Scripture and Languages

Reading various articles related to the Bishops Synod on the Word of God, I couldn’t help thinking about the state of language training. Nowadays, not only laity but also ordained generally have little Latin, less Greek, and no Hebrew.

Quite a change from, say, the standard education of our country’s founding fathers as the article by Martin Cothran describes:

….The typical education of the time began in what we would call the 3rd Grade—at about age eight. Students who actually went to school were required to learn Latin and Greek grammar and, later, to read the Latin historians Tacitus and Livy, the Greek historians Herodotus and Thucydides, and to translate the Latin poetry of Virgil and Horace. They were expected to know the language well enough to translate from the original into English and back again to the original in another grammatical tense….

and, in college:

…. Several of the founders, including Adams, attended Harvard. The sole academic requirements for admission to Harvard University in the 1640s were as follows: “When any scholar is able to read Tully [Cicero] or such like classical Latin author ex tempore and make and speak true Latin in verse and prose suo (ut aiunt) Marte [by his own power, as they say], and decline perfectly the paradigms of nouns and verbs in the Greek tongue, then may he be admitted into the college, nor shall any claim admission before such qualification.”

No ACT or SAT scores. No application essays. No affirmative action. Just Latin and Greek.

Students were also expected in these early years, according to the Harvard College Laws, to be able to translate the Old and New Testaments from the original Greek and Hebrew into Latin. Not only that, but listen to another Harvard requirement of the time: “The scholars shall never use their mother tongue, except that in public exercises of oratory or such like they be called to make them in English.” In other words, with limited exceptions, students were prohibited from using English in class or in class assignments.

Some of this undoubtedly changed by the time the founders would have attended, but not much. When it came to classical education in colleges of colonial times, they took no prisoners.

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