Vulgar (i.e. vernacular) Latin

When St Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, he did so in vulgar Latin, i.e. the street Latin of 4th century Italy. He could have made a translation into high Latin, the poetic language of Ovid and Virgil, but he didn’t.

Doesn’t that imply that the use of Latin in the Church was designed to help people understand, not for its’ intrinsic beauty.

If that was the way then, why not now?

Can’t it be for both understandability and beauty?

Jerome mentions in his Letter to Eustochium that he was long troubled with temptations of intellectual pride because of his love of “high Latin.” In one of his dreams, an angel accused him of being a follower of Cicero, not the follower of Christ.
So I would say that he avoided using the “tempting” high Latin in translating the Bible to emphasize the humble nature of his duty.

But this is only a guess: I would suggest that you read the writings of Jerome in-depth to discover his motives.

I don’t see anything in your argument that would show that the common Latin of the people was NOT intrinsically beautiful.

Absent that proof, not implication can be made that the language used was NOT chosen for it’s beauty.

In addition, a case could also be made for the theological precision of the language. The terms and concepts of the Councils were promuglated in vulgar Latin and common Greek. Therefore, since the terms were defined in that form of Latin, would it not be proper to homilize (and yes, Liturgize) in that language.

Why can’t the language of Shakespeare and Wordsworth and Blake also be intrinsically beautiful? (I’m not saying the NO is on a par with those, but give it time.)

English is precise enough for 90% of the published science papers in the world today, the proceedings of the UN General Assembly, and the business dealings of all the major stock markets. Why isn’t it appropriate for preaching and liturgy?

It is. What’s the problem?

Actually, Saint Augustine in his Confessions tells how the “vulgarity” of the Latin of the Bible tortured his classically tuned ears… So I don’t think vulgar Latin was chosen for its beauty.
But you are quite correct about its theological aptitude - an entire system of theology was built in Latin (and not only Catholic but Protestant as well, Latin being the common language of Protestant theologians all over the world for centuries.)

But if any one wants to know why Jerome chose vulgar Latin, look it up in Jerome’s own writings (and let me know :wink: )

Well, a great example is the “One in Being with the Father” was say in the creed.

Contrast this with the Latin term “Consubstantialis”

All existance comes from the Father, and all thing have their Being in Him. Therefore I am “one in being with the Father”, as is the computer I am typing on, so is the grass in my yard. So mentioning it in the Creed says nothing about the Nature of the Father and of the Son.

So the vulgar English term “One in Being” does not have the same connotation as Consubstantialis.

Only the Son and the Spirt share Substance with the Father.

In fact, I’ve noticed that any time actual theological precision is attempted in English, it gets met with scorn as it’s not ‘popular’ enough.

The Vulgar Latin had both.

I seriously doubt the language of the street was like the language St. Jerome used in translation. Perhaps in Cicero’s own times, but not really in St. Jerome’s, I think. But this is just a guess, I don’t know for sure. Note that the grammar is correct, if simple and perhaps appearing crude to highly educated people like St. Augustine. It’s just simple but decent language. Classical Latin would have been like what Elisabethan English is for us, I guess. Most people would have to spend a while figuring out the sentences.

Well, there is this tendency in languages that as the years pass, what was once considered as ‘street lingo’ or ‘informal’ will be considered as ‘antiquated’ or even ‘respectful’. Just look at English.

‘Thou’ was the informal third-person pronoun while ‘You’ is the formal and respectful form. But now, ‘Thou’ is deemed as an extremely respectful form.

It is because Latin is the ‘Sacred Language’, so to speak, of the Catholic Church. English might be useful in these times, but if you’ll look closely, almost every Religion has its own Sacred Language.

Hinduism has Sanskrit, Buddhism has both Pali and Sanskrit, Judaism has Biblical Hebrew, and Islam has Classical Arabic.

Also the Eastern Churches, like Koine Greek for the Greek Orthodox, Church Slavonic for the Russian Orthodox and others, Syriac for the Syrian Churches, Coptic for the Copts, etc.

One thing you’ll notice is these languages were once in the same situation as Latin, in that they were the common speech spoken in the street and by the common people.

Yes, English is useful for preaching and some parts of the Liturgy (as in the Readings) in my personal opinion, but we have a Liturgical language of our own and we should not just drop it by the wayside (which sadly, many have done so over the last forty years). English might be a Universal language, it might be beautiful, but it is NOT the Language of the Liturgy for the Latin Church. Latin is.

It might be ‘dead’, sure, but most, if not all ‘Sacred tongues’ of many religions are also ‘dead’. We’re not unique in this case. Yet have you heard Hindus or Muslims complaining about how Sanskrit or Classical Arabic is a dead language and we should replace it with something ‘understandable’?

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.