Many thanks to Joseph Shaw for bringing to my attention, through a recent blog post, a number of documents about the study of Latin in houses of priestly formation. Because of its general remarks on the Fathers of the Church and the study of the humanities and classical languages in today’s schools and universities, Inspectis dierum (Congregation for Catholic Education, 1990) caught my eye. A couple quotations from it:
It is very noteworthy that many fathers had an excellent preparation in the disciplines of ancient Greek and Roman culture. From it they borrowed lofty civil and spiritual values and enriched their treatises, catecheses and preaching with them. By imprinting the Christian stamp on the ancient, classical humanitas, they were the first to make a bridge between the Gospel and secular culture, thus outlining for the church a rich and engaging cultural program that profoundly influenced subsequent ages and, in particular, the whole spiritual, intellectual and social life of the Middle Ages. Thanks to their teaching, many Christians during the first centuries had access to the various spheres of public life (schools, administration, politics). Christianity could also make the best use of what was valid in the ancient world, purify what was less perfect and contribute to the creation of a new culture and civilization inspired by the Gospel… .
It is obvious that the study of the fathers also requires adequate instruments and aids such as a well-equipped library from the patristic viewpoint (collections, monographs, reviews, dictionaries), as well as knowledge of classical and modern languages. Given the well-known deficiencies in the humanities in today’s schools, everything possible will have to be done to strengthen the study of Greek and Latin in centers of priestly formation.
While most of Ave Maria’s students will never enter the seminary, all those who study here have the opportunity to receive this formation. Our Classics majors, in particular, find themselves very well prepared to engage Patristic texts in graduate school and seminary. Besides elective courses that involve readings from the Latin and Greek Fathers, one of the required courses in our major is Latin Church Fathers. In this course we ask our students both to read extended passages of Latin prose as well as to write a term paper engaging a Latin text through an analysis of its theological and philosophical ideas combined with an evaluation of the word choices and Latin style of the author.
One of my inspirations in teaching students at Ave Maria, even and especially in the first year of Latin, is that they will later, as parents, be the beginning of a new generation that will help to restore classical humanities to its proper place in education. One way this happens is when children are enabled and encouraged to undertake the study of the classical languages at a young age. The great scholars of the past came from such a formation and it can happen again through the good will of parents properly formed in the classical humanities at universities like Ave Maria.