With Easter this month, now’s the time for some Christian Latin.
The Bible wasn’t written in Latin, of course. The Old Testament is in Hebrew, with some passages in Aramaic. And the New Testament was in Greek.
But the Latin version of the Bible – the Vulgate, translated by St Jerome in the late 4th century AD – is crucial, not least because it was adopted by the Catholic Church. There had been Latin translations before St Jerome –called Vetus Latina, ‘Old Latin’. But it was the Vulgate – from ‘versio vulgata’, the commonly used version – that has dominated ever since.
The Latin of the Vulgate is also nice and straightforward for all you sophisticated Latinists. Here is Genesis, Chapter One, from the Vulgate. See if you can translate it. It should be pretty easy, because the English is so familiar.
1 In principio creavit Deus cælum et terram.
2 Terra autem erat inanis et vacua, et tenebræ erant super faciem abyssi: et spiritus Dei ferebatur super aquas.
3 Dixitque Deus: Fiat lux. Et facta est lux.
The Latin Mass – or the Tridentine Mass – was also used in Catholic services from 1570, under Pope Pius V, until 1962, under Pope John XXIII, when Vatican II replaced Latin with vernacular languages. In 2007, that supreme Latinist, Benedict XVI, restored the Tridentine Mass. Again, it is written in lovely, simple Latin. Translate, please.
Priest: In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen. Introibo ad altare Dei.
Congregation: Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.
When Benedict XVI retired in 2013, he did so
in Latin – leading to a worldwide scoop from a Vatican reporter, Giovanna Chirri, who could understand Latin. Please translate.
‘Conscientia mea iterum atque iterum coram Deo explorata ad cognitionem certam perveni vires meas ingravescente aetate
non iam aptas esse ad munus Petrinum aeque administrandum.’
That final reference to St Peter is a reminder, too, of the Latin inscribed into the edge of Michelangelo’s dome at St Peter’s, Rome, taken from Matthew’s Gospel. Again, nice and simple Latin for you to translate.
‘Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam et tibi dabo claves regni caelorum.’
You will have noticed the Latin pun, playing on the Latin for Peter (Petrus) and for stone (petra, a borrowing from Greek, from which we get the word ‘petrified’).
Happy Easter – in Latin or any other language!
From the King James Bible. ‘1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 3. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.’ 2. Priest – ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. I will go to the altar of God.’ Congregation – ‘To God who makes my youth joyful.’ 3.‘After having examined my conscience again and again before God, I have come to a certain understanding that my strengths, with deepening old age, are no longer suited to properly run the Petrine ministry.’ 4. ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church, and I will give you the keys to heaven.’
Save thirty per cent on Harry’s online Latin course with the Idler Academy here.