- GRAEME WOOD JUNE 9, 2021 […] Princeton’s classics department had ceased requiring its students to study Latin and Greek […]. A classics department without Latin and Greek is like a math department without multiplication and division, or an art department without paint. More than a thousand years ago, the monk Ælfric prefaced his Latin Grammar by saying it was “the key that unlocks the understanding of books.” I had a vision of a new generation of Princeton classicists, sniffing and thwacking at padlocked volumes of Thucydides or Cicero with looks of total incomprehension, like Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson trying to get the files “in the computer” in Zoolander.”
The writer goes on to say that the effect of taking away the requirement will be that more people will enroll in the classics department and more will end up taking Latin and Greek than before. Whatever. I bet they just don’t have the people who can teach the languages anymore. This is happening all around. Self-imposed dark ages, here we come.
Now consider the Pontifical Biblical Institute, the most academic of all Catholic institutions and the pride of the Jesuits who run it (right into the ground). A “licentiate” there is considered a doctorate at Harvard Divinity School, or it used to be back in the day. Not so sure now. When I was getting my degree at the PIB, there was already talk of dumbing down languages when these are absolutely essential to knowing the Scriptures in their historical philological veracity. Within a year or two, for instance, after my departure, the propaedeutic year (before you’re even an actual student), the student who doesn’t know the alphabet in Greek or Hebrew (Latin and modern languages are presumed and must be proven), must, in their first semester, go through what most seminaries will do in three years for Greek, and what Harvard Divinity School will only do in two full years of classes for Hebrew (using their own grammar). In the second semester, just to give an example for the Hebrew, the student is expected to be able to parse and translate say, Deuteronomy, Joshua, first and second Samuel, first and second Kings, first and second Chronicles… and some poetical texts with all their hapax legomena. :-)
The problem with the PIB’s dumbing down – at least their desire back in the day – is that they actually wanted the dumbing down so that the post-Vatican II dumbing down couldn’t possibly be reversed. I have heard this from first-hand sources so many times by such diverse players in such different academic circles and with such rebellious joy that I just can’t imagine that they are pulling a Princeton, dumbing down so as to build everything back. No.
There is hope however. I have met many students at the PIB who are quietly rebelling even while getting their degrees. The present on-their-last-legs profs who hotly desire dumbing down will soon be replaced by those who want the living Truth of Jesus, the Truth that we find in the Scriptures. And that a source of consolation. God always wins.