time until new priests show up in a parish near you. The other key issue is formation resources at the seminaries. There are finite numbers of qualified seminary formators, and in many cases it is not lack of physical space that caps seminary enrollment, rather it it the available formation staff. Quite simply there is something of a shortage of quality formators, what with many bishops being very reluctant to release priests for advanced studies, special assignments, and the like (check the ages of priests with advanced/specialized degrees, on average they are getting older in a hurry); all while the religious orders are often shrinking; and while there are many lay people with advanced degrees, seminary is and must be a different experience than just run of the mill academia.

    If you want more patristics, you are going to have to sell bishops, vocations directors, and seminary rectors on the prospect not just of giving more of it to the seminarians, but in fact slowly rebuilding the entire infastructure needed to do so. That is a generational project, at the least, maybe multi-generational.

    Personally, I think it is a shame that many Protestant seminary grads are in a better shape to read biblical and classical languages than Catholic priests. However, that is partially a result of a shift in emphasis in Catholic seminaries, and partially a consequence of Protestant “sola scriptura”. We have a Church with teaching authority, there is no particular reason it can’t teach in any language, even modern vernacular languages when the need arises.

    This may have come off a bit negative, but in fact I would love to be able to dive into patristic primary sources in original languages. Unfortunately, that opportunity is a rare one these days, and especially so for one who struggles with any sort of second language.

  23. aquinas138 says:

    Parasum – there is a lot of good work being done on St. Ephrem the Syrian; critical editions of most of his most important Syriac hymns were made by Dom Edmund Beck from the 50s through 1979. They can be found in the Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium series. The vast corpus of “Greek Ephrem” material (Greek works purporting to be from Ephrem) has barely been touched, but much of it is believed to be pseudepigraphical.

    St. Ephrem’s value today, I think, would not really be in matters of dogmatics, such as Mariology and Pneumatology, which are somewhat anachronistic areas of theology for his period – he is not really a systematic theologian at all. St. Ephrem, whose most important writings are his hymns rather than his prose commentaries, weaves a complex symbolic theology that would be useful for us to recover in order to rekindle a sacramental view of the world and strengthen our appreciation of the liturgy. A good examination of this can be found in Kees den Biesen’s Simple and Bold: Ephrem’s Art of Symbolic Thought, which is probably hideously expensive to purchase, but worth an interlibrary loan. A good and inexpensive translation of his hymns on Paradise was done by Sebastian Brock and published by St. Vladimir’s Press; it has a good introduction to Ephrem’s (and the Syriac tradition’s) understanding of the Adam and Eve story, which diverges from the Western view in some interesting ways.

  24. Horatius says:

    The problem, at all events, as the original article more than suggests, is Latin. It reduces to that. Restore Latin, and the rest will follow. Failure to do so is the status quo, which is not good enough, which is itself a gross failure.

  25. JayneK says:

    There was a program on EWTN about a group that is doing something to address this need for Latin:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxegQcoHyWU
    I have just returned from the Cenaculam, a week of immersion in the Latin language and Catholic Faith. Here is a description from the website http://www.hieronymus.us.com/ :
    Liturgical celebrations: Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours; Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Eucharistic Benediction.
    Witty lectures about Catholicism dealing with such things as the Faith, prayer, history, the Saints, the Popes, and other matters of great interest.
    Lighter diversions in Latin, especially for beginners, but also for all those who have a sense of humor.
    Discussions on better ways for learning, teaching, and speaking Latin.
    Visual presentations, wherein by the aid of pictures you will more easily understand Latin as a living language

    Attending this event was an uplifting experience and I highly recommend it. I will be returning to future Cenacula, Deo volente.

    PS. Father “Veterum Sapientia” in the online Acta starts on p. 339 of v.54.

  26. robtbrown says:

    arotron theou says:

    May I be permitted to rephrase the question and ask what the readers, and you, Father, think about the linked article’s association of “ressourcement” and “progressive theology?”

    Much of Progressive theology has masqueraded as ressourcement by selecting certain patristic texts that seemed to support German Existentialism. In fact, Joseph Ratzinger has pointed out that a main strategy of some who claimed to advocate ressourcement was to ignore the great Medieval Doctors.

    As an unrepentant Thomist I am free–and obligated– to endorse both ressourcement and aggiornamento.