8 June 2011

Universae ecclesiae, C S Lewis, and Bl John XXIII

I referred not long ago to the amusingly delicate way in which UE referred to the scandal that for more than a generation those being formed for the priesthood were - in flagrant disregard of CIC 249 - not made fluent in Latin (I am assured that things are better now).

As long ago as 1933, C S ('Patrimony') Lewis advanced the suggestion that the attacks - even then - upon the position of Latin and Greek as the basis of education, might be part of a plot devised in Hell to subvert the Faith. In The Pilgrim's Regress he reminds the reader that "till recently" members of our society "had been made to learn" these languages "and that meant that at least they started no further from the light than the old Pagans themselves and had therefore the chance to come at last" to saving Faith. "But now they are cutting themselves off even from that roundabout route ... and suppressing every kind of knowledge except mechanical knowledge". He believed that this shift had much to do with the need of the educated classes to cope with the increasing disinclination of the lower orders to work in domestic service, and added "No doubt the great landowners in the background [scilicet devils] have their own reasons for encouraging this movement".

You will not be surprised to be reminded that His Abysmal Sublimity Under Secretary Screwtape strongly advocated the policy of preventing each generation from learning from its predecessors: "Since we [devils] cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another." That is why the demise of sacred languages among the clergy and the clerisy is such a triumph for our Enemy.

Older readers may be reminded here of the teaching given to the Universal Church by Bl John XXIII in Veterum Sapientia. Here I have a problem. I would love to share all the important bits of this encyclical with you, but, after doing the two clicks necessary to bring it up on my screen, I realised that pretty well every word of this document is the purest gold. So ... here are just a very few words in order to stimulate your resolution to do those two clicks yourselves. "No-one is to be admitted to the study of Philosophy or Theology except he be thoroughly grounded in [Latin] and capable of using it ... wherever the study of Latin has suffered partial eclipse ... the traditional method of teaching the language is to be completely restored. Such is Our will ... the major sacred sciences shall be taught in Latin ... if ignorance of Latin makes it difficult for some [seminary professors] to obey these instructions, they shall gradually be replaced by professors who are suited to this task ..." What a good and holy old man he was!

'Liberals', of course, might point out that this document is not ex cathedra. I agree, because I think the word gradually is unnecessary. As for sedevacantists who deny that the author of these wise words, Bl John XXIII, was truly pope, well, what I say is Burn the lot of them. It's the only sort of language these people understand!*


*In case foreigners are distressed by the bloodthirstiness of my language, I should clarify the literary register, the genre, of the last paragraph. It is 'humour'; and is in the spirit of the English satirical magazine Private Eye, which makes much comic use of the formula in my last sentence. (This is deemed, I believe, to be a phrase commonly used by London taxi-drivers in the course of their demotic exchanges of view with their 'fares'.) I am not really in favour of burning anybody. Honest!


Pastor in Valle said...

Veterum Sapientia was indeed a remarkable document. It may not have been infallible, but, I think uniquely in the history of Papal documents, Bl John XXIII signed it on the High Altar of St Peter's in the presence of the entire college of Cardinals and as many of the hierarchy as he could gather. He tried to give it all the force he possibly could without making it actually ex cathedra.
The trouble was that it was already too late. the knowledge of Latin was simply not there. At Wonersh, lectures had been in English for about forty years—the first English lectures were given in 1910, simply because a lecturer couldn't manage Philosophy in Latin, and the process continued from there.
What was to happen when there is nobody who can manage it? Again here at Wonersh, they were confronted with the situation that a lecturer might be able to manage a lecture, but the students might only pick up part of the content: this would be to send out into the diocese part-educated priests. If Veterum Sapientia was to be made to work, it needed years and years of concentrated effort to recover what had been lost.
And as for that, the fact that it was signed in 1962 says it all.

Joshua said...

I've heard tell that in some seminaries (or was it pontifical universities?) the lectures were in Latin, but the students only attended these as a formality - since all was actually imparted, in the vernacular, in informal tutorials. (Actually, how is that different to what actually happens?)

It reminds me of the practice, during times of laxity amongst Dominicans, of having a flesh-free meal served in the refectory - followed by a general retreat to an adjoining chamber, for a meat dinner.

Sue Sims said...

I have an alternative explanation for the lack of Latin among modern priests.

You see, all the seminaries have been conscientiously teaching Latin ever since Veterum Sapientia...

...using the Cambridge Latin Course.

davidforster said...

The official history of Oscott College, published by Gracewing, presents a nice scene in which the then Archbishop of Birmingham comes home from the first session of Vatican 2 and visits the seminary.

"Is the Council going to make any difference to us," the anxious professors and students ask?

"Well, it might," replied the Archbishop. "The pope is rather keen on Latin, and you might have to switch to having all your lectures in Latin."

The professors were aghast. How ever would they cope with such a radical change?

GOR said...

Well Joshua, at least in Rome at both the Angelicum and Gregorian Universities, all lectures were in Latin - through the 1966-67 school year. And it was no formality either! Exams – oral and written – were in Latin also. I suspect it changed in 1968 once lay students began to be admitted – about the same time seminarians were no longer required to wear cassocks or religious habits to lectures.

Anagnostis said...

My father remembers attending lectures in chemistry at Glasgow University just after the War, delivered in Latin by Central European professors with no English. At that time a level of proficiency in Latin was still required of all undergraduates at Scots Universities.

[It is reliably recounted of a notorious Fleet Street editor, that unable to find his chauffeur, he was obliged, bristling with indignation, to heave his considerable bulk into the back seat of a black cab:

"Where to, Guv?"

"Do you think I'd give my home address to the likes of you?" ]

the Savage said...

"I am not really in favour of burning anybody. Honest!"

Ah, yes Father. It is only fair to yourself to say that neither at this, nor any other time of your life, not even when you were fiercest, could you have even cut off a Puritan's ears, and the sight of a Spanish auto-da-fè would have been the death of you!

Mitchell said...

Veterum Sapientia is an Apostolic Constitution, on par with Missale Romanum. It is a yop level document. It was not an encyclical. VS has a different degree of assent. It needs to be implemented. It does not matter that some faculty in Lain was lost by 62..VS specifically states that where is has been lost or foundered it will be restored with full vigor. The Pope was aware it was in decline but the document prescribed ways to remedy that. In fact it insisted upon it. Again Apostolic Constitution signed with the most solemnity possible.

Fr Tom Mendel said...

C S Lewis mixed realism with his idealism in the matter of Latin and certainly saw the rot starting earlier than the twentieth century:

" Utinam pestifera illa 'Rinascentia' quam Humanistae effecerent non destruxerit (dum erigereeam se jactabant) Latinam: adhuc possemus toti Europae scribere"

(Letter to Don Giovanni Calabria, 20:ix:'47)

Mike Cliffson said...

Fair's fair,Fr,I lese majeste LINKED yr post on a COMBOX OF A blog as LINKS TO YOU:

Bernard Brandt said...

Dear Fr. Hunwicke (Father, bless!):

I believe one can find the basis for a mandate of the Second Vatican Council as regards the learning of Latin and Greek in the Vatican II Decree, Optatam Totius, issued back in 1965, more than forty-five years ago:

13. Before beginning specifically ecclesiastical subjects, seminarians should be equipped with that humanistic and scientific training which young men in their own countries are wont to have as a foundation for higher studies. Moreover they are to acquire a knowledge of Latin which will enable them to understand and make use of the sources of so many sciences and of the documents of the Church. The study of the liturgical language proper to each rite should be considered necessary; a suitable knowledge of the languages of the Bible and of Tradition should be greatly encouraged.

And, lest the liberal attempt to state that the above must have been a mistranslation, I recommend a reading of the original Latin in the matter:

13. Antequam sacrorum alumni studia proprie ecclesiastica aggrediantur, ea humanistica et scientifica institutione ornentur, qua iuvenes in sua cuiusque natione superiora studia inire valeant; ac praeterea eam linguae latinae cognitionem acquirant, qua tot scientiarum fontes et Ecclesiae documenta intelligere atque adhibere possint. Studium linguae liturgicae unicuique ritui propriae necessarium habeatur, cognitio vero congrua linguarum Sacrae Scripturae et Traditionis valde foveatur.

While I am a man of 'small latin and less greek', I note that the original expressly states that before seminary studies are to begin, seminarians are already to have a knowledge of Latin sufficient for them to open the fonts of knowledge and the documents of the Church.

I fear that this is of a piece with all of the other counsels of perfection issued in the Second Vatican Council, which were roundly ignored by those whose job it was to enforce them. In consequence, while I listen diligently to what sancta mater ecclesia has to say about things, I am loathe to listen to most RC prelates, until they show that they themselves are obedient to Her authority. His Holiness, Benedict XVI, is one exception to that dismal rule. You are another. Thank you.

Very truly yours,

Bernard Brandt

terry said...

The warnings against the decline of Latin and the discouragement and suppression of the learning of Latin long pre-date C. S. Lewis, I`m afraid.

In 1899 Pope Leo XIII warned against the attempts of the then (very hostile) French Government to do away with a Classical education. See in Depuis Le Jour at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/leo_xiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_08091899_depuis-le-jour_en.html

He described such attempts by the French Government as ” inspired by utilitarian motives and working to the detriment of the solid formation of the mind. ” (The same French Government motivated by anti-clericalism of course went very much further in its attempts to break the Church)

He described Latin as “the key, so to say, of sacred science ” and Latin literature as one of “the depositaries of those masterpieces of sacred science which the Church with good reason counts among her most precious treasures.”

He called on the French clergy to imitate “the priests of Jerusalem, who, saving the sacred fire of the temple from the barbarian invader, so hid it as to be able to find it again and restore it to its splendor when the evil day should have passed.”