Humanist drama as a medium for retelling Bible stories is one of the most fascinating genres of Latin literature of the Reformation. All over Europe Protestants and Catholics alike wrote biblical comedies and tragedies for their schools, each camp often using the other’s plays since in the first decades they rarely strayed from narrative into confessional statements. These plays aimed instead to teach good Latin style and to teach piety and virtue by example. If this sounds like a recipe for bland moralizing devoid of theology, we need only turn to the granddaddy of all humanist biblical plays to see that they can indeed explore the depths of God’s mysteries delightfully through story.
An Update from DLI Associate Director Jonathan Roberts
Benefits of Latin for “regular” pastors? Well, what’s an irregular pastor? While I’d argue Latin is beneficial to all pastors, whether those of mega, medium, or minor congregations, there are certain pastors who may never study Latin—the Irregulars. Their ministries are somewhat restricted, perhaps only to the pulpit, with staff and assistants handling many daily administrative tasks that plague the schedules of mule-pastors who carry many ministry stones on their shoulders: bulletins, frequent visitation and counseling, or unclogging toilets forgotten by the few deacons busy that week anyway.
The second generation Wolfgang Musculus’s (1497–1563) Loci Communes in usus S. Theologiae Candidatorum parati (1560) is a fine, early example of a Reformed system produced to aid pastoral students of theology.
What sort of person enrolls in a class in Reformation studies? It is a seemingly easy audience to profile. For those few programs which offer such a course, we expect it would be required for any student pursuing a degree in Christian history or theology; for young Reformed individuals who desire a deeper understanding of their tradition but whose career aspirations lie elsewhere, it might be a suitable elective. In short, it is a comfortably esoteric subject with few adepts, and so it has been for centuries. So why are more students suddenly enrolling in these courses?
It seems to be a rule that those who want to learn Latin are always very busy. I’ve taught fellow graduate students who have had to cram Latin homework between full-time studies, part-time work, and family meals. I’ve taught middle schoolers for whom Latin lessons vied for attention with sports, music, and math worksheets. I’ve often struggled myself to find time for keeping up my own Latin reading, not to mention making progress in it.
Until recently, Latin was a staple of any Western curriculum. From medieval times to America’s founding, no education was considered complete without it. Instruction usually began at a young age; by graduation, students could recite Virgil or Cicero with ease. It was not until the education reforms of the 1960s that it was all but erased from American classrooms, dismissed as irrelevant and elitist. However, in recent decades, there has been a quiet resurgence in classical learning. Recognition for its beauty and usefulness has led to its slow re-introduction into a handful of classrooms. While there is much still to do, organizations (like the Davenant Latin Institute) are breathing new life into these ancient flames.
However, this resurgence is sometimes accompanied with overstatements on the benefits of learning Latin. We can excuse some excitement, but to hear some enthusiasts, one would think the architectural and mathematical aptitude of the ancient Romans could somehow be ingested through learning their language.
That aside, Latin is frequently credited for generic benefits that come with learning any second language. For example, when a study suggests learning Latin promotes logical processing or sequencing skills (which it does), it’s seldom shown why this wouldn’t also be the case with, say, Mandarin or German (which it is). Similarly, I have listened to many classicists sell what they offer on the grounds that “Latin is beautiful, and therefore ought to be pursued.” Again, there are many beautiful languages; this observance alone, while true, does not answer why anyone should take Latin rather than some other stimulating or beautiful language.
My mission here is to identify what is unique about Latin. And while my policy on languages is “The more, the merrier,” there are reasons to consider prioritizing learning Latin. I will categorize them under the three lessons I give my students on the first day of class: Latin is a dead language, Latin is a mother language, and Latin is an ecclesiastical language. Read more…
This report was written by William Hugh Scott, a Master’s student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, who attended this year’s DLI Summer Residential Course.
On May 22 The Davenant Trust opened the doors of the Laureldale Cabin to host the inaugural offering of “Residential Intensive Introduction to Theological Latin.” This was a one week intensive that served as an immersive experience, for learners of all levels, to begin a journey of reading, speaking, and composing Latin.
This initial group of students were a diverse bunch. Nick and Kyle are brothers from Wisconsin, though Nick is currently in Louisville preparing to start his studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Alyssa, a Latin teacher at a Classical Christian School, drove in from Ohio. Christian, a PhD student, arrived from Virginia. Angelia and Bill are both students at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Charlotte campus.
Our fearless leader for the week was Professor Michael Spangler, with some assistance from one of his advanced Latin students, Michael Grasso. Professor Spangler is incredibly passionate about Latin and made the week a wonderful experience for all there. We began each day opening Scripture followed by a prayer and/or a hymn/creed recited in… you guessed it… Latin. He did a wonderful job of encouraging all of us of the vast amount of materials at our disposal once we had successfully learned the language. He was a fantastic encouragement through the whole week, as was his assistant.
The meals were wonderful times of serving as teams took turns cooking and cleaning the kitchen for the group. Mealtimes also enabled Professor Spangler with the opportunity to have creative exercises that assisted in our learning of Latin.
The Laureldale Cabin was the perfect location to partake in the week intensive of learning Latin. The location is stunning and secluded. Our evenings and breaks between lectures were used to take in the beauty from the porches or stretch our legs down the walking path. We felt just removed enough from society to have a time of limited distractions so to fully immerse ourselves into the language.
The week was spent working through the first part of Hans Orberg’s Lingua Latina. At first glance flipping through the text, it can be slightly overwhelming. Thankfully after an explanation of Orberg’s method, it was a pleasure to work through the first eight chapters of the text. This text, the psalms and creeds recited multiple times a day during the week and acting out scenes from Orbrerg’s Colloquia Personarum enabled an atmosphere where we successfully began to learn Latin.
The beauty of the location and the beauty of a rich language with such a wonderful history in the life of the Church made for a wonderful week of building relationships with brothers and learning another way to interact with our brothers and sisters from ages ago. It was an amazing learning experience and hopefully one that will allow scores of others to experience the joy of learning Latin that this initial group of six were able to enjoy.
Click here to learn more about the Davenant Latin Institute.
The Davenant Latin Institute is a unique program of online courses to equip you to read theological Latin texts. Courses are affordable, flexible, and available for all levels of ability.
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The Davenant Latin Institute, now entering its third year, is pleased to offer our fullest lineup yet of courses in theological Latin for all levels of ability. Our courses are structured to fit the busy schedules of seminarians, pastors, graduate students, and teachers, and are recognized for academic credit by institutions such as Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, The Greystone Institute, and New Saint Andrews College. Intro courses take advantage of the state-of-the-art NSA Latin program offered by New Saint Andrews and BibleMesh.
Our past students have had wonderful things to say about the program, and we have continued to refine the curriculum year-by-year:
“The Davenant Latin Institute provides a comprehensive program for every student hoping to gain competency in the Latin tongue. After dabbling with other Latin-learning resources, I discovered this program, and I could not be more pleased. . . Each component (content, class structure, assignments, exams) is carefully crafted to deepen your grasp of the material. Best of all, the instructor was exceptionally gifted at explaining the material with clarity, finesse and patience. My longing for access into the Reformation and Post-Reformation Latin corpus is finally becoming a reality. I am encouraged by the prospects of augmenting this skill set in the remaining courses. If you are looking for enriched soil to grow your Latin, look no further. I highly recommend Davenant as the best resource available for Latin students.” —Rev. Robert McCurley, Greenville Presbyterian Church
Below is a list of the courses being offered this summer and fall. Register soon for the best price!
Residential Course at Davenant House
Residential Intensive Intro Latin (May 22 – 27)
Register by May 1 to avoid late registration fees.
Summer Intensive Online Courses
LAT511: Intensive Intro to Theological Latin, Pt. I (June 5 – 30)
LAT512: Intensive Intro to Theological Latin, Pt. II (July 10 – August 4)
Fall Online Courses (August 21 – December 8)
LAT501: Introduction to Theological Latin, Pt. I (Standard)
LAT521: Introduction to Theological Latin, Pt. II (Flexible)
LAT601: Intermediate Theological Latin Reading, Pt. I
LAT703: Advanced Early Modern Latin Reading
Register by June 1 to avoid late registration fees.
Although we have designed our online courses to be as flexible as possible for students juggling busy schedules and prior commitments, we recognize that many students may not be able to make an intensive or standard semester course work for them. Accordingly, we have developed a tutorial program that aims to be flexible enough to meet any need. We have standard tutorial packages that are designed to track closely with the LAT 501, 502, 601, and 602 Intro and Intermediate courses. Click here for more information.