No Spoken Latin?!

The relieving or dispersing arch within a wall strengthens the wall.

Today I read an e-mail my wife received from an opponent of spoken Latin in the classroom. I will not copy the e-mail because I do not think I would be right to do so, but I would like to vent a bit about it.  I’ll try to represent the argument as fairly as possible without quoting it.

I think this contains a good, convincing defense of the use of Latin, against the common objection that most people do not understand it. The quotation of St Theresa of Ávila drives home the point well, which we have all been learning since Advent, that it does not take long for one religiously repeating prayers, even in an unintelligible language, to get used to them.

But as a polemic against the spread of knowledge of Latin I don’t see any merit in it. The point that “we only use it for the liturgy” is not a support of an argument against using it for profane purposes. That would be the same as an argument for using it only for the liturgy, which of course would be circular.

I also object to the claim that Latin is dead, or that it is therefore safe from changing because of its being dead. Latin, isolated in the farthest western province of the Roman Empire, and left to its own course of development separate from the Latin of the rest of the Empire, is now called Portugese. In another province, taking its own isolate course of development it came to be called Spanish. In another, as the Visigoths and Merovingians cut off contact with the rest of the Empire, it eventually began to be called French. The language we call “Italian” is named by an abbreviation for “Italian Latin”. Italian is an adjective, referring to the Latin of the Italian peninsula.

It was during the period in which the Latin of the peninsula was undergoing its own unique changes, isolated from the Latin of Hispania, the Latin of Gallia, the Latin of Pannonia, &c., that the Church in the liturgy and as the bastion of literate culture preserved the Latin of the ancients—holding the greatest profane prose authors, Cicero and Sallust, as the standard of correct Latin prose style.

For a culture using Latin to debase it in the way that English is currently being debased by communications technology, like the one I am using right now, for example, that culture would need something which the same technologies prevent from developing in the first place: patience.

Huge, superhuman patience, by our standards.

Because speaking Latin requires us to form entire thoughts before we begin to articulate them. We are not able to force expressions through our teeth by the mere pressure of an urge, like a Play-doh factory making spaghetti, when we speak Latin, but we must build a sentence like a Roman arch, the whole of which stands on centering frames, unable to support even its own weight, until the whole is complete, at which time the frame can be removed and the new structure (a Roman invention!) can hold the weight of a wall greater than solid wall could have done.



About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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