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".