Ex cathedra… ad cathedram

A little fun with Latin. A reader sent this:

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Are those ablative of position, Father?

    [Not quite, no.]

  2. DLe says:

    Perhaps one could fit in Hans Küng with “contra cathedram”.

  3. Johnno says:

    Since the chair seems to making a lot of decisions these days, I wonder if it’s possible to elect the chair for POTUS rather than either of the two running candidates. It certainly has more legs to stand on.

  4. medievalist says:

    “ad”+accusative indicating motion towards. One of my favourite Latin constructions. Apart from the “passive periphrastic” which just sounds cool.

  5. DLe: Could be. Though sometimes Küng descends to the point which I think might have been even better for the right side of the image:

    IN cathedram

    That in being in the sense of “against”, of course.

  6. PostCatholic says:

    I’ve often wondered why not “ex solium” rather than “cathedra.”

  7. Therese says:

    It would have to be ex solio in any case.

    I suspect the problem would be the referent itself. Many ancient pagan peoples worshiped the sun (the word solium, in English throne, is related to sol, the Latin for sun). Perhaps the Church did not want to remind them of that error. Father?

  8. vox borealis says:

    Cute. But of course you meant “ex solio,” right?

  9. Horatius says:

    “ex solium” is not Latin.

  10. Kathy C says:

    OK Smartypants. What does that mean for us ignoramuses? (NOTE: I tried to take Latin in high school in 1966. I was not allowed to, because Latin was for boys, who could be priests.)

  11. PostCatholic says:

    I am terrible at Latin. Yes, if ex solio is the correct declension, I did mean that. Why cute?

  12. leonugent2005 says:

    Sede vacante

  13. vox borealis says:


    I had assumed you were making a subtle political jab, i.e. is not “ex solio” (“from the throne / seat of a king or deity”) more fitting than “ex cathedra” (“from the cushioned seat / professor’s chair”). If you are asking without irony, I’m not sure, but I assume that the cathedra refers to the bishop’s role as teacher (i.e., the pope makes binding statements out of his role as the supreme teacher, not because he is the head of state).

  14. Juergensen says:

    At first glance I thought that was Clint Eastwood.

  15. AnAmericanMother says:

    Your first glance did not deceive you.
    He was hilarious – and effective.

  16. PostCatholic says:

    Thanks vox borealis. No, I wasn’t making a political reference, it really was an earnest question and I’m glad to learn.

    I think Clint Eastwood was “extra ‘titubanti cathedra’ ” Or however one would say that neologism.

  17. Bea says:

    Ex Cathedra: From the Chair (Chair of Peter) as in a Dogmatic pronouncement made by the Pope.

    Ad Cathedra: To the chair as in Clint Eastwood speaking to the chair (empty) since Mr. O is either on vacation or golfing.

    We have a Pope and He’s sitting there.
    We have a President, but where is he?

  18. Therese says:

    Bea says: “We have a Pope and He’s sitting there. We have a President, but where is he?”

    That’s hilarious!

  19. albinus1 says:

    the word solium, in English throne, is related to sol, the Latin for sun

    No, it isn’t. According to the Oxford Latin Dictionary*, solium is from the same root as the verb sedere, “to sit”, with the same d/l shift seen in odor / olere. Ernout-Meilleit’s Dictionnaire Etymologique de la Langue Latine says much the same thing about solium, in its entry for sedeo/

    In addition, the -o- in solium is short, whereas the -o- in sol “sun” is long, which also strongly suggests that they from different underlying roots. Just because words happen to look alike doesn’t mean they are related.

    The common language of the early Christian Church was Greek, which is why the New Testament was written in it. cathedra is a borrowing into Latin from Greek — as is episcopus — and the Greek loan word for a bishop’s chair was probably retained in Christian Latin for the same reason that others (e.g., episcopus, presbyter, baptisma) most likely were: it had come to be regarded as an established technical term.

    * Lewis & Short is misleading here. Under solium it says, “from the root sol,” but then goes on to say, “kindred with sed, <sedeo. Again, since there is no macron over the -o- in sol in this note, whereas there is a macron over the -o- in the entry for sol, solis “sun”, it is logical to infer that L&S is also indicating that these two words derive from different roots, though it does so less clearly than the OLD.

  20. Supertradmum says:

    Therese and Bea, on the golf course (more than any other previous president) is where you will find potus.

  21. PostCatholic says:

    I checked, Supertradmum, and Woodrow Wilson holds the presidential golfing record at 1,600 rounds, with Eisenhauer a close second at 800. Mr Obama has played about 100. That is 100 more than me, so I think it a lot, but in fairness he’s got a lot of catching up to do.

    Back to the topic, how does one say “off his rocker” in Latin?

  22. Andrew says:

    how does one say “off his rocker” in Latin?


  23. Supertradmum says:

    PostCatholic, I stand corrected on the golf course issue. However, the other two presidents had more years to wrack up statistics having two terms each. Let us make sure potus is not given the opportunity.

  24. rhhenry says:

    In re: PostCatholic’s question about solium: I think that the difference between a “solium” and a “cathedra” is that a solium refers to any chair occupied by someone in (purely?) legal authority (a judge, a sheriff, chairman of your local homeowners’ association, etc.), whereas a cathedra refers to someone in a position of (at least in part) teaching authority (we still retain this idea in the American — and, I think, British, probably among others — higher education system, where some professors are elected to “chairs”).

    Since the bishops are granted (among other powers / authorities) the duty of teaching the faith, “cathedra” is therefore more apt than “solium.”

    Such is my 2-cents; I defer to those who are better informed than I . . .

  25. rhhenry says:

    In re: “off his rocker”: even this not-very-good Latinist could come up with “non compos mentis”!

  26. Johnno says:

    Many in the media are criticizing Clint for his speech, but as usual the media misses the point, perhaps deliberately. His was probably the most insightful one there, not to mention the only one unscripted without a teleprompter. Good commentary here if anyone’s interested:

  27. albinus1 says:

    In re: “off his rocker”: There is delirus (related to delirium), which, in addition to meaning “insane”, preserves a similar metaphor: literally it means “out of one’s furrow” (in this instance, a metaphor from farming, in which classical Latin abounds).

  28. rhhenry says:

    @albinus1: Nice! I love little things like this! Although obvious, I never would have thought of delirus / delirium as meaning de-lirus / de-lirium. What a great metaphor: the (slightly) crazy are (merely) wandering outside of their appointed paths / grooves, and thus can be brought back to the (straight and narrow) path. This etymological lesson made my day — does that make me an irredeemable language geek?

  29. Therese says:

    “Lewis & Short is misleading here.”

    Is nothing sacred any more? (Seriously, I don’t have a L&S, but I do have a L.) I was going on what I knew of this word. Careful, as the length of the vowel doesn’t always tell the whole story.

    Supertradmum, we’d be better off if only he spent more time on the golf course…

  30. Pingback: Humour : leçon de latin | Riposte-catholique

  31. PostCatholic says:

    Yes, I could come up with non compos mentis or delerium, et alii, but I was actually asking for a more literal translation of “off his rocking chair.”

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