Apologetics for Latin

How would you explain/defend the use of a “dead” language (Latin) to worship God to a Protestant?

I would imagine this was a common question for pre-Vatican II Catholics.

How about its universality? The use of Latin comes from history- it is a historical fact that it was the most widely used lingua franca of the world.

Jesus brought the Roman Empire to its knees. There are thus sound theological reasons for the church using the language of the Empire.

There were also practical reasons for having a standardised language of learning. To write in English is to write in sand, since within a few hundred years the meaning of the words will have changed significantly. Latin authors didn’t have this problem. Also, there is a need for an international language. Nowadays English fits the bill, a couple of hundred years ago it would have been French. In the Middle Ages, it was Latin.

For the same reasons that you would explain the use of Latin in scientific and medical therminology, I would suspect. Latin is a very precise language. And as a previous poster pointed out, it cannot change because it is dead.

Nobody argues about “inclusive” language in Latin.

[SIGN]FAMAE MORTIS LINGUAE LATINAE
VALDE AEDIFICATAE SUNT
*[/SIGN]

(* The rumors of Latin’s demise
have been greatly exaggerated)

Latin is not a “dead” language.

But it is an orthographic and chirographic language – That is: It’s development is controlled by the written word. Latin is not spoken by anyone who cannot also read and write it. This is why it is useful as a language of education and precision.

tee

You can add to this fact that many *Protestant *homeschoolers and private Christian schools with a Classical education emphasis are teaching their children Latin for this very reason. Here are some of the reasons given:

[LIST]
*]Latin increases the student’s English vocabulary. For example, “60% of English words are derived from Latin.” (Wheelock’s Latin, 6th edition, copyright 2000). If a youngster knows that “amo” means “I love,” then he can deduce the meaning of amorous, amateur and amiable.

*]Latin helps the student understand English grammar. In Latin, the child must thoroughly learn and understand all the parts of speech and the sentence…direct objects, objects of preposition, nouns, etc. This knowledge is carried over to English.

*]Latin aids in learning the Romance and other inflected languages. (Inflected means the change of form indicating the grammatical relationship. Speech is very clear.) Laura Berquist, Director of Mother of Divine Grace Home Study Program, writes, “… it (Latin) is the key to the structure and vocabulary of the Romance languages.”

*]Latin trains the mind to think logically and precisely. It teaches the youngster how to think. No fuzziness here! One must analyze, observe, evaluate, judge, understand. One must be disciplined, persistent and accurate. This reasoning process is transferred to other areas, such as mathematics.

*]Latin helps with standardized tests. For instance, between 1997 and 2004, Latin students scored an average of 157 points higher on the SAT’s than non-Latin students. (Latin Centered Curriculum)

*]The study of Latin greatly assists those with careers in certain fields. Latin underlies the technical language of law, medicine, science, academia and technology. If a youth is interested in working in any of these areas, Latin is invaluable. Additionally, “The business world has long recognized the importance of a rich vocabulary and rates it high as evidence of executive potential and success.” (Wheelock)

*]Latin aids the understanding and appreciation of all aspects of Western culture. This classical language flows through history, art, philosophy and particularly literature. How exciting to understand the context of that familiar expression, “carpe diem” and to read Shakespeare and catch the nuances!
[/LIST]To see some resources, go here:
memoriapress.com/descriptions/Latina1.html

Easy. First of all, Latin, linguistically speaking, is not a dead language. It is spoken by more than 600 million people under its various modern forms (the Romance languages-all nothing more than modern forms of Latin, just as English is a modern form of Anglo-Saxon/Old English). There’s also the fact that Classical Latin is actually the first language of an estimated 2 million people, but I’m not getting into that again right now.

To make it easy, you can remind them that Jesus worshipped in Hebrew. Hebrew began to die out as a spoken language around 586 BC, after the Jews were defeated by the Babylonians, and was replaced by Aramaic. Hebrew was officially a dead language well before the time of Jesus, and was only used in Jewish worship. It was only at the end of the 19th century that Hebrew was revived as a spoken language, thus making it the only modern spoken language to have ever been revived from a “dead” written language.

So your answer is simple…If a “dead” language was good enough for my Lord, it’s good enough for me.

I would also submit that it is not dead in that the Vatican keeps it alive in that it has to constantly develop and revise Latin so that it can address modern issues of which not Latin word existed in antiquity such as the Latin work for computer.

Including what was already said I would turn the question around from a different perspective. I would ask the questioner why worship must be in the language of the congregation. The objection would most obviously be that it is not understandable to the majority of the congregation. My response would be that worship is directed to God and not man and God can understand all languages. They would then say something to the nature of including any number of languages as the type of language of worship. I would agree on that point which in effect makes the issue of language a neutral issue. So, it then sets the table that any language would be fitting to worship. From that point I would then build the argument in showing why Latin is a more fitting language for Worship using the points discussed so far in this thread. I would also include the continuity with history which is the reason why even Koine Greek exists in the liturgy to this day.

But this is what I still don’t get: You then have the rather odd scene of an English speaking priest (for example) speaking to God (who understands all languages, which would include English) in a language not native to him or to the English speaking congregation in front of whom and on behalf of whom he is addressing God, as they follow along in a text provided for them in an English translation. It rather defies logic, doesn’t it? As for precision, won’t God get it PRECISELY anyway? The people won’t, since the translation is (by definition) imprecise.

I’m not saying that Latin isn’t important, that would be like saying that Hebrew and Greek aren’t important. They patently are. Latin has been of prime importance in the history of the Church and it is still the Church’s official language. I can see its liturgical usefullness in large international gatherings. I don’t see, in balance, that Latin has a day-in, day-out benefit that outweighs people being able to understand the Mass in the langauge in which they think.

Even back in the “old days”, the missals presented a Latin/vernacular form. Latin/English, Latin/German, Latin/ French, etc. etc. So we ‘understood’ what was going on in the Mass just as well (if not better) than we do today.

Because as somebody noted on another thread, if you go to a vernacular Mass, you are not always going to get ‘the same words’ that you do at a traditional Mass. It’s actually easier to know that “dominus vobiscum” is **always ** going to be “the lord be with you”, for example. . .whereas you might hear anything from “the lord be with you” to “the greetings of God be with you”. . .“we welcome you”, “in the name of the Creator etc.”. . .because a lot–a LOT-- of priests try to make the Mass more ‘interesting’, more ‘personal’, and you know (before you start to flame, please) that there is some latitude which is permitted. As in, “the priest says these or similar words”. . .rubrics which are found in one or two places in the Mass but which in the practice of at least one priest in my diocese wind up in him changing almost every single word in the mass.

As another poster noted as well, familiarity with Latin (with any ‘other’ language actually than one’s primary language) is for the vast majority of people extremely helpful. It enlarges one’s vocabulary for one thing. It broadens the mind. For the very, very few for whom even ‘one’ language is difficult, once again I point out that today we have missals which explain in the vernacular; just as we have ‘sign language’ for those who are hearing impaired; there are tools out there to make the Mass as intelligible as possible. Latin will not make it ‘less’ intelligible as the use of Latin does not abrogate the use of a vernacular language; instead, it enhances it.

My current parish is Polish and while I do not understand the language, the congregation sings some hymns in Polish and occasionally the Vespers service is held in Polish, for example. I don’t have any trouble listening to a language I don’t understand (the hymns are NOT translated, but I can sometimes figure out if it’s a familiar tune like, tantum ergo :smiley: ,) and I have noticed that once I’ve gotten familiar with the sounds and correlated them with how the words look on the hymnal, I can recognize them in other songs and begin to gain a sense of the language. So I’m not just listening to ‘mumbo jumbo’, even if I don’t know the tune or words at al at first; I’m just starting on the long process of learningl. These words mean something to a lot of the people, and I’m learning too. It is a very positive experience–far more positive than you might expect–humbling ‘not’ to know something yet exciting to learn, however slowly. It makes me feel a part of a bigger whole.

I think that people have good intentions but that they really do not realize that having more Latin in the Mass is such a positive experience. I truly think that focusing on negatives, as if by ‘thrusting’ a ‘different’ language on people we are depriving them or making it too difficult for them, really is kind of saying that people are too stupid or lazy to be bothered learning, so why even try?

JKirk,

Something that has not been brought up is that by its use in the liturgy and nowhere else (for most people), Latin has become something of a sacred language. To say something in Latin tends naturally to turn one towards God and worship. I find myself in the Novus Ordo (vernacular) mass mumbling “Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbum et sanabitur anima mea.” I know exactly what it means, and it has a good bit more significance to me than “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” I speak English to lots of people; I speak Latin only to God.

  • Liberian

I have to address the last two posts in bits, as I’m on a time crunch. I WILL acknowledge, Liberian, there’s something to what you say. I often say,“Adoramus Te Cristi et benedicimus tibi qui per Sanctum Crucem Tuam redemisti mundum,” because it IS piercingly lovely and I learned it as a song first. Still, I’m not sure in the balance scale that’s worth more in the long term than people being able to hear and absorb the sacred words of the Mass in the language in which they speak and think. I’ve also, in the midst of a stressful day at school (I teach) had, without consciously inviting it, the holy words,“This is My Body” and “this is My Blood” come to my mind, in a very consoling way, calling me back to what’s really important. Those words occur to me in English, rather than Latin.

Why should Latin be useful in large international gatherings? To unite everyone by a common level of ignorance? Because that’s what it will be if they do not hear, learn, and understand Latin at home.

tee

Since a great many historical documents were written originally in Latin, any historian who wants to study original sources should know Latin.

As for Liturgical Latin, if you hear it every week, it is not that hard to learn.

Introibo ad altare Dei.
Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.

(I will go up unto the altar of God
To God who gives joy to my youth.)

(As an altar boy I always thought that was written just for me, since I was at that time, a youth.)

homeschoolers and private Christian schools with a Classical education emphasis are teaching their children Latin for this very reason. Here are some of the reasons given:
[LIST]
*]Latin increases the student’s English vocabulary. For example, “60% of English words are derived from Latin.” (Wheelock’s Latin, 6th edition, copyright 2000). If a youngster knows that “amo” means “I love,” then he can deduce the meaning of amorous, amateur and amiable.
*]Latin helps the student understand English grammar. In Latin, the child must thoroughly learn and understand all the parts of speech and the sentence…direct objects, objects of preposition, nouns, etc. This knowledge is carried over to English.
*]Latin aids in learning the Romance and other inflected languages. (Inflected means the change of form indicating the grammatical relationship. Speech is very clear.) Laura Berquist, Director of Mother of Divine Grace Home Study Program, writes, “… it (Latin) is the key to the structure and vocabulary of the Romance languages.”
*]Latin trains the mind to think logically and precisely. It teaches the youngster how to think. No fuzziness here! One must analyze, observe, evaluate, judge, understand. One must be disciplined, persistent and accurate. This reasoning process is transferred to other areas, such as mathematics.
*]Latin helps with standardized tests. For instance, between 1997 and 2004, Latin students scored an average of 157 points higher on the SAT’s than non-Latin students. (Latin Centered Curriculum)
*]The study of Latin greatly assists those with careers in certain fields. Latin underlies the technical language of law, medicine, science, academia and technology. If a youth is interested in working in any of these areas, Latin is invaluable. Additionally, “The business world has long recognized the importance of a rich vocabulary and rates it high as evidence of executive potential and success.” (Wheelock)
*]Latin aids the understanding and appreciation of all aspects of Western culture. This classical language flows through history, art, philosophy and particularly literature. How exciting to understand the context of that familiar expression, “carpe diem” and to read Shakespeare and catch the nuances![/LIST]To see some resources, go here:
memoriapress.com/descriptions/Latina1.html
[LEFT]All of this is absolutlely true, as well! Latin is a great part of education, & it makes me sad to think how many people have never had the chance to study it. How wonderful that it is making a comeback, due in no small part to the homeschooling movement!![/LEFT]

[/quote]

Hi Scriabin,

Many of the arguments given here are valid for the study of Latin rather than use of Latin in the liturgy.

Latin was the language of the common people for a long time. Then it kept being used because the “new” languages were not yet ready (or thought to be ready) for higher things. Then it was kept just because of custom. It has no advantages for the liturgy per se.

There are howeve incidental advantages to some use of Latin, which are not minor. All Catholics should learn the Lord’s Prayer, the Gloria and the Credo in Latin and use them at least once a month in services. When Catholics from various backgrounds get together, the common singing of these parts of the Mass are a great sign and promotion of unity.

Additionally, Latin is the language of Gregorian Chant, and this music should be fostered both for its value in prayer and its cultural value.

On the other hand there is total justification for the use of Latin as official language of the Church. Since Latin is no longer the language of a particular ethnic group, it is most suitable as the international language of the Church, which has never stopped using it.

For all these reasons, it is most appropriate to foster the study of Latin in our schools.

Verbum

Fairly recently someone produced a “Geordie Bible”. For American readers, the Geordies are people who live in the Newcastle area, and have a very distinctive dialect.

The Bible is considered a joke. People buy a copy, read it out, have a laugh. It is not considered suitable for regular worship, because Geordie is not a sufficinetly dignified language.

Now until the Reformation, almost everyone had that exact same attitude to their native tongue. It was the language you spoke whilst tending the pigs. In the next village, five miles away, the accent and many of the words would be different. There was no formal spelling. It wasn’t a tongue you would use for writing to the King, or keeping accounts in, or for the solemn celebration of the Mass.

And yet English, use by Shakespeare and Donne, could be argued to be sufficiently dignified for worship. No one is suggesting an Ebonics Mass or an Esperanto Mass. And that concept of a liturgical language was not the oringinal reason that the Mass happened to be in Latin.

Correct but it just so turned out that Latin has a precision that even English does not have. Because of the didactic nature of the liturgy such precision is necessary. This is why they pine away at trying to develop a perfect translation of the Liturgy. However, no matter how good they know that it will have flaws.

This discussion reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend back at the seminary. He thought that it was odd that we would go to great lengths to educate ourselves for our professions or even to drive and do other worldly things but at the same time none seem to be willing to do the same for something far more important - their faith.

I also find this … interesting.

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