VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - “Pro Dei amore Latinam linguam discite”.
If you don’t know what that means, Pope Benedict is on your case.
In fact, he’s not only on your case, he’s on your declension, your conjugation, your tense, your person, your voice and your mood.
“Pro Dei amore Latinam linguam discite” means “For the love of God, study Latin!” And that is what the pope wants to see more of.
At the weekend, he started a new Vatican department to promote the study and use of Latin in the Roman Catholic Church and beyond.
The Vatican said the pope, who is clearly the literary kind of Latin lover, had instituted the Pontifical Academy for Latin Studies, placing it under the auspices of the Vatican’s ministry for culture.
He said Latin, which is still the official language of the universal Church, was the subject of renewed interest around the world and the academy was mandated to encourage further growth.
Catholic seminarians studying for the priesthood were weak in studies of the humanities in general and Latin in particular. They would benefit from a deeper knowledge of the language and be able to read ancient Church texts in the original, he said.
A string of modern-day popes have tried to give the ancient language a boost.
In 1962, Pope John XXIII published “Veterum Sapientia”, a document aimed at promoting the study of Latin, and in 1976 Pope Paul VI started the Latin Foundation and its quarterly “Latinitas”.
But those ventures met with mixed results at best and Benedict, who has allowed a partial return of the old-style Latin Mass that was phased out more than 40 years ago in favor of local languages, is giving it another try.
“It appears necessary to support a commitment to a greater understanding of the use of Latin, both in the Church and in the greater world of culture,” he wrote in the letter setting up the academy.
The new academy’s statutes, written, of course in Latin, say its goal is to promote both written and spoken Latin through publications, conferences, seminars, and performances.
Many attempts have been made in the past half century to revive Latin. Some have tried to bring the language of Cicero up to date by introducing neologisms, or new words for things that did not exist when Rome ruled most of the known world.
To fill the gap, Father Carlo Egger in 1992 published the “Lexicon Recentis Latinitas,” a dictionary of modern things in ancient Latin.
Egger and a committee of experts and consultants of the Vatican’s Latinitas Foundation, the precursor of the new Academy of Latin Studies, found a niche need and filled it. But the book never became a “liber maxime divenditus” (bestseller).
Egger and his committee came up with these gems: “machina linteorum lavatoria” (washing machine); “escariorum lavator” (dish washer); “autocinetorum lavatrix” (car wash) and “sphaeriludium electricum numismate actum” (pinball machine).
The authors’ aim was to use existing Latin words wherever possible. So “sphaeriludium electricum numismate actum” actually meant “electric game with a ball put into motion by a coin”, or pinball machine.
Other entries were “fluxus interclusio” for traffic jam and “exterioris paginae puella” for cover girl.
In 1988, Egger came up with a way to describe doping - something still topical today after Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France cycling titles.
His phrase? “Usus agonisticus medicamenti stupefactivi”, or the sporting use of stupefying medicine.
Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing by Mike Collett-White