America Magazine: English should supplant Latin as Church’s official language

From the Jesuit run America with my emphases and very time-pressed comments:

Ave atque Vale
The case for replacing Latin as the official language of the church
Thomas G. Casey | AMERICA, JUNE 8, 2009

Latin is the official language of the Holy See and the Vatican City State, but the working language of the Vatican is Italian. Given its location in Rome, the Vatican’s use of Italian makes perfect sense. As for Latin, though, fewer and fewer seminarians and priests today are familiar with it, and laypeople seldom study it; but official church documents are still published in Latin.

Latin remains essential to the church’s tradition and identity. [NB: "tradition and identity".  But also precision of teaching on faith and morals.  And to be seriously whimsical for a moment, the river of paper from the Holy see to conferences and chanceries around the world could be greatly decreased if clerics of the Latin Church could correspond in Latin.  Save Latin!  Save the planet!] Anyone who wants to study canon law or to understand great Catholic thinkers, like Augustine or Thomas Aquinas, needs a good working knowledge of the language. As the Papal Latinist, Reginald Foster, O.C.D., puts it: “You cannot understand Saint Augustine in English. He thought in Latin. It is like listening to Mozart through a jukebox.”

None of this necessarily means that Latin should continue to be the official language of the church[So… what would be a good reason that it shouldn’t be the official language of the Latin Church?  "tradition and identity" aren’t in themselves enough?] 

Since Spanish is the most common language among Catholics worldwide, it might seem an ideal replacement for Latin[Oh yah?  Which Spanish would that be?  Whose?] But English is (to use an Italian expression) the lingua franca of international trade, business and technology, the international language for communication with the greatest global reach, binding our diverse world in myriad ways. English is also a much more significant international language for the Roman Catholic Church than Latin. Is it time for the Holy See to change its official language?

The question of language arouses emotional resonances linked to questions of history and identity[I think this writer is speaking in merely "cultural" terms, much as one might speak of a "cultural Catholic".  I don’t think that either "tradition and identity" have much real meaning for the writer.  Certain he does not include here any sense of Tradition.  If you change the language, you change the meaning of what you are trying to convey.] The European Union, for example, recognizes 23 official languages, including Irish, which is spoken as a first language by fewer than 50,000 people. In principle, each E.U. language has official status; but in practice, without any official pronouncement to this effect, English has become the working language of the European Union. In some member states English is no longer considered a foreign language. More and more European companies have made English their official language.  [I seee…. the business world has done this.   Good… and the EU is surely a great model for the Church.  Hey wait… didn’t the EU avoid any mention of God in the constitution?]

Does tradition require the Vatican to retain Latin as its official language? [Well… ] In fact, the opposite is true; retaining Latin defies the whole dynamic of its history[So… tradition requires change of something that is "essential to the church’s tradition and identity".] The widespread assumption that Latin has always been the language of the Catholic Church is mistaken (in this article, I use the term Catholic Church as synonymous with Roman Catholic Church). [Oh brother, this tired old chestnut.  I am sure he is going to try to convince you that because there was a change from Greek to Latin… blah blah blah..] The assumption arises from the fact that Christianity was born during the reign of the Roman Empire. Today the [watch the word choice here…] received wisdom among a small but vocal group [Get the line of thought?  First, this is just tired old thinking.  Second, it’s just a few people.  Third, if they are vocal, well… they are probably strident, and that is uncivil, unreasonable.  And that sort of disruptive dissent shouldn’t be allowed in the decision making process.  This is Rawls-speak.] of Catholics is that the church, being based in Rome, inevitably promulgated its dogmas and conducted its liturgies in Latin. [You know… it wasn’t just because they thought Latin was cool.  Think of the reaction the Synod of Pistoia received.] In their view, the decision of the Second Vatican Council in 1964 to allow and encourage the use of vernacular languages, however, led to further erosion of authentic doctrine and practice. [Well… it did.  And the darling of the liberals who talk about the "good Pope" John XXIII conveniently forget that pesky Apostolic Constitution called Veterum sapientiae.] For such people, [such people!] the restoration of Latin would return the church to the internal discipline and high moral high ground it so unwisely surrendered.  [This is a little silly.  No one seriously that a return to Latin would solve all the problems.  But don’t anyone imagine that the loss of Latin didn’t contribute to those problems.  Part of the problem is that the loss of Latin meant also a loss of an entire world view and intellectual discipline.  The formation of minds itself has suffered dreadfully.  With the devolution of a way of educating young people, we have a couple generations now who are a) having a hard time reasoning to accurate conclusions and b) entirely dependent on second and third hand reports about two millennia of our forefathers wisdom and experience.]

Why the Church Chose Greek [Yep… here we go with the tired old chestnut about Greek.]
The historical facts are quite different. Christianity at its origins made a surprising decision: it adopted Greek as its language. The earliest documents of the Christian community were written in Greek. Although Greek was the language most Christians used among themselves, it would have been easier in many ways had they made Hebrew the church’s official language. After all, Hebrew was the revered language of the Jewish Scriptures and the language in which God first revealed his love to the chosen people, and the very earliest Christians (the Apostles) were predominantly Jewish. Yet the church’s surprising decision to switch to Greek paid enormous historical dividends.

The church produced its most creative theology during its first millennium, because it was audacious enough to take Greek as its language. It took the best from the Greek world of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and brought it together with the wisdom of Judaism. This development of the church’s theology can be traced through the seven major ecumenical councils, starting with the First Council of Nicaea in 325 and culminating in the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. All of these defining gatherings of the Catholic Church in the first millennium were held in what is today modern Greece and Turkey. Most of the participants in these councils came from the Eastern or Greek part of the Catholic Church. Every one of these seven councils was conducted in Greek, and all the decrees were issued in Greek.  [Okay… so it was practical and eminently right to use a language that was able to convey concepts with great clarity and was not so susceptible to changing fashions of vernacular languages.  Right?]

Given the historical importance of Greek in the first centuries of Christianity, it is surprising today to encounter zealous young seminarians and priests who are enthusiastic about Latin, [Something "surprising" is to be seen as something "bad".  And, btw, Latin was also fairly important.] thinking it is rooted in a 2,000-year-old connection with the church. They imagine they are returning to the genesis of Christianity, but they have unknowingly erased the first centuries of church history.  [Another instance of how liberals think people are stupid.  Seminarians who know about Latin enough to be interested in learning it and using it also know about the importance of Greek.]

Such selective amnesia [Wow… he is starting to show his real attitude now.] was also evident in Mel Gibson’s controversial film “The Passion.” In the film Gibson has the Roman soldiers speaking Latin, a historical blunder. [Right… Roman soldiers in the early first century would never have spoken Latin.] Was Gibson led to this mistake because of his attachment to the Latin Tridentine liturgy and the conservative Catholic lens through which he views early Christianity? Scholars agree that the common language of the Roman Empire in the Middle East was Greek. Greek was, in fact, widely used in Italy and Rome at the time of Jesus. There is little doubt that Pilate and Roman military officers garrisoned in Palestine would have been Greek-speakers.  [Pilate was a Greek speaker.  Sure! Most educated Romans were Greek speakers.  Most soldiers could get along in the languages of the places they occupied.  Legions also were formed in part from indigenous peoples and then moved around.  Their’s was a very mobile, integrated and very oral society.  I suspect that Roman soldiers spoke Latin.  And the Latin in the film is pretty much Latin baby talk.  You know… I think people forget that Latin is a language that can be spoken.  I have have conversations in Latin.  It is not that hard.  It isn’t harder to speak in Latin than any other language that can be spoken… and lived it.  People used to do everything they did from womb to tomb in Latin and they weren’t any smarter than we are.  Live in a country for a while, in a place without access to your own language, you will learn the local patois.  Why is this hard?  But I think Roman soldiers probably spoke Latin along with everything else it was convenient to speak.]

The Switch to Latin  [This is where the argument gets a little boring.  He hasn’t thought much about what he is arguing here, or read recent articles about this topic.  But… keep going…]
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. The decision to take on Latin had major ramifications: By identifying with the Roman Empire, would the church appear to endorse imperialism? Why would it throw in its lot with the Roman Empire, which in many respects was antithetical to Christian ideals and values? Would it be more appropriate to retain Greek?  [ho hum]

Yet Latin won the day. One can recognize the great potential of Latin simply from observing the beauty and economy of this most resourceful of languages. [Not to mention that whole thing about our Catholic "tradition and identity" this same writer brought in at the beginning.] The very structure of Latin gave new clarity and precision to the teaching of the church. [Not a bad reason to use it, though Greek in some respects remains more precise for certain things.] Although common or “vulgar” Latin deteriorated into a series of dialects that were to become the basis of languages like Italian, French, Portuguese and Spanish, classical Latin itself remained unchanged. Since it was no longer used daily, this more refined Latin was not subject to alteration. It thus provided the Catholic Church with a stable norm by which to evaluate the correctness of doctrinal and theological expressions in other languages. For centuries, Latin continued to be a critical point of reference for the Catholic Church. [Ummmm… was it a "point of reference" or "essential to tradition and identity"?  He finally got around to the differentiation between spoken Latin in the streets and the Latin used in the Church.  What he does is conflate them.]
A Case for English
Has the time now come to change the official language of the church to English? [Absurd.]  Introducing English does not mean jettisoning Latin. [Really?] Latin has been around for a long time, and long may it continue. The Catholic Church, because of its universality, should be able to draw on the rich storeroom of tradition. But perhaps it is time for the official status of Latin to correspond to its actual use[Cui bono?  The fact is that all the vernacular translations would still have to be produced.  I wonder… do you suppose that this guy doesn’t know Latin very well and wants, for his own reading and work, to read his native tongue?  In any event, change the language and you still have exactly the same problem of producing multiple translations.  The problem is that you have now presented the Church teachings in a language the evolution of which simply screams rapid change!]

There would be many advantages to the adoption of English as the official language of the Roman Catholic Church. First, English is already spoken across many different nations. [In a constantly shifting way.] It is the official language of roughly 50 countries worldwide and is used at least to some degree by almost two billion people. Second, English is an extremely flexible language: many nouns can be used as verbs—for instance “mention,” “book,” “proposition”—or as adjectives, as in “vegetable soup.” English incorporates new words and expressions to respond to cultural shifts and changes: “information superhighway” or “search engine.”  [WOW!  You could never say those things in Latin!] Third, English is an extraordinarily inventive language. New words and expressions are continually being coined: bad hair day, carjacking, road rage, soccer mom. [Some would say that these phrases debase English.  In any event, they are ephemeral.  All spoken languages have this characteristic.] The language never stops venturing into new territory. [Ummm…. languages don’t venture anywhere.  People’s minds do.] As such it is ideally suited to our constantly changing world[Nope.  Anything you can say in English, you can say in Latin if you understand the concept.  Perhaps for the sake of shorthand some neologisms can be used, but… he is treating Latin as if it really isn’t a language that people ever used.  And when you are talking about our tradition and identity, at least in a deeper sense, we don’t want continual change according to the times.]

Then there is the truth behind something Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote: “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”  [In a sense, this undermines his own argument.  I refer you to Dorothy Sayers’ arguments for the use of Latin in education.]

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.”  [There is no question that English can be useful.  But its immediate usefulness is not a compelling argument.  And don’t forget he brought in the concepts of tradition and identity.  Change the language, you change our tradition and identity.  But if you don’t ascribe too much importance to those, well… you can change anything.]

Does this smack more of rupture or continuity?

I am sure you readers will have some intelligent things to say.

I think we can avoid the simple declarations that "Latin is nice" or "I like Latin" or, on the other hand "Latin is hard" or "Latin is old".

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. How far the sons of St. Ignatius have strayed.
    There is no “via media” — remember Aristotle’s analogy of men bending timber from the “Ethics” ?
    Too easy = no interest. I actually participate more fully when I have to read the Latin ahead of time before going to Mass, but then I’m not fluent in Latin.

  2. Timbot says:

    “But English is (to use an Italian expression) the lingua franca of international trade, business and technology, the international language for communication with the greatest global reach, binding our diverse world in myriad ways.\”
    In 1930, French was de rigeur for diplomacy, and 75% of all technical publications were in German, these were both swept away within a generation with the rise of American global supremacy. Political and economic vicissitudes may quite rapidly lead to a reversal of fortune for English. What should the Vatican do then?

  3. Jack says:

    I attended my first Tridentine Mass on Sunday and it was beautiful, Latin is a beutifull language, Keep the Latin. A common langauge (something V2 didn’t get rid of but reduced) also has the added benefit of being able to confess to ANY priest even abroad.
    PS doesn’t Cannon Law require the teaching of Latin in semenaries ?

  4. Thomas says:

    The jettisoning of Latin is so typical of the Modernists who gave us “multiculturalism.” There’s nothing less multicultural than multiculturalism. It in fact kills culture and replaces it with secularism.

    Furthermore, the suppression of Latin has resulted in division and isolation between what is left of true culture in Christendom. The Church’s universal language was a grace from God that helped reconcile the divisions of Babel. But those who wish to supplant God himself now try to mimick His actions by dividing Catholics again by robbing them of their common prayer.

    Being a 27-year old, I have known nothing but the post-conciliar Church, so it is easy to get discouraged. Those like me should take a longer view of salvation histroy and take solace in the fact that the past 40 years will NOT have the last word.

    And by the grace of God that last word will be in Latin.

  5. problem says:

    I would have to say that I am inclined to agree with the author’s position that English should become the official language of the Church. Now I want to be clear. I would like it if Latin were to continue as the official language since I can actually read Latin and love Latin. It must be admitted, however, that Latin is no longer a functional language in the Church even at the highest levels. Recall that when the CCC was being composed the drafters had to work in French rather than Latin.

    The problem that I have is that when serious theological issues have to be adjudicated, the Church, is going to have serious problems. It is one thing to read past decisions and apply them, it is another to have to compose documents in Latin with the necessary precision. We will become increasingly dependent on Latinists and a very small group of experts.

    Imagine Vatican III (I do not mean this as it is commonly used). How would the majority of bishops even vote on, let alone compose, a document that they could not really read.

  6. Fr. Kowalski says:

    The article by Tom Casey certainly didn’t surprise me especially considering the magazine it appeared in. What I did find offensive was Tom Casey’s attitude about those of us who offer Holy Mass in Latin [both in the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms]. It seems that the attitude when the motu proprio came out was fear on the part of that group and a desire to see it fail. Now that that hasn’t happened, the gloves are off and the nastiness can finally appear. I liken it to lancing a boil and allowing the ooze and muck to come out so that true healing can begin. Or, as a priest friend of mine put it, “What can you expect from a pig but a grunt” [no offense to the pig]. :-)

    Peace y’all!

  7. Terry says:

    There wasn’t enough of an establish hierarchy for Latin or Greek to be declared the “language of the Church,” was there? Does the “Greek as the language of the Church” argument stem from the fact that all of the major councils originally “published” their decrees in Greek, or that Greek was the language of the Eastern Fathers, who were the primary “movers and shakers” for many of those councils? That would seem to ignore the importance of the Latin Fathers altogether.

    The argument seems incredibly ethnocentric, when one thinks about it. Latin, in many respects, is a neutral language, which makes it an ideal universal language of the Church, and especially of the Vatican (outside of its importance as a the basis of Latin theology). The spread of English seems to have too many nasty connections with British and American imperialism for it to sit comfortably with some folks, I should think. This sounds like too much of a pragmatic (ham-fisted?) American response, to a delicate question of tradition and identity.

    Finally, the openness and flexibility of the Germanic languages that the author extols, compared to the sweet precision of Latin and Greek, is especially problematic in theological discussion (that was half the disagreement between East and West, wasn’t it? Confusion in the use of terms?). The last thing we need is more “creative” theology in Church.

  8. Jeff M says:

    I have a hard time believing the author wrote this as a practical suggestion. Is there really any chance the Europeans would allow English to become the official language of the Church? Seems to me he is more interested in showing that Latin shouldn’t regarded as a sacred language. It’s part of that common modernist trend to see every tradition of the Church as the result of human history, which would of course make every tradition subject to change by human beings. But it makes his argument disingenuous. Anyway, I love Greek–if he’s so in love with it as well, he should have made the obvious suggestion to return the liturgy to Greek!

  9. “Introducing English does not mean jettisoning Latin. Latin has been around for a long time, and long may it continue. The Catholic Church, because of its universality, should be able to draw on the rich storeroom of tradition.”

    BS. Has the author not noticed what has happened in the past few decades? With the widespread introduction of the vernacular into the liturgy and a significant downplay (if not outright removal) of Latin in education, even most clerics do not have sufficient tools to “draw on the rich storeroom of tradition.” The decline of the use of Latin is directly related to the decline of our knowledge and understanding of our Catholic patrimony. If Latin were to be replaced as the Church’s official language, this trend would only continue at an ever more rapid pace. With no need to consult a text in its Latin original, there would be even less motivation for busy clergy to keep up the rudimentary Latin skills that they currently have. There would develop as much a forgetfulness of the old, Latin-speaking Church as this author seems to think there is now of the “original,” Greek-speaking Church.

    We already have enough of a crisis about our Catholic identity. Why would we ever want to make it worse?

  10. Andrew, medievalist says:

    If Latin was good enough for the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council to use in their SPOKEN speeches and debates, then I think we should stick with the “spirit of the Council”.

    But seriously, as indicated above, if we’re going to use English because it’s a common language then why not have used French a century ago; Chinese next century; and even Arabic (ironic eh?) in the next? And, sorry to let him in on this, but English is a minority language in the Catholic world. I’m fairly sure that Spanish comes first. Another example of the north-western Church (of which I’m admittedly a part) thinking it is the only part of the Church.

  11. A Random Friar says:

    You know what’s weird? If this writer made that same suggestion at almost any parish in the US, he’d be a labelled an intolerant immigrant-phobe. But since it\’s Rome… And actually, international English used by non-natives is often a kind of English we don\’t really recognize well here in the U.S. It can sound somewhat jarring to Americans.

    Jeff M: wasn’t there a joke about the SSPI (Society of St. Pius I) that advocated returning to the Greek liturgy?

  12. Athelstane says:

    This is a protean solution. Think about it:

    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.

    Who knows what will obtain in 2100 or 2200?

    And if it is English, how much will it have changed?

    Latin, however, has been around since the beginning, more or less. There is much to be said for staying with the same language. Not least because it is – unlike English – dead, and therefore not likely to change in any substantial fashion.

    And let’s not even mention the kinds of resentments against American (or Anglophone at any rate) cultural, economic and political hegemony that would be inflamed by such a move.

  13. Ray from MN says:

    If future documents were to be in English, who will be doing the translation of 2,000 years of existing documents into English so that original meanings and intent could be maintained?

    Forty years of experience with the translation of the Mass from Latin into English have resulted in some dreadful, confusing and conflicting translations.

    For example, the French say “pour nous” and English speakers say “for us men.” Which is the proper translation.

    There is one word in English for “love.” The Greeks have three or four that have been translated properly into Latin.

    The word “you” in English may mean both the singular and the plural.

    I am a near illiterate when it comes to foreign languages. But I can recognize bad translations.

    Changing the Church’s official language to English would be a disaster, especially if certain Church officials now responsible for the translations of Latin into English for the Mass would continue in their positions.

    Their philosophy is to keep the language of the Church as simple as possible so the uneducated can understand it.

  14. Clayton says:

    Actually, if this guy were REALLY forward thinking, he would realize the way things are going and suggest we change the church language to LOLspeak.

    Sez teh black does teh reds.

  15. Rancher says:

    Consider the source. End of comment

  16. I think I’ll stick with Latin, I’d have the ability to confess to anyone.

  17. Geremia says:

    The Baltimore Catechism makes it very clear:

    Q. 566. Why does the Church use the Latin language instead of the national language of its children?
    A. The Church uses the Latin language instead of the national language of its children:
    1. To avoid the danger of changing any part of its teaching in using different
    2. That all its rulers may be perfectly united and understood in their communications;
    3. To show that the Church is not an institute of any particular nation, but the guide of all nations.

  18. Matthew says:

    This smacks of Americanism to me.

    No offence to my neighbours to the South, whom I admire greatly and whose ideals are noble, but America as a Nation doesn’t seem very good at learning other languages. Perhaps some Brits would claim that they aren’t even very good at learning English. I come from a place where most people speak two languages (French and English) from the time they’re about seven, and Europeans and Africans seem even more apt to learn langauges than us. I get a great kick out of Americans who spend decades just trying to rub two words together in Spanish or French. That’s not to say that there aren’t great American linguists, just that Joe the Plumber would probably have a difficult time getting to the Third Declension. Why this is is not for me to say. America ia fine nation with many fine people. However, this article could only have been written by an American. As has been suggested above, the author seems (possibly) frustrated that he doesn’t know Latin, and thinks the world ought to function in his native language.

  19. Geremia says:

    Sorry, I meant to type:

    Q. 566. Why does the Church use the Latin language instead of the national language of its children?
    A. The Church uses the Latin language instead of the national language of its children:
    1. To avoid the danger of changing any part of its teaching in using different languages;
    2. That all its rulers may be perfectly united and understood in their communications;
    3. To show that the Church is not an institute of any particular nation, but the guide of all nations.

  20. Geremia says:

    “Comment by Geremia — 9 June 2009 @ 7:13 pm” is from the Baltimore Catechism.

  21. In response to self-identified “progressives,” I would answer that Latin is inclusive across space and time. (They love “inclusivity.”} Choosing one modern language over others “privileges” that language and its associated culture. (“Privileges” is another progressive or postmodern favorite.) And another thing: the economy of Latin saves paper, since fewer words entails fewer sheets of paper printing them. Hence, Latin is terrific for the environment!

    Moreover, Latin is nice and hard, not to mention old, which is why I like it. ;)

  22. Magdalene says:

    Just one of the many things those at America would like to change about the church. Ignore them and move on!

  23. Tzard says:

    That’s the undercurrent – pick a language which is malleable – and you can eventually manipulate the words.

    I’m sure he’s all gay about this proposal… Oops, the meaning of that word has changed – I meant happy.

    Reminds me of “newspeak”….

  24. Happy Apple User says:

    Latin provides a common language for Catholics throughout the world. I would have an easier time following Mass in Italy if it was said in Latin. And the same applies to all countries; Latin binds us together while using the vernacular language divides.

  25. Claudius says:

    There are so many problems with this idea that we should switch to English that I don’t even know where to start and that is still trying not to say again what FR. Z has already said.

    What does it matter the language that the Church chooses for its official documents? Ok, as far as teaching is concerned we want to be able to have a base, I get that but then English is the worst base you could choose. Many words have been warped to not mean anything close to what they are supposed to mean that this has happened on purpose because English speakers are by in large Anti-Catholic bigots. Just look up the original meaning of words like Propaganda or any other Latin word that English has butchered. Then look up some native English words like Silly and you will see that even these have had their meaning forced into a change because political leaders didn’t like the way they were used. It used to be common for English speakers to say “silly Mary” when the word silly meant Blessed. But no, we couldn’t leave that alone, the English speakers’ hatred of the Blessed Mother forced Silly to now mean STUPID. Is this really the language that we want our OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS in?

    What is more is that entire fallacy that Greek was the first official language. Anyone who knows real Church history will know that the original followers of the Blessed Lord Jesus didn’t speak Hebrew, they spoke a dialect of Aramaic called Syriac. We even see in the Acts that when a letter was to be written after the council of Jerusalem that it was written in the language of the Apostles, Syriac, and then later translated into Greek. Much of the new testament shows very clear signs that it was not originally written in Greek but rather was translated into Greek after it had already been written in a Semitic language, like perhaps Syriac.

    What is far more important, at least to me, than the language of the official documents, which really could be changed to any language it requires at the time, is the language of the liturgy. Take a look in the Acts again and see that the Liturgy was done in Syriac and was only allowed to be done in Greek after the Greeks complained. The first Christians did not do the liturgy in Hebrew, not to knock Hebrew but they didn’t. They did the liturgy at first in Syriac and later allowed Greek as a vernacular. When St. Tomas made his way to India he didn’t bring Greek with him, be brought Syriac.

    But still it can not be questioned that Greek served the Church well for many years. At the same time, so did Syriac. The locations of the first councils were set up so that members of the Syriac group and the Greek group could meet together. Their documents were promulgated in both Syriac and Greek and later also in Latin. Interesting how those were also the languages that were above The Blessed Lord Jesus as he died for our sins.

    Now when it comes to liturgy we need to remember that there are seven “official” liturgical languages inside the Catholic Church. There is of course Latin, Syriac and Greek but also Coptic (Egyptian), Slavonic (ancient Russian), Ge’ez (Ethiopian) and Armenian. I would love to see this guy try going to the Maronites and telling them that they had to switch from the language that the Blessed Lord Jesus spoke to English. I can only hope that the sound of the laughing didn’t wake someone up in the middle of the night.

    But Latin has a special place, at least for me. While I probably have shown myself to really have a soft spot for Syriac, it is in the end a rather difficult language if you do not dedicate a lot of time and energy to learning it. Monks who join a Maronite monastery that uses Syriac will be able to learn it as they will then be living in it but normally the language is very difficult for a non Semitic speaker. Even Coptic is easier to learn. This is perhaps why the Blessed Lord Jesus used this language. It is very precise and the verb lets you know not only who the subject is but also who the object is.

    Latin is a much easier language to learn, even easier than English for the second language learner. More than this though, in the history of the Church Latin represents faithfulness and victory where other languages don’t. So many of the Syriac speaking Christians fell into heresy and the schisms from this are long lasting. The Greeks as well fell into schism and took the Slavonics with them. The Coptics went into schism and the Ge’ez were founded in schism. Little by little falseness of Islams subjugated them. Now today we have millions of these people claiming to be Christians and yet at the same time saying that Catholics aren’t Christians. As for the Greek documents, no one but Catholics ever take the time to read them since surely they schismatics would not remain in schism if they ever actually read the documents of the first seven oecumentical councils.

    Even the Romance languages represent people who began as faithful people of God and then later turned their back on God. We don’t even need to talk about German with its Luther and Hitlers. The Italian state was anti-Catholic for a while, and the modern French and Spanish states are becoming more and more so. And then you have the English. They prance around with the “we’re catholic too. See little c”. garbage all the while spreading their hateful racism and bigotry all over the world.

    English represents a faithless people who have turned their backs on God. Using English as the “official” language of the Church only forces Catholics into the culture and mindset of an English speaker, which puts faith in danger. English culture was hacked and redesigned to have anti-Catholicism built into it. How can we possible endorse this by elevating English to “official” status? What we should do is give the faithful a full and viable alternative to the satanic protestantism of the English so that they never need to speak English if they don’t want to. A different language is a different culture and we want to build up the people of God and their culture not contribute to the culture of a brute nation bent of world domination and destruction.

  26. wmeyer says:

    Uh huh. We should force English on the Church, and further the advance of applause during the Mass.

    The American Church is in serious trouble. Only a minority of bishops spoke out about Notre Shame. My own Archbishop was, as usual on important issues, silent. In fact, the diocesan paper barely managed even to insert some of the watered down commentary from CNS, and that, just about a week before that dark day.

    Give me Latin. Give me more bishops with the character of those who went on record. Let every parish offer a Latin Mass — at least one — each Sunday, and we will see a great interest in church attendance (in particular the presently disaffected teens), and an increase, I am sure, in vocations.

  27. Mitchell NY says:

    Sad to read this article was even written…I think now would be a good time for Pope Benedict to speak publically about Veterum Sapientia….It should be sent to every seminary with perhaps some additional thoughts from our Holy Father….Parishes should also see it appearing in their bulletins or at least parts of it..It is clear time to re emphasize its’ importance in this day and age when it is undergoing further attack..That Apolostolic Constitution has been shoved aside long enough..Maybe someone can link it as a response to this article…This is an attack on Catholic identity…Latin’s decline has already been allowed to go too far..

  28. Mark VA says:

    It seems to be an ethnocentric and historically insensitive argument – use the language that is currently popular (that I also happen to be fluent in).

    English, for all its wonderful adaptability and resourcefulness, doesn’t have roots deep enough to reach back to the very beginnings of Christianity (and, except for Greek, no other European language does). It was Latin and Greek that had a profound influence on the development of all other European languages, not vice versa. Thus, Latin needs to be cultivated because it’s a reference point for the meaning of many words, common and technical, that are in use in many languages. Ditto for Greek.

    Another aspect of this argument that the author omits, is that to speak a language well and with ease, the speaker should think in it while speaking it. It is my experience that languages, when thought in, exert their own specific influences on the very thought patterns themselves. Latin, via its clarity, brevity, and beauty, when in the service of our Church, has proven itself to be a civilizing and a clarifying force on the minds of its recipients. I would argue that in this respect, it continues to provide the pattern for the other, younger, upstart languages to follow.

  29. RMT says:

    If he wants a church where the “lingua franca” (an ironic choice of words considering his argument) is english, then he should look next door to the Anglicans.

  30. Paul says:

    Clearly, if the author wants to get ahead of the curve, he should be proposing Mandarin or Arabic. It the West doesn’t stop commiting cultural suicide, the next century will be dominated by the Chinese or by Muslims.


    (It’d be nice to learn an old language such as Latin. If it is not too hard, I’d like it.)

  31. EDG says:

    “words slip, sway, decay with imprecision…” I don’t remember the rest, it’s a line from Eliot, one of the Four Quartets.

    Latin is important because it is precise in the way a vernacular language can’t be. I’m a professional translator, and believe me, there are a million ways you can say the same thing in a translation – or think you’re saying it but be saying something entirely different, or, worse still, you are saying something that is just enough different so that the shade of meaning has shifted. In addition, meaning can shift on its own, in a generation or in a decade or even when the latest TV show phrase has become stale and been abandoned.

    I realize that precision means nothing to the folks at America, who are of that crowd for whom all things are relative, all things subjective. It probably scares them. They fear Latin because they fear truth.

  32. Peggy says:

    I bet this same guy opposes English as the official language of the U.S. b/c of the alleged discrimination against immigrants.

  33. Ioannes Andreades says:

    The writer never defines what he means by “official” nor addresses how official languages may serve specific interests in one institution (e.g. the E.U.) but serve different interests in a different institution (e.g. the Church).

    The idea that the lack of dinstinctive nominal and verbal morphology in English is a plus is ridiculous. One of the big problems that on-line translators have is that they can’t tell the difference between and English noun and a verb. Moreover, as Calvin once said to Hobbes, “Verbing weirds language.”

    BTW, Claudius, I disagree with almost everything you say about Syriac…for what that’s worth.

  34. Mark says:

    “Now when it comes to liturgy we need to remember that there are seven “official” liturgical languages inside the Catholic Church. There is of course Latin, Syriac and Greek but also Coptic (Egyptian), Slavonic (ancient Russian), Ge’ez (Ethiopian) and Armenian.”

    The very point I was going to bring up.

    Latin is the official language of the Latin Church, not strictly speaking “the Church” as some Rome-triumphalist trads try to portray it.

    But, of course, since the Universal authority of the Holy See is intrinsically linked to the local church of Rome, its Rite happens to be the Roman and its language Latin.

    And this is good and fine. Where is starts to disturb me a bit is when, for example, the Code of Canons of the EASTERN Catholic Churches is promulgated in Latin, of all things! But, then again, it disturbs me more than a bit that all those disparate traditions are lumped into one Code of Canons as if “Eastern” can really be a catch-all category for, say, both Russians and Ethiopians. But that’s another topic for another time…

    If this writer wants to propose, say, introducing hieratic shakespearian English as an official language for, say, an Anglican Rite (sadly, it looks like that’s not the path they’re going to let the TAC take…), fine. Good.

    Or, yes, possibly publishing all Vatican documents in Latin AND English, but that’s mainly already done, I think.

    There would be no purpose for this except to put a few men (like Fr Foster) out of jobs and maybe save a little money. Otherwise, why make the change “official”. Why not publish it in Latin (in addition to the other languages the Holy See usually issues an official translation in)? The only reason I think is because they have an axe to grind with tradition.

  35. Clayton says:

    This is a ridiculous notion. First, it makes two false assumptions: that the Holy See has an official language and that English represents a political reality to which the Church has ascribed. The fact is that Latin did NOT replace Greek as the official language of the Church, only the language of the Holy See and her dependent sees as Patriarch of the West. Greek, Ge’ez, Coptic, Aramaic, were all in use at the same time. Greek was not even replaced by Latin in the Roman church until the political situation made the Roman see a sort of ‘national’ institution in the Empire. The results of that change were mixed in their value even at the time and, were it not for the surge of theological lights (e.g. St. Augustine) composing in Latin, I’m not sure that it was worth it even then. Why should we go changing it now, if it was such a difficult and somewhat questionable procedure back then?

    Moreover, a change in language necessitated a change in RITE. I have no problem, for example, if a mass conversion of former Anglicans results in an Anglican Use that only uses English and a minimum of Latin. Whatever. No doubt it probably will happen someday. But to simply adopt a new language assumes that a rite is ‘at home’ or natural in that new language. This is not true with the Roman or the Greek liturgies, nor, for that matter, with the Coptic liturgies.

    Finally, Latin is currently moving to be the third most studied foreign language in American schools. On what basis then does the cultural relevance of Latin appear to be dying, even in America, where, like Roman North Africa for Latin, English probably has the most privileged and exclusive usage?

  36. “It seems to be an ethnocentric and historically insensitive argument – use the language that is currently popular (that I also happen to be fluent in).”

    This statement alone betrays the author’s true bias, therefore the weakness in his case. Other traditional languages of the universal Church’s worship — Greek, Old Slavonic, Arabic, Ge’ez, and so on — do not change the fact that said universal Church is governed from Rome, and Her magisterium is centered in Rome. Thus it is appropriate that Her official language be that of Rome, which can only be Latin. (No, not Italian, as Rome was not always part of Italy.)

    A common language, one that has a steady history of usage free from the whims of changing meaning, is well suited to foster mutual understanding among diverse people. English currently serves this purpose in the world of business, as well as in computing. Latin has served a similar purpose in the Church for much, much, MUCH longer.

    To forget where one has been, says little for where one is now, and renders uncertain where one is going. Such drivel as the America piece is little more than one author’s musings, and should be treated for what it is, and nothing more.

  37. Ioannes Andreades says:

    Latin was the legal language of the Greek East far into the Byzantine empire and long after the last Roman emperor ruled in Italy. Remember, all of Justinian’s legal promulgations were in Latin. Roman law was perhaps ancient Rome’s most enduring contribution to civilization.

  38. The Masked Chicken says:

    Oh, good grief. The only reason to consider switching to English would be that Latin is too hard to learn. History has shown that it is not. Now, if the official language of the Church were Mandarin Chinese, the author might have a point, but even then…

    English is a mercurial language and the language he holds so dear, today, will be gone within fifty years do to effects such as linguistic broadening and context shifting. We can read documents written in Latin from a thousand years ago. Does the author seriously think that a thousand years from now English texts of today will make any sense except to experts? There is a sensible reason to use an immutable language, such as Latin.

    Has he never heard of the concept of onomasiology!!

    The Chicken

  39. Tom Cole says:

    English? Language of the Church? The Roman Catholic Church? What a terribly odd suggestion!
    Could we pick a less precise and more irregular language for theological definitions? English is a mess!

    I think it is extremely important that the Roman Church maintain Latin, the language of its ancient liturgy, its Doctors, its Popes, its Councils, and its theological definitions & debates for a healthy bit over 1,000 years. Nothing assists continuity like being able to pray, meditate, study, and debate in the very same tongue. Indeed, if Latin was not official, I would highly doubt it would be possible to find Latin texts for recent Church documents — “why bother” once it is only an oddity for scholars?

  40. Jordan says:

    I also don\’t think that a love for Latin has to be associated only with \”traditionalism\” (something the author of this article obviously fears). I attend the Novus Ordo Mass regularly- I follow this blog because I have the hope that Mass can be made more reverent and be more conscious of our Liturgical history.

    I started learning Latin last year, not because I plan on always attending the EF, but because I was always envious of religions that had their own sacred languages. Christianity is universal, so it does not have a central language in the sense of Arabic or Hebrew. But this does not mean that something should not or can not have pride of place.

    Even if I hear Mass nearly always in English, I love to be able to write small prayer cards for my shrine in Latin, to use Latin terminology when discussing theology and to just sound really cool at parties. One day I hope to be able to read the documents of Vatican II and the Latin Fathers.

    Its a hobby- and yes, it does strengthen my sense of Catholic identity.

  41. problem says:

    Dear all,

    No one has really addressed the problem that I posed earlier (@ 6:23). Yes, fine, this hatred of Latin is a form of modernism. Latin is an excellent language for theological discourse, fine. Latin is sacred, fine.

    Everyone has to admit that the current reality that Latin is now almost dead. Even in the hierarchy there is only a small portion whose Latinity is sufficient for basic theological work at an advanced level. It is one thing for a priest to say Mass in the EF and to be able to pronounce the words and have a general understanding of what they signify. It is an entirely different thing for our bishops to compose documents in a language that they barely understand. This is no small matter.

    The argument that Latin is a fixed language and therefore better for engaging in theological discourse is simply not true. Language is only fixed because individuals agree on the what the terms signify. Now in the Church we have decided that certain terms are to designate certain things. Of course when Latin was chosen it was not a fixed language it was a developing language. Even in the theological world during the reformation, Latin was retained as the academic language for Protestant theological discourse in Germany. They simply took terms like gratia and made it mean something else. We could simply select or create proper English terms for our concepts and provide definitions. It has been done before (i.e. in Latin).

    There is no reason one cannot have a sacred language in English. The Anglicans have essentially constructed a sacred language (although they have attempted to dismantle it).

  42. Cromagnum (a cave man for the Everlasting Cave Man) says:

    I think we need to take this a step further in favor of liturgical and canonical tradition

    We need a line of Catholic childrens toys that are labeled in Latin and 1 vernacular. Start teaching Latin at an earlier age. A 3-5 year old could recognize and learn it faster. And maybe plant a seed of a vocation.

  43. Richard says:

    I bet these same people would cry ‘fanatical nationalism’ if someone were to suggest making English the United States’ official language – which would make one wonder why they would suggest making English the official language of the Church over that of the US.

  44. TNCath says:

    For many the Latin language represents the “Pre-Vatican II” Church, which many believe is something that was abandoned many years ago. This erroneous idea is one part of the rupture of the hermeneutic of continuity that has done great damage to the Church the past 40 years.

    Yesterday I was visiting my old home parish. In the original church, now used as a chapel for daily Masses, were the old altar cards hanging on a wall in the vestibule. Underneath the cards was a plaque that read “Original Altar Tablets for St. — Church, Pre-Vatican II.” My first reaction was the plaque’s referring to them as “tablets.” My second reaction was referring to them as “Pre-Vatican II,” as if there was some kind of taboo attached to them. This is what I think Latin has become to so many in the Church today–a kind of taboo.

  45. philip says:

    Latin had St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine.

    English has Texts for Nothing, Finnegan’s Wake, and the federal tax code.

  46. Geoffrey says:

    Oh, I needed a laugh!

  47. Terry says:

    “Latin had St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine.”

    And St. Hilary, St. Leo, and Tertullian. I don’t want any Latin Fathers to feel left out.

  48. Lee says:

    1) Well, leaving the “official language” problem to one side for a moment, every morning I go to Radio Vaticana and read news of the Catholic Church in Italian while listening to the audiofile in Italian. I also subscribe to both the English and Italian versions of Zenit. Both with Zenit and Radio Vaticana, there is far more material published in Italian than in English. This is often completely maddening, because much of this material is striking and inspiring, but it is only accessible to Italophones. WHY??? It strikes me as completely nuts. With educated people all over the world scrambling to learn English, why does the Church insist on speaking to them mostly in Italian?

    I know, I know, Radio Vaticana broadcasts in x number of languages. But a lot of wonderful stuff is left in italian. It should all be in English, too, at least. And, yes, next century if everyone is scrambling to learn Mandarin and that has become the commercial lingua franca, Church documents, addresses, stories should come out in Mandarin. Why not? We are a universal Church, right? Don’t we want to speak to everybody? Why is it bad form to communicate in the lingua franca? The Church should follow Fr Z’s example.

    2) To me it seems very ironic that the Jews, who do not believe in the resurrection, recently revived their liturgical language which had been a dead language centuries before Christ and made it, Hebrew, a living language of today.

    Until we mount a similar effort, we simply aren’t serious about preserving our Latin heritage, Reginald Foster and various papal documents notwithstanding. Even today the Jews are very serious about keeping their language updated and have an institute of scholars at work on the task. We have nothing of the kind.

    If one has the time and a scholarly temperament, one can fight his way into competency in Latin, no doubt about it. So only scholars should have access to the Fathers, to the Ambrosian hymns, to the culture of the Church? Where are the daily podcasts in the Church pronunciation, the vulgar pronunciation, podcasts that would bring Joe Catholic along day by day into the cultural riches that are for now his inaccessible inheritance?

    Yes, I know there are various materials available now, but they are inadequate to the job. We need a series of books or tapes or podcasts that will take a person of average intelligence from “amo, amas, amat” along a steady continuum to an ability to read the Vulgate and Fathers of the Church, to be able to sing her psalms and hymns with understanding. Beyond that, with today’s technology, it should not be too difficult to launch a Latin version of, for example, and actually resurrect the spoken language.

    3) It drives me to distraction to hear the virtues of having a dead language as our official language. Latin was not adopted by the Church as her official language because it was a dead language, but because it was a living one. If we really want it to remain our official language, then we definitely need to resurrect it. For that task must we await the conversion of the Jews?

  49. supertradmom says:

    By the way, all over the ancient Roman world, Latin graffiti written by soldiers in the Roman army, has been found on stones. Latin drinking songs, Latin “vernacular” as opposed to professional poems, and trite Latin verse have also been discovered. Latin was used in the public drama, which everyone understood, including tourists and peasants.

    Gibson’s movie is most likely very accurate. Yes, “street Greek” was spoken in the Middle East, but so was Latin. And, just wondering, why is it considered a difficult language to learn? I teach English to foreign students and English is a much more difficult language to master.

  50. problem says:

    I agree with Lee on the pathetic resources availible to those who wish to learn Latin. Compare the current offering of Latin aids at even a very fine Catholic bookstores to those of Greek aids at a Protestant bookstore. No contest. The Protestants have computer programs for Greek and Hebrew that are actually quite good. Unless something changes we are in for a much bigger problem than most realize. The problem will be the result, not of people not wanting Latin (as some of you seem to think), the real problem is that even those who want it are generally unable to understand it and have no real way to resurrect it (without some serious demands from the Pope). Recall currently according to the OT and CIC catholic priests are to know Latin so as to be able read our Tradition in the original. What seminarian is able to do this? (I am not suggesting it is their fault.) At most seminaries all that is required is two semesters of Latin prior to starting theology.

  51. problem says:


    Latin is difficult to learn for one very important reason: there is no one with whom one can speak. I personally have known only five individuals who could converse in Latin. One naturally learns a language as I am sure you are aware by conversing in it which is the brilliant aspect to Fr. Foster’s class. For the most part the only people with whom I may converse in Latin are dead, the saints through their writings.

  52. australicus says:

    An article both pompous and fatuous.

    If senior churchmen today are lacking in latinity, a change in seminary formation will solve the problem in due course … along with our sister bodily death, as the sainted Poverello would say.

  53. Melody says:

    As others here point out, the presence of Latin in the Church serves not only to preserve traditions, but also identify her as belonging to no particular nation. I think this is increasingly important as moral issues are challenged to the degree that they become political ones.

    Has anyone here read the Catholic Sci-Fi book “A Canticle For Leibowitz”? I find something in the story very relevant to this discussion:

    The story takes place centuries after a nuclear holocaust decimated civilization. In this universe, the only people who can speak English are Catholic monks, so they can read some of the books their order preserved from before “the flame deluge.” However many characters speak a bit of Latin from attending mass, in addition to the lingua franca, which is Texarkanan.

  54. Sixupman says:

    Latin is [was?] the mortar which connected the bricks to oneanother and eventually the total edifice.

  55. josephus muris saliensis says:

    One read of this fun piece of research, and you will be convinced, I hope, that such an ephemeral language is of little use within the Eternal Church.


  56. TJ says:

    Which English does he propose to use?

    Real English which is fast becoming a minority tongue even here in the mother country, or American English, or Canadian English, perhaps Australian English, Indian English…I could go on for most of the day.

    The reason why one has a specific official language is so that in cases of doubt there is a definitive version to which one can turn – English could not provide this in the same way as Latin because of its multiplicity of uses across the planet.

    Also interesting that he makes reference to the E.U. – in some cases the E.U. actually demands the use of Latin in labelling to ensure understanding across the Union without formally endorsing one country’s language (which, of course, would be English…but the French would never go for that) over the others. For example, my shampoo bottle lists the ingredients as “Water (aqua)”.

  57. geoff jones says:

    English shouldn’t supplant Latin as the liturgical language, but it should supplant Italian as the curial language.

    What good is it for a bright Burmese seminarian to return to Burma fluent in Italian but not English? One day when he is a bishop he will need to know English–and well. In those countries you simply CANNOT be an educated person and not know English. It is also important in that in a lot of 3rd world countries English is the common tongue, and a bishop will often serve as a mediator between warring factions. He HAS to know English fluently to be the peacemaker that is mandated by his office.

  58. Really, English is the language of the USA, which is why American theologians including this writer want to use it. One odd thing about being at an American theology school was the weird America-firstness of American Roman Catholic theology. Imagine my surprise when I went to Europe and discovered that European theology students hadn’t heard of any of my professors, let alone other American Catholic theologians. It was like there was a war between Rome and the New Improved Rome, i.e. the American Church I have a lot of respect for American Catholics who can transcend American culture (which is a great culture, just not the only culture or perhaps even the super-bestest culture in the world) to be loyal to the Roman Catholic faith which, like it or not, has its geographical centre in Rome, Italy and not South Bend, Indiana or Boston, Massachusetts.

    The great thing about Latin is that it belongs to all countries and none. Meanwhile, it is used in science. Have a look at how, say, butterflies are catalogued. Vernacular language PLUS the universal Latin term.

  59. Broadsword says:

    Look at this phrasing, ” A Case for English
    Has the time now come to change the official language of the church to English? ” Has the “time now come”? Yearly, Hugh Hewitt replays his interview with Larry Arhn of Hillsdale college. And yearly Larry Arhn says the two most significant figures of the 20th century are “Churchill, whom everyone has heard of, and Leo Strauss, who no one has heard of.” Then he relates the point Strauss made about the fallacy of historicism, that there is a progress in history, I think he used the word ‘moral’ progress, and to believe this is a fallacy. (I’m not describing this very well; I hope you glean the kernels.) Note also that the secular-atheistic-nihilist leftists call themselves ‘progressives’. Note the last two words of every Toyota ad, “Moving forward”. Ideas do not decay over time; they do not have half-lives.

  60. PNP, OP says:

    When I first arrived in Rome, I knew not one word of Italian. I groused constantly about having to learn it b/c I am Foreign Language Stupid nearly beyond help. One of my American brothers teased me about this mercilessly. At lunch one day, he approached me and reeled off a strings of Italian sentences, trying to get a rise out of me. I glared at him and put on my best indignant face, “Brother, I am of the opinion that all the world should English and use it properly.” An older, distinguish English friar said, without missing a beat, “Starting with the Americans.”

    The lesson? Which English should be official? Let’s not forget the Aussies, South Africans, Nigerians, Indians, Kiwis, Canadians, and probably others I’m forgetting.

    Fr. Philip, OP

  61. PNP, OP says:

    Add. One good argument for making English the official language is that such a move would undercut the manipulation of the American Left-bureaucratic establishment that gives us bogus Latin to English translations in order to weaken the punch of Vatican documents. If I were paranoid, I might argue that eliminating Latin instruction in the seminaries was a move by the Spirit of Vatican Two cadre to confuse future priests and bishops. Only the Truly Enlightened would be able to translate Vatican instructions. How convenient. Fortunately, I’m not paranoid…I think.

    Fr. Philip, OP

  62. Bookworm says:

    At one time Latin was taught even in PUBLIC schools because it was deemed useful for helping one understand the root meaning of many words in English. I still have a Latin textbook that my (Presbyterian) grandmother used when she was attending a public high school in Gary, Ind., in 1914!

    We still have a lot of Latin terminology in law and medicine. And I believe there IS (or was at least back in the early 1990s) a group of Vatican scholars who attempt to “update” Latin periodically so that it can continue to be used in official Church documents. (I read about them in my diocesan paper.)

    I agree with Lee’s point about how Jews are making an effort to preserve Hebrew. Years ago I read Herman Wouk’s “This Is My God,” his explanation of Jewish belief and culture, in which he devoted an entire chapter to the importance of Hebrew as a unifying factor among Jews throughout the world. Obviously Latin serves the same purpose for Catholics, and perhaps Greek might do the same for Orthodox.

  63. Latekate says:

    Rupture! Rupture! Rupture! INTENTIONAL rupture!

    This is yet another attack on the Latin language, the language of the Church and classical education. There is a reason the lefties, “liberals”, Progressives want to kill Latin. The study of Latin sharpens the mind, encourages logical thought and improves the learners ability to learn other languages and understand grammar. Such hostility toward a language that does all that certainly warrants consideration in itself.

    Fr. Z: “[Another instance of how liberals think people are stupid. Seminarians who know about Latin enough to be interested in learning it and using it also know about the importance of Greek.]”

    Father, sadly these types KNOW people are stupid because they have worked ceaselessly to dumb them down, eradicate the study of Latin from schools, eradicate it from the Church. Seminarians are not representative of most people. Most people in the US would not, could not even read this essay and “get” the implications. The ones who would, academics and critics of the Church, “cultural critics” and the like are complicit/ in agreement.

    Casey: “The decision to take on Latin had major ramifications: By identifying with the Roman Empire, would the church appear to endorse imperialism? Why would it throw in its lot with the Roman Empire, which in many respects was antithetical to Christian ideals and values? Would it be more appropriate to retain Greek? ”

    This is simply an attempt to smear Latin as an “imperialist” language, the language of “oppressors” and therefore evil in itself. Can a language be evil?? Why does this guy prefer Greek? What about Alexander the Great?

    Casey: “Second, English is an extremely flexible language: many nouns can be used as verbs—for instance “mention,” “book,” “proposition”—or as adjectives, as in “vegetable soup.” English incorporates new words and expressions to respond to cultural shifts and changes:…”

    Here is the big attraction to English. It is so “flexible”, so malleable to molding and corruption. Yes, THAT is what is needed in the Church, an official language whose meaning can be twisted to serve any purpose. Latin is rather staid and unchanging, we can’t have that.

    Casey: “Third, English is an extraordinarily inventive language. New words and expressions are continually being coined: bad hair day, carjacking, road rage, soccer mom. As such it is ideally suited to our constantly changing world.”

    This is the same thing as point 2. This guy is part of the Progressive cabal intent on corrupting the very ability of people to think coherently by corrupting language. George Orwell understood this very well. The thought process is very closely linked to language. If there is no word for a thing, people don’t think about it, can’t articulate the very idea. So we see “freedom” being “redefined” to the point where we see man on the street interviews of folks saying things like “We need less freedoms to protect out liberty” (I saw a woman say this on TV when interviewed about government incursions on privacy and travel restrictions). There is no need to use physical force when you can chain people using their own minds (John Taylor Gatto, “The Underground History of American Education”). The people will be easily manipulated by using language and sound bites. “Education” has been redefined to mean social indoctrination and vo-ed. Talk to people. They do not understand the difference between job training/”socialization” and actual education. Yes, English is “inventive”, much more practical for “change” and advancing the dialectic. No wonder they are trying to outlaw using Latin phrases in England.


  64. Some guy who writes in English thinks the Vatican should replace Latin with English.
    That would be a great way to ostracize the Chinese, Russian, and the Arab world, don’t you think?
    Think of all the time Casey wasted his article when he could have studying Latin! I wish I had done so rather than read his drivel.

  65. EDG says:

    Problem – There’s nothing wrong with having a vernacular “sacred language,” for example, in the liturgy. I personally don’t object to a translation of the EF, or parts of it, at any rate. We had and can again have majestic, rich English in our churches. The difficulty with it is twofold. First of all, the original Latin (actually, IIRC, the original French) of the Novus Ordo is scanty and bureaucratic, and all the rich language in the world can’t change this. Secondly, all living languages become political vehicles. The struggles we are seeing over the English translation of the Novus Ordo are not struggles over poetry, but over the different political implications of that choice of language.

    Finally, nobody is taking into consideration the fact that we are not faced with your grandfather’s linguistical change. Modern communications spread changes in months that probably used to take years back in the old days. But paradoxically, this is not a guarantee of the linguistic unity of a modern language; translators are familiar with the term “the Englishes,” because there are in fact several recognizable varieties of English, ranging from US and British English to Indian English, African English, etc. The establishment of something called “World English” is the constant quest of business and the computer industry, in particular. Fads spread rapidly now, but at the same time, greater literacy and access to communications media mean that local Englishes have also become more deeply rooted. Think of Latin diverging into the Romance languages, but faster.

    I think Latin should remain the official language of the Church because it is, if nothing else, a fixed starting point. And while I don’t think it is necessary for the entire liturgy to be in Latin, I think much of it should be. And as for the daily speaking of Latin (that is, Latin as a productive language, one in which you are producing words to express your own ideas), it’s certainly not impossible; but even if Vatican bureaucrats don’t attain a high level of fluency or any at all, the existence of communications, terminology, etc. in Latin provides an essential reference, a sort of key to the Rosetta Stone.

  66. Latekate says:

    “Think of all the time Casey wasted his article when he could have studying Latin! I wish I had done so rather than read his drivel.”

    I was thinking the same thing! If the Caseys want rid of it so badly then it must be pretty important we learn it!

  67. Tom in NY says:

    Quo usque tandem abutere, hebdomadaria « America », patientia nostra ? Quam diu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet? Quem ad finem sese effrenata iactabit audacia? Antiqum depositum fidei, traditum in fide de patribus lingua latina delendere? Ut reges et judices Angliae ipsae lingua latina in curia annis Domini MC ad MCCC locuti sint non recordaris ? Et nunc quiam stultitiam non proponeres ? Ut patres soc. Jesu, quorum praep. Gen. loquitur cunctis ecclesiis, linguam latinam non student ? O tempora ! O mores !

  68. Mitch_WA says:

    English may be the current “lingua franca” but in ten years it could be manderin, hindi, arabic, spanish, or even Latin!(one could hope). Also it would piss off much of the Church who would think it was just the arrogant americans getting their way again. Latin does not have that baggage, it is now a language that is unique to no nation (save Vatican City, but they really speak italian).

    It has long been my opinion that Latin should be taught to all diplomats, that conversational latin be a requirement to graduate with a Masters Degree in International Relations, and to get a Docterete one should be fluent. If the international diplomatic systems ran in Latin (including all of the UN) then no need for translaters, no getting things mixed up in translation. I think this is the answer. Make Latin, an impartial language, the langauge of diplomacy.

  69. Sal says:

    Random Friar,

    Go here:, for the “SSPI.”

    It’s a hoot.

  70. problem says:

    Dear all,

    No one has answered my basic objection. The objections come down to the following with my response:

    1.) Objection – Which English does one propose to use? American? Canadian? etc.?

    Reply – Simply select one. Besides there are two presuppositions behind this objection that are false. 1.) these forms of English are somehow incomprehensible to one another. This is simply not true. 2.) The other presupposition that is false is that Latin does not have this difficulty. Augustine’s Latinity is not that of Aquinas’ or Erasmus’. Latin was used in diferent ways in diferent countries. Even if one reads theological texts from 19th century Germany the Latin is often very different from those used in Italy or Spain. Latin was often used in different ways in different fields, Medicine, Law, Theology, etc. The Church simply chose to use fix the terms of the debate. For those of you who read Latin. Sit down tonight with Aquinas or Bonaventure and then read St. Thomas More.

    2.) Objeciton: Latin is above national considerations.
    Reply: This is true but not important. When Latin was initially used it was not above national/imperial considerations. So I see no reason why English cannot be above national/nationalistic considerations. English is spoken all over the world as not just a second language but also a first language.

    3.) Objection: In the future at some point some other language may become the international language and therefore we will have been shortsighted.
    Reply: It is true that at some point another language may supplant English as the international language. The point is that as long as English is still being used it will be accessible to many people.

    4.) Objection: We should start training seminarians etc. in Latin and we could learn it in no time.

    Reply: I agree that it is possible. I think what everyone here fails to realize is that while it possible in an ideal world is not possible for political/ideological/practical reasons in the world as it currently exists. The only way this problem can be fixed is from the top down. Latin would have to restored as the language for seminary instruction and for the liturgy. What Pope would be willing to do this? Who is in the college of Cardinals who would actually do this for the universal Church?

  71. Thank you for your remark about education suffering and people do not know how to critically analyze. There is a debate on that demonstrates this regarding the charismatic movement (so-called).

  72. Tom in NY says:

    Erratum:”student.” Corrigendum: “studeant”
    Salutationes omnibus.

  73. Roland de Chanson says:

    I am opposed to the use of English because it lacks certain critical words needed for theology.

    For example, Latin has a useful word “multi” as in “pro multis”. English cannot express a logical particular and is forced to use the universal “for all”.

    But I am definitely in favor of updating Latin. Clean up the grammar a bit. Make it easy. Make it new. Make it nice.

    Hey, that’s sounds like a slogan! Sermo Latinus! Fac facilem. Fac novum. Fac bellum.

    Errr, last one’s a bit ambiguous, (gulp) imprecise. But it’s still great for those syllogisms.

  74. Roland de Chanson says:

    Tom in NY,

    Very good points. Also, I just chanted your comment in the ferial tone I learned from one of Fr. Z’s podcasts. :-)

  75. Rouxfus says:

    James Cardinal Gibbons provides an excellent explanation of the reasons Latin is the official language of the church in liturgy and episcopal administration in The Faith of Our Fathers (Murphy, 1876):

    … But you are anxious that I should explain to you the reason why the Mass is said in Latin. When Christianity was first established the Roman Empire ruled the destinies of the world. Pagan Rome had dominion over nearly all Europe and large portions of Asia and Africa. The Latin was the language of the Empire. Wherever the Roman standard was planted, there also was spread the Latin tongue; just as at the present time the English language is spoken wherever the authority of Great Britain or of the United States is established.

    The Church naturally adopted in her Liturgy, or public worship, the language which she then found prevailing among the people. The Fathers of the early Church generally wrote in the Latin tongue, which thus became the depository of the treasures of sacred literature in the Church.In the fifth century came the disruption of the Roman Empire. New kingdoms began to be formed in Europe out of the ruins of the old empire. The Latin gradually ceased to be a living tongue among the people, and new languages commenced to spring up like so many shoots from the parent stock. The Church, however, retained in her Liturgy, and in the administration of the Sacraments, the Latin language for very wise reasons, some of which I shall briefly mention:

    First–The Catholic Church has always one and the same faith, the same form of public worship, the same spiritual government. As her doctrine and liturgy are unchangeable, she wishes that the language of her Liturgy should be fixed and uniform. Faith may be called the jewel, and language is the casket which contains it. So careful is the Church of preserving the jewel intact that she will not disturb even the casket in which it is set. Living tongues, unlike a dead language, are continually changing in words and meanings. The English language as written four centuries ago would be now almost as unintelligible to an English reader as the Latin tongue. In an old Bible published in the fourteenth century St. Paul calls himself the villain of Jesus Christ. The word villain in those days meant a servant, but the term would not be complimentary now to one even less holy than the Apostle. This is but one instance, out of many which I might adduce, to show the mutations which our language has undergone. But the Latin, being a dead language, is not liable to these changes.

    Second–The Catholic Church is spread over the whole world, embracing in its fold children of all climes and nations, and peoples and tongues under the sun. How, I ask, could the Bishops of these various countries communicate with one another in council if they had not one language to serve as a common medium of communication? It would be simply impossible. A church that is universal must have a universal tongue; whilst a national church, or a church whose members speak one and the same language, and whose doctrines conveniently change to suit the times, can safely adopt the vernacular tongue in its liturgy.

    A few years ago a Convocation was held in England, composed of British and American Episcopal Bishops. They had no difficulty in communicating with one another because all spoke their mother tongue. But suppose they had representatives from Spain, France and Germany. The lips of those Continental Bishops would be sealed because they could not speak to their English brothers; their ears also would be sealed because they could not comprehend what was said to them. In 1869, at the Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, were assembled Bishops from all parts of the world speaking all the civilized languages of Christendom. Had those Bishops no uniform language to express their thoughts, public debates and familiar conversation among them would have been impracticable. The Council Chamber would have been a confused Babel of tongues. But, thanks to the Latin language, which they all spoke (except a few Orientals), their speeches were as plainly understood as if each had spoken in his native dialect.

    Third–Moreover, the Bishops and Clergy of the Catholic Church are in frequent correspondence with the Holy See. This requires that they should communicate in one uniform language, otherwise the Pope would be compelled to employ secretaries speaking every language in Christendom. But if the Priest says Mass in an unknown tongue, are not the people thereby kept in ignorance of what he says, and is not their time wasted in Church? We are forced to smile at such charges, which are flippantly repeated from year to year. These assertions arise from a total ignorance of the Mass. Many Protestants imagine that the essence of public worship consists in a sermon. Hence, to their minds, the primary duty of a congregation is to listen to a discourse from the pulpit. Prayer, on the contrary, according to Catholic teaching, is the most essential duty of a congregation, though they are also regularly instructed by sermons. Now, what is the Mass? It is not a sermon, but it is a sacrifice of prayer which the Priest offers up to God for himself and the people. When the Priest says Mass he is speaking not to the people, but to God, to whom all languages are equally intelligible.

    The congregation, indeed, could not be expected to hear the Priest, even if he spoke in English, since his face is turned from them, and the greater part of what he says is pronounced in an undertone. And this was the system of worship God ordained in the ancient dispensation, as we learn from the Old Testament and from the first chapter of St. Luke. The Priest offered sacrifice and prayed for the people in the sanctuary, while they prayer at a distance in the court. In all the schismatic churches of the East the Priest in the public service prays not in the vulgar, but in a dead language. Such, also, is the practice in the Jewish synagogues at this day. The Rabbi reads the prayers in Hebrew, a language with which many of the congregation are not familiar.

    But is it true that the people do not understand what the Priest says at Mass? Not at all. For, by the aid of an English Missal, or any other Manual, they are able to follow the officiating clergyman from the beginning to the end of the service.

  76. roydosan says:

    Ref the Gibson film – the Roman soldiers probably would have spoken Greek as a first language – Greece having been part of the empire for several hundred years by then.Pilate would have spoken Latin but he definitely would not have used Church Italianate pronunciation.

  77. Dr. Eric says:

    I don’t agree with his “English is the Lingua Franca” especially in the Church. Over half of all Catholics speak Spanish-moreover the dialect(s) found in South America. So the Catholic Lingua Franca should be Spanish as over 75% of the words are intelligible with Portuguese and Italian. Let’s also not forget that in about 50 years it will be spoken primarily in about 1/3 of the US population.

    Spanish, not English, let’s be democratic about it, huh?

    Seriously, this is a bunch of @#$%, Latin is the official language of the Church. Deal with it, learn it, use it. Then get a life.

  78. Dr. Eric says:

    I wrote that as a guy who cannot even conjugate “amo” or the verb meaning “to love” but I can follow along in the Missal.

  79. QMJ says:

    The simple fact of the matter is that language is an essential part of one’s tradition and identity. The proposal of English as the official language of the Roman church would not only further the loss of identity that Romans are already suffering (at least in the USA) but would also be a great insult to the rest of the non-English speaking world.

    I did like that the author clarified that he meant “Roman” when he said, “the Church.” Latin is the official language of the Western rites, not the Eastern.

  80. Noel says:

    It seems, according to a news report just in these last few days, that Spanish is the fastest growing language at the moment.

  81. William Cahill says:

    And in another two millennia we’d have to change
    the language AGAIN!!??!! I dont’t think so!

  82. problem says:

    Dear all,

    Not a single person has provided a sound argument why English cannot be the new Latin so to speak.

    For example, Dr. Eric writes, “Seriously, this is a bunch of @#$%, Latin is the official language of the Church. Deal with it, learn it, use it. Then get a life.” This is not a reasonable response. Latin may have been providentially chosen but it certainly is not a revealed choice. You have to give cogent prudential arguments for why it should be retained.

    To reiterate, why is it reasonable to keep a language which virtually no one, even in the hierarchy in the Church still speaks or frankly can even read with competence. Personally, I would like to retain Latin but no one else in authority seems to care. How can you argue for its retention when our own bishops do not know it. Seriously think what Vatican III would be like.

  83. problem says:

    Dear Roland,

    English does not \”lack certain critical words for theology.\” English has all the words necessary to carry on theological discourse in a perfectly traditional manner. English does contain the word \”many\”.

  84. Mark says:


    I dont think people are saying it couldnt be done, just that it shouldnt. For tradition’s sake. I mean, we could probably foment totally new liturgies too. But that’s just not how continuity works. The weight (or, rather, mass) of at least 1600 years of Latin texts provide enough inertia to prevent such a change.

    “English shouldn’t supplant Latin as the liturgical language, but it should supplant Italian as the curial language.”

    This, however, I agree with. That is, assuming that clerics arent going to start conversing and corresponding in Latin again any time soon…a switch from Italian to English would make a lot more sense.

  85. problem says:

    Dear Rouxfus,

    This is the problem with many on the traditional side (I might add correct side) is that there is the repitiion of tradition in a way that is not nuanced. So I will respond to Gibbons’ arguments.

    1.)Latin is fixed.
    Reply: Latin was not fixed when it was chosen. The Church essentially settled on ecclesiastical Latin and therefore fixed it. There is no reason why the Church cannot have a form of ecclesiastical English.

    2.) “How, I ask, could the Bishops of these various countries communicate with one another in council if they had not one language to serve as a common medium of communication? It would be simply impossible. A church that is universal must have a universal tongue.”
    Reply: I agree the church must have universal tongue and there is no reason why it cannot be English. Here we run into a basic fact. Latin is no longer serves as the universal language. Latin is dead even in the Church.

    3.) “A few years ago a Convocation was held in England, composed of British and American Episcopal Bishops. They had no difficulty in communicating with one another because all spoke their mother tongue. But suppose they had representatives from Spain, France and Germany. The lips of those Continental Bishops would be sealed because they could not speak to their English brothers.”
    Reply: there lips are now sealed because the bishops can longer converse in Latin. I am certain that the bishops can function better in English or Italian than in Latin.

  86. Dr. Eric says:

    I think that others much more qualified than me have already dealt with why Latin should be retained.

  87. problem says:


    I pray that it is not and that the Church restore Latin as a functional language for the very reason you gave: continuity with the dogmatic tradition of the Latin rite.

    My problem is essentially who can use this beautiful language any longer? It is much better for the church if individuals (particularly bishops) can function in the language which the church commonly uses. One of the downsides to the current difficulty is that conservatives often hurl around Latin terms in theological debates (usually because they do not know what they mean) as if the Latin term solved anything. The meaning is more important that the term.

  88. problem says:

    Dr. Eric,

    That does not answer the question.

    The problem in essence is this: Learning Latin provides continuity with the tradition. Latin has been allowed to die a slow death.

  89. ssoldie says:

    Lex orandi Lex credendi, havent we had enough foolishness from the so called liturgist on translations of latin in our liturgy for the last forty years. This article is also foolishness.

  90. Roland de Chanson says:

    Mon cher problème,

    But of course! I had forgotten that. Very useful word. English is indeed a rich language. In that case the fault must lie with the traduttori who are the traditori.

    I thought I’d leave that in the curial tongue just to affirm my orthodoxy.

  91. Liz says:

    English is an amazing language… this is why I love hearing the words of our beloved saints. By the way, if any of you are looking for a good Catholic quote website, I just stumbled across one. I have been looking for one forever! So many great quotes to sort through –

  92. problem says:

    Dear Roland de Chanson,

    I was not aware that I was your problem? Of course, use of the curial tongue does not affirm you orthodoxy. Perhaps you were referring to your “mercurial tongue” if you work in the curia.

  93. Jayna says:

    My priest reads this magazine, he lent (more like foisted) a copy to me. I’m not sure what he thought that would accomplish, but the record-length e-mail that it produced was probably not it.

    I love how people like this will reach back to the third, fourth, fifth centuries to prove their point, but ignore everything between Trent and Vatican II. Theological archaeology at its worst.

  94. John says:

    I can’t believe that I am responding to a magazine article that is so utterly stupid. It must have been a slow news day at “America.”

  95. Argon says:

    With all due respect to the Priesthood, I think I would be strongy disinclined to pay much attention to the opinions of a Priest who is a fan of this wretched magazine.

  96. Michael says:

    I will only say that supplanting Latin was the plan all along. Perhaps the suggestion of making English the official language of the Church is a call born of a fear that Latin is returning to its proper place and will not be so easily gotten rid of. He is only making the case that if the Church insists upon having a universal language it should be English and not that awful Latin of the classicists. English better befits the new world for which we (and by that I mean he) is striving.

  97. Andreas says:

    What do you all think the main reason might be for Latin’s current decline?

  98. Romulus says:

    Dear Problem: I have an answer, but doubt you’ll like it.

    One concrete way we make our home in the midst of divine mystery is through the use of sacred language – speech set aside for the worship of God. Liturgical language, chiefly Latin in the Catholic Church, is well-suited to sacred liturgy for a great many reasons:

    • Latin doesn’t change. Unlike vernacular tongues, Latin doesn’t evolve over time, so it imparts stability to liturgy that guarantees the durability and integrity of the Faith as it’s handed from one generation to the next.

    • Latin is traditional. In other words, Latin’s not just a comfortable habit Catholics are used to; it’s the tongue of our ecclesial heritage. Latin puts us in touch with the writing and worship of the Church from her earliest centuries; Latin allows us to enter the times and minds of our ecclesial ancestors and know them unfiltered and unmediated.

    • Latin is supra-national. It doesn’t belong to any country or ethnic group; it’s something that is available to all without giving preference to any. Latin makes the stranger at home wherever he finds himself. It’s a mark of catholicity, of universality, in the Church whose mission territory is the whole world.

    • Latin is a sign of communion. Latin is one more way for Catholics to live out their unity, not only across international boundaries, but across the centuries. The use of living prayers that were ancient in the mouths of saints a thousand years ago strengthens our bonds with them and strengthens our understanding of the timelessness of God. It’s a witness to the world about the true meaning of the “communion of saints”.

    • Latin is holy. This isn’t to say the language is sacred by its very nature, but it’s holy in the sense that it has no daily use except the worship of God. It’s set aside for worship, honoring a human impulse that transcends time and cultures, that establishes numerous liturgical languages including Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Old Church Slavonic, and Sanskrit.

    • Latin ensures authenticity. Vernacular liturgies tempt some priests to experiment with novelties, to inject their own creativity and personality. Latin makes that all but impossible, ensuring that the people receive the authentic liturgy that’s their right and protecting the priest from the temptation to grandstand.

    Your central point, Problem, appears to be that liturgy is better when the people can understand what’s happening.

    Flannery O’Connor once pointed out that a God we could understand would be less than ourselves. Whether in this life or the next, sooner or later every Christian encounters the utter transcendence of the divine nature. So while there’s much we can know through Scripture and Tradition, there’s infinitely more that’s unknown and unknowable. Infinity moves us to worship and adoration; acting as a mighty leveler of human intellects, infinity reminds us that human understanding, be it puny or profound, is not a destination but only a launching point into fathomless mystery.

    Christianity teaches that the end of God’s creation is to glorify its Creator by its ordered beauty. Understanding that the world exists to assist us in giving glory to God, Catholics rely upon a great many physical signs and things. Above all, we have the sacraments and the liturgy.

    All Catholics need a basic knowledge of what is happening at Mass and why it matters. To be sure, Christianity has mysteries because God is infinite and perfect, but it’s not a “mystery religion”. God is also love, so Christianity is about light and revelation and communion. Communion is not a remote and impersonal affair, but an intimate and loving embrace. But to enter into communion with God is to enter the infinite and the perfect and the eternal. Communion with God transcends our ability to understand. We don’t reject the mystery of holiness to which we’re called simply because it’s more than we can comprehend. We can be at peace with mystery and aren’t afraid to acknowledge concepts that are, um, ineffable.

    Recently a local Catholic politician was heard promoting his Bible study group, arguing that he learns more from it than he ever has at Mass. This shows how the dominant Protestant culture in this country constantly imposes itself on Catholic minds, reducing theology to whatever passes through its evangelical filter. Protestants understand liturgy as an evangelical event – a proclamation of God’s word and edifying preaching, evoking a corresponding expression of faith on the part of the individual believer. These are not bad things, but they place a poor second to Catholic liturgy, which is sacramental. In the Mass, the unique sacrifice of Calvary is made present for us, veiled under the outward signs of bread, wine, and water. We can know this, but we can never reduce it to our understanding. The Church doesn’t restrict her gifts to those capable of understanding what she has to say.

    Those who obsess about “understanding” in the context of liturgy need to shake off the fundamental error that what’s taking place at the altar can or ought to be comprehensible in the first place. Scripture informs us that our Lord never taught the people except in parable. We readily concede that we don’t understand the Incarnation or the Atonement or transubstantiation. We don’t really understand God’s perfect simplicity, nor what it means for us to be transformed into that image.

    The use of Latin as a sacred language, especially in the extraordinary form, reminds us that holy things are rightly veiled from profane scrutiny. The communion rail is present as a barrier, reminding us that holy things are set apart for God.

    The Traditional Form of the liturgy, including its Latinity, reminds us that the Sacrifice of the Mass is about far more than just our instruction. Instruction can’t save us from eternal death. Christianity isn’t gnosis. So while understanding is a good thing, it isn’t THE thing. Heaven’s full of saints who never understood much if anything and had the humility to be at peace with that. Meanwhile, hell is stuffed with proud intellects tormented by rage and despair. To retain Latin in the liturgy is to retain elements of mystery which we can’t strip out without stripping out the fullness of what God intends for us.

  99. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Problem,

    You wrote:

    1.)Latin is fixed.
    Reply: Latin was not fixed when it was chosen. The Church essentially settled on ecclesiastical Latin and therefore fixed it. There is no reason why the Church cannot have a form of ecclesiastical English.

    A little mathematical analysis: let us denote the time rate of change of a language group by L = de/dt, where e is the number of expansions (+ sign) or contractions (- sign) of a language as measured by the accretions to (or loss of) pre-existing lexical entries and the addition (removal) of new terms.

    The L value for Latin, way into the thirteenth century was very small, because Latin was a language of stature, taught from ancient traditions, whose older texts had to survive as teaching examples.

    If one is familiar with the musicological texts (describing chant, for instance, as early as 800 A. D), the Latin changes very little over a considerable period of history. Vernacular began to be introduced fairly early in the new Millenium (1000) in musicological texts in France, but there is no wholesale redoing of the educated Latin language for a considerable amount of time, at least according to published texts in the areas in which I am familar (musicology). Thus, even though Latin was not a fixed language when the Church made it official, it was quai-static in most of its essentials.

    Contrast that to modern English, which has an L value much, much larger and positive. I am sure that computational linguistics has calculated such measures. In fact, there was an article a few months ago where a group of computational linguists in England were able to calculate not only how long it would take a word in English to change, but also stated which words were the likeliest to change.

    The Church could mandate English, but the rest of the world, unlike during the pre-to-late Medieval period, no longer listens to the Church and English would go on mutating while Church English would remain fixed, leading to a situation where, literally, the Church would be unable to communicate to the rest of the world, which would directly contradict the intention of Vatican II.

    Ecclesiastical Latin simply was not so divergent from the rest of the world that communication with the Church was rendered impossible at the time it was fixed. One could argue that since the rest of the world has adopted, “broken English” as the official language of commerce and science that the Church Latin can’t communicate to the rest of the world, now, anyway. but that is not the point. The Church broke off Latin to become a fixed language precisely because and at a time it was not changing very much. To do so with English,now, which in a high state of flux, would be very imprudent. While the rest of the world no longer speaks Latin, it easily could, since there are only two, very related, forms that weren’t even changing much, in the day they were set in stone, so to speak.

    English is a much more accretiative language, undergoing tremendous transformation both from within and without. Times simply are not the same as when Latin was fixed and the author of the article does not seem to take context and the historyof language development into account.

    We know a heck of a lot more today about linguistics and lexicology and this should have, rightly, informed the comments made by author of the article cited by Fr. Z.

  100. michigancatholic says:

    Again, the Jesuits. Who the heck cares what the Jesuits think? They need to be suppressed.

  101. david says:

    English is my second language but the language I was forced to get my education in.
    (we were beaten if we were heard speaking French as school)
    That alone would put any normal person into the anti-English crowd but I suppose I was forgiving.
    I now live in another country.
    (My home country is currently being run by a dictator, allegedly elected, who advocates for the slaughter of all Catholics to get rid of them.)

    In my host country I am a teacher. I teach anything that anyone will pay me to teach. These includes theology, the Unix operating system, linguistics, and of course English and Latin.

    The people in this country have a very, very, VERY hard time learning English. They begin to study it in the 3rd grade and continue to study it for ten to fifteen years depending on how far they get in school. At the end of all of this, they can say “Hello” and “Nice to meet you three” and that is about it.

    English has about the same number of vowel sounds as Russian, and that makes English DIFFICULT TO LEARN. Indeed, people should have some sort of constitutional right to not have to study this language. twenty two vowel sounds is just too many. I don’t care if native speakers can do it easily, that is just too many.

    Most languages around the world have five vowel sounds. That is a good number and languages like Arabic, Latin, Spanish, Japanese, and a whole host of other prove that you just don’t need all those extra difficult sounds to have a real languages.

    English really is hard to take seriously from a teaching or “official language” point of view. It is not spelled how it sounds but it does not use set symbols like Kanji either. If English wants to be taken seriously then a huge spelling reform is needed. The current system is unworkable for an “official” language of the Holy Catholic Church. We deserve better.

    Now I teach English and I teach Latin. I teach these languages to people who usually have more access to English language material than Latin. And do you know what, Second language learners, regardless of their first language, pick up Latin faster than English.

    Japanese students learn Latin faster than they learn English. Korean students learn Latin faster than they learn English. Chinese students it could be argues learn them both at about the same rate but they always comment on how their Latin has helped them improve their English. Latin sinks in better.

    The only people who say that Latin is difficult to learn are people who are just too lazy to even try to learn a second language period and people who have a personal hatred of God and His Holy Catholic Church and express this hatred in the form or discouraging Latin.

    I can teach anyone, ANYONE, to read, write, speak and understand Latin in a matter of days through email. If you don’t believe me, I invite you to think about this. I taught retarded children at a special needs school to communicate in Latin when they could not even speak the language of their parents very well. I taught a Russian scientist to read and write Latin through email and she later converted to Christianity.

    Now are they using the really obscure Latin? Of course not. They are speaking second language learner Latin, but the power of Latin is that this form of the language is completely intelligible where as second language learner English (katakana Eigo) or Spanglish as some say is incomprehensible to anyone but the people who personally know the speaker.

    English is half baked, like the Linux kernel or microsoft kernel. Latin is sophisticated and useful like Unix.

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