Why is it important to study Latin?

“[Latin] 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 judgement. It helps the mind to grasp things accurately and develop a true sense of values. It is also a means for teaching highly intelligent thought and speech.” – Pope Saint John XXIII

At Holy Spirit Preparatory School, a key aspect of our curriculum is the study of Latin. But why is studying Latin important? In today’s post, HSP Latin Teacher Paulina Faraj discusses the intellectual and spiritual benefits of studying Latin, as well as her own personal experience teaching the subject. Learn how Latin trains students’ minds in systematic thought, gives an increased understanding of the language of the Church, and more.

Paulina, can you tell us why it’s important to study Latin? What sets the study of Latin apart from the study of other languages?

Latin has been a fundamental part of Western curriculum since medieval times. Children conventionally began the study of Latin at an early age, and by the time they completed their education, they had translated important works such as Caesar’s De Bello Gallico and Vergil’s Aeneid. As a highly ordered and logical language, Latin develops critical thinking and problem-solving skills, teaching systematic thought.

Reflecting on the educational value of Latin, Dorothy Sayers, in a lecture given at Oxford University in 1947 entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning,” remarked:

“I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar. I say this, not because Latin is traditional and mediaeval, but simply because even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least 50 percent. It is the key to the vocabulary and structure of all the Romance languages and to the structure of all the Teutonic languages, as well as to the technical vocabulary of all the sciences and to the literature of the entire Mediterranean civilization, together with all its historical documents.”

In addition to its intellectual purposes, Latin is also the official language of the Catholic Church. How can understanding Latin’s function in the Faith enhance a student’s own faith?

Since the fourth century, the Western Church has used Latin for liturgy, prayer, administrative matters, teaching, and communications. It has long been considered  a “general passport to the proper understanding of the Christian writers of antiquity” (Pope Saint John XXIII).

The Latin language, above all, is a sacred language. Pope Paul VI characterized Latin as “sacred utterance” and “the language of angels.” Maintaining that certain qualities of the Latin language “harmonize” with the very nature of the Church, Pope Pius XI once wrote:

“For the Church, precisely because it embraces all nations and is destined to endure to the end of time… requires a language that is universal, immutable, and non-vernacular.”

As such, the Latin language, according to Pope Saint John XXIII, is “a most effective bond, binding the church of today with that of the past and of the future in wonderful continuity.”

As our students recite the Pater Noster or Ave Maria in class and sing Tantum Ergo at Benediction, they are bound in a very real and sublime way to this “wonderful continuity” of our Church.  As our students translate the Anima Christi before the Blessed Sacrament, they engage with the words of this beautiful Eucharistic prayer, more slowly, more carefully, and, therefore, more profoundly.

What do you enjoy most about teaching Latin?

Latin occupies a very special place in my heart, so it is a real blessing and joy for me to share it with my students. Yes, there are a lot of paradigms and vocabulary words to learn, but as students begin to translate great works such as the Aeneid, they are also scanning lines of hexameter, creating their own hexameter, identifying rhetorical devices, referring to maps, and learning ancient history and mythology. Because we are engaging with so many aspects of the work all at once, it comes to life. It’s quite lovely, really.

Paulina Faraj is the High School Latin Teacher at Holy Spirit Preparatory School.

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