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February 11, 2013

Rating the Latin in the Pope's Resignation Letter

By Spear's

Vale, we say to him in Latin, the language which the Curia is single-handedly refreshing, or at least torturing by stretching it to fit the modern world

So the Pope has resigned. Vale, we say to him in Latin, the language which the Curia is single-handedly refreshing, or at least torturing by stretching it to fit the modern world. Thanks to the Vatican, we have been gifted such neologisms as:

Alternative energy sources: “fontes alterius generis”
Non-renewable energy sources: “fontes energiae qui non renovantur”
Photocopy: “exemplar luce expressum”
Bank note: “charta nummária”
Basketball: “follis canistrīque ludus”
Blue jeans: “bracae línteae caerúleae”
Hot pants: “brevíssimae bracae femíneae”
Internet: “inter rete”
Email: “inscriptio cursus electronici”

(Those taken from here. Lots more Latin neologisms here.)

Most of these are highly literal or logical translations, lacking Latin’s compact elegance: “inter rete” means “between the net”.

All of which preamble brings us to the Pope’s resignation statement, which a Latin-reading journalist translated, thereby scoring one of the stories of the year.

What is to be made of it, stylistically speaking? My verdict (after reading Classics at university and then tutoring it for six years): a bright GCSE student could have written it. It follows very constrained ideas of how Latin is constructed:

> the verb is often at the end of the sentence (Non solum propter tres canonizationes ad hoc Consistorium vos convocavi, sed etiam ut vobis decisionem magni momenti pro Ecclesiae vitae communicem);

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> it uses a variety of simple constructions (indirect statements rendered as accusative and infinitive, ad + gerund for purposes);

> and there are a few simple rhetorical tropes (“non solum agendo et loquendo exsequi debere, sed non minus patiendo et orando” has antithesis of gerunds – agendo-loquendo/patiendo-orando).

I suppose there’s a certain nobility in simple Latin, but if I were retiring from a globally-recognised position which came with your own state, palace and Prada loafers, I’d probably have gone for the florid.

PS: As a Facebook friend has pointed out, it should be ‘pro Ecclesiae vita’, not ‘vitae’.

Read Spear’s advice to the retiring Pope

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