The sacred Deposit of the Latin Language is a thing which even from the first centuries of the Church’s existence, the Throne of Peter has always guarded as something holy. It considers Latin an overt and beautiful sign of unity, a mighty instrument for safeguarding and spreading Christian Truth in its fullness, and for performing sacred rites. Our most Holy Father and Lord Pope John XXIII has lifted it up from neglect and contempt and firmly asserted its official, confirmed status within the Church. In a solemn ceremony on February 22, he signed with his own hand the Apostolic Constitution “Veterum Sapientia” in the Basilica of St. Peter, laying the foundations and establishing the principles by which this language, which is proper to the Church and forever bound into Her life, shall be restored to its ancient place of glory and honor.
No one, least of all this Sacred Congregation, can be unaware what great and arduous effort this most noble and necessary task will require, on account of the unfortunate state of learning and of use of the Latin language today, and because of conditions existing in various places, times, and nations. The Sacred Congregation has already discussed this matter in a letter to the Bishops given on October 27, 1957.1
Christian life and Christian faith teach us not to be overcome by our difficulties, but rather to overcome them instead. Faith calls us to strive after that which is difficult but noble and needful. If a thing requiring constant effort is put before us as something we must accomplish, as will be the enactment of this decree, it will stimulate our efforts, so that we may bear the fruits which the Church rightfully expects. She expects it from the earnest zeal of each member of the faithful, and most especially from those who are bound by their priestly office to such endeavors. This is especially true in these very difficult times in the life of the Church, when in the Second Vatican Council She labors with all Her being to build and to strengthen the unity of the Christian people. “Now, especially, it is good to remember the importance and the excellence of this language,” said the Pope in remarks he gave when he signed his Apostolic Constitution, “since we have arrived at times when there is obvious need for unity and cooperation among peoples. But nevertheless, foolish initiatives threatening that union are anything but rare.” The Latin language, as the Latin Church uses it, even today can very effectively foster reconciliation among peoples and resolve disagreements, especially among Her sacred ministers when they come from different peoples. It can be very helpful to rising peoples who are trustfully taking their place in the society of nations, since Latin is not beholden to the particular interests of any one nationality, nor does it play favorites with any. Rather, it is available to all as a wellspring of clear and dependable doctrine. It is easy for educated people to understand. It is an instrument of mutual comprehension, and a most valuable tie that binds.
Church history clearly teaches that every difficulty has a remedy on hand, provided that everyone recognizes that it is needed and people, especially the Church’s sacred ministers, have the obedience and goodwill to make use of it. The history of the Latin language proves this abundantly. For Latin has many times been laid low, crushed by the iniquity of the times, and then has flowered again, ever renewed, because the Church has solicitously defended it and vigorously sustained it as Her universal, venerable, and sacred inheritance.
Latin was able to re-establish itself time and time again, even from a greater state of neglect than it is in our own time. After the barbarous age of the Merovingians, it rose to new heights in France under Pepin and Charlemagne at the dawn of the ninth century. It rose even higher in the twelfth century and became an extraordinary tool for philosophy and theology. It was reborn yet again in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and was lifted to the utmost heights, where it seemed that the age of Cicero and Augustus had been restored to us.
Latin can be reborn even now, if we give appropriate time and attention to learning it, and if it is not overwhelmed and smothered by the host of other academic disciplines which have multiplied in the public schools. It can be restored with teaching methods like those of former ages which give the ability to speak and write in Latin. It can be restored if well-prepared teachers — people distinguished for their knowledge of Latin, expert in its use, and gifted as educators — can be chosen for this work and called to it even from faraway lands, as everyone knows has often happened before. It can be reborn if using Latin is normal in private and in specialized schools, even in higher ecclesiastical institutions, and if the custom of using this language is conscientiously preserved, as we here direct. It can be reborn if we invest all due care, commitment, and zeal in the effort; if we apply the care we routinely invest in things of the greatest importance. Finally and most critically, it can be restored if the highest good of the Church is the objective, and if the firm and certain will of the popes is respected and carried out with ready obedience and due loyalty.
The Sacred Congregation for Seminaries and Universities has been entrusted with this task. In ready obedience to the mandate of the Apostolic Constitution “Veterum Sapientia,” we have with great care prepared a curriculum for teaching and learning this language which is ordered toward achieving its renewal fully and effectively.
The Sacred Congregation hereby conveys these Ordinances to seminaries, universities, and to institutions of ecclesiastical studies, and orders that they be scrupulously implemented.
We cast no aspersions on the “classical pronunciation,” which has in recent years been restored in many secondary schools of high reputation; it certainly ought to be learned. Nevertheless, as St. Pius X and Pius XI have already urged, for the sake of uniformity the pronunciation which is called “Roman” is to be retained in use. Roman pronunciation is not only “intimately connected with the cultivation of Gregorian chant, since the manner contemporary to it of handling stress accents and pronouncing Latin has been extremely valuable for singing it correctly.” It is likewise wholly appropriate “for the ever-increasing support of liturgical unity.” Moreover, it has been in uninterrupted use, both in the Church and in the schools of many nations, since roughly the fourth century, with the result that it has become more or less international or common to all. Roman pronunciation is, additionally, the pronunciation in which Church documents were read aloud at the time they were written, and in which they ought to be read even now.
No one is unaware of the special power of studying Latin language and literature in forming young intellects. Through them, the most important gifts of mind and character are exercised, brought to their unfolding, and perfected. A students’ capacity for discriminating thought is sharpened, as are his powers of judgment. The mind is rendered better able to apprehend and evaluate all things. Thinking and speaking acquire a clearer order; propriety and elegance appear in the student’s choice and use of words. The mind is effectively cultivated and ordered not only toward acquiring useful skills, but also toward attaining higher culture and true humanity. The student can gain a wider and more solid knowledge not only of the Romance languages but also of other languages of culture. These good qualities of the mind in formation — which are the only things the public educational system expects Latin studies to deliver — are yet not the same as those that are expected in the education of clerics. Here, the primary goal is forming that particular kind of mind which is needed for the right exercise of future ecclesiastical duties.
Latin language studies in high schools for clerics have this principal goal: that aspirants to Holy Orders should be able to go to the sources of Sacred Tradition and understand the documents of the popes and the councils, and also the liturgy. Later on, the goal is to make them able to use this language to learn their major academic disciplines, to write Church documents and letters, and to correspond with their brother clergy of other nations. Finally, at the highest levels, the objective is to make them able to take part in the sort of ecclesiastical debates on articles of Catholic faith and discipline which occur in the councils and meetings to which the Catholic clergy of the world are occasionally called.
In order that aspirants to Holy Orders may attain appropriate mastery and facility in the use of this language, the curriculum ought to be shaped with attention to the amount of time necessary, the quantity and nature of the authors to be treated, and the method to be used in teaching and in learning.
The Catechism of Trent, which has been recommended again and again by Supreme Pontiffs and by Provincial Councils, has been used in schools up until the end of the last century as a treasury of Golden Latin and as the most excellent textbook for the learning of Christian doctrine and discipline. This book students are to have always in their hands from their third year of Latin study onward; through it they will gradually learn to blend Golden Latinity with the clear language which is characteristic of the documents and disciplines of the Church.
Even if some information about the lives and the writings of each of the authors to be examined in school has been provided by the teacher before the class comes to grips with the text itself, the instructor still must teach the whole context of Latin literature starting from the fifth year. The major authors’ lives, works, topics, and significance – historical, philosophical, or literary – are to be reviewed; likewise each one’s particular style, his imitation of and borrowing from more ancient sources, and the like. All of these things, moreover, are to be presented in Latin and those who hear them are to have a textbook. If such a book in Latin is not available, the instructor will be able either to dictate something or distribute written notes. Teachers are to avoid overly-erudite digressions; rather, they are to limit themselves to presenting those facts which are truly relevant to each author’s life, art, style, and importance, and conducive to the formation of the student’s mind and taste.
Lecturing, in which a teacher’s erudition, expertise, industry and effectiveness are most clearly visible, is the principle instrument by which the happy end of this instruction can be achieved. In the introductory classes, lecturing should be simple and done in the mother tongue only; later, Latin elements are to be sown into the mother-tongue narrative. From the fourth year onward, lecturing is to be done in Latin only, and in a full, elegant Latin at that.
In this manner the teacher can proceed so that in the first place appears the subject matter of the book, oration or excerpt which is to be discussed or briefly summarized in a particular class. The explanation of it should follow, which, in the grammar schools, will make plain the word order and structure of [the author’s] diction, and elucidate the more obscure vocabulary. In the higher-level schools, he will do the same thing in Latin, but in a more elegant and content-rich manner. Then should come grammar; in the lower schools, this entails the analysis of individual words and each one’s gender, declension, conjugation, mood, tense, etc., or, in the upper schools, rhetoric, which is observation of the things that have a bearing on the eloquence, the artistic quality, the grammar, syntax, and structure of speech of the particular author under discussion, whether orator or poet. Thereafter, the focus should be on erudition. In the lower schools, this will take the form of a fuller exposition of elements (e.g. similes, descriptive passages) which are suggested by the author’s word choice or by stories he includes, etc. In the upper schools things will proceed in the same way, but in a fuller manner and with the inclusion of more content drawn from history, mythology, poetry, etc. Finally, there should come consideration of Latinity, which in the lower schools will teach the boys how word order is manipulated, with some elements being put before others, and why some words and not others are preferred, etc. In the upper schools, this consideration will include examination of an author’s preferred metaphors, the effects and meaning of words and how that meaning is colored by variation in word order and organization [artificio], also the properties of each language [Latin and the mother tongue] for expressing the same thing; and at last, it will include all other things that pertain to eloquence, poetic art, and the type of writing in question.
Interpretation of the authors ought to be carried out by pupils first, at least in part, in their daily homework exercises (this ought to be required of the students in class by the teacher, who will sometimes investigate it in his own office, so that he can become better-informed of each student’s progress); later on, such interpretation will also be done by the teacher in class, where he will explain the words, the type of discourse, the more difficult constructions, the historical and geographical context in various ways, in Latin or in the students’ native language, but always using words chosen as carefully as possible and with appropriate idiom, so that the true complexion of each language may clearly appear. It is helpful also for a poet and an orator to be treated by turns in class, so that students do not get bored for lack of variety.
Even if the Apostolic Constitution regards, principally, the establishment of the study and use of the Latin language, it in no way neglects to give clear and precise direction concerning the study of Greek. For it ought to be learned with the greatest care, since it is very helpful in the formation of young people’s minds, and is linked to the Latin language by an affinity whose special nature makes it a prerequisite for a full and true knowledge of [Latin], and since it has been established in virtually every secular Classical curriculum. Likewise also it is absolutely necessary, both for all students who undertake to study the primary disciplines in seminary, (especially for those who desire to be enrolled in an ecclesiastical university or institute for the earning of academic degrees) and for any man of the Church who must access the ancient source texts, both sacred and profane, to exercise the office of teaching Philosophy or the Sacred Sciences.
For this reason, therefore, it is ordered:
A report on the means and progress of the effort to establish Latin is to be sent:
This report is to be prepared by the Dean of Studies, but signed by the Ordinary of the place; in universities and academic institutes it is to be prepared and signed by the Rector or President.
The report which is to be sent
The instructions given in these Ordinances pursuant to the mandate of the Pope shall come into full effect from the first day of the 1963-64 academic year – or 1964, according to the reckoning of each hemisphere.
In regions where knowledge and use of Latin have grown cold to such an extent that students in the major academic subjects cannot understand Latin-speaking professors or be brought quickly to that level of competence and are unable to get into the habit of speaking Latin for themselves, in order to ensure that due instruction in these disciplines suffers no damage, care must absolutely be exercised in order that –
The Ordinaries of all places, before granting to Major Seminary faculty the task of teaching any of the subjects which are to be taught in Latin (cf. Section III, Article II, §2), are to submit their names to the Sacred Congregation for Seminaries and Universities – until such time as another screening system may be set up – and they are to attest whether or not the candidates possess expertise in the use of the language, in addition to the other requisite attributes.
Our most holy lord John, by Divine Providence the Twenty-Third pope of that name, has approved, confirmed and commanded to be published these Ordinances, all things contrary notwithstanding.
Given at Rome, from the seat of this Sacred Congregation [SS. CC.], this twentieth day of April, in Eastertide, in the year nineteen-hundred and sixty-two.
JOSEPH CARDINAL PIZZARDO, Prefect
FR DINO STAFFA, Secretary
The report is to address each individual point, and in no perfunctory way, but with due conscientiousness, so that remedial actions, if they should be necessary, may be taken in a timely and effective way.
The objective of this special course is not merely to illuminate short passages and maxims of the Church Fathers, by which theological topics are presented, but also to bring students into the understanding of and familiarity with Christian Latin.
It is opportune that, in addition to short selected passages from the readers, whose full meaning the professor of Theology himself will explain, longer passages as well may be read out clearly and distinctly by the professor of Christian Latin, once their meaning has been briefly explained. This professor will make plain the congruent sense of any word or expression, elucidating the more obscure forms and constructions, and briefly give the characteristics of each author’s writing style.
In this way, students will be encouraged to love the Fathers, to go to them and read them frequently. They will come to understand them and savor them for themselves. They will not only complete their studies, but from them drink deep the love of the truth and reasons to defend the Catholic Faith against novelties and corruptions of every kind. They will learn with what zeal, what understanding, what knowledge and wisdom the way must be opened for the advancement of religion in Christ’s Church, “so that there may truly be progress in faith, not permutation.” This is to say, “so that the teaching of Religion may be made firmer through the years, expanded in time, and refined with age, and yet remain incorrupt and untouched, so that in every measure of its parts, as if in all its members and in the senses belonging to it, it may be full and it may be perfect, for it admits of no distortion and no abridgement of its characteristics, and it suffers no variation in its meaning.
Certain works of the great writers and Fathers of the Church are listed here, from which suitable excerpts may be taken for analysis and reading; the teacher of Christian Latin, however, is not forbidden to choose other texts as may seem advantageous.
1 Sacra Congregatio de Seminariis et Studiorum Universitatibus, Epistula ad excellentissimos locorum ordinarios De Latina lingua rite excolenda, “Latinam excolere linguam”, 27 October 1957, AAS 50 (1958): 292-296.
2 This institution was founded two years after the publication of the Ordinances, in 1964, by Paul VI. It is the Pontifical Institute for Higher Latin (Pontificium Institutum Altioris Latinitatis), a part of the Pontifical Salesian University of Rome and in recent years merged with the University’s Department of Christian and Classical Letters (Facoltà di Lettere Cristiane e Classiche).
English translation by Nancy E. Llewellyn of Latin original document ORDINATIONES AD CONSTITUTIONEM APOSTOLICAM “VETERUM SAPIENTIA” RITE EXSEQUENDAM (1962) by the Sacred Congregation for Seminaries and Universities. This English translation is copyright; however, the translator hereby grants permission to download, print, share, post, distribute, quote and excerpt it, provided that no changes, alterations, or edits of any kind are made to any part of the written text. ©2021 Nancy E. Llewellyn. All other rights reserved.