On The Promotion Of The Study Of Latin
Pope John XXIII
February 22, 1962
wisdom of the ancient world, enshrined in Greek and Roman
literature, and the truly memorable teaching of ancient peoples,
served, surely, to herald the dawn of the Gospel which God's Son,
"the judge and teacher of grace and truth, the light and
guide of the human race,"(1) proclaimed on earth.
was the view of the Church Fathers and Doctors. In these
outstanding literary monuments of antiquity, they recognized man's
spiritual preparation for the supernatural riches which Jesus
Christ communicated to mankind "to give history its
the inauguration of Christianity did not mean the obliteration of
man's past achievements. Nothing was lost that was in any way true,
just, noble and beautiful.
Church has ever held the literary evidences of this wisdom in the
highest esteem. She values especially the Greek and Latin
languages in which wisdom itself is cloaked, as it were, in a
vesture of gold. She has likewise welcomed the use of other
venerable languages, which flourished in the East. For these too
have had no little influence on the progress of humanity and
civilization. By their use in sacred liturgies and in versions of
Holy Scripture, they have remained in force in certain regions
even to the present day, bearing constant witness to the living
voice of antiquity.
amid this variety of languages a primary place must surely be
given to that language which had its origins in Latium, and later
proved so admirable a means for the spreading of Christianity
throughout the West.
since in God's special Providence this language united so many
nations together under the authority of the Roman Empire - and that
for so many centuries - it also became the rightful language of the
Apostolic See.(3) Preserved for posterity, it proved to be a bond
of unity for the Christian peoples of Europe.
Nature of Latin
its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every form of
culture among peoples. It gives rise to no jealousies. It does not
favor any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality
to all and is equally acceptable to all.
must we overlook the characteristic nobility of Latin's formal
structure. Its "concise, varied and harmonious style, full of
majesty and dignity"(4) makes for singular clarity and
impressiveness of expression.
of Latin by the Holy See
these reasons the Apostolic See has always been at pains to
preserve Latin, deeming it worthy of being used in the exercise of
her teaching authority "as the splendid vesture of her
heavenly doctrine and sacred laws."(5) She further requires
her sacred ministers to use it, for by so doing they are the
better able, wherever they may be, to acquaint themselves with the
mind of the Holy See on any matter, and communicate the more
easily with Rome and with one another.
the "knowledge and use of this language," so intimately
bound up with the Church's life, "is important not so much on
cultural or literary grounds, as for religious reasons."(6)
These are the words of Our Predecessor Pius XI, who conducted a
scientific inquiry into this whole subject, and indicated three
qualities of the Latin language which harmonize to a remarkable
degree with the Church's nature. "For the Church, precisely
because it embraces all nations and is destined to endure to the
end of time...of its very nature requires a language which is
universal, immutable, and non vernacular."(7)
"every Church must assemble round the Roman Church,"(8)
and since the Supreme Pontiffs have "true episcopal power,
ordinary and immediate, over each and every Church and each and
every Pastor, as well as over the faithful"(9) of every rite
and language, it seems particularly desirable that the instrument
of mutual communication be uniform and universal, especially
between the Apostolic See and the Churches which use the same
therefore, the Roman Pontiffs wish to instruct the Catholic world,
or when the Congregations of the Roman Curia handle matters or
draw up decrees which concern the whole body of the faithful, they
invariably make use of Latin, for this is a maternal voice
acceptable to countless nations.
the Church's language must be not only universal but also
immutable. Modern languages are liable to change, and no single
one of them is superior to the others in authority. Thus if the
truths of the Catholic Church were entrusted to an unspecified
number of them, the meaning of these truths, varied as they are,
would not be manifested to everyone with sufficient clarity and
precision. There would, moreover, be no language which could serve
as a common and constant norm by which to gauge the exact meaning
of other renderings.
Latin is indeed such a language. It is set and unchanging. It has
long since ceased to be affected by those alterations in the
meaning of words which are the normal result of daily, popular
use. Certain Latin words, it is true, acquired new meanings as
Christian teaching developed and needed to be explained and
defended, but these new meanings have long since become accepted
and firmly established.
the Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every
merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is
altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be
noble, majestic, and non-vernacular.
addition, the Latin language "can be called truly
catholic."(10) It has been consecrated through constant use
by the Apostolic See, the mother and teacher of all Churches, and
must be esteemed "a treasure...of incomparable
worth."(11). It is a general passport to the proper
understanding of the Christian writers of antiquity and the
documents of the Church's teaching.(12) It is also a most
effective bond, binding the Church of today with that of the past
and of the future in wonderful continuity.
Value of Latin
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 teaching highly
intelligent thought and speech.
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, forecasting the dangers that would
result from its neglect.
Resolve to Uphold Latin
We also, impelled by the weightiest of reasons - the same as those
which prompted Our Predecessors and provincial synods (13) - are
fully determined to restore this language to its position of
honor, and to do all We can to promote its study and use. The
employment 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 the timely directives
contained in this document, so as to ensure that the ancient and
uninterrupted use of Latin be maintained and, where necessary,
believe that We made Our own views on this subject sufficiently
clear when We said to a number of eminent Latin scholars:
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...Yet, in spite of the urgent need for science,
Our own view is that the very contrary policy should be followed.
The greatest impression is made on the mind by those things which
correspond more closely to man's nature and dignity. And therefore
the greatest zeal should be shown in the acquisition of whatever
educates and ennobles the mind. Otherwise poor mortal creatures
may well become like the machines they build - cold, hard, and
devoid of love."(14)
for the Promotion of Latin Studies
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 Sees 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.
of Latin as a Prerequisite
As is laid down in Canon Law (can. 1364) 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." (15)
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.
Curriculum to be Restored
Wherever the study of Latin has suffered partial eclipse through
the assimilation of the academic program to that which obtains in
State public schools, with the result that the instruction given
is no longer so 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
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.
Sciences to be Taught in Latin
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."(16) 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.
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 goodwill 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.
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
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.
Teaching of Greek
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
Syllabus for the Teaching of Latin
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.
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
at Rome, at St. Peter's, on the feast of St. Peter's Throne on
the 22nd day of February in the year 1962, the fourth of Our
Tertullian, Apol. 21: Migne, FL 1, 294. | 2. Eph. 1:10. | 3.
Epist. S. Cong. Stud. Vehementer sane, ad Ep. universos, July 1,
1908: Ench. Cler., N. 820. Cf. also Epist. Ap. Pius XI, Unigenitus
Dei Filius, Mar. 19, 1924: AAS 16 (1924), 141. | 4. Pius XI, Epist.
Ap. Officiorum omnium, Aug. 1, 1922: AAS 14 (1922), 452-453. | 5.
Pius XI, Motu proprio Litterarum latinarum, Oct. 20, 1924: AAS 16
(1924), 417. | 6. Pius XI, Epist. Ap. Officiorum omnium, Aug. 1,
1922: AAS 14 (1922), 452. | 7. Ibid. | 8. St. Iren., Adv. Haer. 3,
3, 2: Migne PG 7, 848. | 9. Cf. CIC, can. 218, pars. 2. | 10. Cf.
Pius XI, Epist. Ap. Officiorum omnium, Aug. 1, 1922: AAS 14
(1922), 453. | 11. Pius XII, Al. Magis quam, Nov. 23, 1951: AAS 43
(1951), 737. | 12. Leo XIII, Epist. Encycl. Depuis le jour, Sept.
8, 1899: Acta Leonis XIII, 19 (1899), 166. | 13. Cf. Collectio
Lacensis, espec. vol. III, 1018s. (Cone. Prov. Westmonasteriense,
1859); Vol. IV, 29 (Conc. Prov. Parisiense, a 1849); Vol. IV,
149, 153 (Cone. Prov. Rhemense, a 1849); Vol. IV, 359, 861 (Conc.
Prov. Avenionense, a 1849); Vol. IV, 394, 396 (Cone. Prov.
Burdigalense, a 1850); Vol. V, 61 (Cone. Strigoniense, a 1858);
Vol. V. 664 (Conc. Prov. Colocense, a 1863); Vol. VI, 619 (Synod.
Vicariatus Suchnensis, a 1803). | 14. International Convention for
the Promotion of Ciceronian Studies, Sept. 7, 1959, in Discorsi
Messaggi Colloqui del Santo Padre Giovanni XXIII, I, pp. 234-235.
[English translation in TPS, V, 421.] Cf. also Address to Roman
Pilgrims of the Diocese of Piacenza, April 15, 1959, in L'Osservatore Romano April 16, 1959; Epist. Pater misericordiarum,
Aug. 22, 1961, in AAS 53 (1961), 677; Address given on the
occasion of the solemn inauguration of the College of the
Philippine Islands at Rome, Oct. 7, 1961, in L'Osservatore Romano,
Oct. 9-10, 1961; Epist. lucunda laudatio, Dec. 8, 1961: AAS 53
(1961), 812 [English summary in TPS, VII, 367-8.] | 15. Pius XI,
Epist. Ap. Officiorum omnium, Aug. 1, 1922: AAS 14 (1922), 453. |
16. Epist. S. C. Stud., Vehementer sane, July 1, 1908: Ench. Cler.,
N. 821. | 17. Leo XIII. Lit. Encyci. Providentissimus Deus, Nov.
18, 1893: Acta Leonis XIII 13 (1893), 342; Epist. Plane quidem
intelligis, May 20, 1885, Acta Leonis, XIII, 63-64; Pius XII, Alloc. Magis
quam, Sept. 23, 1951: AAS 43 (1951), 737.
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