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Thursday, 29 December 2011

A milestone in the decline in Latin?

Perhaps readers may be able to help with this query from Hughie in the combox of my previous post:
I understand that in view of the concerns expressed by the Council Fathers, Pope Paul VI set up a commission of three cardinals to examine the question of whether the particular Churches should be allowed to communicate with the dicasteries of the Roman Curia in languages other than Latin. It is my understanding that Scotland’s William Theodore Cardinal Heard was one of the three. I believe that Cardinal Roberti MAY have been one of the others.

The problem is, I have never been able to locate anything about the report of the commission or anything about what Pope Paul VI decided, although it is obvious that they recommended, and the Pope accepted, that it was unreasonable/unadvisable (sic) to insist on the local Churches communicating in Latin. 

I wondered if, bearing in mind your expertise in the Latin, you knew anything about this.
I am afraid that I don't know anything about this commission. If you do, and especially if you have any links to put in the combox, that would be very helpful. It is interesting to hear about such a commission. If it existed as described, it would be typical of its time.

In the process of extirpating Latin from the life of the Church, it was often competent latinists who were most in favour of the vernacular. The attitude was to look condescendingly on students and priests who did not have good Latin and argue that it was pointless requiring them to say the breviary in Latin. In support of this attitude there were plenty of jokes told about ignorant priests who made mistakes in Latin. In those days, such attitudes were fashionable to the point that people were ridiculed routinely if they expressed a contrary opinion.

The stereotype of the ignorant parish clergy was always unfair. While the Latin of some was rudimentary, many priests had reasonably good Latin, and many improved over time through the conscientious recitation of the breviary.

There is a postscript to Hughie's comment concerning Cardinal Heard. There were many stories about him still doing the rounds when I was in Rome. They were not edifying - though again they were fashionable in an iconoclastic way. He and Cardinal Roberti may have been good latinists: there were still plenty around in Rome in the early 1960s. However I think that Cardinal Bacci was considered the doyen of latinists in the 1950s and, after him, Cardinal Felici. Reggie Foster spoke of Felici with awe: one tale he told us was that he could, ex tempore, compose hexameters in perfect metre .

In my time at Rome (1980-1985) Canon Law was still taught in Latin. Reggie told us of one lecturer who was particularly respected for his use of Latin. On one occasion I went with another student to his class in Canon Law: he beamed when we told him that we were not canonists but wished to hear his Latin.

It always irritated me that the theology lectures were given in Italian. The Italian of many of the teachers would have been no better than the Latin of some in previous years. Most students in Rome have to learn Italian from scratch: it would be far more use to them to learn Latin. What then happens is that a culture builds in which at least some take a pride in learning the language well. Others won't bother; but then there were always students who spent five or six years in Rome without being to speak Italian fluently. If Latin were part of the culture, some would learn Latin and Italian fluently while others wouldn't bother too much: but at least there would be an opportunity.

If that culture is present, then you also have a foundation for the cultivation of Latin at a higher level. At one time, People like Cardinals Bacci were admired for their Latin; it was seen as an accomplishment to be respected. I lived through the time when that admiration gave way to scorn and derision. Please God the process can be reversed as a younger generation begins again to treasure the wisdom of the ancients and the knowledge of their languages.
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