Benedict XVI is to publish a motu proprio to establish the “Pontificia Academia Latinitatis”. In the Vatican, “e-mail address” has been translated as “inscriptio cursus electronici”
“Foveatur lingua latina”. Pope Benedict XVI is keen to foster people’s knowledge of the language of Cicero, Augustine and Erasmus of Rotterdam not just in the Catholic Church but also in civil society and in schools. Indeed he is about to publish a motu proprio to establish the new “Pontificia Academia Latinitatis”. So far, the Vatican body in charge of keeping the ancient language alive has been the “Latinitas” foundation, which has been under the aegis of the Vatican Secretariat of State but is now destined to disappear: other than publishing “Latinitas” magazine and organising “Certamen Vaticanum” an international Latin poetry and prose competition, over the years, the foundation has also been in charge of translating modern words into Latin.
The imminent establishment of the new pontifical academy which will add to the eleven existing academies – including the most famous ones representing science and life – has been confirmed in a letter sent by the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, to Fr. Romano Nicolini, an Italian priest who is massively in favour of reintroducing Latin lessons in junior high schools. Ravasi recalled that the Academy’s initiative was “put forward by the Holy Father” and promoted by the Vatican dicastery for culture: its members will include “eminent academics of various nationalities, whose aim it will be to promote the use and knowledge of the Latin language in both ecclesiastical and civil contexts, including schools.” The cardinal concluded the letter by saying that the initiative was a way of responding to “the numerous requests we have been receiving from all across the world.”
It has been fifteen years since John XXIII promulgated the apostolic constitution “Veterum sapientia” on the eve of the Second Vatican Council, establishing Latin as the eternal language of the Church and stressing its importance, asking Catholic schools and universities to brink it back to life if it were ever abandoned or neglected. The Second Vatican Council maintained Latin in certain parts of the mass, but the post-conciliar liturgical reform apparently removed all trace of it from common use. And so, whereas half a century ago prelates from all over the world were able to communicate in Caesar’s language and faithful came into contact with it weekly, today Latin is not fairing too well in the Catholic Church. Instead, it is being promoted in other lay spheres, which are interested in keeping it alive.
Academics are hard at work in the Holy See, coming up with neologisms to translate papal encyclicals and official documents. Translating Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical “Caritas in veritate” (July 2009) on social emergencies and the economic and financial crisis, into Latin, was no easy task. Some of the choices made by the Holy See’s Latin experts were criticised by influential Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, which questioned the use of the terms “delocalizatio”, “anticonceptio” and “sterilizatio”, but approved “plenior libertas” for liberalisation and “fanaticus furor” for fanaticism. Some of the stranger translations included the term “fontes alterius generis” for alternative energy sources and “fontes energiae qui non renovantur” for non renewable energy sources.
The Pope’s idea to establish a new Pontifical Academy is an important sign of renewed focus on the significance of Latin. Fr. Nicolini - who distributed ten thousand copies of a free introductory booklet to the Latin language in middle schools and is sending out an appeal for it to be included again in school curriculums – stated: “Latin teaches us to show respect for beautiful things and it also teaches us to value our roots.”
One of the men in charge of updating the Latin glossary which will make it possible to communicate even today in the language spoke by Cicero, is 47 year old Fr. Roberto Spataro, Professor of Ancient Christian Literature and Secretary of the Pontificium Institutum Altioris latinitatis (known today as the Faculty of Christian and Classical Letters) founded by Paul VI in what is currently the Salesian Pontifical University of Rome. “How would I translate “poison pen letter writer”? I knew that question was coming… Well, I would translate it as: “Domesticus delator” or “Intestinus proditor”, the priest said. He also explained how Latin neologisms are born: “There are two schools of thought. The first is what we may call the Anglo-Saxon school of thought, which holds that before a neologism is created, we need to sieve through all the texts that have been written in Latin – and not just classical Latin - throughout the centuries. The other school of thought, which for the sake of ease I will call Latin, holds that we can be freer in creating a circumlocution that properly conveys the idea and meaning of a modern word, whilst maintaining the flavour of classical Ciceronian Latin.”