Why Does the Catholic Church Care So Much About Latin? Vatican Scholar Explains

Even though some people consider Latin a dead language, technically, it remains the official language of the Roman Catholic Church. The question is: why?

In fact, the Holy See is not only using Latin but also promoting the ancient language that was still taught in schools until very recently and is a major contributor to many of Europe's languages, including English.


According to some experts, Latin did not die per se but evolved into different languages commonly known as Romance languages, which are Spanish, Portuguese, French, Romanian, and Italian. These languages started to change distinctly from each other centuries after the Fall of the Roman Empire.

However, classical Latin is no longer spoken as the primary tongue of a linguistic community.

Despite this fact, the Vatican still cares very much about promoting the Latin language, according to the Catholic News Agency.

This year, the theme of the Vatican's humanities-themed contest, the Prize of the Pontifical Academies, concerns Latin. The winner – awarded 20,000 euros (more than $21,400) – will be chosen by Pope Francis.

Fr. Roberto Spataro, secretary of the Pontifical Academy for Latin, explained why the Vatican has kept Latin as its own language through the ages.

"In the Vatican some of the more important documents issued by the Pope and the Holy See are officially written in Latin," he told CNA. The Church's standard version of the Bible, called the Vulgate, is also in Latin, he added.

Moreover, "this very language has long been the medium of dialogue between faith and reason," Spataro said.

He pointed out that in 1962, St. John XXIII declared Latin as the "rightful language for the Roman Catholic Church."

Spataro explained further that since the Church is by nature "catholic," or "universal," the Latin language is also global, not belonging to one country or place. Because it is no longer a living language, it is also immutable, he said.

This "makes it perfect for dogmatic and liturgical assessments as such intellectual activity requires a lucid language that leaves no ambiguity in expression," he said.

Spataro offered a final reason why the Church will always have Latin as its language. "It is beautiful and elegant, and the Church is always a lover of arts and culture," he said.

Although Latin is technically considered a dead language, it is still taught in schools and is read and spoken by many. It also lives in many words in various languages which have Latin roots, according to experts.