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By Nicholas Ostler
Latin is a language dead as dead could be;
first it killed the Romans and now it’s killing me.
So we used to chant as schoolboys, though actually I loved Latin even then. What people do not realise is that Latin was not confined to the Ancient Romans but remained, in many different ways, a living language up until modern times. Even today, though its use has greatly declined, it is still learned, enjoyed and seems to have a place in the formation of the human mind.
Ostler, in this fascinating book, shows us some of the roots of Latin not only in Greek but in Etruscan and some the other languages of the people of Italy. Greek, of course, was hugely influential on Latin in helping Latin to develop literary and poetic forms. Ostler gives some attention to the classical period of Latin but then traces the different trajectories as Latin morphed into the Romance languages: French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian over the next thousand years. At the same time, Latin remained the language of the Church throughout Europe and, of course, of all educated men. The Latin changed, simplified but remained still Latin. With the Renaissance and the rise of the humanists a great effort was made to recover classical Latin and to write it in the mode of Cicero and Livy. This continued for three centuries until the new languages of Europe were developed enough to talk about modern things. Curiously, the last people to write regularly in Latin seem to have been the scientists who used this common tongue to gain a hearing and participate in a dialogue across Europe. Isaac Newton, for instance, wrote all his major works in Latin.
Yet Latin was tied to the Roman Empire. The German tribes were never colonised by Rome and retained their own language. England was colonised but it would seem that most Romans and Latin speakers lived in the West of England which suffered a great plague about the time the Romans left in the fifth century. Thus England was left with the largely Germanic language of Anglo-Saxon.
My one regret about this book is that it doesn’t have a chapter on Latin today. Perhaps that will come in the form of a new book. Although Latin and Greek are much less studied at University level now there is much very high quality work done on classical subjects in the universities. Latin has also been popularised by some inspired writers and people who were deprived of learning Latin at school show interest in the language and literature later on. Part of the magic of Harry Potter is the corrupted Latin of the spells!
By Jonathan Sacks
Jonathan Sacks is the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and a well-known writer and speaker. In this fascinating book he deals with a problem which has arisen in the Western world over the past century, but especially since the Sixties: is there a moral law we can all sign up to? The main reason for this problem, he believes, is that western civilization is no longer about ‘us’ but about ‘me’. People are only concerned for society, the nation, humankind in so far as it affects themselves. It is ‘I’ who matters most. Morality can then be summed up as “I can do what I like so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.” That is generally enough for modern society. It is not enough, says Sacks, for humankind.
His arguments are well backed up by all kinds of literature, philosophy and sociological research. One typical example speaks for all: the rise in suicides of young to middle aged people. These are people who are able, well educated, successful but commit suicide because they can see no meaning in their lives. The search for ever more exciting experience leads them to the conclusion that there are no more. So why go on living? Research shows that people who concentrate on increasing their own happiness do not in fact become happier. They become more frustrated and depressed as each new experience turns out to be empty. However, people who try to help others find their own happiness increases. They are fulfilled and their lives have meaning. This is not new knowledge; nor is it rocket science. It has been around for centuries, if not millennia. Our modern and post-modern attempt to prove it wrong has clearly failed.
Those of us who believe in God can root our morality in God and in the biblical revelation. Those who do not wish to root their morality in God must still look outside themselves to the people they live with if they are going to be happy.
Clearly this is vastly oversimplified description of a complex but very well written book. It really is a ‘must read’ for our troubled generation.
Edited by Professor Marcus Bockmuehl and Bishop Stephen Platten with Nevsky Everett
I am currently reading with much enjoyment a book, recently acquired by our library, Austin Farrer: Oxford Warden,Scholar, Preacher, edited by Professor Marcus Bockmuehl and Bishop Stephen Platten with Nevsky Everett. SCM Press 2020. I was privileged to be tutored by Farrer for Philosophy of Religion in 1961.
The first part of the book is a collection of essays about Farrer’s work in Philosophy, Biblical studies and Christian Theology, his remarkable preaching, his friendship with C.S.Lewis, and his contribution when Warden of Keble College. The second part of this book contains Farrer’s previously unpublished lectures delivered in America in 1966. Farrer’s writing is thoughtful, witty and beautifully expressed. A former archbishop of Canterbury described him as the twentieth century’s ‘subtlest and most eloquent Anglican thinker’.
By Gerald O’Collins, SJ
This is a curious little book, and that for at least two, somewhat contradictory, reasons. St Augustine of Hippo is such a towering figure in the history of Christianity, about whom such a wealth of material has been written, that it would be easy to mistake this slender volume for one of those slightly whimsical exercises in scholarly barrel-scraping that accompany all such figures. It is rather a shock therefore for those who have already prepared a place in their downstairs bathrooms for St Augustine on the Seabirds of North Africa or St Augustine on Late Antique Bear-baiting, to discover that the subject of the book is in fact St Augustine on the central mystery of the Christian faith: the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. What? Are there not already great shelves groaning with the weight of tomes devoted to this very subject? Apparently not. And herein lies the source of the book’s initial curiosity: that it does not exist already. As O’Collins puts it “very little attention has been directed to what Augustine preached and wrote about the rising of Christ himself and the questions it raises”. This is curious indeed. And yet to concede this point is immediately to draw attention to a second, rather more unfortunate, curiosity of this book. For if, as its preface claims, the purpose of the book is nothing less than to “fill that important gap” in Augustinian scholarship which O’Collins has just identified, we cannot help but register our surprise, not to say disappointment, that this much-vaunted “gap” turns out to be a mere 128 pages wide. Indeed, we begin to wonder whether the book’s curious lack of predecessors really is that curious after all.
Alas, for those who do venture inside the book’s rather diminutive spine, its contents prove to be something of a barrel-scraping exercise after all. This its author all but concedes in its opening sentences:
Augustine never wrote a treatise on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hence this chapter [for which read this book] has no principal source but must draw on various works: Answer to Faustus a Manichean, The City of God, Expositions on the Psalms, Homilies on the Gospel of John, Letters, Sermons, and The Trinity.
The remaining 127 pages are given over to O’Collins gathering up these fragments in the workmanlike manner that will be familiar to readers of his other books. It does not bode well for the interest of this material, however, that a rather earnest excursus on Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is required to reach the lordly sum of 128 pages. Nor would you think it possible that a book of such proportions would repeat itself, and yet on at least three separate occasions O’Collins takes the Bishop of Hippo to task for suggesting that the disciples touched the body of the risen Jesus when in fact the emphasis of the resurrection appearances is on sight, an observation that is not without interest but hardly worth repeating twice over.
In the end perhaps the greatest curiosity of this book is the somewhat heretical thought it leaves in its readers’ minds — that just possibly the great St Augustine of Hippo did not have that much of interest to say about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
By William Fitzgerald
Latin is a beautiful language but very different from English. One really important difference is the case system. The meaning of words in a sentence does not depend on their position but on their case, so words can be positioned anywhere without losing their meaning. This can mean that reading Latin, especially Latin poetry, is a bit like doing a jigsaw, piecing the words together into a coherent English meaning. That can be very frustrating but in this marvellous book Fitzgerald (Professor of Latin at Kings College, London) shows how this freedom to position words wherever they are most effective actually enriches the poem allowing a far greater interplay between the words in a stanza and a more subtle and richer development of meaning than we can achieve in English.
At the same time he brings out the differences in personality between the different poets: the well known Catullus, Horace, Virgil and Ovid are there but also the lesser read but equally good Lucretius, Propertius and Lucan. Their poetry is affected by the changing politics of their time; Horace and Virgil experienced the Civil War as young men and their poetry expresses relief that the war is over. Ovid offended Augustus and ended his life in exile while Lucan, after a glorious flowering, was forced by Nero to commit suicide at twenty five. There are surprises. Catullus’ poetry can be stunningly beautiful, deeply sensitive about love and feelings; or it can be mocking, sarcastic and on some occasions positively obscene.
As the title tells us the book is intended for those with little or no Latin. All poems are given in the original but with excellent translations. It is actually such a good book that even those with reasonably good Latin will enjoy it. It is clearly written, always entertaining, deeply informative and makes one want to get back to reading Latin again. How I wish Professor Fitzgerald would write on How to Read Latin Prose to open up some of the wonderful prose writers of the Latin world, too.
It’s going to be a different Holy Week this year to any that we have ever experienced here at the Community, but you can still join us ….. virtually anyway!
The Church of the Resurrection will be open for prayer on this day from 6.45 am to 4.30 pm,
and also for the daily services:
6.45 am Mattins
12 noon Midday Office
12.15 pm Mass
6.00 pm Evensong
9.15 pm Compline
Please join the brothers CR and pray:
for growing understanding and reconciliation between people in our own nation,
for the strengthening of supportive relationships between the UK and the other nations of Europe,
for all who are fearful as a result of this change to our national life,
and in penitence for bitterness and misunderstanding expressed in the past four years.
Chris Moralee – Operations Manager
David Flett – Catering Manager
Most people think that title is a contradiction in terms. How can an ancient language be fun. Even clergy who learned Greek at College seem often to have found it really boring. That is sad. It shouldn’t be boring. Those who took part in this week’s Greek for Fun course here at Mirfield know that it’s not. Fr Nicolas expects no more than a knowledge of the Greek alphabet so no one need be embarrassed. Reading the Gospel in Greek takes one in a single step 2,000 years closer to Christ. We hear the actual words that people who knew him spoke.
Translating from Greek (Fr Nicolas does the work!) we notice all sorts of things about the story we wouldn’t see when we skim through it in English. It comes alive in an astonishing way. We also see the skill of the different evangelists. Each one, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John have their own ways of turning this story of Jesus into a story that people remember and think about. It’s only when you work closely with the text you see how clever they are.
And then there is the presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that when two or three are gathered together in His name, He would be there too. We find that. On our own, wading through a Greek text and a commentary can be pretty boring. Together it takes fire and we see all sorts of things we had never noticed before. Is not this the Holy Spirit making Christ present to us as we ponder his ways?
Come and try it. You get the retreat experience of a few days with CR and the intellectual satisfaction of discovering new things about the impact Jesus can make on our lives.
Book in for next year!