Ecce dedi te in lucem gentium, ut sis salus mea usque ad extremum terrae.

   

VETERUM SAPIENTIA

ENCYCLICAL OF POPE JOHN XXIII

ON THE PROMOTION OF THE STUDY OF LATIN

FEBRUARY 22, 1962

Ancient wisdom enshrined in Greek and Roman literature, as well as the splendid ancient monuments of doctrine are to be regarded as a heralding dawn of Gospel truth announced by the Son of God, “witness and teacher of grace and discipline and the instructor and guide of the human race.” The Church Fathers and Doctors recognized in those eminent works a certain preparation for the reception of the supreme riches that Jesus Christ communicated to mortals “in the fullness of time”. From which it can be seen that the inauguration of Christianity does not obliterate man’s past achievements and nothing that is true, just, noble and beautiful is lost.

Therefore the Church has fostered these documents of wisdom, and in the first place the Greek and Latin languages, as wisdom’s golden vestment of a sort, holding them in the highest esteem along with other venerable languages which flourished in the East, indeed she welcomed their use since they proved to be of no small value in the promotion of social and moral progress. Either in religious rites or in the interpretation of Sacred Scriptures, they continue to flourish even to the present day in certain regions, as a never ceasing voice of living antiquity.

Amid this variety of languages one certainly stands out, which arose in the regions of Latium, from where it is amazing to see how much it contributed to the diffusion of Christianity in the West. Not without Divine Providence has it come about that the same language that held together for many centuries such a wide group of nations under the authority of the Roman Empire, would become the language of the Apostolic See and preserved for posterity it would hold together the christian nations of Europe under a firm bond of unity.

Of its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every culture among diverse peoples, for it gives no rise to jealousies, it does not favor any one group, but presents itself with equal impartiality, gracious and friendly to all. Nor must we overlook the characteristic expression of Latin, its “concise, rich, varied, majestic and dignified features which make for singular clarity and significance.”

For these reasons the Apostolic See has always seen to it that Latin should be carefully preserved deeming it worthy of usage in its administrative exercise as a magnificent vestment of heavenly doctrine and of holy legislation, and of usage by the ministers of sacred rites. These churchmen, wherever they may be, by using the language of the Romans are better equipped to comprehend the mind of the Holy See and to communicate more easily with her and amongst themselves.

Latin therefore, so intimately bound up with the Church’s life, “is important not so much on cultural or literary grounds, as for religious reasons” as was pointed out by Our predecessor Pius XI who, having investigated this matter, indicated three attributes that are wonderfully consistent with the Church’s nature, namely: “in order that the Church may embrace all nations, and that it may last until the end of time, it requires a language that is universal, immutable, and non-vernacular.”

Inasmuch as it is imperative that “every Church should assemble round the Roman Church” and that the Supreme Pontiffs should have powers that are “truly episcopal, ordinary and immediate, over each and every Church and each and every Pastor, and the faithful” of every rite and people and language, it is obvious that a resource is needed for communication that is universal and impartial, especially between the Apostolic See and the Churches that pertain to the same Latin rite. Therefore, when the Roman Pontiffs wish to teach the catholic world, when the various Councils of the Roman Curia handle any business, if they draw up any decrees that concern the entire body of the faithful, they rightly make use of the Latin language, as of a maternal voice accepted by countless peoples.

The Church should make use of a language that is not only universal, but also immutable. If the Church were to hand down catholic teaching using some or many changeable and recent languages, non of which has any authority over the others, clearly it follows, considering their variety, that it couldn’t be enforced with any significant clarity to make it obvious to all, nor would there be a common and stable norm to which all other meanings would have to be subjected. Latin, in fact, is already safe from various ambiguities associated with the meaning of words arising from popular usage, for it is understood to be set and unchanging, while certain new meanings of given Latin words that needed to be explained during the progressive clarification and defense of christian doctrine have long ago been set and firmly ratified.

Finally, inasmuch as the Catholic Church is founded by Christ the Lord, and it far surpasses in dignity all other human associations, it is clearly therefore fitting that she should use a non-vernacular language full of nobility and majesty.

Furthermore, Latin, a language that “can be called truly catholic” for it is consecrated by perpetual usage by the Apostolic See, mother and teacher of all Churches, can also be thought of as a “treasure of incomparable excellence” and a gate providing access to everyone to all the christian truths and to the accepted ancient interpretation of christian doctrine, and finally it is a most suitable bond that binds the Church’s present age with the past and with the future.

There can be no doubt as to the formative and educational value either of the language of the Romans or of great literature generally. It is a most effective training for the pliant minds of youth. It exercises, matures and perfects the principal faculties of mind and spirit. It sharpens the wits and gives keenness of judgment. It helps the young mind to grasp things accurately and develop a true sense of values. It is also a means for learning highly intelligent thought and speech.

It will be quite clear from these considerations why the Roman Pontiffs have so often extolled the excellence and importance of Latin, and why they have prescribed its study and use by the secular and regular clergy, warning against the dangers that would result from its neglect.

We also, impelled by the weightiest of reasons -- the same as those which prompted Our Predecessors and provincial synods -- are fully determined to restore this language to its position of honor, and to do all We can to promote its study and use. Usage of Latin has recently been contested in many quarters, and many are asking what the mind of the Apostolic See is in this matter. We have therefore decided to issue these timely directives contained in this document, so as to ensure that the long-standing and uninterrupted use of Latin be maintained and, where necessary, restored. We believe that We made Our own views on this subject sufficiently clear when We said to a number of eminent Latin scholars: "It is a matter of regret that so many people, unaccountably dazzled by the marvelous progress of science, are taking it upon themselves to oust or restrict the study of Latin and other kindred subjects.... On that very account Our own view is that the very contrary policy should be followed. It should be clear that whatever of its own nature corresponds more closely to human dignity, whatever cultivates and ennobles the mind, it should be sought after more ardently, less poor mortal creatures should become like the machines they build - cold, hard, and devoid of love."

With the foregoing considerations in mind, to which We have given careful thought, We now, in the full consciousness of Our Office and in virtue of Our authority, decree and command the following:

Bishops and superiors-general of religious orders shall take pains to ensure that in their seminaries and in their schools where adolescents are trained for the priesthood, all shall studiously observe the Apostolic See's decision in this matter and obey these Our prescriptions most carefully.

In the exercise of their paternal care they shall be on their guard lest anyone under their jurisdiction, eager for revolutionary changes, writes against the use of Latin in the teaching of the higher sacred studies or in the Liturgy, or through prejudice makes light of the Holy See's will in this regard or interprets it falsely.

As is laid down in Canon Law or commanded by Our Predecessors, before Church students begin their ecclesiastical studies proper they shall be given a sufficiently lengthy course of instruction in Latin by highly competent masters, following a method designed to teach them the language with the utmost accuracy. "And that too for this reason: lest later on, when they begin their major studies . . . they are unable by reason of their ignorance of the language to gain a full understanding of the doctrines or take part in those scholastic disputations which constitute so excellent an intellectual training for young men in the defense of the faith."

We wish the same rule to apply to those whom God calls to the priesthood at a more advanced age, and whose classical studies have either been neglected or conducted too superficially. No one is to be admitted to the study of philosophy or theology except he be thoroughly grounded in this language and capable of using it.

Wherever the study of Latin has suffered partial eclipse through the assimilation of academic programs to that which is offered in State public schools, with the result that the instruction given is no longer as thorough and well-grounded as formerly, there the traditional method of teaching this language shall be completely restored. Such is Our will, and there should be no doubt in anyone's mind about the necessity of keeping a strict watch over the course of studies followed by Church students; and that not only as regards the number and kinds of subjects they study, but also as regards the length of time devoted to the teaching of these subjects.

Should circumstances of time and place demand the addition of other subjects to the curriculum besides the usual ones, then either the course of studies must be lengthened, or these additional subjects must be condensed or their study relegated to another time.

In accordance with numerous previous instructions, the major sacred sciences shall be taught in Latin, which, as we know from many centuries of use, "must be considered most suitable for explaining with the utmost facility and clarity the most difficult and profound ideas and concepts." For apart from the fact that it has long since been enriched with a vocabulary of appropriate and unequivocal terms, best calculated to safeguard the integrity of the Catholic faith, it also serves in no slight measure to prune away useless verbiage.

Hence professors of these sciences in universities or seminaries are required to speak Latin and to make use of textbooks written in Latin. If ignorance of Latin makes it difficult for some to obey these instructions, they shall gradually be replaced by professors who are suited to this task. Any difficulties that may be advanced by students or professors must be overcome by the patient insistence of the bishops or religious superiors, and the good will of the professors.

Since Latin is the Church's living language, it must be adequate to daily increasing linguistic requirements. It must be furnished with new words that are apt and suitable for expressing modern things, words that will be uniform and universal in their application. and constructed in conformity with the genius of the ancient Latin tongue. Such was the method followed by the sacred Fathers and the best writers among the scholastics.

To this end, therefore, We commission the Sacred Congregation of Seminaries and Universities to set up a Latin Academy staffed by an international body of Latin and Greek professors. The principal aim of this Academy -- like the national academies founded to promote their respective languages -- will be to superintend the proper development of Latin, augmenting the Latin lexicon where necessary with words which conform to the particular character and color of the language.

It will also conduct schools for the study of Latin of every era, particularly the Christian one. The aim of these schools will be to impart a fuller understanding of Latin and the ability to use it and to write it with proper elegance. They will exist for those who are destined to teach Latin in seminaries and ecclesiastical colleges, or to write decrees and judgments or conduct correspondence in the ministries of the Holy See, diocesan curias, and the offices of religious orders.

Latin is closely allied to Greek both in formal structure and in the importance of its extant writings. Hence -- as Our Predecessors have frequently ordained -- future ministers of the altar must be instructed in Greek in the lower and middle schools. Thus when they come to study the higher sciences -- and especially if they are aiming for a degree in Sacred Scripture or theology -- they will be enabled to follow the Greek sources of scholastic philosophy and understand them correctly; and not only these, but also the original texts of Sacred Scripture, the Liturgy, and the sacred Fathers.

We further commission the Sacred Congregation of Seminaries and Universities to prepare a syllabus for the teaching of Latin which all shall faithfully observe. The syllabus will be designed to give those who follow it an adequate understanding of the language and its use. Episcopal boards may indeed rearrange this syllabus if circumstances warrant, but they must never curtail it or alter its nature. Ordinaries may not take it upon themselves to put their own proposals into effect until these have been examined and approved by the Sacred Congregation.

Finally, in virtue of Our apostolic authority, We will and command that all the decisions, decrees, proclamations and recommendations of this Our Constitution remain firmly established and ratified, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, however worthy of special note.

Given at Rome, at Saint Peter's, on the feast of Saint Peter's Throne on the 22nd day of February in the year 1962, the fourth of Our pontificate.

JOHN XXIII

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