Notre Dame Warmly Welcomed Foster
Reggie was himself on Thursday afternoon in South Bend, and this made for one very entertaining presentation about the undying importance of Latin studies, even and especially entertaining for those who otherwise had little familiarity with the subject. Speaking for my family, my parents, grandparents, and my brother, who made the trip with me to South Bend, they had a very good time and Reggie made quite an impression on them. As my mother said, as much as one may relate about him, one has to see him in person to believe it.
The talk was held in Notre Dame's Law School and the crowd who came to see Reggie was large enough that we had to remove from a lecture hall, of modest size, to the court room, slightly larger, one floor up; even there, there were not enough places for people to sit. My family and I had come all the way from East Lansing; my friend, Iacobus (not the inimitable Iacobus of this blog) came from Iowa City; I talked to a priest who had come from Chicago; I talked to a Chemistry professor who had come over from Valparaiso (my alma mater); and then, of course, there were any number of people from Notre Dame and St. Mary's, etc. Reggie drew quite an audience, though I imagine that, by and large, it was Catholic, if the number of men in clericals was proportionate to the laity in the group.
As for the substance of what he said, it was the typical Reggie. If you've been to one of his summer's in Rome, then you'd heard it all before. He told some of his favorite stories, explained a little about his amazing method of learning Latin (no memorization and no tests), talked about some of the new books he was carrying with him, by way of illustration of the Latin tradition: Erasmus' explanations of Latin and Greek proverbs and Ovid's Ars Amatoria. Most of all, as he always does, he communicated, indeed imparted, to the audience some of his passion for this language, so that even my father and grandmother were wondering, albeit vaguely, about studying Latin.
For myself, it was a reinforcement of my current efforts, a strong reminder that I shouldn't feel strange for carrying my Lewis & Short with me, everywhere I go, that one should spend some time each day with Gildersleeve & Lodge, and that, as Reggie said to the audience, yeah, after 15 or so years, you might get the hang of this language, you might then be said to know it modestly well.
Perhaps more pointedly than at other times, he spoke of the crisis in the Church - no, not the crisis in the Church about which this blog often comments - but about a crisis which Reggie thinks is here or will soon be here when men of his age and men like Grandpa Joe (which is how they refer to Benedict around the office, Reggie said) are gone and the last of those folks who took a knowledge of Latin for granted are no more. How will we study canon law, the Second Vatican Council, the Church Fathers, etc., if we no longer know Latin?
And this is where I think a certain tension comes into Reggie's view. For people like me, I have no qualms about abandoning everything in order to master this language and revel in its 2,000 years of literature, poetry, and philosophy; but for someone who wants to get on with some particular subject, say, canon law, the language is important, but it can't be the focus of one's whole work. Yet Reggie says that we'll need 15 years, perhaps, to get the language nailed down. Maybe he's intimating that we need to take a generation to train Latinists who can teach the next generation from the ground up, as it were, and they will be the ones to go into these other areas of inquiry and study with the proper tools in hand.
Perhaps this is what made a diversity of studies, coupled with a more than solid background in Latin, possible in the past. If one studied letters from the time one was knee high to a grasshopper, by the time one was 18, Latin might be second nature. But one has to begin in elementary school, as men like Ronald Knox did, and even Reggie was hesitant, at least on Thursday, about beginning that early. Of course, he thinks that he could teach babies to speak Latin, but he wants to avoid at all cost a return to the bad old days in which Latin was jammed down childrens' throats.
I don't know if we can have it both ways. Men are forever the same: we don't like difficult and prolonged tasks; St. Augustine in his Confessions talks of his childhood abhhorrence in studying Greek. Children do love to learn, but most children also need a good shot of discipline to keep them on the right track. Reggie doesn't want anyone to suffer the old whips and chains method of learning Latin - and maybe that stifled freedom and the growth of truly loving Latinists - but one thing we know is that they did know Latin. And I'm not talking about the state of affairs on the eve of the Council, for things had gotten pretty bad, relatively speaking, by that point. Pius XII's knowledge of the language was far less as compared to Pius X's, and John XXIII's Veterum Sapientia should be sufficient confirmation of the fact that things Latin were not in good way.
This is where, I think, a suggestion which Ambrosius first raised in conversation ought to be considered. A great deal of valuable time in the formative years has been lost, at any rate today, if not decades ago, by the introduction of science studies and the like in the elementary and middle school and even high school years. The actual content of these studies is so piddling that it is material which would be better learned all at once, as part of a broader and more complete study, once one is in college. Removing these studies from at least elementary and middle schools, if not high schools besides, would free up hours upon hours to dedicate to the study of letters, grammar, language in general.
If we don't have a solid knowledge of Latin and at least a modest knowledge of Greek by the time we're 18, we'll never again have another Cardinal Newman or a Ronald Knox; and Leo XIV will certainly not be drafting glorious encyclicals in Latin as did Leo XIII.
The downside of this talk on Thursday was that there were any number of people there who had no previous acquaintance with Reggie, which would seemingly be a good thing, except that it meant that they asked him all the wrong questions. For instance, they wanted to ask him about the liturgy, about the translations of the Mass, the new one and the older one. Reggie can talk about all of these things, but he doesn't appear to have much relish for it. At some person's request, however, he did talk, but this is not the topic on which you want to hear Reggie discourse, because his liberal ideology leads a very smart man into saying stupid things like, for one, defending the older translation of the Novus Ordo Missae as, for example, on the grounds that "Et cum spiritu tuo" just means "And also with you." Which is a complete pile of garbage, and the Latin certainly doesn't mean that, and the expression is so obviously a Christian one, and so obviously a theological one - do you think that Cicero went around greeting his neighbors, "Et cum spiritu tuo!" - "And with your breath!" "And with your wind!" or some other such nonsense?
So Reggie told the audience: just leave the Latin alone, as it is, and for the rest, you write whatever you want in your English missal or Swahili or whatever, and don't even bother about whether it corresponds to the typical edition (Latin) of the current Novus Ordo Missae. Which pretty much sounds like the philosophy the ICEL employed the first time around, though it probably would have sounded more elegant in Swahili!
Reggie related how they had been reading from Martin Luther's sermons in summer school and from some of Luther's letters to Erasmus; he confidently told the audience that Luther was no heretic and that if you but switched the names at the top of these sermons, putting Aquinas for Luther, no one would ever know the difference. Now I'll be the first to tell you, Martin Luther wrote some beautiful Scriptural commentary and he was not a man altogether devoid of spiritual insight. But the same would go for just about every other heretic out there, which is why they are heretics: they keep a lot of the good stuff, as it were, and leave out the bits that they don't like. Except we're not talking about ice cream flavors here, we're talking about divinely revealed truths, and who has the authority to say that some are and some are not divinely revealed.
A good question which came from an audience member asked what one might to do, lacking many hours each day, to keep up on one's Latin. I thought Reggie might give us the "Read something, write something, listen to something," which he had given us last summer in summer school. Instead, he answered this man with something else which he had recommended in summer school: get yourself a Latin Bible (the latest, most modern edition, of course) and read the stories therein. It was at this juncture that we were treated to Reggie's famous, "You don't believe in God? neither do I!" but that's no objection to reading the Bible, jack.
This insistence on reading from the Bible is, I think, one of the best things that Reggie says; as much as an ignorance of Latin puts us out of touch with our civilization, how much more does an ignorance of the Bible remove from us a knowledge of half the allusions in literature and of sympathy with men of culture before our time who knew the text in great depth. (Even putting us out of touch with men like Martin Luther who, in his old age, could yet quote from memory whole pages from the Vulgate!)
Despite the matters in which I disagree with Reggie, it's still fun to hear the guy, even when I've heard it before, and so I'm very glad that I went and was able to bring my family along. I was able to chat with him afterwards, at the reception, and introduce my friend. I warned him that we would have a contingent from Cornell descending upon him next summer, and he took it in stride. Since we're only bringing one classicist with us, though, as is the plan now, it shouldn't be too painful for him.
My family and I had also come to stroll the campus, since my grandparents had not seen it before, and we had a lovely time of it. As my family and I drove out of South Bend the next day, under the sun and along the fields of corn, I wrote the following couplet in honor of Notre Dame:
Sol iste arva super Cereris viridissima splendet
Qui quoque Nostrae in discipulis Dominae ore renidet.
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