Thursday, March 23, 2017

Reginald Foster: The Vatican's Latinist

I wanted to recommend this article on Reginald Foster, "The Vatican's Latinist," by John Byron Kuhner. Foster was "part of a small team of scribes who composed the pope’s correspondence, translated his encyclicals, and wrote copy for internal church documents" for over forty years.

He has done so much more, though. He also taught Latin at the Pontifical Georgian University and began an intense summer school program. "He He also tutored, kept up a vast correspondence, recorded a weekly radio program for Vatican Radio called “The Latin Lover,” did any interviews he could, and kept up his priestly duties, saying mass and hearing confessions. All this while serving as the pope’s Latin secretary." After retiring from these duties, multiple people had to be hired to carry on what he had started. The article is a fascinating look at an inspirational man and teacher.

It's remarkable to see what Foster accomplished, but even more so to see the ripple effect, what he has inspired. Other links associated with the article and Reginald Foster:
  • Ossa Latinitatis Sola: The Mere Bones of Latin According to the Thought and System of Reginald by Reginald Thomas Foster and Daniel Patricius McCarthy from The Catholic University of America Press. According to Kuhner, the book gives a sense of what taking Foster's Latin class was like. (Update: I just read elsewhere that this is the first of a projected five-part work. More on Foster's approach compared to other approaches can be found in this article.)

  • The Paideia Institute was originally started to keep Foster's summer school experience alive, and has quickly grown. Part of the Institute is the Eidolon publication, "an online journal for scholarly writing about Classics that isn’t formal scholarship."

  • Another organization inspired by Foster is SALVI: Septentrionale Americanum Latinitatis Vivae Institutum (North American Institute for Living Latin Studies). It's mission is "to propagate communicative approaches to Latin language acquisition, making the entire Classical tradition of Western culture more available to—and enjoyable for—students, teachers, and the general public."

  • In 1994, Alexander Stille wrote a lengthy article on Foster and his "quixotic but compelling" attempt to save Latin. The article was for "The American Scholar" and can be found on JSTOR (the title is "Latin Fanatic: A Profile of Father Reginald Foster" in the Autumn 1994 issue). Stille would expand the article and include it in his 2002 book The Future of the Past. (Hopefully more on that later.) Here's a sample from the article:
    “Why do you want to study Latin? The question is, Why don’t people want to study Latin?” he asks the class in a loud rhetorical shout, pacing back and forth in front of the blackboard. “If you don’t know Latin, you know nothing! I had my first experience of Latin forty years ago, and I have not been bored by Latin for ten minutes in these forty years. Latin is one of the greatest things that ever happened in human history.”

    When Foster begins to shift into high gear, he picks up in speed and volume, like a high-performance car moving into overdrive. “If you don’t know Latin, you’re sitting out there on the sidelines—don’t worry, most of the world is out there with you. But if you want to see what’s going on in this whole stream of two thousand years’ worth of gorgeous literature, then you need Latin."

  • Fr. Gary Coulter has a copy of the chapter in Stille's book online. Coulter's site on Learning Latin with Fr. Reggie Foster is a great resource by itself, with links to coursework, sermons, and Vatican Radio programs by Foster.

  • Last in this list, but certainly not least, is Foster's website, maintained by his collaborator Daniel P. McCarthy. It's great to see Foster still active and teaching. Hopefully there will be more projects coming to fruition.

Update (9 Apr 2017): A review of Ossa Latinitatis Sola by Patrick J. Burns can be found here.

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