Monday, November 13, 2017

Ditch Latin and the Church will self-destruct. . .

A quick perusal of a Roman Catholic blog lamenting the loss of Latin with the shift to the vernacular brought to light a whole series of comments by bishops from Vatican II showing that the push for the vernacular was NOT a primary cause of the Council but rather a specific and determined goal of the more progressive wing of Rome.  This one caught my eye. B. Peruzzo, archbishop of Agrigente. Multa audivi contra sacram traditionem. Haec verba cause mihi fuerunt anxietatis et timoris. [I have heard many things against sacred tradition. Those words were for me a cause of anguish and fear.] … All those who want to diminish Latin always invoke the same reason: so that the people will understand and participate better. That is what the Augsburg Confession demanded. Now, quid evenit [What was the outcome]? Actus separationis a Sancta Matre Ecclesia [An act of separation from Holy Mother Church]. Separatio a lingua latina, per quandam inexplicabilem rationem, fere semper, etiam cum permissu Summi Pontificis [The abandonment of Latin, for some inexplicable reason, almost always, even with the permission of the Supreme Pontiff], ends up in absolute separation. (212–13)
For those whose Latin is not up to speed, Archbishop Peruzzo specifically mentions the Augsburg Confession, the basic confessional document of Lutheranism, written by Philip Melancthon in 1530, to present the fundamental articles of Reformers to the papal party. In Article 24: “All the ceremonies [of the Mass] must serve principally for the instruction of the people in what is necessary for them to know concerning Christ.”  According to Archbishop Peruzzo, the outcome of Augsburg in using the vernacular will surely become the outcome for Rome if it follows suit.

So why is it so humorous?  Well, for one thing Luther was not a fan of abandoning Latin.  He believed Latin would continue forever because it was and, he thought, it would remain the language of the educated.  Luther did not so much advocate for the vernacular as to allow it where people were not educated and did not understand Latin.  Second, the instruction of the people did not automatically translate into their comprehension but rather had to do with the role and function of ceremony to be visible words, that is, to be a confession without words and an instruction without words.  Augsburg was easily the most conservative of the Reformation voices in preserving tradition and even promoting it.  And in fact, the AC presumes Latin continues with German hymns.  In other words, Rome still did not get it some 450 years after the Reformation.

Augsburg XXIV:40: Forasmuch, therefore, as the Mass with us has the example of the Church, taken from the Scripture and the Fathers, we are confident that it cannot be disapproved, especially since public ceremonies, for the most part like those hither to in use, are retained...  Article XV specifically addresses ceremonies.  And Article XXIV also says, in the full quote, “We at the same time give instruction against other erroneous doctrines concerning the sacrament. In the public ceremonies of the mass, also, no other perceptible change has been made than that at several places German hymns are sung along with the Latin, in order to instruct and exercise the people; since all ceremonies are chiefly designed to teach the people what it is necessary for them to know concerning Christ."


John Joseph Flanagan said...

I suppose those who preferred to retain Latin saw it as a way to keep the tradition in place, but really, isn't it better if worshippers actually speak, read, and understand the language used? What sense does it make to recite prayers in a language few speak? What good is it to speak Russian to an assembly of Chinese Christians? The best thing to come out of the Reformation was to translate the Bible into the languages spoken by real people, and follow up with worship in the vernacular.

James Kellerman said...

John, I'm all for using the language spoken by "real people," whether it be German or English or Chinese, but your comment ignores the fact that many "real people" in Luther's day spoke Latin. Indeed, if anyone had been to school (which was admittedly a minority of the population), they knew Latin. It wasn't just that they learned it for an hour or two each day, but they were immersed in it, so much so that they were fluent in the language within a year or two. Consequently, all higher education was conducted in Latin throughout the Reformation era and well into the 19th century in Germany and other countries. Systematic theology was taught exclusively in Latin at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis until the dawn of the 20th century; even as late as the 1950's students there had at least one course taught in Latin.

Latin was retained among educated Lutherans not "to keep the tradition in place," but because it was the only way to communicate with people all across Europe. It was as vital to know as English is today. Expecting people to know Latin back then wouldn't have been as strange as expecting modern Chinese Christians to know Russian.

Thus, it is not surprising to find that Lutherans retained Latin in worship where people knew the language (such as in university towns), while using the vernacular where people knew no Latin (such as in the villages). Lutherans weren't anti-Latin; they just weren't anti-vernacular, either.

Anonymous said...

I am glad that confessional Lutheran theologians are required to study Hebrew and Greek.

Too bad other Christian denominations (would that be everyone else other than Rome and Constantinople?) consider the study of other languages a waste of time.