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Monday, July 25, 2011

The Languages of God

How many Americans realize that we're speaking God's language?

Now, I will concede a point early on and agree with the many people, especially the Extraordinary Form Catholics, who like to point out that Latin is the official language of the Catholic Church. In fact, the documents of Vatican II require that all priests be well-versed in Latin, a requirement bishops mostly honor by completely ignoring it:
13. Before beginning specifically ecclesiastical subjects, seminarians should be equipped with that humanistic and scientific training which young men in their own countries are wont to have as a foundation for higher studies. Moreover they are to acquire a knowledge of Latin which will enable them to understand and make use of the sources of so many sciences and of the documents of the Church. The study of the liturgical language proper to each rite should be considered necessary; a suitable knowledge of the languages of the Bible and of Tradition should be greatly encouraged.
Alright, now that we've taken care of that bit, let's think a bit more.
Latin isn't the only language that springs from the heart of the Church.
Take English, for example.

We are all familiar with modern English, but do you realize that modern English is an invention of the Catholic Church?

It is.

Modern English comes from early modern English, which is based on Middle English, which is based, in turn, on Old English. So, let's start there.

Old English was developed by Anglo-Saxons and used between about the mid 5th and the mid 12th centuries. It was the language used by the Catholic poet St. Caedmon and by the Venerable Bede, doctor of the Church, the man who wrote the first history (an ecclesiastical history, no less) of the English people. Old English eventually transforms into Middle English, which became popular between the 11th and 15th centuries. Middle English is, of course, famously the language of Chaucer.

After the invention of the printing press in 1453, by the Catholic printer Gutenburg, English began to standardize and became the essentially modern language we know today, with up to 60% of its vocabulary drawn from Old French. It is worth noting that the very earliest evidence we have of Gutenburg's skill - the first thing he apparently printed - were some letters of indulgence.

Where's the Catholic Church?
Now, when the Roman Empire made Catholicism the official religion of Empire in 391 AD, the pagan tribes in the surrounding areas began to be drawn to the new Faith. With the baptism of Clovis in 478 AD., France began it's process of Christianization, a process that was mostly complete by the end of the 8th century. By that time, England, too, was officially Christian.

Germany's evangelization began about the same time, but took quite a bit longer, but was essentially Christian by the year 1000. Scandinavia, Russia and Kiev would also see their rulers baptized by roughly that year.

So, all the countries whose language influenced the development of modern English were being evangelized while Old English was still alive. All these countries were Catholic by the time Middle English arrived on the scene around the year 1000. For almost 1000 years, the Catholic mindset marinated and developed the English language. Catholics invented both the printing press and most of the expressions of ideas those Catholic presses produced.


It isn’t over the top to point this out. Language molds itself to express the dominant thoughts of the culture. The dominant culture in Europe for over a thousand years was the Catholic Faith.

Realize that even simple words, like “cell” and “person”, exist only in European languages. Robert Hooke called the unit of living material a “cell” because the nucleus inside the membrane reminded him of a monk sitting in his cell. The word “person” was invented by Catholics to describe the three “persons” of the Trinitarian Godhead.

If you go to a non-Christian language, like Swahili, there is no corresponding word for “cell”. African culture had no similar monastic institution. When Americans tried to explain the Declaration of Independence to the Chinese and Japanese, they discovered those languages could not express the idea of “individual rights” because neither one even had a real way to express “individual”, much less the rights of such an entity. Many Pacific island languages have trouble expressing the idea of “mercy” because the concept of NOT engaging in revenge is so damned weird.

The very word “religion” assumes Christian theology. “Re + Ligare” - to tie back together again - assumes an original Paradise, followed by a Fall, followed by Christ putting the pieces back together. Properly speaking, only Christianity is a “religion”, because it is the only theological system that teaches all three pieces. Nothing else does. These examples could be expanded almost endlessly.

And Modern English is not alone in being a thousand-year work of the Church. In fact, there is no modern European language which can deny that it was essentially developed by Catholics.

The language that drives science, technology, commerce, economics, the great engines of our secular economy, is a language created by the Faith.

Keep that in mind the next time someone says, "We need to keep religion out of the classroom." or "We need to keep religion out of politics."

Yes, we could do that.
We could snuff the Faith out of our discourse entirely.
But in order to discuss the merits of the proposition, we would first have to dispense with using any modern European language to discuss the idea.
And that might hobble the discussion a bit, nicht wahr?


Patrick said...

I was making the point to a co-worker that without the Catholic Church, knowledge in sciences like genetics, agricultural science, astronomy and biology could have been so delayed that we would still be living in a world equivalent to a thousand years ago. At first they were completely unconvinced until they studied up on the subject and had to eventually agree, to their dismay. I really think more information like this about how the Catholic Church has changed modern life needs to be published for people to again respect the Church and its knowledge advancements about the real world around us.

Inca said...

Well said! Advances are praised, and the Source can be praised too 🙆