Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Italian Opera

I am glad that our beloved Holy Father has been making a stab at using English on his Korean trip, his native Spanish is at least an international language, though not perhaps in Asia. I don't know if he has attempted much in Korean, or what is becoming increasingly important internationally: Mandarin. Perhaps the most important language is kindness, a smile an embrace, a wave, of which the bishop of Rome is a past master.

What I feel is a little strange is using Italian in Korea, who apart from opera fans and some clergy in Korea speaks Italian? As a young South American sister, who spoke both Spanish and Portuguese, said to me recently, "Italian is the curse of the Church". It certainly marks those who are set for a rising career in the Church, who from their earliest days are marked out for a career n the Church, and we all know what the Holy Father thinks about careerists.

I hope I am not being xenophobic but the Italian language brings with it a certain Italian culture were traditionally efficiency is not a factor. Interestingly Cardinal Pell has attempted to removed from the board of the much troubled and apparently formerly corrupt IOR, there are no Italians running the Vatican Bank, at least at the moment. Indeed breaking from Italian culture seems, at least in theory, to be part of the Pope's strategy for reform, I think he is doomed to failure unless the Holy See starts using a global language and opens the Church up to non-Italian government ad expertise and rids itself of nepotism, still a dominant factor in Italy.

Having more or less done away with Latin the Church's working language is now Italian and with it comes a certain Italian imperialism. A friend, a professor of liturgy in an eastern European was arranging the liturgy for a group of European bishops, there were a number of cardinals in attendance, who in order of precedence presided at the liturgy, the non-Italians happily celebrated Mass either in the local language or in Latin, the Italians however insisted n using Italian although hardly anyone, least of all the laity present, spoke Italian.

I recently had to give evidence to one of the Roman congregations, they came to visit, there was a Polish Monsignor who spoke English, he was accompanied by another priest, an Italian who had no English, a non English speaking stenographer, a man dressed in lay clothes who I was told was a judge, who again spoke no English, as the interview was to be conducted in Italian they brought with them an Indian nun to act as translator, she was accompanied by another sister, the delegation consisted of six people. The Polish Monsignor asked questions in Italian, the sister translated, I answered in English, she translated into Italian, with her English or Italian occasionally corrected by the Pole, a couple of times the Italian would ask for not very ad rem clarifications, whilst the stenographer typed on his lap-top, he too, once or twice, asked for clarification of the Pole's Italian. The process took just under an hour but then the stenographer tried to save what had been typed and lost everything and it all had to be written out by hand, fortunately from memory on a prepared form, when this was done, I was given the form to read and sign, my read Italian is much better than my spoken Italian; although my statement was in Italian, the questions on the form were in the Church's official language, Latin.

The thing is that students or anyone coming to work in Rome has to spend a good year learning Italian before he can begin work. Any bishop without Italian is seriously disadvantaged, it would be impossible for a non-Italian speaking cardinal to operate in the Church, not just Rome, even if he had perfect Latin or any or all of the world languages: English, Mandarin, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Portugese whilst it is quite possible to become Pope with only Italian. It is absurd in the modern world!

Not only is it exclusive, it is expensive, of the six person delegation who came to see me, the two sisters were based in England but the four men from Rome had to be flown over here and paid, presumably at a reasonably professional rate, certainly the laymen. Today, what it took six people to ask could actually be done by e-mail or even telephone at a fraction of the cost. The Holy Father speaks of poverty but there is a baroque ostemtatiom im Italian culture which wants to employ everyone in the village. Go into any Italian bank or have anything to do with officialdom, even buying a up of coffee in a bar practically always involves half an Italian family, someone to take the order, someone to give the order to, someone to make the coffee and someone to clear-up afterwards.


vetusta ecclesia said...

Of course Bergoglio, as his name implies and like many Argentines, is of Italian abstraction.

If he can speak passable English (cf. Pius xii) in Korea why not in Europe? He has many puzzling quirks!

Jacobi said...


You raise a matter of critical importance which has been at the heart of much of the confusion in Catholic Truth and of Papal Authority, in recent Church affaires, namely language, and in particular the abandonment of

The current Pope’s native language is not Spanish, but rather Argentinian Spanish, which can be a most variable blend, dependant on background, social and financial. I speak as someone who has spent much time in Argentina, admittedly on business, but relevant nonetheless.

An Argentinian in Mexico for instance, will speak standard Spanish, (Andalusian?), lest the Mexicans fall off their chairs laughing.

Speaking to Koreans in “Spanish “ or “Italian” and more significantly in his somewhat indifferent “English” may have gone down well with the crowds , but I’m sure has hardly contributed to the deepening of Catholic thought in Continuity.

The reason a standard language, originally Greek, and then some sort of classical Latin, was adopted by the early Church, was to overcome all this confusion.
Once again, because of this false “archaeologism” which has so plagued the Church in the post-Vatican II period, we are condemned to relearn, painfully, the lessons our ancestors had to.

Future generations, after much confusion, and disintegration, may well grasp this, and adopt some standard language, such as Oxford English, hardly ever spoken now by Brits., but very much so by foreigners.

But I personally, I hope, that future Popes will save us all a lot of trouble, and just return to Latin.

ACC92 said...

Good point. But a big problem is that some of the best diocesean and curial archbishops are Italians. The patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Piacenza, Cardinal Bagnasco, Archbishop Pozzo, etc. are all splendid examples.

Deoacveritati said...

Jacobi I really hope the owner of the blog allows my comment to you.

This is what I will take issue with, you say:
"The current Pope’s native language is not Spanish, but rather Argentinian Spanish, which can be a most variable blend, dependant on background, social and financial"

Your comment is very stupid and ignorant typical american thinking that if you are not white or speak Spanish like the people of Spain with lisp then those of us who are from other countries in Hispanoamerica then we DON'T speak Spanish.

You are simply wrong and on top you are very stupid.

We all in Hispanoamerica speak Castillian the only thing is that we don't do it with the lisp.

We have certain differences in how we express ourselves sometimes or we used certain synonyms for some words but NOTHING different that we could understand what we are saying.

So please think before you speak because you comments can be very offensive.

Anonymous said...

Bring back Latin!

johnf said...

In 1976 I decided to take up Italian in evening class. I was immediately struck by how close to Latin it is.Also how easy it is to the English ear. It's far easier to understand than French which has been the foreign language of choice as taught in English schools. I learned French at school and during my career made great efforts to become proficient in the language for business. I confess that I was not very successful. In Italian, I found myself articulating and understanding far easier. Even today, when I haven't studied the language for almost 40 years, helped by the subtitles, I can still understand some of the dialogue in Italian TV programmes.

As the Vatican is in Italy, I have no problem with the working language being Italian. I guess it was still Italian even before V2.

Savonarola said...

I think we all know that there is not the remotest chance that Latin could ever again be a universal language. 'Bring back Latin' is antiquarian nostalgia. In practice, whether we like it or not, English is now the universal language in every walk of life. The only sensible option in international communication is to use English. Alongside that we can rejoice in the variety and richness of the other living languages. As schoolchildren used to say, 'Latin is a language as dead as dead can be. It killed the ancient Romans and now it's killing me.'

Nicolas Bellord said...

Deoacveritati: The fact of the matter is that Spanish, as spoken in Argentina, is not the same as that spoken in Spain. The pronunciation is different to start off with. I remember arriving in Buenos Aires from Madrid and being asked whether I had seen any 'Gosha' which puzzled me until I realised they were talking about Goya. And so on and so on. Indeed in parts of Spain such as Galicia there are differences and indeed differences in the written language. The point Jacobi is making is that for somebody in Europe who knows Spanish Spanish may not always understand some idiomatic expression peculiar to Argentinian Spanish or some colloquialism or get the exact nuance. This is always a problem in translating from one language to another. It is especially difficult with living languages where the meaning of words in a single language change over time and often become pejorative in their meaning. This is why Latin is important just because it is dead and therefore the meaning of words does not change and can therefore serve as a fixed reference for meaning. Do not be sensitive about what is standard linguistics!

Jacobi said...

@ Deoacveritati:

I am not an American and am not a fluent Spanish speaker. However I have visited Argentina and other Latin American countries fairly extensively.

My comments are based on remarks and stories told to me by my many Latin American friends, over some years, mostly Argentinian, but also from Peru, Venezuela, Columbia and Mexico. The one about Mexico is fairly recent. They are all intelligent educated middle-class middle-management, types who also speak good English, as that was necessary for their job. They would have no reason at all to mislead me about the enormous variability of Latin American “Spanish” in general. As for Argentinian “Spanish”, well that is common knowledge both in Argentina and elsewhere.

Peace be with you!

Oh I should have also said Equador. have you ever been to Manizales!

GOR said...

As I’ve noted before, when I arrived in Rome in the early 60s, Latin was the language of the Pontifical Universities. And that sat well with all of us – from every country under the sun. It was a common bond between Europeans, Americans, Africans, South Americans, Asians, etc. – during lectures. Outside of class, Italian or English were the preferred languages of communication.

Over time some professors progressively used more Italian during lectures. That did not sit well with us. Not that we didn’t understand it. By now we were all fluent. But favoring one language just because of geographic location - forgetting that this was an international community and a Universal Church – got our hackles up.

As to the vagaries of Spanish as spoken in diverse countries, that is hardly unique. A Neapolitan speaking his dialect could scarcely be understood by a Venetian - and the Roman dialect could stump both of them. Not to mention that - closer to home - a Geordie could flummox a Cockney. And so on…

John Nolan said...

The Pope used Latin, not Italian, when he celebrated Mass in Korea. Most of the singing was in Korean. He may have preached in Italian, and one can assume people were given a translation.

Pope Francis speaks a little French. He studied in Germany but admits his German is rusty. His English is probably not good enough for him to celebrate Mass in the language. When he visits the USA it will be interesting to see whether he opts for Latin or Spanish.

Robert said...

I wouldn't be so quick to throw out the Italian language or an Italo Centric Church. God chose Italy to be the center of his Church until the end of time. I guess He must like Italians a lot or see a benefit that Italian culture offers the Holy See that may not exist in another. It's best to let things be as they are knowing that God put them that way for a reason.

gemoftheocean said...

Reminds me of that I Love Lucy bit where Lucy was accused of using counterfeit money. Lucy spoke only English, and said something to Ricky who spoke English and Spanish. Ricky spoke Spanish, to a guy who knew Spanish and German. The Spanish guy spoke to a French cop who spoke German and French. And he translated the German into French for his boss. Then the chain of questions went back and forth. Hilarious. You can see it here:

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