Against the Vulgar Tongues

3 04 2008


From here one can suppose that by overcoming the functionalist controls of Marxism, poetry will recover the the humanist depths of language and will open up by its semantics a means of recovery, restoration and creation as many lyric poets dreamed them in the foundational centuries of the semantics of objective realities and the founding logos.

Against the functionalist controls of dialectical materialism, this lyric restoration will strive to re-open the sacred fountains (sanctos recludere fontes) of Greek and Latin semantics, of Germanic and Romance semantics, to then recuperate the sleeping roots of their origins, which in some way inhabit those robust and unamendable signifying totalities. It will produce a re-reading of Renaissance and ancient texts, for example, and it will re-initiate wonder in the face of Homer or Petrarch. This one can see as well even in the venerable science of classic philology, weighed down from being an industrial resource that crushes the old gods, the powerful live-giving spirits.

Carlos A. Disandro

(More on this figure here.)

Recently, I have been hanging out in a certain Internet forum, and one character in this forum had below his moniker the following quote from John XXIII:

 The language of the Church must be not only universal but immutable. If in fact the Truths of the Catholic Church were entrusted to certain or several human languages, subject, as they are, to change, and none of them having greater authority than any other, then such a variety would ensue that the sense of these truths would be neither sufficiently clear nor sufficiently precise for all. -Veterum Sapientiæ, 1962.  

It is a common argument nowadays that a sacred language would never fly with modern man, that if the Catholic Church went back to having all Latin services tomorrow, people would leave in droves. People want to understand what is being said in services, people benefit from learning the “Word of God” etc. This may be true, but it is a rather curious assumption, since the now largest religion in the world, Islam, uses Koranic Arabic in its instruction and prayer from Morrocco to the southern Philipines, from mosques in sub-Saharan Africa to store front meeting places in the ghettos of Oakland. Venacularization may not be the best growth strategy if we look at the example of our main competitor.

Perhaps we are being scourged for thinking that we understand too much. Maybe we are being scourged because we remake the Word of God in our own modern linguistic and hermeneutical image and likeness. Perhaps we are guilty of modern semantic idolatry.

So pace Serge, it is about Latin, at least in the West.



7 responses

3 04 2008

But it is hard to put the genie back in the bottle in the West

3 04 2008

We have a lot of bi-lingual Masses at my parish. They seem to satisfy no one. (I don’t mind ’em, but some of the BOBs — Bossy Old Biddies — complain about them.)

Sometimes I think it would be better if we had Mass in Latin. That way, no one would understand. LOL!

3 04 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Geez is the ceremonial language of the Ethiopian Church, and Coptic for the Egyptian Church.

And it’s funny you should mention Old Slavonic. My anti-staretz has a doctorate in Byzantine liturgy from Rome, and he can read both Greek and Old Slavonic. He said that the Old Slavonic psalter is such a servile translation of the Greek that even the non-sensical linguistic blips of the Septuagint Greek translation are rendered syllable for syllable in the Slavonic. The point of this was that the translators thought the Greek text so sacred that they thought fidelity to it was more important that the clarity of the text taken by itself. A fine distinction in comparison with latter day translators.

3 04 2008

also what about Hebrew for the Jews
and Sanskrit for the Hindus
in addition to the already pointed out Arabic for all Muslims and specifically non Arab Muslims (which are the majority)
also I think even Buddhsim has a sacred language in Buddhism and even Tibetan speaking Buddhsists use Sanskrit script
Thus a sacred language is inherent in almost all religions

Although the testimony of SS Cyril and Methodious would provide and alternative possibility

3 04 2008

I thought Geez and Coptic were the same?

3 04 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Father Greg,

I think the point is that modern languages are degenerating and are inferior vessels for transmitting the truth. It is not one particular language we are speaking of, although for Western Europe and those countries that derive their cultures from it, it is indeed Latin that is the chosen vessel of truth, both divine and human.

I think it is more than arguable that the lack of a sacred language in the mind of the West is helping to lead to its downfall. We cannot know for certain, but I think that this is the case. In the history of the Church and revelation, it is Latin and Greek that have been the chosen languages of the Church. One could consider the fact that the three sacred languages, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, hung over Christ as He died on the Cross, and in the Western Church at the Papal Mass, the Gospel has been chanted in both Greek and Latin. This is just the reality of salvation history, although other languages, such as Syriac, Aramaic, Coptic, and G’eez, have been used in particular Eastern Churches as well. But primarily, the Church speaks and thinks in Greek and Latin, and always shall.

3 04 2008

Sorry, Arturo. The Word of God is inherently transcendent, which means it (He, actually) cannot be confined to any set of words, even if all those words are in the Latin language. IMHO, to hold otherwise is the essence of fundamentalism. And, if it is “about Latin” in the West in the way that you claim, then is must be “about Latin” always and everywhere, and this is manifestly not the case.

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