Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Must Have Book (well, at least for Latin students...)

If you are learning Latin, or if you are Lutheran, or best of all, if you are a Lutheran and you are learning Latin, here is a resource that you'll definitely want: Catechismus Minor Martini Lutheri: The Small Catechism of Martin Luther in Latin with notes by Edward Naumann.

In the interest of full disclosure, someone mailed me a copy of the book for a review - a long time ago. Shame on me, I have been meaning to write about this wonderful resource - but somehow (imagine that!) writing a review fell through the cracks.

Let me say this much: my review is a recommendation - and it would have been so even without receiving the book as a gift.

Here's the deal: this is Luther's Small Catechism in Latin. Of course, you could simply read it from your Concordia Triglotta (if you have a Triglot, that is), which weighs as much as a bowling ball (possibly an exaggeration), or you could peruse the Catechism from your handy-dandy Bekenntnisschriften, (I'm a Lutheran pastor and a language geek, and I don't have one...). But why? This is a wonderful format, affordable, and an invaluable resource for both easy beginner-level ecclesiastical Latin and basic Lutheran doctrine.

So let me give you the skinny as to why this is such a great little book:

  1. It is a "skinny little" book (only 96 pages, paperback, 9 x 6 inches, a third of an inch thick), one that you can easily stash in a briefcase or backpack (perfect for standing in line at Wal-Mart).
  2. The font is large and easy on the eyes (and laid out beautifully with each section taking up a single page) - a real plus for teaching children.
  3. It is inexpensive (only $7.50 on Amazon!). Here is the link.
  4. It includes a preface by noted LCMS scholar Gene Edward Veith (as well as an introduction by the author).
  5. It is chock-full of extremely helpful footnotes (points of Latin grammar and references to Hebrew, Greek, German and Latin words from Scripture - well done!).
  6. Abbreviations are clearly indicated (thus sparing me a pet peeve).
  7. It is the entire text of the Small Catechism, including the morning, evening, and table prayers and the Table of Duties.
  8. There is a glossary in the back of every Latin word used in the Small Catechism!
  9. An e-book version is available for download (Kindle) for (get this) $1.00! Here is the link.

I'm embarrassed to say that I don't know Edward Naumann. And if he e-mails me and says: "Yes, you do!" I will be even more embarrassed. I'm assuming he is the same Edward Naumann who is a scholar at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. But as a teacher myself and a collector (of sorts) of Latin books - Naumann is clearly a real-world teacher of real-world students. He has put together a practical little book that is easy to use, precise, and user-friendly. It is not meant to gather dust on a shelf. It is neither burdened with too much information, nor cursed with too little. It is a Latin book that Goldilocks would appreciate. You can tote it around without need of a dictionary. Naumann has also made it accessible and affordable, and I'm surprised that no-one thought to do this sooner - especially given the current interest among Lutherans in both the Latin language and classical education.

The typical Lutheran's familiarity with the Small Catechism as well as Luther's intended young audience makes this an ideal supplement for any beginning Latin course. It is a very safe wade into ecclesiastical and medieval Latin. I wholeheartedly recommend this wonderful little edition of the Small Catechism - even if you are not a Lutheran.

Hoc certissime verum est ("this is most certainly true!").


Past Elder said...

Dear FH, Reverendus Neverendus:

Unfortunately it is not my happy lot to be a Lutheran and a Latin student, as I passed the former learning Latin via the preconciliar Roman liturgy as an altar boy (which ain't no acolyte, dammit). Then came the classic curriculum of Wheelock, Caesar, Cicero and Virgil in high school. But maybe that's close enough to establish I am not Latin-intolerant.

I hesitate to say it -- as is well known throughout the Lutheran blogosphere, I shrink from the slightest hint of controversial discourse -- but I wonder why a book written in the author's vernacular to simply and clearly present the truths of the faith to children and families should be translated into the academic language of the author's time, and his own practice was to write theological works in Latin and popular works in German.

Judas H falling down the stairs in the bibliotec (as some of us called Alcuin Library back at die Abtei)I make bold to suggest, alternatively, something Luther himself suggested as good for the learning and edification of children and students, the plays of my namesake Terence (who, like me, got the name by change in life circumstances, he, being freed from slavery, me, by being adopted, but I digress).

Father Hollywood said...

Dear PE:

Excellent questions.

First of all, this was not "translated" into Latin - at least not recently. It is in our Book of Concord in both Latin and German.

Contrary to popular belief, Luther was not opposed to Latin - not even for use in the Church's liturgy. In fact, Luther wanted the Mass to continue in both Latin and German (Latin Masses were held in some German churches until the 18th century). Luther also wanted school children to not only learn Latin, but Greek and Hebrew as well.

There is certainly nothing wrong with learning Terence, Cicero, Caesar, Virgil, Livy (and even Catullus, bless his heart), but especially among Lutherans, the Small Catechism (which they should know and should be studying their whole lives long) ought to be a natural tutor for learning Latin.

In its simplicity (the bare-bones Latin text of the Catechism) and in its helpful lexicon at the end, this book is a winner.

And, there is the added benefit of not only sharpening one's Latin skills, but actually studying the Small Catechism in the process.

Besides, our life together as Lutherans (and to cast a further net, as Western Catholic Christians) still bears the marks of the Latin language: Latin terms in our hymnal (Sanctus, Agnus Dei), in our dogmatics works (genus maiestaticum), carved on our churches (Soli Deo Gloria) and placed on our signs and banners (Sola Gratia, Sola Fide...).

The study of Latin bears unexpected treasures in the mastery of one's vernacular. And the Small Catechism is an outstanding historical ecclesiastical work - for adults and children alike - to use as a learning aid.

Past Elder said...

Oh hell no I'm not opposed to what you're doing with it down there. I can see that for a Lutheran Latin student, the Small Catechism in Latin makes a logical choice. Not to mention, if by the time I am gathered unto my ancestors, I really get everything in the profession of faith I made on entering the evangelical Lutheran church -- to uphold the Book of Concord, especially the Small Catechism -- I'll be doing real good.

Nonetheless, one generally studies texts original in a language when studying that language. On the other hand, even though to my knowledge Luther wrote the Small Catechism only in German, Latin was the academic language of his day and it appears in both in our confessions.

And actually keeping some Latin in our liturgy I would not argue with either. Or at least calling it the Agnus Dei rather than the Agnes Dei, as it does on the screen at my parish.

It's just too damn bad I'm too damn old to go to seminary. How many Lutheran pastors would be equally comfortable doing mass propers in Latin, right along with "Jesus Dropped The Charges" or some other Gospel great?

ToddPeperkorn said...

FWIW, the link to the Kindle edition says it isn't available.

Steve said...

Father Beane,
I believe you have sold me on it. We want to teach Latin to our girls, Anna the oldest is two and a half. We've decided to make it a family endeavor. When did you start to teach Leo?



Father Hollywood said...

Dear Todd:

I swapped e-mails with the author, Edward Naumann (who is currently enrolled at CTS-FW!). He told me that Kindle didn't format the footnotes correctly, so he pulled it from that format.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Steve:

If you shoot me an e-mail at larrybeane (at) gmail (dot) com [does this really fool any machines?] I will offer you some suggestions that may (or may not be) helpful!