Bernie “Tacitus” Sanders

As I am sure you have all heard, Senator Bernie Sanders recently impugned Russel Vought for his Christian beliefs, calling them hateful and islamophobic.  Others in cyberspace will comment about the unconstitutionality of this kind of action (never mind the indecency of Sanders in refusing to understand what Vought meant by his comments).  Here, all I wish to bring to your attention are the comments of a Roman historian, Tacitus.  

Tacitus lived from A.D. 56 to A.D. 120.  His Annals contain one of the earliest statements about Christians from outside the New Testament.  In describing the actions of Nero Caesar, during the great fore of his reign, Tacitus says that the Christians were blamed for it, to remove suspicion from Nero.  He also tells how a great multitude were rounded up and punished, though not for the fire but for “odio humani generis convicti sunt.”  Translated this clause reads, “they were convicted for hatred of humanity.”  Senator Sanders is expressing the same sentiment as Tacitus.

The reason for this is that both Tacitus and Sanders are imperialists.  What I mean by an imperialist is one believes that many different religions, cultures, and languages can coexist under the same government.  The government that holds the power over these multifaceted groups is called an empire.  Rome was the greatest of the ancient world, America is the current empire of the modern world.  More could be said about the nature of an empire, but here the multiculturalism of an empire is what needs to be highlighted.

But to maintain cohesion within the empire, those who rule it must inculcate some form or unity and toleration between the various peoples under their sway.  In Rome, this unity was expressed an inculcated by participation in Roman cultural activities: the gladiatorial combat, chariot racing, paying divine honors to the emperor.  All Romans did these things, no matter the cultural background they originated from.  Except the Chriatians.  

The paganism involved in most, if not all, of the Roman cultural acts of solidarity was forbidden to Christians on account of their adherence to the Holy Scriptures.  The Romans, however, saw this, as Tacitus put it, as hatred for humanity.  “These Christians insist on non participation in our collective cultural life.  They must hate all men of sense and culutre!”  And hence Tacitus can say that Christians hated humanity.  

The cultural context of our day is also an attempt to inculcate imperial unity and cohesion.  Hence, the great agitations in our society over “discrimination”, “racism”, and “bigotry.”  These terms are bandied about to supress any thoughts or actions that do not conform to the cultural acts of solidarity which are necessary for the cohesion of the empire.  Hence, in Bernie Sanders view, the basic belief of Christianity, that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, is seen as hateful to other faiths.  And hence, a danger to the cultural cohesion that the servants of empire wish to maintain.  

Over a thousand years ago, our forefathers in the faith dealt with this same species of “bigotry” from the cultural elites.  These things have already passed over the Church, and it would appear that they are rising again in our society.  The experiences of our forefathers in the faith would be a helpful guide for the Church of this generation, especially since the context of a tired crumbling empire is the context in which we live and in which the Church was founded and grew.  

As Solomon said: nihil sub sole novum, nec valet quisquam dicere, “Ecce hoc recens est!”  Iam enim praecessit in saeculis quae fuerunt ante nos.  

There is nothing new under the sun, and no one can say, “See, this is unprecedented!”  For, long before, it has already happened in the generations that went before us.

Statue of Tacitus, outside Austrian Govenrment building

What has Rome to do with Washington?

A question similar to this was posed by an early church father, Tertullian.  He asked, “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?”  The implied answer to his question was nihil, nothing.  He wanted to guard against the importation of Greek philosophy into the thinking of the Church in her attempts to defend the faith.

The implied answer to my question is quite different than Tertullian’s.  What has Rome to do with Washington?  Multum, Much.  In this post, I hope persuade you that the writers of Rome are an essential source for us in understanding and acting in our current political situation.  What we have seen and are daily confronted with in the drama that is Washington politics, has all been acted out before.

To illustrate my point, we will look at a brief section from De Bello Gallico, The Gallic War, by Julius Caesar.  This one of the most well known works from Ancient Rome and rightly so.  The Latin is straightforward and follows standard canons of Latin grammar and style.  If Caesar is anything, he is clear.

“The Gallic War” was published from roughly 58 B.C. through 50 B.C.  These dates are approximate.  At that time Rome was still wed to the Republic.  But, her republican husband was in his dotage, soon to pass from the scene and be replaced by the younger, more virile, and less sagacious Empire.  Rome would remain, but her political spouse would be changed in due time.  We know that this was the waning period for the Republic from the subsequent history.  But, how those then living saw things is another matter.  The change was in the air and those who were paying attention knew that something was going to change.  The great men of Rome was jockeying for position, and the greatest of those men was Caesar.

Thus, the time frame of De Bello Gallico was a time of transition.  Things were shifting, peoples were moving, ambitions were cultivated and realized or frustrated.  It was during this time that Caesar described for us a vast land called Gallia.

In Book I, chapter 1, Caesar describes the geography and various tribes that occupy Gaul.  Anyone who has taken Latin in school will remember the opening words quite readily, “Gallia est omnis…”  What does Caesar mean by this statement?  Through its use as a text for teaching Latin, the message that Caesar wishes to convey has perhaps been overlooked.  Caesar is writing to his contemporaries in Rome, the Senate and Roman People.  Officially, “The Gallic War” was a commentary on his actions as proconsul of the Roman province Gallia Uterior, Transalpine Gaul.  This was a region in southern France that we today know as Provence (a French rendering of the Latin provincia, the province).  He is attempting to justify his own actions in, well, conquering Gaul.

So then, what is meant by calling Gaul a whole?  It seems that Caesar is operating with the notion of territorial integrity in mind.  This definition will explain what I mean.  This concept has been invoked recently.  Almost any article on the Ukraine operates with this concept of territorial integrity.  This idea is the justification for condemning the actions of Russia in annexing the Crimea; it violated the territorial integrity of the Ukraine and is therefore wrong.  At this point, I make no judgments as to the justice or injustice of this idea as an international relations schema.  I simply wish to highlight the similarities between the things that the Romans were dealing with and writing about, and what we see today.

An acquaintance with “The Gallic War” would shed much light on what is going on right now in the world.  This is so because it is often through example, story, or illustration that ideas make their way into our thought world.  We can thus assess the state of our own “republic” in light of that great ancient republic, Rome.  By learning the history of Rome, we will be better equipped to understand our own history.

Caesar goes on to describe the peoples of Gaul.  He says that we Romans call them “Gauls”, by they call themselves “Celts.”  He also says that the peoples of Gaul (the Celts, Belgians, and Aquitanians, and the Helvetii, among others) all differ in language, laws, and institutions.

Now then, let’s think through this a bit.  If the various peoples in Gaul differ in these fundamental ways, how can Gaul be called a single whole?  Caesar does so on the basis of geography, but, as the subsequent history shows, he is planting this idea to justify his future conquest of the entire region.  For, as you know, Gallia est omnis.  “The territorial integrity of the region must be maintained if we are to have stability in the region!”  One can imagine him saying.  Further proof of Caesar’s imperial ambition comes from his expedition to Britain.  Geographically there is no unity between Gaul and Britain, but there is a common ideological unity, opposition to the encroachments of Caesar.

This same notion is brought out today, as I already mentioned, in regard to the Ukraine.  But it is also present in discussion of the contemporary situation in the United States.  Here is a snatch from a Politico article that captures the same idea as Caesar’s (emphasis mine):

It’s unlikely any of these states will actually secede, no matter how inspiring Britain’s example; the Civil War showed that the government in Washington doesn’t take these attempts lightly. In the 1869 Supreme Court decision Texas v. White, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase wrote that the federal Constitution “in all its provisions looks to an indestructible Union, composed of indestructible States.” The case effectively established the legal principle that no state can secede from the Union.

Why is this?  Because, at least on this view, America est omnis.


What should my goals be in learning or teaching Latin?  


In this post I’d like to give some direction to your Latin studies.  When I was regularly helping home-schoolers with their Latin studies, I often found that the goals of enduring a Latin program (and it does take endurance!) were far too limited.  My hope is that you would set your sights a little higher.

One of the most common goals expressed today in a Latin program is to improve your English.  While this is a natural result of learning Latin, it is an indirect goal.  If we are studying Latin to master English, we going through the backdoor when the front is far more accessible.

It is also curtails the development of the student.  For those of my readers that were born into a English speaking culture, you are already an expert in English.  It is your mater lingua, your mother tongue.  All that is needed to master English is to read the King James Bible and the great authors who wrote in English.

A quick note about the King James Bible.  I recommend this version of Scripture for English mastery, not from any fundamentalist position of superstitious reverence for it (though it is the version I read and teach from most often).  Rather, the English in the King James Bible represents the apex of modern English.  Now, that my sound specious, i.e. to call the King James Bible “modern”, but it is true.  The three phases of English are Anglo-saxon, Middle, and modern.  Beowulf is an example of Anglo-saxon and Chaucer is an example of Middle English.  If you have tried to read them in the original, you can clearly see that they are not language that we use today, though they are recognizable.   During the Elizabethan period, shortly after which James I of England produced the Bible that bears his name, English developed into the modern language that we can readily recognize.  Further, the translators of the King James Version understood their native tongue better than most do today.  I commend it you as one of the best and most eloquent productions in our language ever penned.  Read that, and you’ll be on your way to mastering English.

But this blog is about Latin, not English.  So, why should we study Latin?  Why should you exert the effort of teaching Latin?  Or for those of you who are homeschooling moms, why should you do both?

Quite simply, to read Latin authors. Language is a tool that serves a purpose.  For us, today the purpose of learning Latin should be to read it.  In a subsequent post, I will discuss the reasons why we should be reading more Latin authors.  But one reason I will give here is that the vast majority of the Western tradition is encased in the Latin language, the vast majority.  More on that tomorrow.  

Now an objection presents itself to my imagination at this point.  “Can we really expect a middle or high school student to read Latin authors?”  In response, allow me to use a phrase that mater mea taught me.  “With that attitude, you won’t!”  If, before we have started, we hamstring our expectations to the provincial level, we can never expect our attainment to rise any higher.  Instead of thinking that it would be nice for our children to read a Latin author, let us set it before them as the goal to which they are striving.  There are riches to be mined from the corpus Latinum, all our children need are the tools to go and dig them out.

There is more to Latin than Caesar, legiones, Galli, and the Catalinarian conspiracy.  Almost any topic that you can imagine was written about by either the Romans or the Medieval men.  Further, most of the wisdom of the West is, as I mentioned, still contained in Latin and comes from the Christian Middle Ages.  It is not all pagan.  But as I said, more on that tomorrow.


The Value of Latin, Pars Quarta

In the two previous partes of this series (altera and tertia), we explored two ways of assessing the value of Latin as a subject of study today.  In part two, the assessment of Latin in relation to its “cash value” was found wanting.  In part three, the value of Latin on a purely subjective level was also found unsatisfying.

What then for Latin?  It has little to no cash value and, even if I am moved by it and can get excited about a “dead” language, that really means nothing to you.  What we are in search of is an objective value system that will establish the value of Latin as a subject for today’s students.  But in order to establish that, we need to reassess the student-teacher relationship.

In our egalitarian society, we do not have real teacher-student interactions, at least not in a way that will instill an appreciation for the value of Latin.  In the teacher-student relationship, the teacher is the superior, the student the inferior.  Now, most will agree with this statement as it stands.  But upon some exposition, that number may change.

As a caveat, the following discussion of the teacher-student relationship is idealized, meaning that, while what I describe is the way things ought to be, I recognize that they are not always so.  This does not mean that idealized portraits of things are useless.  It simply means that their purpose is to give us an idea of the way things ought, could, or would be.

There are three ways that the teacher is superior to the student.  The teacher is superior to the student in knowledge, wisdom, and aesthetic sense, in addition to being a superior in reference to the position of authority that a teacher occupies.  In other words, a teacher ought to be a superior person, a superior human, to the student, not simply a more knowledgeable transistor in the societal computer we call “education.”

The teacher is not only the superior to the student in quantity of knowledge, but also in quality of knowledge.  They, ideally, not only know a language, but also have the social graces to use it properly in various contexts.

The teacher not only understands proper Latin grammar; he discerns good Latin style as well.  I trust that the implications of this principle, that the teacher is a superior person to the student (in the fullest sense) will disclose its own applications to the reader.

But why go into this here?  We are trying to establish the value of Latin as a modern subject, what does this have to do with superiors and inferiors.  It comes down to simply this.  Our betters, our forefathers, our ancestors valued Latin, and hence our teachers did as well, and so should we.

We live in an egalitarian society.  The great poison of egalitarianism is that it denudes previous generations of the respect that they deserve.  The devaluation of Latin is merely one symptom of this broader trend in the modern world.  And it is at the root of the educational rot in America today.

Education is the transfer of stored wisdom from the older generation to the younger; from the superior to the inferior; from the teacher to the student.  Let the younger generation hold the wisdom of the older in disregard and the student’s respect for the teacher will soon cascade as well.  It is this atmosphere that has rendered Latin irrelevant for the student today.  They cannot see the immediate gratification, or any for that matter, that will come from a Latin education and therefore, Latin is pointless.  For who can imagine Cicero tweeting?

Let us call this value system, in opposition to the two previous value systems we noted in prior posts, the Maioritive Value System (MVS).  The name for this value system is taken from the Latin word “maiores” which simply means “greaters” or “betters”.  Now, in Ancient Rome this word was used to denote the ancestors, the forefathers, those who had gone before and passed on their wisdom to us, now living.

With the advent of the evolutionary/progressive world (post WWI, at least), the progenitors of a people are no longer termed “betters.”  Rather they are the foolish, superstitious, ignorant.  For who can imagine Cicero tweeting?

What has taken the place of the MVS, are the two value systems that we dealt with in the previous posts (Pars Altera and Pars Tertia).  For the sake of clarity and to get to the point, pragmatism and emotionalism have replaced any sense of propriety for what our betters had to say on a topic.

If we take the principle of the MVS and expand it just a little bit, we arrive at an understanding that The West, taken as the collective wisdom of our forefathers, is, as it were the Maior.  What I mean by this is that those of us who were born into or have immigrated and assimilated into a western culture have a heritage in the cultural history of the West which is the collective knowledge, skill, and sense of all of our forefathers.  Latin is at the heart of that collection.  For, most of it, most of what our forefathers said, is still in Latin.

It follows then that a system of values that listens to our ancestors is the system that justifies the study of Latin today.  If all we want out of an education is to produce more widgets on the thingamajig to stash away more Imperial credits, then Latin is not for you.  If, however, we would be free men, who have assimilated the lessons of the past in order to understand the present and face the future, then Latin will be to us a Midas finger, bringing gold from whatever we touch.

The Value of Latin, Pars Tertia

In Pars Altera of this series we explored the reasons why a utilitarian approach to defending the value of Latin in the modern context was unsatisfying.  In this post, Pars Tertia, we turn our attention to more personal matters. 

One thing you will notice about Latinists is that they love Latin.  They get excited about it just as much as Tolkien fans or any other group of fanboys does about their thing.  This is a good example of the excitement and geekery that I share with my fellow Latinists.  However, as a defense of this language as a subject for modern education, we cannot rest here. 

Where the utilitarian approach fails categorically, the “excitement” approach fails in its subjectivity.  The one advantage that the QVS has over the “excitement” argument is that it is objective.  It is trying to develop an objective reason for the value of Latin that is not dependant on the whim of feelings of an individual person.  In many ways this method of defending something is more dangerous than a miss-categorized objective method, such as the QVS, is.  If you are not aware of what the QVS is, please check out Pars Altera in this series. 

As we called the utilitarian argument for the value of Latin the Quaestitive Value System, let us call this value system the Affectitive Value System.  I call it Affectitive from affectus the Latin word for feeling or emotion.  As we noted in the last post to this series, when we assign value to anything we assume a value system within which assess the relative value of differing things.  In the AVS anything is valuable if it moves me or has some desired affect upon my emotional state.  This system is so common in modern America it is easy to lose sight of it.  This is the way we chose what movies to watch, what songs to listen to, and (in many cases) what church to attend. 

On the surface the AVS does not seem that harmful.  If I am doing something that I like I am I only considering my own feelings about the matter.  This, it would seem, has no affect on others around me.  However, when it comes to value systems, just like worldviews, ultimacy and objectivity are inevitable.  Let me explain.  When my wife and I want to watch a movie, our decision is mostly based on what we are in the mood for.  When it comes to choosing a movie this is pretty harmless because my wife and I will watch the movie and then go in our way.  The problem comes when we begin to systematize this way of making decisions.  When this becomes systematized, objectivity and ultimacy become a part of this process.  What we are then doing is making our own feelings and moods objective and ultimate over reality.  This is infantile as anyone with a toddler will attest. 

Here, then, the danger appears when we use the AVS to defend anything in general, or Latin in particular.  When I say that Latin is valuable because I like it or am excited about it, I am not saying that Latin is valuable.  I am saying that my feelings about Latin are superior to any argument that can be brought against them.  I am placing the emphasis on my feelings and not on Latin. 

Exemplī grātiā, you feed your family broccoli.  Your young son or daughter does not want to eat it, no surprise.  You tell them to eat their vegetables,  and they say, “I don’t want to!”  At this point you can try to reason with them, but every parent reading this will know that that is futile.  The question I have for you is, why?  The reason is because the child is thinking in accordance with the AVS.  He doesn’t want to eat them and no reasoned argument will convince him otherwise.  He has placed his feelings about broccoli above the wisdom of his parents and he objective value of broccoli.

Now in the broccoli example, the consequences of this are minor.  But in the adult world the consequences of this are major.  Look at the state of the youth in America, and of many of the young “adults”.  They pursue only those things that they like and they are still in their parents basement at 30.  What will happen when they are 40, 50, or 60? 

The reasons why the AVS are unsatisfying in defending Latin as a subject of study in our modern context should be evident.  But we have not yet built up a value system, or at least been made cognizant of a value system, which will account for the value of Latin.  Deô volente, we shall do so in Pars Quarta of this series. 

Ut valeat in te scientia Dei!
That the knowledge of God may propser in you!

The Value of Latin, Pars Altera

In the first post of this series, I opened the door to build a defense for the study of Latin in the modern day.  One of the insufficient arguments that is used today by many Latin Lovers is the utilitarian argument.  Here is a link to a typical example of this type of argument.  The benefits that this author points out are true, Latin will provide those things to you if you study it. 

An analogous statement can be made about food.  If you eat it, it will nourish you.  But if that is as far as we go, the there is no point in learning the culinary arts, trying out new recipes, or presenting meals on your grandmother’s china service.  But that is not how we, as creatures made in God’s image, treat our food.  We all go to a fancy restaurant once in a while, and we all appreciate a well prepared dish that has just a hint of nuance or creativity.  Check out the food category on Pinterest.

Why is this?  If food is merely for nutrition then why all the fuss?  That is because as humans God has given us a capacity to appreciate His creation on a higher level than the animals.  The same is true of language. 

Language, and Latin particular, does have some quotidian purposes.  If that is all we that we seek when we study a language, however, then there is really no point in studying a foreign language, much less a dead language.  You cannot order a hamburger in Latin and expect to receive one.  Well then, what is its value?  That is the question I am seeking to answer but we must do some deconstruction on how the modern man answers value questions of this sort. 

In asking the question, “What is the value of x?”, we are presupposing a value system within which to meaningfully assign a value to x.  For instance, my wife likes to hold onto the movie stubs and restaurant receipts from our dates.  To me this is just clutter.  But to her these are valuable tokens of our time together.  In her value system, the little scrap of paper is precious for nostalgic reasons.  In my value system, the little scrap of paper is taking up space in our closet.  She values the memory of our date and the token of that date.  I value the orderliness of not having numerous scraps of paper in a shoebox that we will have to move someday.  Neither of us are more correct in our assessment of the value of the little scrap of paper.  It is merely a difference of value systems. 

As we take this analogy and cash it out in reference to the modern age, we can see that in many ways there is a certain value system that has encroached upon all areas of modern life.  Let us call this value system the Quaestitive Value System.  I call it Quaestitive from the Latin word for gain or profit, quaestus.  This is the predominant value system in the modern age.  In this system anything has value only if it can bring something to you or gain you some advantage.  Hence the unhealthy obsession with “the” economy, home prices, the stock market, et cetera ad nauseam.  The QVS is a fine system of values for the businessman making business decisions about business, but life is more than business. 

That the QVS has influenced how we look at education is evident, not only in the defenses put forward for Latin, but also in the assessment of which college we go to.  The predominant thinking from the 50’s until now has been that you should go to college so that you can get a job, QVS in action.  That misconception is falling apart as I type this, with many college grads unable to find work.  Google “college debt” and you will see for yourself.

What we can deduce from the above is that the value of Latin does not fall under the purview of the QVS.  One may respond and say, “But if Latin does confer those benefits that are outlined in the article, why can’t we use that as a defense for the study of it?” 

First and foremost, we must resist the encroachment of the QVS into areas of our life over which it has no place.  To allow this is to betray our identity as Christians.  This may sound like a harsh statement, but allow me to defend it.  As Christians we are commanded to seek the LORD.  This takes time and focus.  As employees we are commanded to obey our employers.  Some employers would have their employees working 12-16 hours a day.  Those of you who are salaried know what I am talking about.  If we allow the QVS to make our judgment as to which is more valuable, working more hours at the office will win.  It will gain us more respect from our bosses and perhaps a promotion which means more money, a bigger house, et cetera.  But in order to do this we will be taking time away from our prayer life and seeking the LORD, which we are commanded to do as Christians.  Many, sadly have fallen into this trap and are suffering because of it.  Therefore, we must push back against the QVS if we would live as Christians. 

Second, education and academia do not properly fall under the category of things which the QVS can judge.  As I said above the QVS is useful in determining what job to take or what investments to purchase.  It is not, however, useful for valuing education or the various subjects of education.  To allow the QVS to do so would be to allow a cattle rancher to appraise a Ming vase.  Cattle ranchers have their place just as the Ming vase has its place. 

Finally, the sword cuts both ways.  If we use the QVS to establish the value of Latin, then the QVS can just as easily be used to disestablish the value of Latin.  Modern languages are more useful such as Spanish, Mandarin, or German.  There are very few who actually speak Latin.  And it takes away study time from more useful subjects such as math or science. 

No, the QVS simply will not do as a value system within which to assess the study of Latin.  We must have something more. 

Ut valeat in te scientia Dei!
That the knowledge of God may propser in you!

Content Analysis App For Pretentiousness: Use The Latin-O-Meter To Test Yourself – Forbes

Not quite sure what I think about this one. On the one hand this comparison between Anglo-Saxon words and Norman/Latin words is always fascinating to me. On the other, the use of a computer program to instantly determine this takes the mental acumen out of the process.

It is, however, an important stylistic point that the creator of this program is making. A plethora of Latinate verbiage exacerbates the candid receptivity of any auditor.

I challenge you, my readers, to put that Last sentence into this program (referred to in the article) and tell me how Latinate it is. Then, try to rewrite it using only Germanic words. Tell me which one strikes your ears better. Valētē!

Ut valeat in te scientia Dei!
That the knowledge of God may propser in you!

Fools! Latin isn’t dead – it speaks for itself – Telegraph

This article, again in The Telegraph of London, is in response to the previous article that I shared with you all.  He makes some excellent points in it and shows the utility of Latin for the binomial naming system.

Ut valeat in te scientia Dei!
That the knowledge of God may propser in you!

The Value of Latin, Pars Prima

Many attempts have been made to justify the study of Latin in the modern age.  Some of these attempts take the form of utilitarian arguments endeavoring to show what you can “do” with Latin.  Other of these attempts can be reduced to a subjective expression of the apologists’ affection for the Latin Language.  The presence of these numerous apologies for the study of Latin is gratifying to a Latin teacher such as myself.  However, my personal state of mind toward my profession is rather inconsequential to the greater question of the value of Latin. 

In this and subsequent posts we will attempt to show the value of Latin for today.  First, however, the way that this topic is approached needs to be reassessed.  The modern age is an age of doing, making, building, going, achieving.  The heroes of our day are doers not thinkers.  This has lead many Latin apologists to show what Latin can do.  Along with being an age of action, ours is an age of emotion.  Whoever is the most passionate is therefore the most persuasive, thus, many other Latin apologists rest their arguments on their personal passion for Latin.  Neither of these approaches will suffice , for the value of Latin does not depend on its verbal utility nor on its emotive quality.