Latin experts: Is there a good resource for translating old church Latin?


I have a rudimentary (4 years high school) Latin background which means I can generally tell nouns from verbs, identify pronouns and have a basic idea of what’s being said. However, I can’t translate fluently. I sometimes want to translate some old piece of church Latin, often it’s a Mass proper of some sort, and a lot of the online Latin resources are not much help even when I can recognize the word or phrase I’m trying to translate as something that pops up frequently in old church Latin.

For example, I was trying to translate some old collect prayers tonight and here are some of the issues I ran into:
“Presul” which I understand in church Latin means “leader”, but the translation resources kept saying it meant “pretense”.

“Sullimasti” which is in a number of old documents, but the Latin translation resources online have never heard of this word apparently.

“Propicius” which as far as I can tell means “merciful” or refers to God’s mercy. It appears repeatedly in old missals, but again the Latin translation resources have not heard of it. I’m not sure if it was borrowed from some other language as one resource said it was Anglo-Norman word.

Like I said, church Latin is formulaic, this should not be so hard. Is there a good resource I am overlooking? Any suggestions would be welcome. Hopefully over time if I do a lot of these I will get good at them as the same words tend to appear in collect prayers over and over.



REV. H. P. V. NUNN, M.A.

Nunn, H. P. V. (1922). An introduction to ecclesiastical Latin (p. i). Cambridge: University Press.


One of the things you are going to have to get used to when reading post-Classical Latin is that spelling becomes variable because of sound changes. Medieval texts abound in spelling variations, and they are not easy to find in dictionaries.

You see “e” for “ae” and “oe” a lot, or the other way around. “Presul” was spelled “praesul” in Classical Latin, and that is what you will find in the dictionary.

“Propicius” is an obvious misspelling of “propitius”,

“Sullimasti” is almost certainly derived from “sublimare”. The first “l” is an assimilated “b” from the prefix “sub-”

There is really no way to to figure this out except to increase you knowledge of Latin, both Classical and post-Classical, to the point where you can spot variant spellings on your own.

Have fun!


Thanks. I did figure out the previous two (some of the online dictionaries had the alternate spelling of praesul) but this just wasn’t coming up anywhere.

My old Latin teacher, Sister Mary S., may she rest in peace, would be proud of me for even thinking about this stuff in my leisure hours.


Good luck! You are certainly more diligent than me!


I’ve found that wiktionary has most of these, although some of the proper meanings are missing, and many times there are missing parts of speech not linked properly. In those old texts, ae is a, and a lot of times the c should be changed to t, for example propicius > propitius, which is in wiktionary. is also good, as well as I think. I found sullimasti by following the recommendation in the above post and changing it to sublimasti, which is also on wiktionary. I’ve started to translate some of these things recently too.

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