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Latin, Use of, in Tiie Administration of the Sacraments.

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The words of St. Augustine against heathen Rome in De civitate Dei. 19:7, "Opera data est, uit imperiosa civitas non solum jugum sed etiam linguam suam domitis gentibus imponeret," may be justly applied to modern Christian Rome. By imposing its language on all nations acknowledging its sovereignty it has obtained also the mastery over their spiritual life. Benedict XIV, indeed, nobly declared, "Ut ornes catholici sint, non ut omnes Latini fiant, necessarium est." But this principle of true, ancient catholicity resulted only in some useless concessions on unimportant points, for Roman Catholicism early found that it cannot afford to dispense with the use of Latin and adopt the vulgar tongues; that it would thereby endanger the consolidation of the Church's power yea, its very existence. That the Latin language was originally used in the public worship of the Romish adherents, in countries where Latin was the popular language, cannot be a matter of surprise or condemnation, nor that the clergy should have continued to use it in Christianizing the nations who became subjects to Rome, even after its use had become obsolete in Rome itself. Of course there is every reason to believe that in the earliest stages the ecclesiastical language of the Greekspeaking Roman Church was Greek, and continued such till the transfer of the empire to Byzantium (Forbes, Explan. XXXIX Art. 2:430), and that, indeed, all the early churches followed the practice of the apostles, to whom the use of a foreign language was repugnant (compare 1 Corinthians 14:19; ibid. 16), and made use of their own vernacular, as in the introduction of the Gospel to India, Parthia, and other regions.

But the use of the Latin tongue by the Romish Church was in its early period admissible, when we consider that it was only the Church that had it in its power, at a time when the influence of the infant modern languages was derogatory to the Latin, to maintain the ancient language in comparative purity, and to preserve to us its most noble monuments. Indeed, as Hill (English Monasticism, page 325) has well said, "had it not been adopted by the Church, then, for some centuries, while the new tongues were gradually developing themselves and settling into a form, the world would have been dark indeed; not a book, not a page, not a syllable would have reached us of the thought, the life, or the events of that period. From the 4th to the 7th century there would have been an impenetrable gap in the annals of humanity the voice of history would have been hushed into a dead silence, and the light of the past, which beacons the future, would have been extinguished in the darkness of a universal chaos." Not so justifiable, however, was the conduct of the Romish Church after the moderate development of the modern languages; and we see an inclination, even in the papal chair, to revolutionize ecclesiastical usage in this respect in the latter half of the 9th century, when the Slaves became converts to Christianity under the labors of St. Methodius, and introduced the vernacular, with the consent and approval of pope John VIII (comp. Methodius, Epist. 247, to Sfentopulcher, count of Moravia). Gregory VIII, on the other hand, quickly undid the liberal work of John VIII, and was loud in his denunciations of the use of any but the Latin language in Christian religious worship. Nevertheless, there have been many exceptions during the Middle Ages. The Bohemian Church early manifested a desire to use the vernacular; and, although Gregory VII had stringently insisted on the use of the Latin, they succeeded at the Council of Basle (1431) in the passage of an act tolerating the vernacular in the churches of Bohemia.

The Reformation of the 16th century first awoke a general desire for the use of the vernacular, France and Germany were particularly determined to secure this privilege. The Council of Trent, which was approached on this subject, however, only so far regarded the demands of Catharine de Medicis and the emperor Ferdinand on this point as to reaffirm the existing rules in the mildest possible terms, so as not to offend them (Sessio 22, cap. 8: "Etsi missa magnam contineat populi fidelis eruditionem, non tamen expedire visum est patribus, ut [missa] vulgari lingua passim celebraretur"). It only anathematizes those who claim that mass is to be exclusively celebrated in the vernacular: "Si quis dixerit, lingua tantum vulgari missam celebrari debere, anathema sit" (1.c. canon 9). Yet, in order to appear to make some concession to the requirements of the times, the synod decided (1.c. cap. 8), "Ne oves Christi esuriant, neve parvuli panem petant, et non sit qui frangat eis, mandat S. synodus pastoribus et singulis curam animarum gerentibus, ut frequenter inter missarum celebrationem vel per se vel per alios ex iis, quse in missa leguntur, aliquid exponant, atque inter cetera sanctissimi hujus sacrificii mysterium aliquod declarent, diebus proesertim dominicis et festis," by which they acknowledged, perhaps more than they intended to do, the necessity of making an allowance for the desire of having the Scriptures explained in the vernacular. The reasons given by the Council of Trent for its determination to continue the use of Latin as the language of the Church (given by Goschl in his Geschichtichle Darstelung d. Conec. v. Trident. 1840, part 2, page 135) are as follows:

1. That, in consequence of the changes to which modern languages are liable, the terms of worship might be altered, and also the ideas connected with them, thus giving rise to heresies.

2. If mass were to be said in the vernacular, then the greater number of the priests would be unable to say mass in other than their native countries, as they would be obliged to say mass in a different language in every country.

3. The holy mysteries, of which mass is the most important, should not be presented to the masses in their own language, as, from their inability to understand their mysterious import, occasion might thus arise for modern heretics to profane these mysteries in the vernacular. All the other reasons which have at various times been advanced in defense of the custom by Roman Catholic writers are but variations on the above (comp. Forbes, Explanation of the Thirty-nine Articles, 2:434; Adolphus, Compendium Theologicum, page 420).

Bellarmine (in his Works, 3:119) attempts to complete and comment on these grounds. 1. He says "the Latin Church has always administered the sacraments in Latin, although this language had long since ceased to be the common language of the people." This is admitting that circumstances are changed, but asserting, at the same time, that it is to be retained simply from habit. Bellarmine then attempts to prove its reasonableness. He says: "There is no pressing motive why the sacraments should be administered in the vernacular, while there are many objections to it; for there is no necessity that those who receive the sacraments should understand the words which accompany them; for the words are addressed either to the elements, as in the eucharist, the blessing of holy water, oil, etc., and these understand no language; or else they are addressed to God, and he understands them all; or, again, they are. addressed to persons who are to be consecrated or absolved, not instructed or edified, as in the sacraments of baptism and absolution; hence it is at best a matter of indifference to the person concerned whether he understood the words or not; it is further proved that persons deprived of reason can nevertheless receive baptism and the sacrament of reconciliatio, which is seen in the baptism of new-born infants and the reconciliatio of sick persons when in an unconscious state." Yet Bellarmine himself, perceiving the difficulties of the position he had assumed, adds: "There are, moreover, hardly such grossly ignorant persons in the Latin Church as not to know in general, by the words which accompany it, which of the sacraments is being administered to them." Granting this, we cannot understand, then, in what manner the use of Latin is to prevent the profanation of the sacraments as set forth by the Council of Trent. Among the objections to the use of modern languages, we find that "the free intercourse between the different churches, which they need as members of one body, is rendered by it much more difficult. Moreover, Christians leaving their native country would thus be obliged to deprive themselves from attending the divina officia." This is taking for granted that all Christians understand Latin; for, unless they do, it would become a matter of indifference to them whether they heard mass in that or another foreign language.

"2. The sacraments should always be attended by a certain majesty and inspiring solemnity, which can be better preserved by not using their usual language. If it is granted that in public worship we should use special buildings, special costumes, special forms, etc., there cannot be any objection against the propriety of using also a different language; not that Latin is in itself a more sacred language than another, but because it is better calculated to produce a feeling of reverence than the common tongue.

3. It is right that the sacramental words should always be presented to all the people in the same manner and under the same form, to avoid the danger of changes and alterations. This is the more easily accomplished by making all priests use the same language." Yet this does not always avoid the danger, for there have been instances of priests administering baptism "in nomine patria, filia et spiritua sancta."

4. "By administering the sacraments in the vernacular a wide door would be opened to ignorance, for the priests would at last consider themselves fully qualified if they knew how to read. Latin would be totally forgotten, and they would be unable to read the fathers and even the Scriptures." Here we see another instance of the arrogance of the hierarchy, surpassing that of heathen Rome, which, if it compelled subjected nations to adopt its language, did not, at least, prevent them from understanding it. Christian Rome seems, indeed, to be imbued with the idea that mankind praise and value most what they do not understand.

Towards the close of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, efforts were again made, especially in Germany, to have mass said in the vernacular (see Marheinecke, System d. Katholiciszmus, 3:397), but in vain. The increase of ultramontanism rendered all efforts unavailing. Hirscher, in his Missae genuinam notionem eruere, etc., tentavit Hirscher (Tubing. 1821), thus clearly expressed the general aspiration (page 69): "Vituperamus igitur hunc exterae in cultu nostro linguae usum pro viribus nostris, atque si unquam eucharistiae celebrationi vitam redire velimus, eliminandum esse atque proscribendum statuimus. Et sane, si liturgia Latina inter nos Germanos non existeret, nemo profecto populum aliquem universum lingua uti vel duci velle, qua Deum adoret, sibi penitus ignota admitteret possibilitatem. Incomprehensibile revera istud omnibus debet videri, qui cuncta ad sanae rationis normam solent metiri, et nihil nisi quod sedificat ad cultum admittere." Here Hirscher quotes the words of St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 14:1-20, and continues: "Apostolus hoc loco ne de ordinario quidem linguae exterae in ecclesia usu sedc de extraordinario aliquo loquitur, quem argumentis ex visceribus rei petitis impulgnat. Quanto magis igitiur principiis suis inhaerens ordinarium ab ipsis mysteriorum ministris et universi cultus ducibus debuit corripere?" He then goes on to prove that the use of Latin in the mass is in contradiction with the object of this part of worship, which requires "sacerdotem inter et populum actionem, celebrantis et populi communionem" (pages 70-71). These views, however, he afterwards withdrew, on being admonished by superior authorities. Romanism cannot admit any real communion between the priest and the people in the sacrifice of the mass, and Hirscher had in this respect gone further than his Church would allow him. It is remarkable that all such efforts were always connected with more extended theological views, namely, with the rejection of the atoning character of mass.

As the principles of the Reformation unfolded, so did the necessity of administering the sacraments in the vernacular. Yet Latin was not at once set aside, and there are yet extant a number of Lutheran liturgies of the second half of the 16th century in which that language is extensively used.

In the English Church, one of the first acts of the Reformers was in behalf of the use of the vernacular in religious service, and the twenty-fourth of the Thirty-nine Articles treats "of speaking in the congregation in such a tongue as the people understandeth." The article reads thus: "It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the primitive Church, to have public prayer in the church, or to minister the sacraments in a tongue not understanded of the people."

See Herzog, Real-Encyklopä die, 8:208; Fuhrmann, Handwö rterbuch d. Kirchengesch. 2:619 sq.; Schrockh, Kirchenesch. 20:153 sq.; 21:418 sq. (J.H.V.)


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Latin, Use of, in Tiie Administration of the Sacraments.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/l/latin-use-of-in-tiie-administration-of-the-sacraments.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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