Words to remember

"Never doubt in the darkness what you believed in the light."

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Plan of Attack

This occurred to me shortly after posting my last bit on the Classics. I've been reading a lot of material about this lately, from the essays in literary criticism for class to Allan Bloom's book and Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath's book Who Killed Homer? I've also noticed that my last post was very stream-of-consciousness; my gripe began about Latin, but I ended up talking about Greeks. I think, though, the emphasis on the Classics, while tacit, is at least apparent, and didn't pose too much of a problem. There is method in my madness.

It seems to me that there is a strong correlation between the ripping of Latin from Catholic life and the ripping of Latin from the schools. Now the problem with this is readily apparent: correlation does not indicate causation. I think that one can, however, argue successfully that the removal of Latin from our liturgy did impact the study of Latin in school for a few reasons.
1. No introduction to Latin- for millions of people, Latin was something they experienced every week, and frequently more often than that. They experienced this through the Mass and their own private devotions. And because of this, there was nothing to instill any love of the language in young people. People can't come to enjoy that which they have never experienced.
2. No impetus to learn Latin- people wouldn't need to learn it now in order to follow along in the Mass (they never did, really, but this still was, I have been told, a common justification for intro-type courses). The educators could now successfully argue that it had no practical application (here's where our American pragmatism came 'round to bite us in the ass) and so need not be taught; we could focus instead on Warm Fuzzies 101, Diversity/Sensitivity Training, and making people feel good about themselves now that they felt no inadequacy for not knowing a gerund from a supine or botching an ablative absolute.

I should caution myself once again that these don't necessarily hold up; possibly the biggest problem to this line of thinking is the fact that the removal of Latin from the sanctuaries of worship and of learning were tandem phenomena, rather than causally related. In other words, the same social forces which wanted to take Latin out of the Mass wanted to take it out of the schools. In my moments of more bridled enthusiasm, I would probably agree more with this assessment. But I feel like being brash tonight, so let us assume that the causal relationship I have explained above is true.

What, then, is our plan of attack? How do we take back the classroom?

It's clear that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI (long may God bless and keep him) is a keen strategist, an eminently clever and intelligent man, in addition to his great piety, steadfast faith and love, and deep theological and spiritual insights. When he acceded to the See of Peter, he had a plan. He had a strategy to renew all of Catholic life. And that plan starts with the liturgy. It is, in Fr. Z's words, the tip of the spear.

Let's work in cooperation with that. Let's help to bring Latin back into the Mass. Aside from the considerable devotional benefits of the use of the noble tongue in worship, this reintroduction of Latin gets the language back in people's ears. It's no longer a dead language, because that which is dead stays dead, and thus rarely gets up and says to you "Dominus vobiscum". It becomes relevant to people's lives once again; and teaching it now has those "practical applications".

And what will happen when we do this? In my experience, Latin is a kind of "gateway language"- once you've started with it, it not only becomes easier to learn other languages (okay, it becomes much easier), it also draws people on to some other languages. I was induced to start learning Greek because of all those damned intrusive Greek nouns one finds interspersed through Latin writings; Aenean- what the heck case is that? Greek accusative, you say? Second declension? Tell me more about this Greek stuff... it has declensions, like Latin?

Once the language hurdle has been cleared, studies of the Classics can flourish again. It's only too easy to keep the Classics safely out of universities when the languages one needs to know simply aren't taught. But as students are exposed to them and become more interested, there will be more demands for them to be taught. And then, what happens? What I like to call the Great Intellectual Lobotomy starts to be reversed; all of a sudden, the assumptions of relativism start to look pretty pallid. This thing we call democracy is 2500 years old, it has its defenders throughout history, it has theorists and apologists a lot keener and more passionate than today's jargon-encrusted 1960's flower-power faculty battle-axe. Or how about some of the other notions we claim as our own- equality before the law, the prominence of the middle class, limited government? Relativism becomes a lot less tenable when one sees that these concepts come from ancient knowledge and wisdom. And we need hardly say that once that primary doctrine of modernism falls, then we can start to repair the damage done to our culture and our civilization.

I realize this is all a pretty desperate pipe dream, but I think that if more people felt the same way (or were willing and permitted to express it publicly), this could happen. As it stands, however, I am fully prepared to man my foxhole accompanied by Virgil, Livy, Plato, Thucydides, Cicero, and Augustine and shoot it out till there's no more ammunition.

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