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Catholic Church still cares about Latin

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The language keeps the Church in touch with its vast heritage
By Hannah Brockhaus

VATICAN CITY (CNA)

Photo: Cardinals participate in a consistory with Pope Francis at the Vatican April 20. (L'Osservatore Romano / CNS)

Existing in some form since several hundred years before Christ, the Latin language seems like an unlikely subject to still be generating brand new research, especially among young scholars.

Nevertheless, the theme of this year’s Vatican humanities-themed contest, the Prize of the Pontifical Academies, is all about Latin. And the final winner – awarded 20,000 euros (nearly $30,000 CDN) – will be chosen by Pope Francis.

So why does the Catholic Church care so much about promoting Latin? For quite a few reasons it turns out.

“In the Vatican some of the more important documents issued by the Pope and the Holy See are officially written in Latin,” Father Roberto Spataro, secretary of the Pontifical Academy for Latin, told CNA. The Church’s standard version of the Bible, called the Vulgate, is also in Latin.

Apart from these practical reasons, he said, through Latin we are also able to be in touch with the vast heritage of the Church throughout the ages and “discover that this very language has long been the medium of dialogue between faith and reason.”

The 2017 Prize of the Pontifical Academies is sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Academy for Latin, or Pontificia Acadamia Latinitatis, which was founded by Benedict XVI in 2012 through the motu proprio Latina Lingua.

“Pope Benedict … wanted to inspire the universal Church lest it forget Latin is the key of an immense treasure of wisdom and knowledge,” Father Spataro said.

This is the Church’s most recent document affirming the importance of the study and preservation of Latin, but by no means is it the only one.

In 1962, Pope St. John XXIII issued the apostolic constitution Veterum Sapientia, in which he “solemnly stated” that Latin has three distinctive characteristics making this ancient language the “rightful language for the Roman Catholic Church,” Father Spataro said.

Just as the Church is by its nature ‘catholic,’ or ‘universal,’ the Latin language is also international, not belonging to one country or place; and because it is no longer a living language, it is also immutable.

This “makes it perfect for dogmatic and liturgical assessments as such intellectual activity requires a lucid language that leaves no ambiguity in expression,” he explained.

And finally, “it is beautiful and elegant, and the Church is always a lover of arts and culture.”
Latin’s role in the Church’s liturgy is another important aspect of the language.

Father Spataro highlighted one point in particular: the original editions of the liturgical books of the Roman rite are all written in Latin.

This is to ensure the “necessary unity in the Church’s official prayer. As a matter of fact, modern translations of these liturgical texts are based on the original Latin one,” he pointed out, so it is important that the Church has scholars to read and interpret them.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 April 2017 10:28  

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