Thomas G. Casey
The case for replacing Latin as the official language of the church
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Latin is the official language of the Holy See and the Vatican City State, but the working language of the Vatican is Italian. Given its location in Rome, the Vatican’s use of Italian makes perfect sense. As for Latin, though, fewer and fewer seminarians and priests today are familiar with it, and laypeople seldom study it; but official church documents are still published in Latin.

Latin remains essential to the church’s tradition and identity. Anyone who wants to study canon law or to understand great Catholic thinkers, like Augustine or Thomas Aquinas, needs a good working knowledge of the language. As the Papal Latinist, Reginald Foster, O.C.D., puts it: “You cannot understand Saint Augustine in English. He thought in Latin. It is like listening to Mozart through a jukebox.”

None of this necessarily means that Latin should continue to be the official language of the church.

Since Spanish is the most common language among Catholics worldwide, it might seem an ideal replacement for Latin. But English is (to use an Italian expression) the lingua franca of international trade, business and technology, the international language for communication with the greatest global reach, binding our diverse world in myriad ways. English is also a much more significant international language for the Roman Catholic Church than Latin. Is it time for the Holy See to change its official language?

The question of language arouses emotional resonances linked to questions of history and identity. The European Union, for example, recognizes 23 official languages, including Irish, which is spoken as a first language by fewer than 50,000 people. In principle, each E.U. language has official status; but in practice, without any official pronouncement to this effect, English has become the working language of the European Union. In some member states English is no longer considered a foreign language. More and more European companies have made English their official language.

Does tradition require the Vatican to retain Latin as its official language? In fact, the opposite is true; retaining Latin defies the whole dynamic of its history. The widespread assumption that Latin has always been the language of the Catholic Church is mistaken (in this article, Iuse the term Catholic Church as synonymous with Roman Catholic Church). The assumption arises from the fact that Christianity was born during the reign of the Roman Empire. Today the received wisdom among a small but vocal group of Catholics is that the church, being based in Rome, inevitably promulgated its dogmas and conducted its liturgies in Latin. In their view, the decision of the Second Vatican Council in 1964 to allow and encourage the use of vernacular languages, however, led to further erosion of authentic doctrine and practice. For such people, the restoration of Latin would return the church to the internal discipline and high moral high ground it so unwisely surrendered.

Why the Church Chose Greek

The historical facts are quite different. Christianity at its origins made a surprising decision: it adopted Greek as its language. The earliest documents of the Christian community were written in Greek. Although Greek was the language most Christians used among themselves, it would have been easier in many ways had they made Hebrew the church’s official language. After all, Hebrew was the revered language of the Jewish Scriptures and the language in which God first revealed his love to the chosen people, and the very earliest Christians (the Apostles) were predominantly Jewish. Yet the church’s surprising decision to switch to Greek paid enormous historical dividends.

The church produced its most creative theology during its first millennium, because it was audacious enough to take Greek as its language. It took the best from the Greek world of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and brought it together with the wisdom of Judaism. This development of the church’s theology can be traced through the seven major ecumenical councils, starting with the First Council of Nicaea in 325 and culminating in the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. All of these defining gatherings of the Catholic Church in the first millennium were held in what is today modern Greece and Turkey. Most of the participants in these councils came from the Eastern or Greek part of the Catholic Church. Every one of these seven councils was conducted in Greek, and all the decrees were issued in Greek.

Given the historical importance of Greek in the first centuries of Christianity, it is surprising today to encounter zealous young seminarians and priests who are enthusiastic about Latin, thinking it is rooted in a 2,000-year-old connection with the church. They imagine they are returning to the genesis of Christianity, but they have unknowingly erased the first centuries of church history.

Such selective amnesia was also evident in Mel Gibson’s controversial film “The Passion.” In the film Gibson has the Roman soldiers speaking Latin, a historical blunder. Was Gibson led to this mistake because of his attachment to the Latin Tridentine liturgy and the conservative Catholic lens through which he views early Christianity? Scholars agree that the common language of the Roman Empire in the Middle East was Greek. Greek was, in fact, widely used in Italy and Rome at the time of Jesus. There is little doubt that Pilate and Roman military officers garrisoned in Palestine would have been Greek-speakers.

The Switch to Latin

In the fourth and fifth centuries Latin replaced Greek as the language of the Mass. This shift was a brave response to the changing times. First, the church had come to recognize that the center of Christianity was in Rome. Latin was the language of that city and the language of the world’s major power at the time, the Roman Empire. Second, the church recognized that Latin was the lingua franca throughout western Europe, and it wanted to reach all the people there. The decision to take on Latin had major ramifications: By identifying with the Roman Empire, would the church appear to endorse imperialism? Why would it throw in its lot with the Roman Empire, which in many respects was antithetical to Christian ideals and values? Would it be more appropriate to retain Greek?

Yet Latin won the day. One can recognize the great potential of Latin simply from observing the beauty and economy of this most resourceful of languages. The very structure of Latin gave new clarity and precision to the teaching of the church. Although common or “vulgar” Latin deteriorated into a series of dialects that were to become the basis of languages like Italian, French, Portuguese and Spanish, classical Latin itself remained unchanged. Since it was no longer used daily, this more refined Latin was not subject to alteration. It thus provided the Catholic Church with a stable norm by which to evaluate the correctness of doctrinal and theological expressions in other languages. For centuries, Latin continued to be a critical point of reference for the Catholic Church.

A Case for English

Has the time now come to change the official language of the church to English? Introducing English does not mean jettisoning Latin. Latin has been around for a long time, and long may it continue. The Catholic Church, because of its universality, should be able to draw on the rich storeroom of tradition. But perhaps it is time for the official status of Latin to correspond to its actual use.

There would be many advantages to the adoption of English as the official language of the Roman Catholic Church. First, English is already spoken across many different nations. It is the official language of roughly 50 countries worldwide and is used at least to some degree by almost two billion people. Second, English is an extremely flexible language: many nouns can be used as verbs—for instance “mention,” “book,” “proposition”—or as adjectives, as in “vegetable soup.” English incorporates new words and expressions to respond to cultural shifts and changes: “information superhighway” or “search engine.” Third, English is an extraordinarily inventive language. New words and expressions are continually being coined: bad hair day, carjacking, road rage, soccer mom. The language never stops venturing into new territory. As such it is ideally suited to our constantly changing world.

Then there is the truth behind something Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote: “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”

In the medieval world, Latin enabled the church to shape the contemporary intellectual culture in a decisive way. Could English provide a similar resource for today’s church? It may be time for the church to make a brave linguistic leap of faith. As Virgil once wrote, Audentes fortuna iuvat: “Fortune favors the bold.”

Thomas G. Casey, S.J., an Irish Jesuit priest, is a professor of philosophy at the Gregorian University in Rome and, most recently, visiting professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His most recent book is Music of Pur

Comments

BRUCE SNOWDEN | 10/19/2013 - 8:27am

I greatly respect scholarship wherever I find it, even when not fully understood, or even when not understood at all. To me, scholarship possesses an aura of holiness easily linked to God, who is All Wise, All Knowing, All Understanding. As with approaching God, approaching scholarship must be done with reverence, even when "profane" looking for that "grain of truth" the redeeming factor in all scholarship. Is it not true that even Satan can speak the truth?

So, I reverently acknowledge having read "Ave atque Vale" which has made me wiser, more knowing, more understanding. For whatever its worth, respectfully, let's stick with Latin as the Church's official language, a stable teaching tool not subject to developmental change.

But in liturgy let's do vernacular, keeping some Latin hymns of course which are exquisitely beautiful many from Aquinan genius. A priest friend once told me, praying in Latin was for him like praying to an unknown God in a foreign tongue! I agree.

Alan Aversa | 10/18/2013 - 10:59pm

The Baltimore Catechism says this about Latin:

Q. 566. Why does the Church use the Latin language instead of the national language of its children?
A. The Church uses the Latin language instead of the national language of its children:

  • To avoid the danger of changing any part of its teaching in using different languages;
  • That all its rulers may be perfectly united and understood in their communications;
  • To show that the Church is not an institute of any particular nation, but the guide of all nations.

Switching to English would not preserve any of these points.

Jim CONNIFF FAMILY | 7/2/2009 - 1:31pm

Dear Editor:

A few issue late, I realize, but as I read this plausibleJack Raymer take ballyragging Latin, that in effect renders 3,500 years of culture a closed door to multitudes just reawakening to all that Latin stands for, there came drifting from happy memory such odes as Quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa perfusus liquidis urget odoribus grato, Pyrrha, sub antro? But then came pell-mell that elegant Memento mori you'll recall begins Tu ne quaeseris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios temptaris numerous,seu plures hiemes seu tribuit Jupiter ultimam, but as I drifted off to sleep this was taking over, Jack old boy: Quare tristis incedo dum affligit me Inimicus?

Jim Conniff

Patricia V. Russo | 6/15/2009 - 9:37am
Thank you for writing about an important ecclesiastical question in plain English.
Paul Ford | 6/11/2009 - 10:26pm
I studied Latin for eight years with the Jesuits and I use it daily in my liturgical research. Yes, let Latin continue to be taught. But teaching in a multicultural seminary as I do, I am convinced that English is becoming the world's second language. But if we make English the church's official language, whose English shall it be? An English most will understand but do not speak? Or the local English? Can't it be both? May we not learn from the United Bible Societies to produce study editions of the texts being promulgated for teaching or for worship, to enable accurate translations into the vernacular, including the local English?
Michael Bindner | 6/10/2009 - 1:24pm
For official use in the Vatican, I would say Italian should be used as long as the Church is headquartered in Rome. If the Latin Church emphasizes its Patriarchies the way the Eastern Church does, then perhaps creation of Spanish and English Patriarchs with their own curial structures, Canon Law and Mass would be appropriate.
Jeffrey Pinyan | 6/9/2009 - 7:33pm
The very year the Second Vatican Council was opened, Bl. John XXIII issued an Apostolic Constitution promoting the study and use of Latin, praising the language for being universal, immutable, and non-vernacular. Given what Vatican II said about the use of Latin in the liturgy (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 36, 54) and its importance to seminarians and priests (cf. Optatam Totius 13), it seems to be working against the spirit of the Council to make Latin even less accessible to Catholics of the Latin Rite.
Maria Brunello | 6/9/2009 - 1:48am
I'm sure the Africans, Latin Americans, Asians and continental Europeans would be thrilled at having another institution imposing English at them... until Mandrin becomes the lingua franca, and we have to switch again. The advantage of using Latin is that it is a dead language. No one has a claim to it, no nation speaks it, everyone has to suffer through it more or less equally to learn it. I don't really care for making English speaking seminaries' lives easier. Since when does easy schooling make better pupils?
Hillary Gainer | 6/8/2009 - 8:51pm
It seems that the comments I submitted several days ago got lost. So I am submitting again my ideas: First of all, we must understand one fact: the Catholic Church is multilingual, not monolingual. The Latin as official language does not preempt the Catholic Church to use the most appropriate language to carry the good news across the globe – tailor fitting according to each situation. Second, Latin does provide an advantage; it is no longer a language where "new words and expressions are continually being coined." By writing Church teachings in Latin one avoids the risk of changing interpretation that the use of any living language causes. Third, the eloquent case made on this article comes across as a lawyer's ruse to manufacture a case. Strong cases could similarly be made for several other languages to become the official language of the Catholic Church: we could make arguments for choosing Chinese or Arabic as those languages represent the largest untapped potential to attract people to the Good News; we could also make the case for choosing Spanish or choosing Brazilian Portuguese as the former is the language that most Catholics would claim as their own while the latter represents the single largest Catholic nation on hearth; we could also make the case for Ancient Greek or the case for Galilean Aramaic as they respectively correspond to the preferred language of the Church Fathers and to the language specifically chosen by The Christ to teach His Apostles. The point is; a good lawyer would build strong arguments for several languages to replace Latin. Fourth, Father Casey conveniently chooses arguments that would impose his own cultural background above the rest. How this colonial attempt would help those that do not share his heritage into becoming Catholics? Do we really believe that a switch from Latin into English would make would-be Catholics in areas such as Hispano-America, Brazil, Iran, Quebec or Russia more prone to do so? Finally, seeking to replace Latin for English makes a good topic for casual conversation, but we cannot really believe that this is a relevant factor for conversion. The Catholic Church greatest obstacle is its faithful commitment to the teachings of God, this faithfulness forces it to take clear – and frequently very unpopular – stances (in areas including divorce and abortion). I am glad of the Church's adherence to the faith received from the Apostles, and I hope it does not get distracted by trivial debates such as replacing Latin.
Michael Bindner | 6/8/2009 - 10:42am
On the use of Latin and English in the Church, it is noteworthy that the Mass of John XXIII is only said in Latin, though the Mass of Pius VI is said in both Latin and the Venacular. I wonder if we might close the circle and begin offering the Mass of John XXIII in the Venacular, thus making it more accessible to more of the faithful?
Elia Malgieri | 6/7/2009 - 7:56pm
The suggestion that English be adopted as the official language of the Church reflects an appaling lack of understanding and sympathy for those latin cultures which are traditionally Catholic and which speak languages derived from Latin. Such a move would cause intense anger and resentment among that vast percentage of the world's Catholics who speak the language of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross and would be astounded at seeing the language of Cramner and the English reformation being adopted by the Catholic Church. The Irish, Catholics though they were, betrayed the beautiful language in which St. Patrick preached the Faith to them and adopted the language of their Protestant overlords. Hence it is not surprising that such a ridiculous proposal should come from Ireland.
Michael Bindner | 6/7/2009 - 10:04am
Regarding the use of Latin and the possible use of English in the June 8th issue, the adoption of Latin in the classical period probably had more to do with adopting a new brand identity as a way to differentiate from Constantinole, in much the same way that Pope Gregory the Great insisted that the Sign of the Cross be changed from left to right. As Pope Benedict XVI seeks closer ties with Greece, surely adopting more structures from the original Church, like the older norm for the Sign of the Cross, might be appropriate. It might also be appropriate to rescale the Roman Patriarchy, allowing existing Latin patriarchs more of the dignity of their offices and creating separate Patriarchy(s) for Spanish, English and French speakers, especially for the African Churches. Such a move would also encourage the return of the Protestants, who could no longer identify Papism as an excuse for the continued separation within the Body of Christ. Each Patriarchy would then use its own language, while the language used in Rome would be outside of the concern of this publication.
Ted McGoron | 6/4/2009 - 5:44pm
The solution would be to start teaching seminarians Latin again. One of the problems is that most priest don't understand English very well. They like to paraphrase the words in the liturgies the Church has given them to use and they often wind up with something that does not mean what the Church meant. Or maybe the problem is they don't like the words the Church privided because they don't agree with them. My point is when it was latin every priest did it the same way, no matter where we went to Mass.
Luigi Ermini | 6/3/2009 - 6:48am
Two small comments on an interesting article. First, the expression "Roman Catholic Church" is mistaken: the church whose head is the Pope is the "Catholic Church" and not the "Roman" Catholic Church, the latter being an expression promoted throughout the centuries by Anglicans to support the idea that the Catholic Church comprises three branches, the "Roman", the "Anglican" and the "Orthodox". The Catholic Church - which is one and one only - comprises different rites, of which the "Roman rite" is by far the most followed in the world. Second, an additional factor in favor of using the English language is that - despite being a non-Latin language - approximately 60% of English words have a Latin (and some a Greek) origin.
Benjamin Emmel | 6/2/2009 - 11:46pm
While I may be biased, as a student of the classics, I think that Latin holds a significant place in the Catholic Church, and should remain so. The Church uses Latin in official documents precisely because it doesn't change-in other words, what the Pope writes today will be interpreted or understood in a similar manner dependent on the original, Latin text, perhaps even in a hundred years. Because English, as Fr. Casey writes, "never stops venturing into new territory", there is the possibility for error and confusion later on. Eternal truths should be communicated in eternal words.
JOSEPH DYER FR | 6/2/2009 - 6:33pm
Well, yeah, but I defy Bernstein or Barber, putting aside the fact that they are dead, to set the word "strength" or the plural of any regular noun that ends in "sk" or "st" to music that is as elegant as some of the stuff we have stashed in the attic.
joe driscoll | 6/2/2009 - 5:47pm
I was required to study Latin for four years as part of my Catholic education. Years later I think the time could have been better spent on subjects more applicable to modern life. Other than the Vatican, I think the only people who use Latin today are those who teach it. English would be a far better choice for the Vatican to adopt due to its universal usage. As to the political ramifications, we're not electing a Pope here. And it's English, not American we're talking about.
Mary Ann Hinsdale | 6/2/2009 - 9:24am
Given the article's argument, the sub-headline is misleading.
RUDOLF GOETZ | 6/2/2009 - 12:00am
Interesting article and balanced – and besides timely (simply - if nothing else - because a little shaking up does not hurt our Latin church; cf. "aggiornamento" traces of Vat II and since!) I am basically in agreement with the message of the article. Note: Didn’t an US cardinal at Vat II offer to pay for a simultaneous translation system? (Cushing?) It was declined! The comment, preceding mine, raises an interesting point – neutrality vs.."Americanism" as an example. But is such real "neutrality" ever possible? (Cf. your Wittgenstein quote!) How church authorities actually act in their proceedings could help better here than a rigid sticking to Latin. Minor historical aspectscome to my mind: Greek was probably not so much a real choice for the Apostolic time – it was simply the Lingua Franca in the centuries after Alexander’s empire changed the historical scenery.The Septuaginta appeared already 2-3 centuries before the Apostolic time. So Greek was simply needed then – if only first for certain areas (Jews in Alexandria). At Apostolic times, Hebrew would not have been a viable alternative either; it was long replaced by Aramaic as the spoken language at. But adaptation to facts was the basic issue then as your article stresses – why not today? I liked your emphasis on the Greek centuries from Nicea I to Nicea II. – not in the consciousness of the average US Catholic – although could Wittgenstein’s quotation come to somebody’s mind here, too? The flexibility of English may exactly give a little headache to some people.. Good for America to bring up again a new idea (as carefully as a "church-connected" weekly can go). In that regard, a recent internet article comes to my mind, dated before May 25. It was a very balanced appeal for a more civilized public discourse in the present political situation. I almost don't quite dare to ask - what happened to it. It disappeared under a few strange circumstances from the internet; never appeared in the printed edition and that copy arrived delayed, i.e. in the same mail as the next (double) issue! I leave it up to you to exclude these lines from my comment or even answer them.) Rudolf Goetz, MD, FACOG.
Edward Cardoza | 6/1/2009 - 11:27pm
All true. However, I grew up praying in Latin. In my Prep school and College I studied Latin for a total of six years. My wife, who grew up under similar circumstances was also a long time student of Latin. Both of us love the Latin Mass. Having it taken away from us was something which neither of us was prepared for nor happy about. To this day, when there is a Latin Mass available, we go to it with joy. Oops, I forgot: although I was a student of Aquinas in my Senior Year in college, it escaped me until now that he hadn't written in English. Be that as it may, I wouldn't have had the nerve to ask to inquire of my Professor, the Reverend Edward McNally, S.J., if it wouldn't have been more appropriate to be studying his writings in Latin rather than in English.
David Brennan | 6/1/2009 - 10:14pm
I enjoyed this article too. I'm only puzzled that the author describes the use of Greek as audacious, since it was by far the most commonly understood language of the Eastern Mediterranean. I imagine that Jesus and the apostles spoke it at least a little, however reluctantly. Like the poster above, I wonder about the implied imperialism of nominating English as the/an official Church language. Just before I read this article, I read another that begins: 'In 2002 Philip Jenkins in The Next Christendom pointed out that while Europe may be the most Christian continent nowadays, by 2025 it will have slipped to third place behind Africa and Latin America. By 2050 there will be three billion Christians and only one in five will be non-Hispanic Whites.' (http://www.churchresources.info/missionspirit/0609/Connolly.pdf) So perhaps Spanish would be a better choice.
SIMON FALK | 6/1/2009 - 8:33pm
Yes, a very interesting article. As a younger priest I also find it difficult understand the interest that some younger people have in Latin. I have a suspicion it has something to do with wanting to return to what is perceived as a more secure culture that supposedly had all the answers, uniforms and titles to construct a world in which one thought one was in control. Jack Raymer's comment on which language is also helpful, although, on further reflection, any European language could possibly be imperialistic to cultures who are South of the Equator. The other issue is the formality or floridity of the language. Some of the proposed texts for the revised English Roman Rite Liturgy are very formal and florid - "flowery". That marks a line in the marble of the churches according to level of education. Those who have an advanced level of English will be able to understand the prayers and for the rest, it might as well be in Latin, Italian or Greek.
ESTHER COOKE | 6/1/2009 - 8:19pm
My son was living in Dire Dawa Ethiopia. There is a Roman Rite Mass weekly. "Oh, is that in Amharic", I asked. "No, Mom",people, who attend are from all over, mostly Europeans." " Well, are you enjoying the Latin?" "Ha", says he. The Mass is in English, the most universal language."
Hillary Gainer | 6/1/2009 - 5:11pm
First of all one fact: the Universal Church is multilingual not unilingual: Latin as an official language does not hinder the Church's ability to speak in the most effective language for locally spreading the Good News. Second, Father Casey prefers English based on arguments that any good lawyer would put together to make a case in front of a tribunal... Why not turn to Chinese which may represent the largest potential to attract people to Jesus' Spiritual Body? Why not Brazilian Portuguese which represent the largest Catholic speaking-country? While not Spanish which Father Casey himself acknowledges as the most widely spoken language among Catholics? Why not Galilean Aramaic which was Jesus language? Why not ancient Greek which was the preferred language among the Church Fathers? ... A good lawyer would make a good case for several different languages to replace Latin. Does anyone really believe that Latin prevents English-speaking people to become Catholics? Even if we assume so ... would an English speaking church make it easier for other people to become Catholics (whether Chinese, Quebecois, Mexicans or Brazilians, among many others)? Not really, quite the contrary... Father Casey may be unconsciously trying to impose his own cultural preference into the rest of the Universal Faith. No thanks! Colonialist attempts are no longer welcomed. Third, Latin has one advantage; it is fixed. As Father Casey puts it, Latin remains unchanged. Latin is not subject to the changing in meaning that any living language goes through. Latin is a factor which provides stability to the interpretation of Church documents. Finally, the real and greatest obstacle posed by the Church to those would-be Catholics is her faithful adherence to the teachings she received from the Apostles. The Church does not "negotiate" or "adapts" its doctrinal teaching according to the preference of the majority (whether is Abortion or Divorce). And I am glad she does remain a firm rock. As per challenging Latin, this is really a small topic that makes a good conversation but hardly a factor that prevents the Church effectiveness (if at all).
Steve Haggerty | 6/1/2009 - 4:54pm
An interesting proposal and I have several comments. The conversation between Jesus and Pilate, by definition, had to be in Greek, what I would call "street" Greek, enough to get by but certainly not that of Plato. Further evidence is that the Gospels were certainly written in this same "street" Greek, otherwise we would not today still be discussing "crying in the desert, make straight...", versus "crying, in the desert make straight...". Said another way "and then...and then...". In other words, let's not wrap ourselves in the shroud of classical Greek, at least not in the early years. On the question of English as the official language for the Vatican...two (2) points. 1. According to my Italian associates, if you want to rise through the church hierarchy, you MUST speak Italian, and 2. What would we do with all of the Italians?
JOHN WALTON MR | 6/1/2009 - 4:38pm
Thomas, si vale bene est. Nos timemur febris cerebri Collegio Gregoriensis propter Pontifex Maximus Allemani B-16 curavit Episcopus Trautman.
Colin Donovan | 6/1/2009 - 3:42pm
In practice, five European languages (Italian, Spanish, French, German and English) are already the unofficial languages used for publication and for Synods and major conferences. Latin should be retained as the official language, since it already is the language of all the dogmatic decrees since the 4th century, and the Acta (Acts of the Apostolic See, the Vatican's publication of record). Those who need to know know Latin. Almost everyone else can read one of the 5 translations. I might add, that the popularity of Latin is growing among young Catholics, even if the ageing baby-boomer generation would just wish it would go away.
Patricia Gross | 6/1/2009 - 3:26pm
I can't imagine English being adopted as the Church's official language, just because of the political implications mentioned by Jack Raymer. Still, I am enormously grateful for this article, because it's been so annoying to read and listen to the traditionalists who act as though the Eucharist ought to be in Latin, as though it had been the language of Jesus. I wish I were capable of writing a novel about the world of Roman Christianity in the 4th century and the dislocation felt by those who had to adapt to the liturgy in Latin after centuries of Greek liturgy. Think of the tone that might have been taken by educated Roman Christians looking down on the Latin-speaking North Africans who weren't comfortable with Greek and wanted the liturgy in the vernacular language. (That's the way I imagine it, anyway.) The Jews are fortunate in having maintained one language for scripture and for formal prayer, but Christians have been dealing with translations all along (since Greek wasn't the first language for Jesus or any of the apostles) - I think the New Testament texts contain just a few tiny fragments of the Aramaic that was actually spoken. Somehow the promotion of Latin as being normative for Catholic Christians seems similar to the mind set of Protestant Fundamentalists who believe that the King James version is the only inspired version of the Bible.
John Raymer | 6/1/2009 - 2:10pm
Very interesting article. It seems though, that Italian might be a better choice as the "official" language of a global church because it is more politically neutral than English. "The decision to take on Latin had major ramifications: By identifying with the Roman Empire, would the church appear to endorse imperialism?" The same might be said for English and "Americanism."