PODCAzT 128: “Veterum sapientia”! 50th Anniversary. On Latin in the Church. Wherein Fr. Z rants.

Nolite oblivisci hodie quinquagesimum esse anniversarium promulgationis Apostolicae Constitutionis Veterum Sapientia!

Surely one of sorest points of our enduring shame as a Church is the way our shepherds have entirely ignored John XXIII’s Apostolic Constitution Veterum sapientia.

It isn’t long… but documents didn’t have to be long in those days in order to make their point.


Bl. John has, in what we might call prophetic retrospect, things to say about clarity of doctrine, of liturgical worship, formation of priests, defense of the faith, and continuity which pertain to 2012, no less than to 1962.

NB: An Apostolic Constitution is not just a garden variety document.  It ranks in authority pretty much above all other types of papal documents.  Apostolic Constitutions are used to promulgate the most important things, such as a new edition of the Roman Missal or the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Anglicanorum coetibus is an Apostolic Constitution. An example of a Constitution issued by a Council is Sacrosanctum Concilium.

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Give it a read through, or listen by using my PODCAzT, so that you can at least say you have read it.  Most priests, bishops, and educators haven’t.

The Latin of the first paragraph:

Veterum Sapientia, in Graecorum Romanorumque inclusa litteris, itemque clarissima antiquorum populorum monumenta doctrinae, quasi quaedam praenuntia aurora sunt habenda evangelicae veritatis, quam Filius Dei, gratiae disciplinaeque arbiter et magister, illuminator ac deductor generis humani, his nuntiavit in terris. Ecclesiae enim Patres et Doctores, in praestantissimis vetustorum illorum temporum memoriis quandam agnoverunt animorum praeparationem ad supernas suscipiendas divitias, quas Christus Iesus in dispensatione plenitudinis temporum cum mortalibus communicavit; ex quo illud factum esse patet, ut in ordine rerum christianarum instaurato nihil sane perierit, quod verum, et iustum, et nobile, denique pulchrum ante acta saecula peperissent.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Supertradmum says:

    This is a very mild rant. I would be more rabid. Love the translation. Exactness, or the immutability of language has been lost. When I entered high school in 1963, we had to take two years of Latin in my “track” and then a modern language in the last two years. I had already learned Church Latin in grade school, so the Classical readings were not that hard. The grammar helped me with Logic, which was also required. I started my son in home schooling on Latin when he was very young. When I was doing my consulting thing for five years, (2001-2006)helping schools and one college set up curriculum in the classical form, the Trivium and Quadrivium, I used Dorothy Sayers excellent essay all the time. As you point out, Latin and Logic go together. The loss of both is what we are seeing in at least two, if not three generations of illogicality and the impossibility of rational discourse. Great podcast. I copy Sayers’ essay here for those who have not read it. http://www.gbt.org/text/sayers.html

    Just this past weekend, I had a ridiculous discussion with two people who said that grammar was totally unimportant in the teaching of any language. How far we have fallen…no “highly intelligent thoughts” there, and no Latin background. The liberals, who hate Western Civilization and hate the Church, won the day in education, I believe. The idea that language has dignity and teaches dignity and that the loss of such leads to the ending of love cannot hardly be understood by most.

    Again, as you know, seminarians are not required to learn Latin in America–even in graduate school. The dumbing down of the intellectual formation of priests is nothing less than a scandal. I have proof or this, or just look at the academic programs in the seminaries. This is commonplace. This is contrary to this excellent document. I hope all your readers take time to listen to this. So, plainly, those professors, priests, religious superiors, and bishops have been in direct disobedience to this good Pope, and therefore, to Christ and His Church. So how is Canon 249 ignored and why is this not rectified? Why? The situation in Europe is better and more honest than in the States. So, these rectors on the day of Ordination are lying, if the men standing in front of them only know Spanish, which is the case, mostly.

    PS. The demand for Greek has been totally ignored by American seminaries as well. When will this planned ignorance of the priesthood end? Is it too late to turn back this horrible anti-intellectualism? Disobedience reigns. Confusion reigns. Your music choices are great.

    How can I help this situation? I can teach basic first two years of Latin and Church usage. I shall pray.

  2. Supertradmum says:

    I should have said that I can teach first two years of college level Latin, or in an advanced high school. We need to pass this on to the next generation and all home schooling parents need to do this.

  3. twele923 says:

    The link goes to the Vatican page for the Latin document. The John XXIII Apostolic Constitutions 1962 page lists only two languages for this document: Latin and Spanish. A click on “Spanish” takes you to the Vatican home page.


  4. wmeyer says:

    It is quite clear that grammar is not being taught. I am a software developer, and anyone who writes software learns that programming tools are notoriously unforgiving of improper syntax. Oddly, these same folks routinely deny the value of syntax and grammar in English. The response I routinely stifle: idiots!

    We have also reaped the consequences of even more fundamental teaching follies. The dropping of phonics has left us with generations who comprehend the meaning of book and keep, but cannot recognize bookkeeper until it has been explained to them. I was given phonics in second grade.

    Other experiments have been similarly damaging. My youngest brother was a victim of the International Teaching Alphabet. Bernard Shaw, in his On Language makes the case for moving to a phonetic alphabet in English. He also makes plain that 44 phonemes are required to unambiguously present English pronunciation. The ITA used 34. Shaw also made the case that none of the characters used in a phonetic alphabet should be taken from our Roman alphabet. The ITA added 8 symbols to the 26 Roman characters. I believe my brother’s case was typical: remarkable progress for the two years of teaching with ITA, followed by a literal crash when they were switched to the Roman alphabet. The difficulty of the switch was undoubtedly increased by the confusion over the 26 Roman characters.

    Our society is damaged by the abandonment of courses of teaching, and also by the endless experiments which have been in vogue for at least 50 years. “Educators” apparently never look back, they simply declare victory, and launch new experiments (after adjusting scoring methods to fudge the results.)

  5. Supertradmum says:

    wmeyer, blame Dewey. This has all been done on purpose to create the permanent under-class who can be easily manipulated by the powers that be….

  6. wmeyer says:

    Supertradmum, I know. I just get tired of crediting Dewey in so many posts. ;)

    Good little sheeple.

  7. Father K says:

    I think I read somewhere once that Blessed John XXIII signed this Apostolic Constitution on the High Altar of St Peters to emphasise the point that this was an important document, and he meant what he wrote. Does anyone have further details about this?

  8. Veterum Sapientia has got to be either the most important ignored document or the most ignored important document of the twentieth century.

  9. @Father K: Indeed that is true. Pope John himself commented on the great solemnity of the occasion in the Allocutio he gave to the multitude assembled for the signing. In it, he noted the following:
    1) the document was signed “on” the High Altar (actually on a little table next to it)
    2) the Cappella Giulia was present, singing the Tu Es Petrus.
    3) it was, of course, the Feast of Cathedra Petri
    4) there were present over 40 cardinals, 100 bishops, the entire organizing committee for the preparation of the Second Vatican Council, and a turba of clerics, seminarians, and laity.
    … if His Holiness had put searchlights in the piazza and floodlit the facade of St. Peter’s he could hardly have drawn greater attention to the importance of this document, or to its significance both for Papal authority and Catholic identity.


  10. BobP says:

    One of my greatest fears is for the next Pope to abrogate VS and Canon Law 249 altogether. Allowance for the all-vulgar Mass everywhere was a big mistake in my opinion.

  11. Mitchell NY says:

    Veterum Sapientia is one of the most important Apostolic Constitutions of the Church and the longer it is ignored the longer it will be to the Church’s recovery. V.S. is a foundational basis for Priestly FOrmation suited to the Catholic Church in particular and is part of its’ identity. This document can not just be filed away never seeing the light of day. Via the internet it is available to all to see. If the Bishops and Seminary planners continue to ignore it how will the next Apostolic Constitution be viewed? Can it be taken seriously? Sooner or later it will have to be implemented if the Church wants to recover the idea that what She says must be taken seriously. To treat an AC of the Church as if it were an anonymous dubia does serious harm to her teachings about assent. Having the Extraordinary Form Mass as part of a legitimate Rite of Mass only strengthens the need for solid Semianry foundation and Veterum Sapientia is the Foundation where is has to start. Anyone who reads this AC can see quite clearly and concisely why Latin is essential to the life of any Priest and the Church. In defiance of Canon 249, not teaching Latin as mandatory is quite shocking, even today.

  12. In the old role-playing game “Stalk the Night Fantastic”, which later was renamed “Bureau 13”, anybody playing a Catholic priest had to spend a lot of points, because obviously you would not only have sacramental powers, you’d have seven years of theology and a good knowledge of Latin and even some Greek. (Because the game designer grew up Catholic in the Detroit area, and that was what he remembered learning about priest training.) In the Bureau 13 novels (written by an ex-Catholic with similar schooling), the same thing was true. (Although there were some other things that the priest character was running around doing that were a bit iffier.)

    I’m still waiting for seminaries today to get back to the basic educational expectations of a funny fantasy role-playing game. :)

  13. And I don’t actually _know_ that Mr. Tucholka grew up Catholic or went to a Catholic school. But I’m pretty sure that if he didn’t, he probably knew a lot of people who did. Anyway…. End of digression, just didn’t want to start any false rumors.

  14. Centristian says:

    It seems to me more and more that Pope Benedict XVI’s mission is to lay a foundation for his successor. The Holy Father can be seen to do alot that restores the monarchial trappings of the papacy that were cavalierly tossed aside in favor of the trappings of…celebrity…for heaven only knows what reason. But these externals that he has been restoring are more than just fashion statements, as the flighty media would have it. They, together, amount to a visible statement about who the pope is and who the pope is supposed to be in the Church and what his authority is.

    There is a picture of Pope John XXIII shown attached to Father Z’s post that shows a pope who looks like a pope. That’s a look, however, that wasn’t known for three decades until Benedict XVI came along and restored it. Thanks to Benedict XVI, that look has become the norm once again, and, as a result, the idea that the pope is the monarch of the Church is returning. The next pope will be able to step into those garments without shocking anyone and will be better able to not only look the papal monarch but to be the papal monarch. He will be better able to be the sort of pope who points to something like this document and says, “excuse me…this wasn’t just a love note or a poem; this is law, gentlemen…now obey it.”

    Hopefully the man who is elected will recognize as much and take advantage of it. Pope Benedict has (quite literally, in fact) restored the throne. His successor need only have the courage to sit astride it and rule.

  15. tripudians says:

    Are at least trad seminaries (SSPX/FSSP/etc.) actually doing this today? i.e. teaching Latin/Greek, teaching “sacred sciences” in Latin?

  16. Supertradmum says:

    I have two questions: How do the rectors and presidents of these seminaries, which are in disobedience to Rome on the subject of Latin, keep power in the Church? Second, why did the Visitations from Rome not deal with this serious problem?

  17. dtrumbull says:

    I have placed the Latin and English translation side-by-side, along with my introduction and chapter-by-chapter analysis, on my website at


    So, what do we make of Veterum sapientia? Obvious this Apostolic Constitution, the highest level of decree issued by the Pope, was almost entirely ignored. Searching the internet I find several traditionalist websites and blogs with the English-language translation of the Constitution, but almost no analysis of the document or of its influence (or rather lack of influence) on the Church.

  18. “Are at least trad seminaries (SSPX/FSSP/etc.) actually doing this today? i.e. teaching Latin/Greek, teaching “sacred sciences” in Latin?”

    I understand that the FSSP seminary obeys Veterum sapientia, and I’d assume that other traditional seminaries (like SSPX and ICKSP) do also. And from what I’ve heard in the last few years, a number of prominent diocesan seminaries are now teaching Latin again.

  19. Andrew says:

    Henry Edwards:

    Veterum Sapientia stipulates that Latin should be USED not just studied: and that all subjects other than Latin should be taught in Latin. I don’t believe there are any seminaries (traditionalist or otherwise) doing that today. Moreover, the concept that other subjects should be taught in Latin is just way too much to grasp for our contemporaries, especially by those who should know better. It is, they will tell you, “impractical”.

  20. wmeyer says:

    Andrew: Yeah, and it was clearly impractical for how many centuries before 1965? ;)

  21. Consilio et Impetu says:

    For those who would like to read and, perhaps, copy and print the Constitution: HERE.

  22. PatriciusOenus says:

    @ Henry Edwards:

    The FSSP seminaries attempt to teach its seminarians Latin but neither they nor any other traditionalist seminaries teach Latin the way VS suggests (i.e., they don’t learn to speak or write Latin fluently enough that they could do seminary studies in it). SSPX and the other traditional seminaries give Latin studies lip service. The more radical Traditionalists are certainly no better. I wish the FSSP, ICKSP, SSPX and all the rest would take the lead and set an example for the rest of the Church to follow.

  23. robtbrown says:


    The FSSP seminary is doing about the same thing that pre Vat II seminaries did when candidates (usually not many) arrived who knew no Latin: They attempt a crash course, knowing it’s too late to require advanced proficiency.

    Before Vat II most young men had already begun the study or Latin in high school or high school seminaries.

  24. servulus indignus Christi says:

    Dear Readers,

    Saluto vobis omnibus Christifidelibus linguae Latinae fautoribus! Gratia et Pax! To those who in reading the Apostolic Constitution of Bl. John XXIII wonder how they can personally implement the wishes of the late Pontiff of blessed memory, consider visiting the site http://www.hieronymus.us.com/ of the Familia Sancti Hieronymi (Family of St. Jerome). An association of the faithful founded by Fr. Suitbertus who was personally present for solemn signing of Veterum Sapientia in St. Peter’s. He took the Holy Father’s wishes to heart and endeavoured to implement them. The Familia has three primary aims viz. 1) Sincere love and obedience to the Holy Father 2) commitment to progress in the spiritual life according to sound Tradition 3) daily study and use of Latin the LIVING language of the Church. Members meet once a year at a selected place for a week of seminars regarding all things Catholic in an effort to cultivate an authentic Christian ‘Romanitas’. Also the current praeses of the Familia will be appearing on EWTN Live this week 29 February at 8pm Eastern Standard Time. Prayerfully discern if you would like to become a sodales of the Familia. Members have widely different degrees of knowledge about Latin but all commit to daily study and use so as to arrive at a true reading/writing/speaking proficiency. Latin is a living language like no other and YOU CAN learn it!

    Quadragesimam efficacem omnibus ex corde ominor Deusque vobis gratiam sui appropinquandi magis magisque impertiatur!

    † Jordanus J.J.P. Coactus

  25. servulus indignus Christi says:

    Post scriptum: I forgot to add that the seminars of the Familia are conducted in spoken Latin!

    J.J.J.P. Coactus

  26. servulus indignus Christi says:

    Post post scriptum: If you visit the website and can not yet read Latin on the left hand side you will see a list in which “Constitutio-Angl” appears. Clicking on this will provide the Familia’s website in English.

  27. Scott Olsson says:

    There are, sadly, very few places where young men and women can go to learn Latin as VS demands—or even where they can get the formation they would need to make the requirments of VS reasonable. The idea of having seminarians taught theology in Latin *sounds* nice, but it is today terribly impractical. Seminarians have far too much on their plate to *also* be learning Latin. Sadly, we must also acknoweldge that, even if there were Seminaries willing to implement VS, there are scarcely any professors competent to teach the course in Latin.

    This isn’t to suggest that we not implement VS. Rather, my point is that we parents can’t be upset at our Bishops if they haven’t implemented a document that *our* failure to teach Latin has made impossible. We parents need to make the teaching of Latin (and Latin as a language, not a collection of SAT vocabulary!) a priority.

    Happily there are now some Catholic colleges attempting to create Latin speakers, writers, and readers. Wyoming Catholic College is the clear leader in this area (with 2 years of mandatory Latin taught almost exclusively in Latin as well as required theology readings in Latin and a host of other Latin-only enrichment activities). Christendom has also made some efforts in this area.

    Disclosure: I am blessed to teach at Wyoming Catholic!


  28. servulus indignus Christi says:

    @ Scott

    Its not a matter of VS not being practical its simply not viable in the Church’s current highly unfortunate circumstances. THIS DOES NOT MEAN of course that we should refrain from doing the utmost to move forward so that the provisions of the constitution be implemented in the future. The problem is that when VS was issued and it was viable it was just simply ignored–this being perhaps one of the most detrimental tools of the enemy: just nod your head politely to Rome but ignore its mandates. Recall at the council the primary language of discussion was Latin without translators and teleprompters…everyone just understood. When VS was issued it should have been a clarion call to ensure that Latin was the medium of seminary study AND the Mass at a time when there remained yet enough people, lay and clerics, who knew Latin sufficiently well. The culpability of bad episcopal decisions in most dioceses then is three fold:
    1) Allowing Mass to be commonly celebrated in the vernacular thereby calling into question in the minds of many “Why study Latin?” (a silly question to be sure but one which nonetheless give impetus to doubt by vulgarizing the language of the liturgy).
    2) Bishops failed to implement it in their seminaries but much because of #3
    3) They allowed Latin, perhaps with a smirk?, to slip-nay in many placed forced out- of the curriculum in diocesan high schools and middle schools. I.e. how can you have seminaries teach the subjects in Latin when the guys entering the seminary are getting their first taste of Latin upon entering!? They were failed in the diocesan schools so by the time they get to seminary its simply not possible to give them their formation in Latin because they have to learn Latin first! What is the solution? Propaedeutical years before you can even enter seminary? perhaps…but we will NEVER get to where we need to be, and indeed commanded to be, with VS until the bishops fix the HORRIBLE curricula of their diocesan schools! Where I live for example we have 11 diocesan high schools and dozens of middle schools NOT ONE OF THEM offers Latin. In fact the last one which did ended it a few years ago and is now pleased to present their students with what else but Chinese! (apparently the communist Chinese government offers grants to schools to offer Chinese language/culture studies in American schools? I can’t personally verify this but I have read it somewhere and can vouch for at least 2 “catholic” schools I know whereat sino studies and language rather mysteriously popped up quite suddenly). I have nothing against Chinese in its own right but to kick out Latin for the sake of the former in the midst of a western cultural identity crisis is simply unpardonable–especially if a Chinese government offer of $ is its impetus. In any event the way forward is to REQUIRE Latin to be a part of a standardized classical curriculum in K-12 and then you can have seminaries teach students in the language of the Church.

    As to the comment that there are not enough professors qualified to teach in Latin, perhaps so but there are some and I know personally that as soon as the majority of seminaries get a sniff that such applicants are in any way traditional set (Latin sets off red flags for the ‘make the Church in our image crowd’) they don’t bother even invite him or her to an interview.

    In short we need some episcopal back-bone and understanding of just how important Latin is, its not a surface issue but rather touches very close to the core of many of the problems in the Church today. We need bishops who 1) understand this and 2) are willing to make the waves to bring about positive change. Until then every Catholic ought to receive as their own the responsibility to learn the language of the Church, the language of civilization. Indeed Latin should be every Catholic’s second language but never their first.

    Jordanus J.J.P.Coacttus

  29. DeaconPaul says:

    If I might chip in with a few observations.
    I have known several seminarians – now priests- who have gone to the Venerable English College in Rome. They all had to do a crash course in Italian so as to be able to attend lectures at the Angelicum, so I have to presume that Latin would have not necessarily been any more difficult. Evelyn Waugh’s biography of Ronald Knox described the young Ronald at 7 or 8 setting puzzles and quizzes and writing poetry in Latin so, genius apart, the subject is not beyond learning by many (but not, perhaps, all!) I have a friend who reads German poetry in the native tongue and who insists that you just can’t comprehend the original in translation – how much more for the writings of Augustine et al.
    As an anecdote, a nearby parish, which has the TLM every Sunday, had a newly ordained Polish priest staying to improve his English -however his English was not good enough to preach so I was asked to come and assist on a weekend where the PP was away. A very elderly priest had to found to say the Latin Mass as the Polish priest had NO Latin (I thought it was just the English-speaking world that was in this particular mire).
    I would also recommend C.S. Lewis’ Men without Chests in The Abolition of Man which is also a useful essay on the downfall of education in values, his discourse on the meaning of dulce et decorum est pro patria mori is now a permanent part of my subconscious.
    Finally I spent much of my life as a computer scientist and would echo the value that the logical syntax of Latin has as a foundation in broader education.
    Sorry if this has become a bit of a ramble!

  30. servulus indignus Christi says:

    @ DeaconPaul

    Well said, while Ronald Knox would be an intellectual and spiritual exception to most of us the point remains that people can learn Latin if a) they wish to and b) put forth the effort. We may not all be Cicero’s but there is no need to be. In my own career I rub shoulders alot with secular academics who know their Latin very well and I can say how unfortunate it is that they are able to sneer at what I’ve been told many times is a “real diminution of knowledge” inside the Catholic Church while too many clerics simply respond with a “Ecclesia non est accademia” and true enough but this has nothing to do with whether or not Latin should be used, taught and fostered. It would be a good thing for Catholic parents to be writing their diocese and demanding that Latin be offered in the schools for which THEY pay.

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