Latin studies at Notre Dame de La Salette are based on the idea that Latin is a language and not merely a written code. At the early levels, Latin is taught through methods comparable to the methods used to teach modern languages, so that through much practice in reading, writing, and speaking Latin, the students can internalize the language and make it their own, understanding its words according to the words’ own meanings in their own context. In the upper levels, the students are better able to appreciate the great Latin works as literature and poetry rather than as grammatical puzzles or translation exercises.
St. Augustine points out in De Doctrina Christiana that language and community are inseparable. The words of language are signs whose meaning is understood and agreed upon by a community, and a language likewise forms a community that thinks and expresses itself in a common way. Usually the community of a language is a tribe or nation, but by teaching Latin in a direct and thorough way we hope to make our young men real participants in a linguistic community which transcends time and space, and which counts among its members many great men in every age of our Faith and civilization. A person is truly a part of this community when he can hear the voice of Virgil or of St. Augustine or St. Thomas directly, understanding them from within their own mode of thought and expression without the need of translation even within his own mind. This is what it means to know a language, and this knowledge is the goal towards which we strive in teaching Latin.
A real knowledge of Latin is, of course, an especially important goal in a Catholic school, because the words of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and of all public and solemn prayers in the western Church are Latin. The Latin developed by the church for the praise and worship of God has a precision, beauty, strength, and appositeness that can only be approximated by any translations. A man who can join with understanding in the words of the Liturgy prays more perfectly with the Church, and a life of prayer informed by the Latin of the Liturgy will tend to be more elevated and mature and right in doctrine and sensibility.
Greek, the language of the Gospels and of the beginnings of western culture, is offered as an elective at La Salette with many of the same practical principles in mind, but with the more limited goal of providing a good introduction to the language and of building a solid foundation for future study.
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