It was Classical Latin I learned in High School. It was also Classical Latin that I took in college. Yet in the last few years I have really come to appreciate the fascinating, challenging, and special thing that Church Latin is. I wish there were more concentration on this in schools and colleges!
Church Latin is the same language as Classical Latin, and yet, it isn’t. (More on that in this post.) Here are 6 things I just love about Medieval/Ecclesiastical/Church Latin, a very special branch of language and history and culture:
Ecclesiastical Latin is formed from the special language of the medieval Church, the Mass, liturgy, and hymns.L.R. Lind, Medieval Latin Studies: Their Nature and Possibilities
(Wait…I know the above might seem like a “Duh…” but let it sink in for a second or two! The moment I truly considered the implications of this is the moment I realized this is what I needed to devote my life’s work to.)
The common view that medieval Latin is a corruption of classical Latin is as false as the view that medieval literature is a corruption of the classical literature. On the contrary, medieval Latin has all the colors of a spectrum grating, one style imperceptibly shading off into another….Charles H. Beeson, A Primer of Medieval Latin
The infinite variety of Medieval Latin is one of its chief claims to interest. Fundamentally, its vocabulary is Classical Latin, but it touches other realms of thought and expression–the Church, universities, the vernacular tongues–at so many points that it takes on the appearance of a gigantic tree whose roots stretch out into every manner of soil and whose fruit is as varied as its manifold sustenance.L.R. Lind, Medieval Latin Studies: Their Nature and Possibilities
Scholasticism is another rich source of growth for Medieval Latin vocabulary; indeed, the scholastic vocabulary represents the first step forward in the technical language of philosophy since Cicero and is one of the most important contributions of the Middle Ages to the expression of thought.L.R. Lind, Medieval Latin Studies: Their Nature and Possibilities
The rise of national literatures, in spite of all their brilliance, will always leave us with the regret for a time when one universal language held together a community of thought and culture and perpetuated, among all the young nations who had been born of it, the unity of the old Empire of the West.Maurice Helin, A History of Medieval Latin Literature
The entire fascinating linguistic development here is epitomized by a historical anecdote from far later times, showing how fertile and resourceful the language became. When the dreaded Finnish troops of Gustavus Vasa entered a battle, they shouted in their own language, “Hakaa paalle!” (“Hit them on the head!”). The Catholic clergy, soon after their first experiences with these terrible troops, added to their prayers the following phrase: “a horribile Haccapaelitarum agmine nos, Domine!” (“From the frightful army of the Hit-them-on-the-heads deliver us, Lord!”).L.R. Lind, Medieval Latin Studies: Their Nature and Possibilities
It’s endlessly fascinating. The veins of ore for this topic have barely been scratched, they say. Apparently there is so much translation work to do just from the medieval documents of France alone (c.f. Those Terrible Middle Ages by Regine Pernoud) that generations of devoted scholars could be kept very busy.
So help out and get the revival underway–learn Church Latin today!