by Dr. Aaron Denlinger
Why Latin? Why include Latin in a school curriculum? The question is a reasonable one. Latin, after all, is a “dead” language (meaning no one now speaks it as a first language). Wouldn’t some living language like Spanish or Mandarin Chinese open more doors for our students in the future? Are we wasting our students’ time and energy? Are we making them jump through some pedantic hoop merely so we can puff up our chests and call ourselves a “classical” school?
Minime! (“Not at all!”) In reality, Latin stands to offer numerous benefits to our students, benefits that more than justify its place in the curriculum. For starters, the study of Latin promises to significantly expand our students’ English vocabulary. After all, the majority of words in our English language are Latin derivatives. A good example is “vocabulary,” which comes from the Latin vocabula, meaning “words.” Or “derivative,” which is a combination of the Latin de, meaning “down from,” and rivus, meaning “river”—a derivative is literally a word downriver from a word or words in some other language. Latin study also prepares students to learn one or more of the Romance Languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian) in the future. These languages derive more than 90% of their vocabulary and nearly all their grammatical structures from Latin. The study of Latin also opens windows unto Roman history and mythology, and so complements our students’ labors to understand the ancient Western world from which we have descended. For students that progress far in their studies, Latin can facilitate conversation with Roman philosophers from antiquity and the best of theologians in the Christian tradition. Men like Cicero, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and John Owen all wrote in Latin. In addition, the study of Latin is scientifically proven to equip students with superhuman powers. Okay, I made that one up. But on the subject of such powers, our students probably could tell you that our English word “superhuman” comes from the Latin supra (“above” or “beyond”) and humanus (“human”).
But the greatest gift by far that Latin offers students, at least in my judgment, is a better grasp of how language works. Latin is particularly suited to help students grasp the intricacies of language per se because it is such an orderly and precise language. Latin students will understand the difference between active and passive voice; they will know the difference between participles and gerunds; they will grasp the difference between simple, progressive, and completed action as such is reflected in copulative, transitive, and intransitive verbs. And, ideally, they will employ that knowledge in all their future speaking and their writing, whether they become pastors or politicians, actors or architects, historians or housewives. Latin, then, ultimately stands to render students more intelligent and purposeful in their communication, and so more intelligent and purposeful in the efforts to mirror God in their own use of words. God, after all, spoke the world and all the creatures that inhabit it into existence (cf. Gen. 1:1-2:3). God specifically made human beings in his own image (Gen. 1:26), and part of what that means is that He created men and women themselves with a unique ability to speak, and even in some sense to create with their own words. Human words are powerful. Words can accuse and comfort, disparage and delight, belittle and build up. The study of Latin serves to help students understand the power of words, and how best to use them to God’s glory.
Cur Lingua Latina? Because at Arma Dei Academy we are very intentionally in the business of training our students to mirror and reflect, in every conceivable aspect of their lives, the Triune and talkative God who made each and every one of them in His own image.