This is one of my favorite Advent/Christmas hymns. I like both the Latin and English versions.
This is for all you who say “Latin is stupid, it’s a dead language, and you can’t even speak it.” I have nothing against you. You include several of my friends. However you are incorrect on that point.
#1: “Latin is stupid.”
It would seem that Latin is stupid, for stupid is that which is lacking in common sense. Latin is not common. Ergo, Latin cannot contain common sense.
The reply: The accusation is false, for that which is rare is not necessarily stupid. Common sense itself is not common. Indeed, as will be shown later, Latin is eminently intellectual.
#2: “It’s a dead language.”
It would seem that Latin is a dead language, for a dead language is a language which is no longer spoken or written, and Latin is no longer spoken. Ergo, Latin is a dead language.
The reply: Latin is not a dead language, for a dead language is one that is no longer used. However, Latin is still used; Church official documents are still published in Latin. Additionally, it is still learned by thousands of students over the world. See this Wikipedia article.
#3: “You can’t even speak it.”
It would seem that Latin cannot be spoken, for two are necessary for speaking a language. Latin has no native speakers. Ergo, Latin cannot be spoken.
The reply: Latin, it is true, has no native speakers any longer, but it is possible to learn it and speak it with another student of Latin. In addition, even if this accusation is partially true, it in no way diminishes Latin’s merits.
Now, here’s a list of reasons to study Latin:
1. It’s the language of the Church. You deprive yourself of great spiritual richness by not learning Latin. The traditional Mass of the Church is in Latin, of course, and the Novus Ordo was really originally intended to be said in Latin. (I myself have actually never been to a Latin Mass in either form, unfortunately. Not that the English Mass is bad. It’s still the Mass, after all, but Latin is the language of the Church.)
Nearly all the important documents of the Church are in Latin; the only other languages that come immediately to mind are Greek and Hebrew. Numerous great devotional and theological works are in Latin; St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Bernard, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, Imitation of Christ, etc. That is, the non-Greek Fathers of the Church and all the medievals. What about translations? you ask. Well, see the next point.
2. The great literature. Virgil, Cicero, Lucretius, Horace, Livy, and Caesar among the pagans alone, not to mention Boethius, Augustine, etc.
Translations are not the same at all. No word can mean precisely the same thing in its original language as it does when translated. It does not have the connotations, the history and richness, the sound (the sound is part of the meaning also). Additionally, a translator must take some liberties, and will probably take more than necessary. Translated poetry, especially, suffers; the poem must have the rhythm and meter. I do not condemn all translations, of course, but the gain from reading books in the original is very great.
3. It helps you with English. I have experienced this myself. In my writing class, I knew well before it was taught what the indirect object was.
4. I believe that the study of Latin is supposed to help in the study of other Romance langauges.
5. It aids logical thinking. Latin has numerous linguistic features, including masculine/feminine/neuter nouns, different cases for different uses, relatively clear distinction of different verb tenses, indicative/subjunctive, and various other distinctions. (Greek is even better, with its “middle” voice in addition to passive and active). This forces you to use your brain.
In brevi, ego linguam Latinam corde toto amo. Eheu, Latina non saepe amatur. O Tempora, O Mores!