By the Motu Proprio "Latina lingua" published today, Benedict XVI has established the Pontifical Academy for Latin, which will be part of the Pontifical Council for Culture. The new academy will be directed by a president assisted by a secretary, to be appointed by the Pope, and will comprise an academic council. It will supersede the foundation "Latinitas", established by Paul VI with the Chirograph "Romani Sermonis" of 30 June 1976.
"The Latin language", says the Pope in his Motu Proprio, "has always been held in high regard by the Catholic Church and the Roman pontiffs, who have promoted the knowledge and diffusion of the language by making it their own, able to universally transmit the message of the Gospel, as was authoritatively confirmed by my predecessor Blessed John XXIII in the Apostolic Constitution 'Veterum sapientia'.
"Since the Pentecost the Church has spoken and prayed in all languages known to humanity; however, the Christian communities of the first centuries made extensive use of Greek and Latin, languages of universal communication in the world in which they lived, thanks to which the novelty of the Word of Christ encountered the heritage of Hellenistic-Roman culture. After the fall of the western Roman empire the Church of Rome not only continued to use Latin, but in a certain sense also became its custodian and promoter in the theological and liturgical fields, as well as in education and the transmission of knowledge.
"In our times too, knowledge of Latin language and culture remains as necessary as ever for the study of the sources of numerous ecclesiastical disciplines including, among others, theology, liturgy, Patristics and canon law, as confirmed by Vatican Council II. Furthermore, the 'editio typica' of the liturgical books of the Roman Rite, the most important documents of the pontifical Magisterium and the most solemn Acts of the Roman pontiffs are written in Latin, precisely to emphasise the universal nature of the Church.
"However, in contemporary culture, within the context of a generalised deterioration in humanistic studies, we see the danger of an increasingly superficial knowledge of Latin, which may also be detected in the philosophical and theological studies of future priests. On the other hand, in our world in which science and technology are so prominent, we also find renewed interest in the Latin language and culture, and not only in those continents with Greco-Roman cultural roots. This interest seems particularly significant inasmuch as it is present not only in academic and institutional environments, but also involves young people and scholars from very different nations and traditions.
"There is therefore an apparent pressing need to encourage commitment to a greater knowledge and more competent use of Latin, in the ecclesial environment as well as in the world of culture at large. To give prominence and resonance to this effort, it is important to adopt teaching methods adapted to contemporary conditions, and to promote a network of relationships between academic institutions and among scholars with the aim of promoting the rich and varied heritage of Latin civilisation".
The Holy Father concludes by saying that, "in order to contribute to the achievement of these aims, and following in the wake of my venerated predecessors, with the present Motu Proprio I today establish the Pontifical Academy for Latin".
By this Motu Proprio the Pope approves the statute of the new academy "ad experimentum" for a five-year period.
This is a fairly big step. There is a nuance in here which will be missed, if one isn't looking for it and it is that he is reversing or superseding a previous Pope's position (Paul VI) while supporting that Pope's immediate predecessor (Bl. John XXIII). Benedict XVI will drag his feet on some things, but on the use of Latin, he is a true restorationist!