There are more important languages to learn than Latin


This past Sunday, the Sixth Sunday of Easter of 2013 saw a debate between an orthodox conservative and an avowed liberal. The conservative discussed a fellow parishioner who had kneeled while taking the blood of Christ, and had asked for the blessed chalice before in a complete kneeling state.

Lake Tahoe     This did not seem to upset the liberal in any way. The orthodox conservative next presented the view that Latin is the official language of the church and should be the preferred language to learn. The liberal argued for other languages to be the preferred language to learn.

Unlike Protestants, who believe in Solo Scriptura, Catholics and Semitic people have a strong preference for reading the divine writings in light of tradition. They receive this idea from the Ten Commandments, which begins:

Moses summoned all those who struggle with God and told them, Hear, you who struggle with God, the customs, and correct judicial precedents, which I proclaim in your ear, this day, that you may learn them and guard to observe them. The Personal Name, our Almighty Judge, cut a Social Contract with us at Mt. Sword; not with our fathers did the Personal Name cut this Social Contract, but with us, each of us, alive, here, this day. Deuteronomy 5:1-7

In the Summa Theologica, The Second Part of the Second Part, Question 81 noted how our word, “religion,” relates to the Latin understanding of the concept.

Religion may be derived from “religare” [to bind together], wherefore Augustine says (De Vera Relig. 55): “May religion bind us to the one Almighty God.” In addition to the founding of Rome itself, the Roman sense of authority comes from the sanctity of house and hearth. The Romans understood how the gods had Shekinah, (presence) lived among the Romans, so was re-ligatus, bond together in present time, through all time, with the people.

Scene from GalileeThe interesting things about customs, “הַחֻקִּים” and correct judicial precedents, “מִּשְׁפָּטִים,” is that they develop over time. They do not develop over night, and are therefore not the kinds of things Moses could have received at Mt. Sword. The Jewish tradition is that all the rulings that have come since are the customs and correct judicial precedents, which we are to view as if they came from Moses at Mt. Sword. Catholic and Easter Orthodox teachings mirror this ancient Semitic understanding.

The Ten Commandments begins by telling us, “Not with our fathers did the Personal Name cut this Social Contract, but with us, each of us, alive, here, this day.” To argue that the Roman Rite is somehow different from any other rite is to argue that it does not link back, tie back to Mt. Sword in present time. It is to cut the church off from its roots, both the roots of Sinai, and the roots of the cross.

This brings us to the idea of home and hearth. Revelations 12:17 tells us how the great sea serpent went off to wage war with the woman and her offspring, those who keep faith with the witness and the Mitzvah of God. Revelations 12:5 tells us how this woman gave birth to a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod.”

This child is clearly Jesus, so the woman must be our Blessed Virgin. We, alive, here, this day, are the offspring of Our Blessed Virgin, in present time, as are all those who lived from the time of Our Blessed Virgin until today. To argue for Latin, the Roman Rite in Latin is to cut ourselves off from this woman, Our Blessed Virgin, who almost certainly did not speak Latin.

The orthodox Catholic is correct in understanding that it is important for the blood of Christ not to fall on the floor. The liberal thinker was also correct in understanding that there is something more at issue here than wine, the blood of Christ falling on the floor. Through the Eucharist, we relive the Passion and death of Jesus Christ. We also relive the events of Mt. Sword, our rescue from oppression. We undergo a religious transformation from death to new life.

IsraelSt. Paul tells us in Romans 5 and Galatians 2, “We, who are Jews by nature and not deviants from among the nations, know that a person is not justified by works of Torah but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

St. Paul comes from the Jewish neighborhood of Tarsus, Turkey. The native language of the first century for that town was Koine Greek. On the other hand, St. Paul comes from the Jewish neighborhood of that town. We need to think of the late nineteenth century, and early twentieth century Brooklyn Jewish neighborhood. The people of Brooklyn spoke English.

horse and carriage at south lake tahoeThe Brooklyn neighborhoods, on the other hand, spoke the languages of the immigrants who lived there. The people of the Jewish quarter spoke Yiddish. When the more religious of that neighborhood went to college, they went to Yeshiva, most likely in Jerusalem. Likewise, St. Paul learned the Yiddish of his time, Aramaic. As a religious, he went off to Yeshiva in Jerusalem, the Academy of Shammai. There he learned Hebrew.

Thinking in Hebrew, St. Paul would have meant, using the Hebrew and Aramaic word for Justice, Tzaddic, We, who are Jews by nature and not deviants from among the nations, know that a person is not Tzaddic/made charitable by works of Torah but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus that we may be Tzaddic/made charitable by faith in Christ and not by works of Torah, because by works of Torah no one will be made charitable.”

Elsewhere, St. Paul tells us, “Put on the new self, created in God’s way in Tzaddic and dedication of truth.” The rest of the chapter, of which Ephesians 4:24, resides describes this Tzaddic as God means for us to live out our everyday life.

Deuteronomy 6:20-25 tells us what St. Paul meant by Tzaddic as well:

Incline Village homeWhen your son asks, “What do these witness statements customs and correct judicial precedents mean?” which the Personal Name, our Almighty Judge, enjoined on you, you shall tell your son, “We were once slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Personal Name brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and wrought before our eyes signs and wonders, great and dire, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and his whole house.

He brought us from there to bring us in and give us the land he had promised on oath to our fathers. The Personal Name commanded us guard all these customs in fear of the Personal Name, our Almighty Judge, that we may always have as good a life as we have today. This is our justice/Tzaddic.

In our transformation, we no longer worry about the little things. Our neighbor in Christ is far more important than even the blood of Christ falling on the floor. Christ will protect his precious blood. During the Passion, far more blood that is precious fell on the floor, the Via Delarosa, than the few drops that might fall if the chalice spills. Yes, we do need to be careful with the precious blood, but the precious blood points to something even more important, human life as life lived in the image of God.

Meadow in IsraelThis brings us to the importance of Latin in Mass. For doctoral seminary, Latin might be an important language to learn, in order to read the Summa, the City of God, the Moralia, and other writings of the church fathers. If we plan to discuss theology with the church doctors at the Vatican, Latin could come in handy. For the rest of us, Latin is a great language of nostalgia, to help us remember the Tridentine Mass of Pre-Vatican II.

Presenting this view, brought the discussion of whether Jesus knew Latin. Interesting it was, that the liberal presented the view that Lake Galilee, where Jesus and the apostles did their preaching and fishing, is so much like Lake Tahoe. So interesting it is how the orthodox Catholic opposed this view. They are the same, inland, crystal blue lakes. They are lakes famed for being resort hot spots where celebrities and other rich folk lived out their lives. As such, to live in these areas, one almost has to be multilingual.

The “Church Language” of the first century was Hebrew. The language of the masses was Aramaic, which people of the time mistakenly referred to as Hebrew. As a rabbi, Jesus would have known both Hebrew and Aramaic. To be a fish trader on Lake Galilee one would almost certainly have had to know the language of trade, Koine Greek. St. Peter shows an understanding of this language in the two letters he wrote, and which are in our New Testament. James also shows fluency in Greek, in his New Testament letter, as does St. Paul, in his letters.

The question is about Latin. The Latin people had the ethnocentric trait Americans have. They sent their soldiers and state department officials to countries with no training in the languages or cultures of their conquests. If Jesus talked with soldiers as he did in Luke 7:1-10, it was almost certainly in Latin.

Further, in John 18:28-40 Jesus has a discussion with Pilate. If Pilate did not speak any language other than Latin, the discussion must have been in Latin. St. Mark calls the crazy man Jesus heals, Legion, a Latin name.

Dei Verbum, from Vatican II states:

God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, (6) the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words. To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to “literary forms.” For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts, which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse.

This means, the question is not, whether Jesus, or anyone else could have had an intelligent discussion in Latin, but in what language Jesus and the apostles thought, and that language was Aramaic. In the case of Torah, Navy, and Writings, that language is Hebrew. Because the oldest extant writings are in Koine Greek, Koine Greek has a claim for study.

It is important to notice how Greek, Latin, and the Semitic languages used the present tense. From our pre-Vatican II days, we use to interpret Matthew 3:1-2, “In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea, saying, “Do Penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” English has what grammarians call the “dandy do.” The original word in Greek, Latin, or the Semitic languages can be interpreted as, “Repent,” “Be Penitent,” or “Do Penance.” In church language, “Do Penance” means going to confession and doing as the priest asks as one’s “Sign of contrition.” Those not knowing ancient languages were confused by this ambiguity.

Dei Verbum, from Vatican II tells us that we need to read the text in light of how the original writers understood the text. Our “Instruction on the Historical Truth of the Gospels,” tell us, “The sacred writers when composing them followed the way of thinking and of writing current amongst their contemporaries.” John the Baptist wrote long before confession, as we know it today, so could not have had this in mind as he preached. Contemporary translations correctly translate the text as “Repent,” and not, “Do Penance.” Learning Latin would help us understand the ambiguity of Pre-Vatican II history, but not help us much in understanding current translations of the Bible.

This brings the questions of which languages would be important to learn, for the serious Bible scholar. Clearly, Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek make this list. Where does Latin fit in? Jesus probably spoke Latin, but “Legion,” is one of the very few Latin words used in any of the Gospels, and the New Testament never uses Latin in the context of explaining Christian doctrine.

The church fathers used Latin, but most of the Scholastic teaching is being replaced by German existentialist teaching through the writings of Johann Mohler, Karl Rahner, Richard Rohr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Bernard Lonergan. Learning German would be far more beneficial in the academic setting than Latin.

The goal of reading any ancient language is being able to present what we learn to the masses. That means learning French, German, Polish, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Chinese, and with the rapidly growing African church, the African languages. Latin is way down the list.

We need to understand what is going on at Mass. We need to understand how we are not just taking in bread and wine. We are taking in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. That means know who Jesus Christ the first century Jew, and the Son of God is. That means enmeshing ourselves in the Semitic culture.

“Jesus is the same, Yesterday, today, and tomorrow,” Hebrews 13:8. “At the beginning, Personal Name, you established the earth, you are the same, and your years will have no end.” Hebrews 1:10-12.  The word of God did not change as the church moved from a Semitic group to the Latin church, as those who emphasis the Latin Rite would have us believe.

The difference between corporeal and spiritual food lies in this, that the former is changed into the substance of the person nourished. It cannot avail for supporting life except it be partaken of. Spiritual food changes man into itself, according to that saying of Augustine (Confessions 7.  Third Part of the Summa Question 73 Article 3

I found myself to be far from You, in the region of dissimilarity: I am the food of strong men; grow, and you will feed upon me; nor will you convert me, like the food of your flesh, into you, but you shall be converted into me. Confessions, Book 7, Chapter 10

Jesus was the great healer and forgiver. If we are to get into him, who is what we are to become, we need to become healers and forgivers.

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