Need for Latin Remains Unchanged

Author: Pope Paul VI


Pope Paul VI

On 26th of April the Holy Father received in audience the prize winners of the 11th "Certamen Vaticanum". Also present were the members the Editorial Board of the review "Latinitas", with the president, Mons. Amleto Tondini.

Distinguished Gentlemen,

We are honoured today to welcome to Our house this elect group of Doctors and scholars of the Latin tongue, who form here a noble crown around the winners of the CertamenVaticanum XI. We Ourself desired this meeting, as We wish to express to you our sincere esteem and encourage you who excel in the knowledge, study and spread of the Latin language.

Latinists cannot but feel at home in the house of the Pope, because as expert, intelligent, versatile collaborators in the composition of the noble, important documents of the Apostolic See, they are, so to speak, in their own house. We lack time for what would be an "excursus" of historical erudition. It would be most interesting to see how our Predecessors favoured Latin in every way, enhanced its splendour and promoted its advancement. Moreover, they encouraged its experts and established the foundations of its literary and artistic development which reached heights of splendour in history and art. It is sufficient to recall Saint Jerome's place beside Pope Damasus, and the admirable flowering of illustrious ecclesiastical personalities during the humanistic period and the Renaissance.

Not Strangers and Foreigners

Our intention here is not to dwell on the resplendent hours of a past which was characteristically bound to a particular historical and literary pattern. Today, as We welcome you, We only wish to stress that, you as Latinists, are not strangers nor foreigners to the Holy See, but are, by right, its citizens.

The name of Rome has rendered and still renders to the Church a service of incomparable value. First, the organization of the Roman empire was providentially preordained to lend the highroads of the world subjugated by it to the messengers of the meek, liberating, humble, triumphant, hidden. priceless Good News. Afterwards, it offered the infant Church, as it emerged from the terrible bloody ordeal of persecution, the bond of the Latin tongue for the new liturgy, for ecclesiastical law and as a means of communication between peoples of different origin and culture, making them all one by the use of the same language, in the profound reality of a mysterious unity.

The Latin language contributed largely to the achievement of this marvel of unity. It is an indisputable, historical fact that the language of Rome became that of the Church of the Latin rite, as Our Predecessor, Pius XI, affirmed: "Embracing all nations and destined to subsist till the end of the world, the Church needs a universal language, immutable and not a vernacular" (Pius XI, Epist. Ap. Officiorum omnium, 1 aug. 1922: A.A.S. 14, 1922, p. 452). Our immediate Predecessor, John XXIII, while recalling and summarizing the merits of Latin in the magnificent document Veterum Sapientia, commented at length and lovingly on the three above mentioned effective attributes (cfr. A.A.S. 54, 1962, pp. 129-135).

Popes Uphold Latin

We, Ourself, have not only openly confirmed these noble documents of Our Predecessors, but We have instituted, with a Motu Proprio, Studia Latinitatis (cfr. A.A.S. 56, 1964, pp. 225-231) the Pontificium Institutum altioris latinitatis, for the correct and complete formation of professors of Latin in our Seminaries and Religious houses, and We have again confirmed these directives for these same Seminaries in Our Apostolic Letter Summi Dei Verbum (cfr. A. A. S. 55, 1963, pp. 979-995), given upon the occasion of the fourth centenary of the institution of Seminaries by the Council of Trent: "that the study of various languages be placed in the curriculum of the Seminaries and above all Latin, especially for priests ofthe Latin rite".

For all these reasons, We wish to repeat here and now before this distinguished assembly, that Latin must continue to be fostered, above all, in our Seminaries and in the houses of formation of the Regular Clergy, because it is essential to the mental formation of their students, as well as to the study of the classics and of the Fathers of the Church and, particularly, it will enable them to appreciate the treasures of the Sacred Liturgy. Without Latin, their higher and complete intellectual, theological and liturgical formation—which the modern world demands of priests—would be minimized. The Ecumenical Council Vatican II, in the Decree, Optatam totius on the formation of priests, in the Constitution SacrosanctumConcilium on the Liturgy and in other documents, has repeatedly advised and inculcated the necessity of this study and use of Latin. It is precisely for its educative and formative value that We desire that Latin should continue to hold a place of honour in our midst.

Formative Value

It is known, besides, that We have encouraged everywhere the use of the vernacular in the Liturgy, acceding willingly to the clear indications of the Council. This attitude was not dictated by a lessening of Our esteem for Latin, but by an acute consciousness of the necessities of the pastoral ministry. The bread of the Word of God, as it is given in the Liturgy, must he broken by pastors of souls in large and generous handfuls, so as to make it intelligible and accessible to all, enabling the faithful to taste its beauty and participate more easily and actively lively in its sacred rites.

It is evident and, may it be said openly to them who, perhaps with a certain levity, desire to experiment with new ways and who believe that the Church should, from now on, abandon Latin,—We repeat that it is evident that Latin must be kept in honour in the Church, for the lofty and grave reasons already mentioned. But We must not forget to speak also to those who, by an excessive cult of the past, for purely esthetic motives or opposition to anything new, have criticized the authorized innovations. We must not forget that Latin must also be put in the service of the pastoral ministry, and it is not an end in itself. Whilst defending these claims for the recognition of Latin in the life of the Church, we most avoid the danger of paralysing or checking the pastoral renewal ordered by the Ecumenical Council. In this field, as in all others, the salvation of souls remains the supreme law.

Spiritual and Cultural Heritage

This, beloved sons, is what We desired to impart to you in this meeting graced by your culture and courtesy. We rejoice with you for your passionate, tenacious ardour as students and masters of the Latin language, and We encourage you to continue, even if your path be devoid of consolation. May your joy and solace be that of forming minds and souls, especially of the young, to the study of the ancient classics and of humanistic culture, without which scientific progress can only harden into cold aridness, which is harmful to mankind. May you enrich man with true self-knowledge and the appreciation of his past and present grandeur, in the light of the eternal values of the spirit. May you pass on intact, to future generations, this spiritual and cultural heritage, from which modern civilisation still draws life and which it still needs. The Church has used and uses Latin as a precious vehicle and instrument for the fusion of souls and for communication between peoples.

May you be encouraged to this by Our Apostolic Blessing, which We impart from Our heart to you, to your families, and to your cherished studies  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
9 May 1968, page 7

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