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Faith & leadership

According to some talking head in a video, there are probably only a hundred people in the world today who can read, write, and speak Latin fluently. I am certainly not one of them. But as my mind wandered among my friends, I counted a dozen or so who can do that in Greater Parkdale alone. And I cannot claim to know everyone in this city. It contains so many ethnic neighbourhoods, perhaps one of them is Ancient Roman. There are several thousand Tibetan speakers within half-a-mile of the High Doganate; who says it is impossible? And note: Tibetan is a harder language to learn than Latin.

So I think we will have to revise the estimate upwards. True, Latin has been in decline, these last ten centuries or so, but as my hero Edmund Burke explained to that nasty whig, Edward Gibbon, there is a lot of rot in any civilization. It takes a long time to flatline completely. Meanwhile, let its enemies dread a revival.

My high-school Latin teacher, the beloved Jessie Glynn, and her colleague Esther Blaney — who prattled fluently in Latin in the corridors — taught as if it could happen tomorrow. One ought to be ready. Truth to tell, it still hasn’t happened, yet their shades would agree that the nineteen in twenty thousand who dropped Latin the instant it was reduced to an “elective” in the Ontario curriculum of 1968, made a serious mistake. Indeed, look at them now: tedious lives, inarticulate even in English, and cannot quote a single line from Horace.

The video, linked by Father Zed, was about the still-living Latinist, Reginald Foster, OCD, who has not given up, even though retired to an oldie home in Milwaukee after decades of service in the Gregorian at Rome, and as amanuensis to four popes. (“OCD” refers to the Discalced Carmelites, incidentally, not to “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” as the wags would have it.) A good eremite, he hates shoes and likes to sleep on floors. He is also inspiring. The clip shows a young Chinese girl who had some sort of epiphany when she met him, and had spent the last DLVII days studying Latin with an enthusiasm that is obviously contagious.

Father Reginald notes that even dogs can learn the language (he teaches them to sit, stand, and fetch in Latin), and when asked if he would like to see something done, says, “I am doing something about it. I’m going down to teach right now.”

There’s leadership for you: the “take charge” attitude one sees in impressive people, who do not waste their time and spirit moaning about things (the way I do). It is a quality closely allied with faith, in the broadest sense, but also in the narrowest. Faith can move mountains, and if the mountains have not yet moved, faith is not discouraged.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, according to the sage Lao Tzu. True, he did not speak Latin, but his Classical Chinese was beyond compare. Let us vindicate this ancient Chinaman, whose teaching was so strikingly compatible with that of Our Lord, by taking charge right now. (Whether the latter spake with the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, in Greek or Latin, I leave to speculation.)

The recovery of Latin Christendom requires the recovery of Latin, and it is in our power to do something about this.

By David Warren, lecturer in religion and literature, St Philip’s Seminary

St Philip's Seminary, Toronto
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