Pilgrim's Fine Mess
May I not write in such a style as this
In such a method too, and yet not miss
My end—thy good? Why may it not be done?
Years ago, in a monograph titled Two Bishops in Every Garage, “Peregrinus” (a.k.a. Anthony Cekada, according to the Web) observed of Archbishop Ngô Đình Thục’s 1982 Declaratio: “The Latin this document is written in is extremely crude — hardly what one would expect from someone who holds a Roman doctorate in canon law." In the footnote to his comment, the “Pilgrim” added: "A friend who holds a doctorate in classical languages said the document looks like exercise sentences from a first-year Latin grammar."
Our own blog Pistrina Liturgica has now thoroughly documented Cekada’s problems with the Latin language (and a great deal more), so it might be the time to look at the archbishop’s text with more informed eyes to determine whether the Latinity is indeed “extremely crude.” After all, we should be suspicious of censures from someone who writes, “the Latin this document is written in” rather than “the Latin in which this document is written.” (And why, in the first place, couldn't he have cast the sentence in the active voice?)
To the degree that the manner of writing or speaking Latin directly touches upon its crudity or sophistication, let’s first look at the Declaration in translation in order to let non-Latinists make an impressionistic assessment of its overall expressive, argumentative, and expository fluency. (The translation is literal and retains the original’s capitalization, press style, and punctuation, even when contrary to American academic convention [e.g., lower-case c in ‘catholics’]. The Latin original for each section appears in the footnotes.)
What (lit. “of what sort”) is the appearance of the Catholic Church in our view, in these days? At Rome, “Pope” John Paul the second reigns, surrounded by a group of Cardinals and many Bishops and prelates. Outside Rome, the Catholic Church appears flourishing, with her bishops and priests. The number of catholics is immense. Mass is celebrated daily in so many churches, and on Sunday, churches receive very many faithful to hear Mass and to take Holy communion.(1)
But in the view of God, what (lit. “of what sort”) is the appearance of today’s Church? The Masses — daily and Sunday in which they assist— do they please God? In no way: because this Mass, is the same for catholics and protestants—therefore it does not please God and is invalid, the only Mass that pleases God is the Mass of Saint Pius the fifth, which is celebrated by a few priests and bishops, among whom am I.(2)
Therefore, to the extent that I am able, I shall open a seminary for candidates for the priesthood that/which may please God [or, perhaps, such as is pleasing to God or because it is pleasing to God or that/which should please God etc.].(3)
Besides that “Mass” unpleasing to God, there are many things that God rejects, for example: in the ordination of priests, in the consecration of bishops, in the sacrament of confirmation and of extreme unction.(4)
Moreover, those “priests” foster:
2. false ecumenism,
3. the adoration of men,
4. the freedom of embracing religion of whatever sort,
5. they are unwilling to condemn heresy, and to expel heretics.(5)
Therefore, insofar as [I am] a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church, I judge the see of the Catholic Church of Rome to be vacant, and it is necessary for me, as a bishop, to do all things so that the Catholic Church of Rome endures for the eternal salvation of souls.(6)
The style of the document (evidently a product of haste) is choppy, a little monotonous, unstudied, and more wooden than graceful. It reminds the reader of a perfunctory feature story in a neighborhood newspaper or company newsletter, a hasty first draft, an e-mail, or even some Sunday sermons cobbled together at the last minute (the tacked-on phrase in section I “and on Sunday” is a sure sign of editorial negligence). Viewed with an eye to its communicative competence, however, the Declaration fares better. The topic is unified; there’s a sense of emphasis; the thought manifests a clear and coherent direction; transitional markers link sentences; and the argument unfolds logically and moves directly to a conclusion. The most damning stylistic flaw is the faulty parallelism of point 5 under section V – a common enough mistake in first drafts or hurriedly composed copy (a failing easily remedied by a second look and recasting the phrase). To be sure, the text suffers from an absence of editing, but it is neither illiterate nor incomprehensible. Everyone (except for the most practiced writer) is guilty of a similar offense. At most, the Declaration proves the writing master’s old adage that there’s no such thing as good writing: there’s only good rewriting. As a composition, the Declaration may be tedious, uninteresting, even amateurish, but it is not “extremely crude.”
Inasmuch as “Peregrinus” and his classicist companion specifically censured the archbishop’s Latin, let’s scrutinize the principal syntactical, morphological, and orthographic faults of the original text.
The first major error (probably the result of writing quickly and failing to proofread) occurs in footnote 1: Quotidie Missa celebratur in tantis ecclesiis, et die Dominica, ecclesiae recipiunt permultos fideles…The correlative demonstrative tantis in the principal clause presumes a following consecutive sentence (a result clause) with a suitable conjunction and the verb in the subjunctive: ut…recipiant, not the indicative recipiunt.(7) It is certainly no small oversight. Call it anacoluthon; call it solecismus or even poiciologia, but don’t call it “extremely crude.” It’s the kind of error that we have all experienced when we write as swiftly as our thoughts come to us, when the pressure of expression in the heat of the moment overcomes our knowledge of formal grammar. That’s why all composition teachers demand edited prose.
We find a second apparently serious error in footnote 2: Missae—quotidiana et dominicalis in quibus assistunt…The word Missae (‘Masses”) is plural. Therefore the adjectives modifying it should be plural, too. Hence Thục should have written quotidianae and dominicales. However, the archbishop shows he knew the noun was plural because he used a plural relative pronoun (quibus) and wrote the verb that Missae governs in the plural (placent). Call it alleotheta or enallage or hypallage, but you may not call it “extremely crude.” (In fact, you may even have to call it technically right if the archbishop meant by the singulars, “The Masses—namely the daily Mass and the Sunday Mass— in which…” That's also how the Spanish-language translator interpreted the words in the March 1982 edition of Einsicht.)
A third obvious slip is the spelling of hereseos and hereticos, i.e., without the diphthong –ae (footnote 5, point number 5). The preferred spelling is haereseos and haereticos. The non-standard forms were probably the result of contamination from the French cognates hérésie and hérétique. Call it syncope or synaloepha or cacography (if you’re naughty) or metaplasm (if you’re nice): just don’t call it “extremely crude.” (Yet once again, we may have to withhold overly damning criticism because we find the he- spelling in Latin legal and ecclesiastical texts [see, for instance, Latham’s Revised Medieval Latin Word-List.])
The overwhelming bulk of the Declaration is grammatically, orthographically, and syntactically acceptable, even if the phrasing is somewhat naïve and awkward from an aesthetic perspective. In fact, the overall first impression of the document is of its general accuracy: for the purpose, it is reasonably idiomatic (though decidedly influenced by modern languages); the morphemes are correct; and the archbishop observes the rules of concord. He doesn’t make the schoolboy’s mistake of using the gerund with a direct object noun, but instead he uses the gerundive. Furthermore, he can write complex sentences. In two places he uses a subjunctive construction: on one occasion (footnote 6), he writes ut Ecclesia Catholica Romae perduret, a standard final sentence (purpose clause); on another (footnote 3), we find quod placeat Deo, which suggests a deeper than first-year-Latin knowledge. As the alternative translations under III indicate, the construction may be a generic restrictive clause, or a causal clause signaling the reason adduced is not his, or a relative with the potential subjunctive, or several other possibilities. The variety of possible translations speaks to a deliberate and sophisticated use of the subjunctive, a use that tells us just how naturally Latin served him as an expressive medium. (The phrase’s patience of several interpretations is not necessarily a fault in this case.) For another example of the archbishop’s Latin competency, we need look no further than the phrase condemnare hereseos, “to condemn heresy” (footnote 5, number 5). The Roman-trained prelate not only correctly used the genitive of the charge with the judicial verb condemnare, but also he employed the more "sophisticated" Greek genitive singular form (haeresis, ‘heresy,’ is borrowed directly from Greek, and its genitive singular may be either Latin or Greek, the Greek being more privileged). As an aside, a “crude” Latinist would have used the accusative haeresim, and an “extremely crude” illiterate would have written haeresem.
The Bottom Line
In this case as in countless others, we again see that “Peregrinus” is plainly wrong: his “judgment” counts for nothing. Thục’s Latin style is certainly not Ciceronian. It is also far from the standard of the Silver Age and that of the last century's Latin revival, which occurred under Cardinal Bacci. There’s no sense of periodicity or evidence of consciously crafted cola and commata. There are a number of inelegancies, and the archbishop could have improved his emphasis (too many words are in their “normal” speech position). We must, however, remember that he was probably not aiming at literary effect. His purpose must have been pragmatic. The circumstances required no more than perfunctory, utilitarian Latin to make a declarative statement to the Catholic world. The Declaration won’t win any prizes for prose composition, but that wasn’t the exercise set for Thục on February 25, 1982. The occasion called for simplicity, a short statement of motivation. The archbishop’s simple-but-not-crude, fluent Latin prose satisfied that condition.
A Final Note
Simplicity of written discourse is not a vice. Handbooks on style, like Strunk and White’s, urge us not to overwrite. Economy is often a secret of good style. Latin literature from all periods boasts examples of very simple, yet effective, Latin. Inasmuch as it appears as if “Peregrinus” faulted Thục for his ecclesiastical Latin, Latinists should examine the following specimen from G. M. Roschini’s Compendium Mariologiae (p. 356, 1946):
In Ecclesia Latina habemus stadium triumphi. Etenim, in hoc ultimo stadio, Theologorum adhaesio huic privilegio [viz. the Immaculate Conception] in dies crescit, fidelium devotio modo omnino extraordinario manifestatur, et praesertim magisterium Ecclesiasticum repetitis actibus intervenit, videlicet:
1. Sixtus IV, festum Conceptionis solemniter adprobat;
2. Alexander VII obiectum eius rite determinat; et
3. Clemens XII illum ad universam Ecclesiam extendit.
Tandem Pius IX, anno 1854, die 8 Decembris, vota fidelium et Pastorum obsecundans, dogma Immaculatae conceptionis solemniter definivit.
Apart from some specialized vocabulary, this is all first-year Latin.(8) The sentences are either simple or compound. There are no subjunctive constructions; moreover, with the exception of the metaphorical stadium triumphi, the language is spare and stripped of ornament. Yet it’s unlikely that anyone who knows that style matches purpose would judge the selection “extremely crude.” Only a stranger to the Republic of Latin letters would assert such nonsense—someone like “Peregrinus,” a pseudo-scholar whose pseudonym originally meant “a foreigner, an alien” and which later came to designate a provincial who did not enjoy Roman citizenship. In other words, an outsider, an Other.
(1) Qualis est aspectus Ecclesiae Catholicae in conspectu nostro, his diebus? Romae, regnat "Papa" Joannes Paulus secundus, circumdatus coetu Cardinalium et multorum Episcoporum et praelatorum. Extra Romam, Ecclesia Catholica apparet florida, cum suis Episcopis et Sacerdotibus. Numerus catholicorum immensus est. Quotidie Missa celebratur in tantis ecclesiis, et die Dominica, ecclesiae recipiunt permultos fideles ad Missam audiendam et ad Sacram communionem accipiendam.
(2) Sed in conspectu Dei, qualis est aspectus hodiernae Ecclesiae? Missae— quotidiana et dominicalis in quibus assistunt - placentne Deo? Nequaquam: quia ista Missa, eadem est pro catholicis et pro protestantibus - ideo non placet Deo et invalida est, unica Missa quae placet Deo est Missa Sancti Pii quinti, quae celebratur a paucis sacerdotibus et episcopis, in quibus sum Ego.
(3) Ideo, in quantum possum, aperiam seminarium pro candidatis ad sacerdotium quod placeat Deo.
(4) Praeter illam "Missam" non placentem Deo, multae sunt res quas rejicit Deus, exempli gratia: in ordinatione sacerdotum, in consecratione episcoporum, in sacramento confirmationis et extremae unctionis.
(5) Insuper illi "sacerdotes" colunt:1. modernismum, 2. falsum oecumenismum, 3. adorationem hominum, 4. libertatem amplectandi qualemcumque religionem; 5. nolunt condemnare hereseos, et expellere hereticos.
(6) Ideo, quatenus episcopus Ecclesiae Catholicae Romanae, judico sedem Ecclesiae Catholicae Romae vacantem esse, et oportet me, uti episcopus, omnia facere ut Ecclesia Catholica Romae perduret ad salutem aeternam animarum.
(7) With these corrections the text should be translated: “Mass is celebrated daily in so many churches, and on Sunday, that churches receive very many faithful…” Even with the correction to satisfy the grammatical expectation introduced by the correlative, the sentence is still awkward and probably not representative of the writer’s intent. A little reflection would have resulted in rewriting it entirely and probably breaking the thought into two separate sentences. It’s sloppy but not “extremely crude.”
(8) Bear in mind that not too long ago first-year Latin exercises were not as childish as “Peregrinus” and his friend imply. Here’s a sentence for translation into Latin from the 1987 Jenney’s First Year Latin (Allyn and Bacon, p. 360): “You must persuade your brother not to say anything to the consuls about this serious matter.” By no means crude, primer-level English.