Shakespeare on the Latin in the Pope’s Resignation Text

I smell false Latin“I smell false Latin.”

(Love’s Labours Lost, act 5, sc. 1)

Comment.  The day has finally come when my immensely useless learning (see “About the author” in the menu for details) can be put to task.
With all respect for the Pope and for the Catholics, Benedict XVI’s resignation Latin speech contains (2) errors.
Says the text, “Fratres carissimi Non solum propter tres canonizations ad hoc Concistorium vos convocavi, sed etiam  ut vobis decisionem magni momenti pro Ecclesiae vitae communicem….”
Translation, “Dear brothers, Not only for three canonizations I have convoked you to this Consistory, but also to communicate to you a decision of great moment for the life of the Church.”
Now then, an ablative, NOT a genitive is called for in “the life of the Church”. That is “pro Ecclesiae vita” and NOT “pro Ecclesiae vitae.”
And later “…necessaries est, qui ultimis mensibus in me modo tali minuitur, ut incapacitatem meam ad ministerium mihi commissum bene administrandum agnoscere debeam…”
Translation, “…(maintaining vigor of body and spirit) is necessary, vigor that during the last months was so reduced that I must recognize my incapacity to administer the ministry entrusted to me.”
“Ad ministerium mihi commissum” employs an accusative sentence structure where instead a dative is called for, “ministerio mihi commisso.”
With all respect to His Holiness, notwithstanding the errors, the Latin in question is vastly superior to that understood by Mistress Quickly in the Merry Wives of Windsor. Where Master Evans, a Welshman (whose accent is reproduced by the misspellings), teaches Latin to William Page, son of Mr. and Mrs. Page. And the said Welsh pronunciation prompts Mistress Quickly to deliver her own interpretation of Evans’ Latin, as follows,
EVANS (to pupil). I pray you, have your remembrance, child; Accusativo, hing, hang, hog.
MISTRESS QUICKLY (listening). “Hang hog” is Latin for bacon, I warrant you.
Nor we should overlook the answer that Queen Catherine gives Cardinal Wolsey, her enemy who addresses her in Latin,

“…no Latin;
I am not such a truant since my coming,
As not to know the language I have lived in:
A strange tongue makes my cause more strange, suspicious;
Pray, speak in English”
(King Henry VIII, act 3, sc. 1)

In other words, “No Latin please, we are British”.
All this and other equally useless knowledge you will find in the book, “Your Daily Shakespeare.”

Suggestion for use.  Express your skepticism at a proposal or idea even if expressed in English. And if he says, “But I am speaking English” reply “Perhaps, but I cannot understand you.”

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9 Responses to Shakespeare on the Latin in the Pope’s Resignation Text

  1. cyn1020 says:

    I wish I had read your suggestion above a hour ago before I replied to a comment upon one of my comments in a editor/writers’ group. Her comment contained all English words, but they had apparently been stirred like alphabet soup, because she was perfectly incoherent. Which means her thinking is, too. The political implications of mass incoherence are staggering.

  2. cyn1020 says:

    Check this out. I linked the page below to this page. Interesting how this resignation has stirred up an interest in Latin. I studied it in high school and loved it. Studied ancient Greek in college. As I said on the page below, if you removed the Latin derivatives from English, you wouldn’t have much left. Jimmie, I have a copy of Winnie the Pooh in Latin. Do you love it?

    • jimmie says:

      Thank you Cynthia. I believe somewhere I have the Latin version of Winnie the Pooh. In truth I keep Lucrece’s version of “The Nature of Things” on my nightstand for occasional perusal if, after other readings I still feel awake.

  3. Cheri says:

    I am currently taking a Latin class and we examined a little of the pope’s resignation speech. One question arose about this sentence: “Frātrēs cārissimī, ex tōtō corde grātiās agō vōbīs prō omni amōre et labōre, quō mēcum pondus ministeriī meī portāstis et veniam petō prō omnibus dēfectibus meīs.” Someone asked whether ‘omni’ should have been ‘omnibus’ (to cover both ‘amore’ and ‘labore’), or whether there was perhaps some distributive property at work. Could you enlighten us? Thanks!
    A google search on errors in the pope’s speech led me here — what a delightful find!

  4. jimmie says:

    Yes Cheri, it should be “omnibus” but in the version I have, it says “omnibus”, plural dative. See for example,

  5. jimmie says:

    Cheri, I overlooked the previous case of “omnis, omne”. The validity of your objections depends on how you wish to interpret the relevant words. “pro omni amore et labore” refers to the uniqueness and singularity of love and of labor. Grammatically it would be more accurate to say “pro omni amore et omni labore”, but in this case style suggests the omission of the second “omni”. If “omnibus” were used, the very sound of “omnibus” leads to think of multiple but undefined “loves” and “labors”, which loses (at least in my opinion) the wanted effect.

  6. George Orwell says:

    I don’t believe that the construction “ad ministerium mihi commissum bene administrandum” contains an error. “ad” is used to denote purpose. “ministerium mihi commissum” would be the direct object of the gerund, but when the gerundive is used, it is made to agree with whatever case is called for, obviously accusative after “ad”. To be sure, one could read the construction as either gerund or gerundive, which is always the case when the direct object of a gerund following “ad” is a singular of the masculine or neuter. So, he is acknowledging his incapacity for the purpose of managing the ministry entruted to him. The dative is also used for purpose but the “ad” construction is by no means incorrect. There was a problem of case later in the speech, where he says, “declaro me ministerio Epicopi Romae…mihi per manus Cardinalium…commissum renuntiare”. “renuntiare” here correctly takes the dative “ministerio” (like the legal phrase “quisque renuntiare potest iuri pro se introducto”), but “commissum” obviously is not in agreement with “ministerio” as it should be.

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