Many are the times that I have lamented the nearly complete disobedience to the Code of Canon Law and the expressed will of modern Roman Pontiffs about the Latin language. For example, the 1983 Code of Canon Law, can. 249, requires – it doesn’t suggest or recommend or propose – that seminarians be very well trained in Latin: “lingua latina bene calleant“. Not just calleant, says can. 249, but bene calleant. Calleo is “to be practised, to be wise by experience, to be skilful, versed in” or “to know by experience or practice, to know, have the knowledge of, understand”. We get the word “callused” from this verb. We develop calluses when we do something repeatedly. So, bene calleant is “let them be very well versed”. Review also Sacrosanctum Concilium 36 and Optatam totius 13, just to point to documents of Vatican II.
Latin is necessary. Its benefits are so numerous that they shouldn’t have to be enumerated. And yet we are faced today with a clergy – and educated class – who are nearly totally ignorant of Latin.
The great Fr. John Hunwicke has a good entry at his blog about Latin and the ignorance of clergy and clerisy.
Here is a taste with my usual treatment (NB: he has black and red in his original):
Roman Pontiffs do not commonly sign their Magisterial documents on the High Altar of S Peter’s in the presence of the body of Cardinals. But S John XXIII thus promulgated his Apostolic Constitution Veterum sapientia, 1962, in which he insisted that the Latin language must remain central to the culture of Western Christianity. What more could the good old gentleman have done?
That Letter was praised by B Paul VI (Studia Latinitatis, 1964, ” … principem obtinere locum dicenda sane est”), who was anxious that seminarians “magna cum cura et diligentia ad antiquas et humanas litteras informentur”; and S John Paul II (Sapientia Christiana) emphasised the requirement for knowlege of Latin “for the faculties of the Sacred Sciences, so that students can understand and use the sources and documents of the Church”. More recently Benedict XVI (Latina lingua, 2012), praised Veterum sapientia as having been issued iure meritoque: it is to be taken seriously both because of its legal force and because of the intrinsic merit of its arguments; and in his Encyclical Sacramentum Caritatis wrote specifically about the need for seminarians to be taught Latin. We have, in other words, a coherent expectation in the teaching of popes S John XXIII, B Paul VI, S John Paul II, and Benedict XVI that all seminarians should become proficient in Latin, the language of the Church. And the attitude of the popes to the promotion of Latin studies in even broader contexts than that of the formation of the clergy is demonstrated in the establishment by B Paul VI of a Latin Academy; a foundation re-established and strengthened by Benedict XVI.
This papal teaching by no means relates solely to the language of worship; it desires Latin to remain a living vernacular for the clergy and not least for their formation; and it is explicitly based upon the belief that, by being latinate, a clerisy will have access to a continuity of culture. My post would have to be very long indeed if it quoted fully all the words of all four popes to this effect. Coming as I do from the Anglican Patrimony, I will instead share the witness of C S Lewis’s Devil Screwtape, who confessed, “Since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another”. And in his Pilgrim’s Regress, Lewis suggests that the growing disuse of Classical languages is a Diabolical trick to isolate the educated classes from the wisdom of the Past. Both in secular culture and within the Church, there is a risk that the educated class will be cut off and imprisoned in the narrow confines of a particular culture – victims of its particular Zeitgeist. [This is clearly what has already happened, and we are suffering the consequences ] A literate clerisy is one that reads what other ages wrote, which means that it will at least be able to read Latin; and the sign of such a clerisy, in practical terms, will be that it can with ease read its Divine Office in Latin.
It is in this context that we must see the requirement of Vatican II (Sacrosanctum Concilium 101): “In accordance with the centuries-old tradition (saecularis traditio) of the Latin rite, the Latin language is to be retained by clerics in reciting the Divine Office“. And it is highly significant that it goes on to make any use of the vernacular an (apparently very rare) exception which bishops can grant “only on an individual basis“.
The loss of Latin in our sacred worship has been devastating for our identity as Catholics and, therefore, our influence in the world. The loss of Latin amongst our clergy has been devastating for our Catholic identity, for our clergy promotes knock on effects through the entire people of God.
At the end of his entry, Fr. H also raises a question that I have also raised. When men are ordained, someone involved in formation stands up to testify that the men are properly formed and trained, that they are idonei for Orders. However, most of them now have no Latin and cannot even begin to say half of their Rite, the Extraordinary Form. Are they properly formed?
We can’t afford to say, “It’s too haaard!” or “There’s no tiiiiime!” Perhaps other things ought to be sacrificed for the sake of Latin.