A new Pontifical Academy for the Latin language? So it seems.

Given my response the other day, and the ensuing reactions, about seminaries and the TLM and the Latin language, the following is timely.

The intrepid Andrea Tornielli has a piece today in Vatican Insider about a theoretical document from the desk of Benedict XVI which aims at bolstering Latin studies.

Benedict XVI is to publish a motu proprio to establish the “Pontificia Academia Latinitatis”. In the Vatican, “e-mail address” has been translated as “inscriptio cursus electronici”

Andrea Tornielli

Foveatur lingua latina”. Pope Benedict XVI is keen to foster people’s knowledge of the language of Cicero, Augustine and Erasmus of Rotterdam not just in the Catholic Church but also in civil society and in schools. [Where there may be far greater likelihood of success.] Indeed he is about to publish a motu proprio to establish the new “Pontificia Academia Latinitatis”. So far, the Vatican body in charge of keeping the ancient language alive has been the “Latinitas” foundation, which has been under the aegis of the Vatican Secretariat of State but is now destined to disappear: [Because it was so visible before!] other than publishing “Latinitas” magazine [I used to subscribe.] and organising “Certamen Vaticanum” an international Latin poetry and prose competition, over the years, the foundation has also been in charge of translating modern words into Latin. [Neologisms. I suppose only the Catholic Church could have the equivalent of the Académie française.]

The imminent establishment of the new pontifical academy which will add to the eleven existing academies – including the most famous ones representing science and life – has been confirmed in a letter sent by the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, to Fr. Romano Nicolini, an Italian priest who is massively in favour of reintroducing Latin lessons in junior high schools. Ravasi recalled that the Academy’s initiative was “put forward by the Holy Father” and promoted by the Vatican dicastery for culture: its members will include “eminent academics of various nationalities, whose aim it will be to promote the use and knowledge of the Latin language in both ecclesiastical and civil contexts, including schools.” The cardinal concluded the letter by saying that the initiative was a way of responding to “the numerous requests we have been receiving from all across the world.”  [Contrary to popular belief, letters and petitions make a difference.]

It has been fifteen years [ehem… 50] since John XXIII promulgated the apostolic constitution “Veterum sapientia” on the eve of the Second Vatican Council, establishing Latin as the eternal language of the Church and stressing its importance, asking Catholic schools and universities to brink it back to life if it were ever abandoned or neglected. [And that was an Apostolic Constitution, the highest level document Holy Church issues.] The Second Vatican Council maintained Latin in certain parts of the mass, but the post-conciliar liturgical reform apparently removed all trace of it from common use. And so, whereas half a century ago prelates from all over the world were able to communicate in Caesar’s language and faithful came into contact with it weekly, today Latin is not fairing too well in the Catholic Church. [That’s one way to put it.] Instead, it is being promoted in other lay spheres, which are interested in keeping it alive.

Academics are hard at work [!] in the Holy See, coming up with neologisms to translate papal encyclicals and official documents. Translating Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical “Caritas in veritate” (July 2009) on social emergencies and the economic and financial crisis, into Latin, was no easy task. [I remember in Fr. Foster’s class I was called upon to do some simultaneous translation from a Time magazine article on the economy and was flustered by “marginal propensity to consume”.] Some of the choices made by the Holy See’s Latin experts were criticised by influential Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, which questioned the use of the terms “delocalizatio”, “anticonceptio” and “sterilizatio”, but approved “plenior libertas” for liberalisation and “fanaticus furor” for fanaticism. Some of the stranger translations included the term “fontes alterius generis” for alternative energy sources and “fontes energiae qui non renovantur” for non renewable energy sources. [egads]

The Pope’s idea to establish a new Pontifical Academy is an important sign of renewed focus on the significance of Latin. Fr. Nicolini – who distributed ten thousand copies of a free introductory booklet to the Latin language in middle schools and is sending out an appeal for it to be included again in school curriculums – stated: “Latin teaches us to show respect for beautiful things and it also teaches us to value our roots.”

One of the men in charge of updating the Latin glossary which will make it possible to communicate even today in the language spoke by Cicero, is 47 year old Fr. Roberto Spataro, Professor of Ancient Christian Literature and Secretary of the Pontificium Institutum Altioris latinitatis (known today as the Faculty of Christian and Classical Letters) founded by Paul VI in what is currently the Salesian Pontifical University of Rome. “How would I translate “poison pen letter writer”? I knew that question was coming… Well, I would translate it as: “Domesticus delator” or “Intestinus proditor”, the priest said. He also explained how Latin neologisms are born: “There are two schools of thought. The first is what we may call the Anglo-Saxon school of thought, which holds that before a neologism is created, we need to sieve through all the texts that have been written in Latin – and not just classical Latin – throughout the centuries. The other school of thought, which for the sake of ease I will call Latin, holds that we can be freer in creating a circumlocution that properly conveys the idea and meaning of a modern word, whilst maintaining the flavour of classical Ciceronian Latin.”

At first I took this to be a kind of cruel “1 September Fool’s” joke.  It seems, however, that this was for real.   May the new Pontifical Academy be at least as influential as the Pontifical Academy of Fine Arts and Letters of the Virtuosi al Pantheon.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. “Latin teaches us to show respect for beautiful things and it also teaches us to value our roots.”

    What a perfect distillation of what the Holy Father is trying to accomplish.

  2. iPadre says:

    Yes! Now Vatican sponsored Latin intensive training sessions for priests – PLEASE!

  3. While I am all for keeping Latin alive for the sake of the Latin Mass community out there and the Church’s history, I think this will be as effective as that commission for modern architectural abuses back in April. I haven’t seen wrecking crews yet tearing down ugly modern churches yet.
    In other words, nice gesture, but practically useless.

    Unless there is significant enforcement and practical application of these institutes/commissions, they will not change the Church at the level of the average layman (or been seen in our clergy by the layman at Mass or in other operations with clergy). Benedict should be issuing motu proprios on stricter matters (of discipline and doctrine with a healthy dose of lacizations and excommunications) and doing more heavy cleanup than this.

  4. pberginjr says:

    Perhaps more evidence of the slow pace of things in Rome (finally establishing a new academy called for 50 years ago). This is nonetheless very exciting news. I enjoyed the quip about the PAFAL.

  5. Supertradmum says:

    Praise God and pass the ammunition! Now, get all the seminaries in the Western World to require Latin, starting with requiring reading the Breviary in Latin and we are on the way.

  6. Mark R says:

    Good. There ought to be some central vetting authority outside the traditional university system. Maybe Finnish Radio can get involved?

  7. Tradster says:

    Sadly, I have to agree with Young Canadian RC Male’s skepticism. I will mute my applause until I see evidence of a mandatory and enforced return to Latin in the liturgy, including the music.

  8. Lepidus says:

    If this Academy is looking to branch out beyond religious latin, I wonder how they are going to incorporate the differences in the spoken language between the ecclesiastical pronunication and what it seems pretty much everyone else does.

  9. Supertradmum says:

    Lepidus, I quote a Mr. Silva, who states this better than myself. He wrote this several years ago….

    One must remember that Copeman is an Englishman and “O as in ‘for'” has a different pronunciation than in American….there is no pronounced R at the end of that word, but the R also takes out the diphthong (that you would get in “go”) and opens the vowel. Therefore, O in Italianate Latin is an open O as in “caught” or “dog”. It would be represented in IPA as a backwards c symbol. The ancient Romans also distinguished between open and closed vowels for each vowel which are referred to as “short” or “long”. The Italianate pronunciation of Latin condenses the vowels into an easier system. I’m doing a thesis and recital on the various regional pronunciations of Ecclesiastical Latin in Los Angeles area in CA on 11/7/09. We will be singing works in Italian, Germanic, English, and French Latins.

    When we say “Roman” usage, this is confusing b/c are we talking about Classical Rome/Classical Latin or Church Latin? It is better to say “Classical Latin” for the pronunciation of ancient/classical Rome and “Italianate Latin” for the Latin used by most choirs today. Although Classical Latin belongs to the Roman empire, it was really Vulgar Latin which was spoken by the people which pronunciation is not really known; and the Classical (whose pronunciation we do know) was probably more of a literary than spoken language which the upper class forged (with heavy borrowing from Classical Greek syntax and rules, etc.).

    “Ecclesiastical Latin” refers to a set of vocabulary developed for used by the Church – it does NOT refer to pronunciation. In fact, Ecclesiastical Latin had various pronunciations depending on region of the empire and century. Furthermore, when those conquered by Rome (Celts/Gallics, French, etc.) were imposed the Vulgar Latin language, they definitely pronounced it according to their own language rules and pronunciations. Now, we don’t know what the Vulgar sounded like, but we do know how the regional pronunciations sounded. So to say that the Italianate is the only or proper way is wrong since it also is an evolution of the Vulgar.

    In 1903, Pope St. Pius X mandated that all Catholics use the Italianate pronunciation. His reasoning is that it was closest to the Classical (again, which was used for literary rather than speaking purposes…remember that the Mass texts and Bible were translated into/written in Vulgar Latin); and also in order to keep the Classical (Vulgar?) word stress which Gregorian Chant is based on (in French Latin, the last syllable is emphasized – not the ante/penultimate). This caught on in the Anglican Church soon and in the choral world after many years (the bishops in Germany only threw in the towel in 1972).

  10. jeffreyquick says:

    “Latin is not fairing too well “. Apparently English is not faring well either.

  11. We are doing our part to keep Latin alive in our Catholic home school.

    Firstborn son self-taught Latin (I have no training to teach Latin); second son now entering his 9th grade year also chose Latin as his ‘foreign language’ stating a desire to understand the TLM (which is not celebrated locally {yet}, but we travel 1.5hrs to Seattle several times each year for TLM). He will need a teacher… so we have enrolled him in an online course offered by The Highlands Latin School in Louisville, Kentucky, called Memoria Press Online Academy.

    Sure would be great if Rome offered online courses for those of us wishing to learn Latin!

  12. This Latinist is pleased, and doing his part to squeeze Latin into the humanities classroom at every opportunity (sadly, there is no longer the expectation that any of my college freshmen will actually have studied it in school). Just today, in discussing the Code of Hammurabi, I threw lex talionis and traditio legis at them; and earlier in the week, in discussing the origins of human language and the development of writing, I pointed out that the English word “noun” comes from the Latin nomen (I was discussing the significance of the fact that the Babylonian creation story opens with nothing having names yet, and comparing that with Adam giving everything names [Gen. 2:20]).

  13. PatriciusOenus says:


  14. Pingback: SATURDAY AFTERNOON EDITION | Big Pulpit

  15. Andkaras says:

    I,m having fond flashbacks of that old “Lets Learn Latin” tape that homeschoolers used in which the narrator pronounced in a heavy southern drawl ”Do not worry about your pronunciation too much as there are no ancient Romans around to correct you”. hahaha :)

  16. Roderick Alvernaz says:

    I can hear Fr. Paul at St. Michael’s Abbey, in his Austrian accent, telling me “no Rod, not that way. You try, Craig” (This was before the new wing was built -Craig was my room mate, and a whiz at Latin!) when I would mess up the fifth declension. Even still, these are fond memories and I’m pleased to hear of the proposed academy. Our active parish offers the Mass in the EF every Sunday evening, and I enjoy going, with a large number of others (this in addition to 7 other weekend Masses; 4 in English & 3 in Spanish)!

  17. roseannesullivan says:

    What does Foveatur lingua Latina mean? My first attempt at translating it is “That the Latin language be fostered,” but since there is no “ut” maybe that’s wrong. How about “Let the Latin language be fostered.” I have noticed that in articles about official Church documents the title is hardly ever translated. :-)

  18. Filipino Catholic says:

    ^ Aren’t titles of Church documents usually incipits, id est, the first few words of the text itself?

    Filipino Catholic.

  19. roseannesullivan says:

    FilipinoCatholic wrote: ^ Aren’t titles of Church documents usually incipits, id est, the first few words of the text itself?” Yes, I know that, but as I wrote the translation is hardly ever given. And I am asking what Foveatur lingua Latina means. I know the literal meaning of the individual words, but since Fr. Z specializes in providing slavishly accurate translations, I am hoping he will provide the translation here for the subjunctive.

  20. MAJ Tony says:

    I forget the particular context, but I’ve broken down a few Latin-derived English words into their constituent parts to explain a concept in a discussion in a class in which I was participating. I’ve taken no Latin class. Most of my Latin experience has been from constant participation in an EF Mass. I take it that it is not a coincidence that the catering company that is contracted to run our base dining facilities is named “Cibus.”

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