The Revival of Latin – re-posted

I wonder how far I shall carry any opinion with me when I plead for active effort to revive the general use of Latin?

Thus begins Belloc’s essay on The Revival of Latin


One of the things I really like about the home schooling movement is that it is – I think – something of an antidote to the bad aspects of modern, compulsory schooling.

In matters which are not directly related to Catholic doctrine on Faith and Morals, I am happy to hold my opinions quite lightly. I can be persuaded to other points of view, so I am not dogmatic about home schooling. I like it for our family, although we have had some of our children in school, some years, and I have never said or believed that parents who send their children to school are wrong to do so. I also think that those who say home schooling is bad or defective etc. are overstating their case and their reasoning is not good enough to sway me to their opinion. I do have a bias against schools in general, although in that wonderful inconsistent way of human beings, I rather enjoyed my own school and still have a strong affection for it.

But I am firmly convinced, because it relates to the doctrine of the Church on parental rights and duties, that one of the bad aspects of modern, compulsory schooling is that it undermines these parental rights and duties, by more or less saying that children shall be brought up according to whatever whims the State has today, rather than operating in loco parentis – that is, as being representative of the parents and how they wish their own children to be brought up. My heroes, Chesterton and Belloc both had quite a bit to say about this. A considerable body of home schoolers – regardless of their religion, ideology etc is a strong antidote to this terrible tendency, if only by being a strong counter-example. It tends to restore legitimate (dare I say it?) diversity.

(Now there is a word which sticks in my throat, it having come to mean nothing more than giving full voice, with no opposition, to sexual perverts aka “progressives”).

Incidentally, I think my own school acted very much in loco parentis, which is probably why I have fond memories of it.

Recently, I was inspired, once again to consider teaching our children Latin. I have made small attempts before, but it is hampered by the fact that I will have to learn it with them. It can be done, but not easily. Now, however, might be a good time to once again make the attempt. But why on earth do so?

[Latin] enshrined half the greatest of our literature, nearly all our traditions, all our religion—yet no one has a word to say for it now as an international medium!

Latin1 Rome1

There it is in a nutshell. Many home schoolers, even if they cannot ever quite bring it off, have a strong intuition that learning Latin is sign of a good education. And I think it is. I must admit that I don’t know what Belloc is referring to when he says that Latin enshrined “nearly all our traditions” and I’d be happy if someone could enlighten me. But I agree wholeheartedly with the other two items (half our greatest literature; and all our Catholic religion) and they are reason enough.

Interestingly, a number of committed Catholics – true disciples – take on the study of Latin for themselves. They too feel this intuition. Even more interesting are the number of protestants who also want to learn Latin and/or teach it to their children. If they are not interested in the Catholic Faith, they are interested in having or passing on a good education and want at least to connect themselves with Roman antiquity: “half the greatest of our literature.”

What are some of the obstacles?

There has further grown up in connection with the use of Latin an idea — false, but also natural — that there was something specially difficult about that tongue. On the contrary, it is the easiest of all foreign languages to learn because it is the most clear and logical, and because so many of our words in all languages are connected with it.

I’m quite sure this is true. From what I have been able to learn so far, it seems no more difficult than learning Ancient Greek, which I spent one and a half years doing, in my university days. I doubt it is any more difficult than learning French, Italian or any other European language. The study of a foreign language always requires steady and serious effort, so there is no reason to single out Latin as especially difficult. I don’t doubt that many students dislike having to learn certain things, and so perhaps it is not worth teaching them anything! It might be good not to bother teaching them some things:

Of all subjects which our modern and dangerous machine for compulsory instruction insists upon putting into the young, Latin is the one of which they talk least and the one of which they wish to know least. [I won’t say] that Latin is more necessary to the plain man than reading the vernacular, and I think it is not more necessary than to be able to keep very simple accounts. But it is a great deal more necessary than unproved theories on health, or than “nature study,” or than the already false and warped national history that is put before the young, officially, in the official schools. It is even more necessary than elementary geography, and its general use would make all the difference in the relations between men of different countries.


Although, here is an interesting development.

All primary schools will be expected to teach foreign languages to pupils from 2014 as part of a major drive to boost education standards, it emerged.

At least one subject from a seven-strong shortlist – French, German, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, Latin and ancient Greek – will be offered to seven- to 11-year-olds.

Belloc’s essay was suggesting that the widespread teaching of Latin would be part of the effort to stop our civilisation’s decay. I think we’re way past that now. The decay did not stop – it continues at a great rate of knots. But a true disciple of Jesus will always evangelise and so today’s Catholics will continue to try to make new disciples and if we succeed at all, it will bring with it a new culture and as I see it, that culture will include Latin. I think it just goes with the territory.



Latin is not more important than the Kerygma – the initial proclamation of the Good News of Jesus. Nor is it more important than catechesis – the teaching of the doctrines of the Faith. But it is there and I think it will gain momentum. Belloc, again:

If the practising Catholic body in any country, even in one where Catholics are few, were known to be generally conversant with elementary Latin it would leaven the rest.


“Luke, I am your father.” “No!!!”

I’m not saying that if our children do not learn Latin, they will have missed out terribly on a good education. I am only making the case that we would do well to consider handing this on to our children, if we can.

Finally and a bit beside the point, he also talks about French:

There was a moment when it looked as though French would take the place of Latin, at any rate with cultivated people; but the growth of an exasperated nationalism, the vast expansion of the New World, and the victories of Prussia during the nineteenth century wars have made that impossible. It would have been better than the chaos in which we now live, but a poor substitute for Latin save in this, that French is a living language.

It is, by the way, just as well for the French that the thing did not happen, because nothing is worse for a local language, or for the nation that speaks it, than to be internationalised. We are already seeing the pathetic effects of this on our own nation and speech, the decay of English, its rapid vulgarization and weakening, are due to its sprawling undisciplined over such incongruous lands.

As a Tasmanian in Texas, all I can say is: Well!

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