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On the Origin of Ecclesiastical Latin

The basis, and much of the content, of Ecclesiastical Latin is to be found in the vernacular speech of the Roman people of which but little survives in literature. The form of Latin which is most commonly studied is that which is to be found in the writings of the great authors who lived in the century before the commencement of the Christian era. To this form of the language the name ‘Classical’ has been given, and it is often referred to as the Latin of the Golden Age. All the books of this period that have come down to us were the work of highly trained literary men who were thoroughly acquainted with Greek literature and who imitated of set purpose not only its form, but also its content… The genius of the old Latin language, like that of the old Roman people, expressed itself in action and was rich only in verbs and in concrete terms. Abstract ideas were quite foreign to native Latin thought, and, when the introduction of Greek philosophy rendered it necessary to express such ideas in speech, recourse was had either to a periphrasis or to new-coined or adopted words… The most potent influences in the formation of early Ecclesiastical Latin were (1) the Vernacular Latin of the period, by which the Fathers allowed themselves to be influenced in order that they might be understood by half-educated people, (2) the Old Latin version of the Bible with its many Graecisms and Hebraisms, (3) the Classical Latin as taught in the schools, of which all the Fathers were pupils, or even teachers. We might perhaps add a fourth source of influence to the above, namely the writings of Tertullian, who was an author of a very original and independent type of genius and who had great influence on all his Christian successors, especially on Cyprian.

H.P.V. Nunn – An Introduction to Ecclesiastical Latin

Thomas Merton on the Spiritual Life

The spiritual life is first of all a life. It is not merely something to be known and studied, it is to be lived. Like all life, it grows sick and dies when it is uprooted from its proper element. Grace is engrafted on our nature and the whole man is sanctified by the presence and action of the Holy Spirit. The spiritual life is not, therefore, a life entirely uprooted from man’s human condition and transplanted into the realm of the angels. We live as spiritual men when we live as men seeking God. If we are to become spiritual, we must remain men. And if there were not evidence of this everywhere in theology, the mystery of the Incarnation itself would be ample proof of it. Why did Christ become man if not to save men by uniting them mystically with God through his own sacred humanity? Jesus lived the ordinary life of the men of his time, in order to sanctify the ordinary lives of men of all time. If we want to be spiritual, then, let us first of all live our lives. Let us not fear the responsibilities and the inevitable distractions of the work appointed for us by the will of God. Let us embrace reality and thus find ourselves immersed in the life-giving will and wisdom of God which surround us everywhere.

Thomas Merton – Thoughts in Solitude

(Merton’s Thoughts on Solitude is available as our free book of the month through the end of the April.)

Three Little Latin Words Announce the Resurrection

In Matthew 28:6 an Angel begins his announcement of the Resurrection of Christ to Mary Magdalene with three simple words: Non Est Hic (οὐκ ἔστιν ὧδε). The three simplest words in the Latin language proclaim the great miracle of the empty tomb and Christ’s defeat of death.

St. Peter Chrysologus reads the passage thus: “For their faith had been bowed by the cruel storm of His Passion, so that they sought Him yet as crucified and dead; I know that ye seek Jesus which was crucified; the weight of the trial had bent them to look for the Lord of heaven in the tomb, but, He is not here.”

No man witnessed the resurrection. It is revealed by the empty tomb, the one moment when Christ’s absence is cause for celebration, and then by the appearance of the risen Lord.

Christ is Risen, Alleluia!

Homily on the Passion from the Dumb Ox

St. Thomas Aquinas’s major works of theology remain widely read and discussed, but his homilies and academic sermons are neglected. Here’s a homily he delivered on Palm Sunday on the subject of the Passion. The homily displays St. Thomas’ clarity, thoroughness, and closeness to Scripture.

the Lord’s work and ours

And they crucified Him.”- Matthew 27:35.

We ought to consider three things concerning the Passion of the Lord—firstly, its nature; secondly, its power; thirdly, its benefit.

I. On the first head it is to he noted, that the Passion of Christ was very bitter for three reasons—(1) On account of the goodness of Him suffering. (2) On account of the indignity of His Passion. (3) On account of the cruelty of those carrying out the sentence. The goodness of Him suffering is manifest from three circumstances—Firstly, because He harmed no one: 1 Peter 2:22, “Who did no sin.” Secondly, because He most patiently sustained the injuries laid upon Him: 1 Peter 2:23, “Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again;” Jer. 11:19, “I was like a lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter.” Thirdly, He was doing good to all: Acts 10:38, “Who went about doing good;” John 10:32, “Many good works have I shewed you from My Father.” The indignity of His Death is manifest from three things—Firstly, he was judged, which was the most wicked of all: Luke 23:21, “But they cried, saying, Crucify Him, crucify Him.” Secondly, because of the many indignities which He suffered: Matthew 27:27–30, “Gathered unto Him the whole band of soldiers. And they stripped Him, and put on Him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon His head, and a reed in His right hand … And they spit upon Him.” Thirdly, because He was condemned to a most shameful death: Wisd. 2:20, “Let us condemn Him to a most shameful death.” The cruelty of those who crucified Him is seen from three things—Firstly, very cruelly flagellated Him before death: Matthew 27:26, “When he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.” Secondly, in giving Him at the point of death vinegar and hyssop to drink: John 19:29, “They filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to His mouth;” Ps. 69, “In My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink.” Thirdly, in wounding Him even after death: John 19:34, “One of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side.”

II. On the second head it is to be noted, that the power of His Passion appeared in three things—(1) In heaven; it took away the light from it, Luke 23:44, 45, “There was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened.” (2) In earth, for it trembled, Matthew 27:51, “The earth did quake and the rocks rent.” (3) In Hades, who delivered up its dead, Matthew 27:52, “Many bodies of the Saints which slept arose.” The heavens declare the power of the Passion of Christ; the earth proclaims it; Hades announced it. Phil. 2:8, 9, “Obedient unto death.… That at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.”

III. On the third head it is to be noted, that the benefit of the Passion extended to inhabitants of heaven, earth, and hell. By the Passion of Christ the heavenly ones were recruited; earthly men were liberated from the hand of the Devil; and the holy fathers who were in Hades, were delivered from that place. Of the first, Coloss. 1:20, “To reconcile all things unto Himself by Him, whether things in earth or things in heaven.” Of the second, John 12:31, “Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the princes of this world be cast out;” Coloss. 2:15, “Having spoiled principalities and powers.” Of the third, Zech. 9:11, “I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.”

Tuesday of Holy Week: Commentary from the Church Fathers

The Gospel reading for Tuesday of Holy Week is John 13:21–33, 36–38 (open the daily reading in the Verbum web app). How do the Fathers of the Church read the Gospel?

It is no light question, brethren, that meets us in the Gospel of the blessed John, when he says: “When Jesus had thus said, He was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.” Was it for this reason that Jesus was troubled, not in flesh, but in spirit, that He was now about to say, “One of you shall betray me”? Did this occur then for the first time to His mind, or was it at that moment suddenly revealed to Him for the first time, and so troubled Him by the startling novelty of so great a calamity? Was it not a little before that He was using these words, “He that eateth bread with me will lift up his heel against me”? And had He not also, previously to that, said, “And ye are clean, but not all”? where the evangelist added, “For He knew who should betray Him:” to whom also on a still earlier occasion He had pointed in the words, “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” Why is it, then, that He “was now troubled in spirit,” when “He testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me”? Was it because now He had so to mark him out, that he should no longer remain concealed among the rest, but be separated from the others, that therefore “He was troubled in spirit”? Or was it because now the traitor himself was on the eve of departing to bring those Jews to whom he was to betray the Lord, that He was troubled by the imminency of His passion, the closeness of the danger, and the swooping hand of the traitor, whose resolution was foreknown? For some such cause it certainly was that Jesus “was troubled in spirit,” as when He said, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour; but for this cause came I unto this hour.” And accordingly, just as then His soul was troubled as the hour of His passion approached; so now also, as Judas was on the point of going and coming, and the atrocious villainy of the traitor neared its accomplishment, “He was troubled in spirit.”

St. Augustine – Homilies on the Gospel of John

His being troubled in spirit, was the human part, suffering under the excess of the spiritual. For if every Saint lives, acts, and suffers in the spirit, how much more is this true of Jesus, the Rewarder of Saints.


Next, dearly beloved, as John the Evangelist says, when the Lord “handed over bread that had been dipped” to his betrayer as a clear sign, the devil seized on Judas completely. He now possessed, in the act of his wickedness, the one whom before he had shackled with evil thoughts. While [Judas] reclined with the others at table only with respect to his body, in his mind he was arming the hatred of priests, the lies of witnesses, and the rage of ignorant people. When the Lord saw what infamy Judas was intent upon, he said, “What you are doing, do quickly.” This was the word not of one commanding, but allowing; not of one in fear, but of one prepared. The Lord had power over all time but showed himself as allowing no delay for the traitor and as carrying out his Father’s will for the redemption of the world, so that he neither forced nor feared the crime prepared by his persecutors.

Pope St. Leo the Great

Next, since He had delivered these injunctions to them because they were about to traverse the whole world, upon reflecting that the traitor would be deprived of both these advantages and would enjoy the benefit of neither of them—neither of patient endurance in his trials nor of the services of persons extending him hospitality—Christ was once more troubled. It was to reveal this, and to make it clear that He was troubled on account of the traitor, that the Evangelist added: ‘When Jesus had said these things, he was troubled in spirit and said solemnly, “One of you will betray me.” ’ Once again He struck them all with terror by not mentioning the traitor by name. Moreover, some were in doubt, even though they were conscious of no wrong-doing, for they considered Christ’s statement more to be trusted than their own reason. And that is why they looked at one another. Therefore, by limiting the entire matter of His betrayal to one man He reduced their fear, but by adding ‘One of you’ He disturbed them all.

St. John Chrysostom – Commentary on Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist: Homilies 48–88

Three Readings for Palm Sunday

Jesus’ Death is part of the mystery of God’s unfolding plan. The Salvation the Lord offers us isn’t always realized in the situations of this life; sometimes our deliverance from the forces that oppose and oppress us occurs in the Resurrection. Nonetheless, this prayer helps us to find meaning in our suffering, to have confidence in our trials, and to re-affirm our faith when things don’t go our way by remembering that God is in ultimate control. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we end by asking that we not be led into temptation and that we be delivered from evil. The temptation we most want to avoid is that of believing that God has abandoned us, God hates us, or that God doesn’t care about us. When we pray to be delivered from evil, we are not praying to be preserved from it (that is unrealistic in a world infected by sin) but that we will not be overcome by it; that means we pray for perseverance, deliverance, vindication, and salvation from the evil situations we endure.

Come Follow Me: Discipleship Reflections on the Sunday Gospel Readings for Liturgical Year

What a heady beginning to the Passover festivities this day seemed to be for the apostles. It started out with this unexpected triumphant moment, when all their secret ambitions of glory and fame seemed to be coming true. Jesus rode into Jerusalem amidst the acclamation and praise of the people, the crowds going wild. Though the apostles had listened to the teaching of the Master about humility and the last place, the roots of ambitious excitement die hard. In fact, just listening to Jesus’ teaching wasn’t enough. Their ambitions would only die with his own death, when they would be hiding together in a dark closet somewhere, hoping to escape with their lives… In the journey we fall and are forgiven, fall again and are forgiven again. In the journey we discover that the cross does not have the last word, and never will. We are not people of the cross, but people of the resurrection!

Lenten Grace: Daily Gospel Reflections

What God would not permit His Scriptures to pass over in silence, we too may not pass over in silence. And you shall listen to it. Our Lord’s passion, as we know, happened but once; Christ died once, the just for the unjust. And we know, we possess it as certain and hold with unshakable faith, that Christ rising again from the dead, dieth now no more, and death shall no more have dominion over Him. These are the Apostle’s words. Yet, for fear we should forget what occurred but once, it is re-enacted every year for us to remember. Does Christ die as often as the celebration of Easter comes round? No; the yearly remembrance brings before our eyes, in a way, what once happened long ago and stirs in us the same emotions as if we beheld our Lord hanging upon the cross; not in mockery, of course, but as believers. For as He hung on the tree He was mocked; seated in heaven He is worshiped. Or rather, is He not still being mocked, though now our anger is not directed against the Jews, who at any rate derided Him as He was dying, not when He was reigning? And who is there that even today derides Christ? Would there were but one, would there were but two, would they could be numbered! All the chaff of His own threshing floor mocks Him, and the wheat groans to witness its Lord insulted. I would groan over it with you; indeed, it is the season for mourning. We are celebrating our Lord’s passion; it is the season for sighing and weeping, the season for making confession and supplication. Yet who among us is capable of shedding tears in proportion to such immense sorrow?

St. Augustine on the Psalms, Vol. 1

And then there were eight…

Only eight books remain in the Best of Benedict XVI tournament: Introduction to Christianity, Principles of Catholic Theology, The Spirit of the Liturgy, Mary: The Church at the Source, Dogma and Preaching, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, Jesus of Nazareth, and God’s Word: Scripture, Tradition, Office.

Even if you haven’t voted on the earlier rounds, you can start voting now. Books that lose are on sale, with higher discount percentages the further they make it in the tournament.

Will the top seeds, Introduction to Christianity, The Spirit of the Liturgy, Jesus of Nazareth, and Dogma and Preaching advance? Is there a surprise contender? Vote now!

The Best of Benedict XVI

March is a month of tournaments, and every year we host our own Catholic tournament, March Matchups. This month the works of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI face off against each other to find the best.

We’ve pitted 32 resources against each other to compete for your votes. Pick your favorites, cast your votes, and save up to 50%—your vote determines the discount.

Winning resources advance to the next round; the more rounds they win, the deeper the discount.

Vote now on your favorites!

The Thomist Who Loved Wittgenstein

Ludwig Wittgenstein

It will become evident that my debt is not only to Aquinas but also to a certain kind of modern interpreter. Once, largely through the work of Wittgenstein (1889–1951), the centuries-long domination of Western thinking by Cartesian and related empiricist doctrines had been broken, it became possible for philosophers to look back with a fresh understanding to pre-Cartesian thinking, in particular to Aquinas, and to discover how very congenial so much of his writing is to modern styles of questioning and answering. So I have been able to borrow shamelessly from Wittgenstein himself, but also from Elizabeth Anscombe (1919–2001), Peter Geach, Philippa Foot, Anthony Kenny, Alasdair MacIntyre and Gilbert Ryle (1900–1976) – though, perhaps, they (those of them still living at any rate) would not all acknowledge, or even recognize, their insights in the simplifications to which they have been reduced. This also means that what I have to say will sometimes seem strange to the older kind of ‘Thomist’ who was, I believe, often unwittingly influenced by empiricist or Cartesian presuppositions. So responses to my reflections and expositions are likely to take the form of arguments from many sides. But what other reason is there for writing any philosophical book?

Herbert McCabe, OP – The Good Life

The late Herbert McCabe, OP, longtime editor of New Blackfriars and author of many posthumously published books, was not typical of Dominican friars of his or later generations in that he paired his love of St. Thomas Aquinas with a keen interest in the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Wittgenstein had several prominent Catholic students. Foremost were Elizabeth Anscombe and Peter Geach, who arranged a Catholic funeral and burial for their teacher despite his never joining the Church. As McCabe writes above in his introduction to The Good Life, he read Wittgenstein as a way to reach beyond or beside the limitations of modern thinking and thus as a pathway to earlier thinking. Earlier thinking meant, chiefly, St. Thomas Aquinas.

McCabe shares with other philosophers in Wittgenstein’s lineage a clarity and playfulness of prose. He was relieved of his editing duties at New Blackfriars in 1967 for penning an editorial that criticized a former contributor for publicly leaving the Church. When he became editor again in 1970 he began his editorial, “As I was saying before I was so oddly interrupted…” Paul O’Grady notes that McCabe and Wittgenstein shared an absence of careerism and care for academic (and in Fr. Herbert’s case, ecclesiastical) decorum and self-advancement. Both chose a life of voluntary poverty. Neither published much in his lifetime, but each left an estimable (and now well mined) nachlass.

Not only inspired by both, McCabe charted the overlapping concerns of St. Thomas Aquinas and Wittgenstein: “When Wittgenstein in the Tractatus says “Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is”: (6.44) it seems to me that he is engaged with the same question as St Thomas when he speaks of esse.”

Herbert McCabe, OP
Herbert McCabe, OP

McCabe’s books and articles are free of philosophical or theological jargon—indeed, they are accessible always to any educated reader and often funny—so whatever one makes of his conclusions, his way of writing offers lessons in how to write and think about theology. (He shares these qualities with another Thomist whom we featured on this blog, Josef Pieper.)

Titles from Herbert McCabe, OP available in Verbum:

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