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. As such, while preparing for The Davenant Latin Institute’s Advanced Latin: Theology Proper in the Early Modern Period class I’m teaching this semester, I enjoyed much the following section, occuring at the head of Musculus’ whole work, immediately prefacing his de deo. For students of the Post-Reformation, and students of theology more broadly, it orients us properly to engage in the great task of considering the divine Majesty in whatever part of the broader systematic project we occupy ourselves with—a project which is, after all, just the saying of Deus in recto et in obliquo. Here’s the text: Read more…
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?
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…