Is Latin dead?

Ransom Riggs

For many of us -- especially those sporting liberal arts degrees of some kind -- studying Latin is a fond, if sometimes painful, memory. The same can't be said for the language itself, unfortunately; despite my semester spent in the Latinate trenches just six years ago, I can only remember the barest bits of phrases (like the cheeky "Semper ubi sub ubi," which translates to "Always where under where.") For our grandparents, Latin was often a requirement. For ourselves, it was perhaps a dalliance. For the current and up-and-coming generations, according to Father Reginald Foster, one of the leading Latin scholars and the Vatican's senior Latinist, the language is in its last throes.

Even in European schools, the language isn't usually required. The major exception is Italy, of course, which mandates about four hours of Latin instruction per child per week. (That's enough to be equipped to make silly puns, like the above, but that's about it.) Important Papal announcements, like a Bishop's appointment, have for a thousand years been written in Latin on parchment -- but now those Bishops are starting to ask for translations. Father Foster believes that without Latin we miss out on important elements of history. "St Augustine thought in Latin, you can't read his text in English, it's like listening to Mozart through a jukebox," he says.

Pope Benedict is concerned, naturally -- but not concerned enough to restore the once-traditional Latin Mass. He has a better plan: Benedict plans to forgo his usual afternoon siestas and study Latin during that time, instead. Let's hope the world pays attention to his Holy schedule!