This morning we left the hotel quite early, intent on an important meeting at the Universita Pontificia Salesiana, which is on the far northeast end of Rome. We had been invited there by the head of the Facolta di lettere cristiane e classiche (sounds rather like the name of our own department, no?), Fr. Roberto Spataro, who is now also the secretary of the Pontifical Academy of the Latin language, constituted by Benedict XVI’s motu proprio, “Latina Lingua”.
Fr. Spataro had graciously arranged for us to meet his colleagues and for our students to experience what graduate Classical studies at the Salesianum are like. I do not exaggerate in the least when I say that we were dazzled by the brilliance of their Latin. Each professor who spoke to us (entirely in Latin, mind you, as all classes were taught in Rome not too long ago) expanded on a different aspect of the set topic: friendship. We heard first from Professor Orazio Bologna who spoke about friendship among the ancient pagans. Next we heard from Professor Miran Sajovic who shared some observations about the Church Fathers on friendship. We then had a break for cappuccinos in the cafeteria, much appreciated by all! When we returned to the classroom, we heard from the Latin poet, Professor Mauro Pisini, who discoursed at length upon friendship in Seneca’s epistles ad Lucilium. Finally, Professor Luigi Miraglia spoke with us; he teaches both at the Salesianum as well as at his own Accademia Vivarium Novum. We have heard him described as the greatest speaker of Latin in the world; we no longer take another’s word for it, for we have heard him with our own ears!
Before leaving, Fr. Spataro gave us a tour of the library and introduced us to the rector of the university who, though his academic discipline is psychology, made a brilliant effort to speak to us in Latin. We are profoundly grateful to all whom we met today, who shared freely of their time and who helped us to see again the profound importance of our classical studies. In short: Latin and Greek are the keys to the Christian tradition and, by extension, to the whole of the true humanistic tradition. We neglect them at the peril of our civilization; by studying them and promoting their study, we help to preserve our Western culture in general and our Catholic culture in particular.
After lunch our destination was Sant’Agnese fuori le mura, where we also found the mausoleum of Constantia, the daughter of the Constantine the Great. These are both beautifully decorated churches and of ancient foundation. At St. Agnes’ we found displayed one of the very few intact Latin inscriptions which has come down to us from Pope Damasus (d. 384 A.D.). In this inscription he tells the pilgrim, in 10 elegant hexameter lines, who St. Agnes was and why she was – and as a patron in heaven, is – so special. After working through the inscription, we retired to a shady spot where we read more about St. Agnes from the Latin and Catholic poet, Prudentius (d. ca. 405).
Dinner we ate, once again, near the Colosseum. There’s something about the sight of that building looming massive down the street as one leaves a restaurant that never grows old!
(A collection of this course’s photos can be found here.)