A cause of today’s ecclesial schizophrenia: priests don’t know Latin

This is for priests and bishops in the Latin Church who don’t know Latin.

Fathers, most of you who are not quite senior now did not get Latin in your education years.

You were cheated.

If you entered formation after the 1983 Code was promulgated, and you were denied Latin, those who were in charge of your formation did you a terrible injustice.  The 1983 Code absolutely requires Latin during seminary formation.  The Latin Church’s law – can. 249 – requires that seminarians be “very well trained” in Latin.  The English translation of that canon is weak, by the way.  Perhaps the one who made the translation was trying to hide the truth.

What does it mean for the identity of the Latin Church and of her members if the priests of the Latin Church do not know any Latin, the language of worship, law and theology – Cult, Code and Creed – back into the depths of her origins?   This could point to the ecclesial schizophrenia we see on all sides now: disorganized behavior and speech, being out of touch with reality, erratic and disorganized.

Fathers, correct the problem.   START LEARNING LATIN.

“But… but… but… it’s tooooo haaaaard.  I don’t have tiiiiiiiime!”

This is the Feast of Ignatius Loyola.   Ignatius, after his conversion in 1521, had to get the proper foundational education so that he could move forward in his new mission.  At 33 years old he started attending a basic public grammar school in Barcelona so that he could later go to university.  Ignatius sat with school children to learn Latin.   He then studied Latin and theology for the next ten years.

Imagine.  What might have happened had Ignatius whined about Latin being “toooo haaaard”, or not have “enough tiiiiime”!  What might that have meant for the Counter-Reformation?

You could, Fathers, start your transformation today on this Feast of St. Ignatius… Patron of Late Latin Students? … by signing up NOW for, for example, DUOLINGO’s Latin course.

Duolingo is online or on your phone.  I know people who have used it effectively.  You can get out of a course what you put into it.

This method, which I have seen a little, has the advantage of being contained so that, on a daily basis, you can make progress without dedicating massive amounts of time.   Is it perfect? Hardly.  Are there better methods?  Yes.  Would it be worth pursuing those better methods?  Sure.  HOWEVER, this is something that you can do RIGHT NOW.  Click clickity click and you are AT IT.

I know someone who has made amazing progress with French using Duolingo.  He has been at it now every day for almost a year.

You can get out of a course what you put into it. 

A little bit every day.  Brick by brick.  Minutatim.  By degress.

An article about learning Latin with Duolingo at Catholic World Report.

Men.  Look at this image.  It is from a series of illustrations of a life of St. Ignatius.

Barcinone ut se ad animorum salutem instruat prima Grammaticae elementa annos tres, et triginta natus addiscit; furente ac rumpente se Daemone, qui importunis rerum caelestium gaudiis avocare alio eius animum frustra conatur.

In Barcelona, so that he may train himself for the saving of souls, at the age of thirty-three he studies the first elements of Grammar; but is taken out of himself and distracted by the Devil who in vain tries to call his mind elsewhere by importunate enjoyments regarding heavenly things.

Fathers!   Don’t be like the kids in the foreground, fooling around when they ought to be paying attention.  Don’t allow the Devil to distract you with things that you think are important but really aren’t.

Fathers!  Be like Ignatius, who was humble enough to go to elementary school with children to get his Latin.

Take the simple step I’ve suggested.   Brick by brick.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. If you like the book approach, “A Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin” by Collins is a good resource. That is what my teacher (1-on-1 with a jesuit priest) at university used with me.

  2. thomistking says:

    My own strategy for learning Latin was to spend years slowly working through Hans Robert’s Lingua Latina (combined with audio recordings, the accompanying College companion for grammatical explanations and Miraglia’s companion volumes). I would also recommend memorizing the 200 or 1000 most common Latin words with Anki (a program I just discovered recently). Even if you’re only making 5 minutes worth of progress a day, that’s still something. Your brain is wired for language. You will get it if you work on it consistently.

  3. LeeGilbert says:

    Although the goal you propose is that we learn one language, Latin, the polyglots have a lot to tell us about learning any language whatever. If only I had encountered this wisdom in my twenties!

    Steve Kaufman
    Learn Vocabulary Fast

    Let Them Talk TV
    How to learn several languages at the same time

    I would think what this gentleman has to say would be very encouraging to Anglophones learning Latin. Essentially, he is saying that we already know quite a bit just by virtue of speaking English.

    The overall message of the polyglots ( of which there are many on Youtube) is that language learning is not anywhere near as difficult as conventional methods ( e.g. high school and college courses) make it out to be. One hot tip that Kaufman makes is to learn individual verb forms rather than entire conjugations. In other words, learn “amo” and “amavi” etc. as individual vocabulary words. In my halting study of French I had already arrived at that conclusion, driven there by the immensity of the 501 French Verbs book. Learning entire conjugations simply isn’t necessary for one thing, and thinking that one has to do so makes the undertaking far more daunting than it needs to be.

    Of course, it does not have to be either or, but we learned English effortlessly as three year olds, and then, some six or seven years later were introduced to formal grammar. As Kaufman says, the critical thing is to learn the words.

  4. JustaSinner says:

    Everytime I read the story of St Ignatius Loyola, I get ready eyed. He was great and the current crop of Jesuits aren’t…

  5. JabbaPapa says:

    Well, I’m no priest, but …

    The best courses I’ve taken myself for the Latin were a lovely little introduction to it in French 5ème (equivalent British 2nd Form ; US 7th Grade) ; and an extremely useful optional in Vulgar & Late Latin in my 2nd year at the Sorbonne in Paris (2 Professors, 3 students).

    The latter was and is extremely useful for the reading and proper understanding of the Vulgate Bible, which was mostly written in Late Latin (though a few of the more complex texts do use some more Classical forms). Sadly, it is rather difficult to find a course in Late Latin particularly, whereas the Vulgar (i.e. “popular”) Latin is usually denounced as “bad” Latin ; whereas it was simply the Latin that was used on a daily basis in the market places, in the villages, in the family environment. It was the ordinary Latin, in comparison to the more formal and educated and poetic Classical forms.

    Though unfortunately, I’ve had no specific & formal instruction into the Mediaeval & Church Latin, just a quick peek into a library book on the topic, which would be a more useful basis for the understanding of the Canon Law, of the Liturgy, of the teaching of the Church via her Letters, Bulls, Encyclicals, Councils.

  6. Philmont237 says:

    Using Duolingo, I learned enough Portuguese in FIVE DAYS to score high enough on the Defense Language Proficiency Test to warrant foreign language bonus pay.

  7. aflusche says:

    A priest told me recently:

    “Latin is not a language to me.”

    I was dumbstruck. And we live in a Diocese that some refer to as “Catholic Disneyland.”

  8. aflusche:

    “Latin is not a language to me.”

    Sin can be absolved, but stupid is forever.

  9. FrJohnDowney says:

    I’ve learned German and Spanish. I’ve discovered that after you’ve learned one or two languages other than your first language it becomes easier. Spanish should help a little, so I downloaded Duolingo. I can read French and Italian and not know every word, but at least I know what it’s about. I can read some Latin and know the topic. So this shouldn’t be much of a burden. I love the history of the words we use today.

    I entered Seminary in 1974 and was Ordained in 1981. I had no Latin courses, and at 71 years of age (I entered when I was 24) I don’t remember if Latin was offered or not. I didn’t take the course. Spanish was mandatory.

  10. JohnNYC says:

    I am an actor (and former classicist) living in NYC. During the film/tv/theatre slowdown in production I need to do something productive and would be happy to tutor a priest or seminarian in the grammar and/or proper pronunciation of Latin . Three of my former students are priests who celebrate the TLM.
    These references and others are available upon request.
    I can be emailed directly:

    John Egan (server at Holy Innocents on 37th and Mount Carmel on 116th St.)

  11. Michaella says:

    Orberg’s Lingua Latina is indeed wonderful, especially as a way to help those who’ve been exposed to Latin in textbooks start to “feel” it as a language.

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