It’s Time You Learned Latin. Here are Six Reasons Why.

De Rerum Natura, Lucretius – Cambridge University Library

Latin is a language that I picked up during my PhD studies, and it has proved useful and enjoyable. I wish that I had learned it as a youth, which is why I’ve begun teaching Latin to my children. But if you’re reading this article, I’m guessing you’re well past 8 years old, and thus in need of some motivation beyond parental obligation. Consider this, then, a call to arms for adult learners of the most useful dead language still around.

Whether you are an established scholar or a seminary student knee-deep in Hebrew and Greek already, here are six reasons why you need to begin learning, reading, and perhaps even speaking Latin tomorrow morning. Below, I will suggest the most important resource you could ever own as a student and reader of Latin.

1. Latin is the language of theology

Most authors of the first 1500 years of the church wrote in Latin, including Jerome, Augustine, and Aquinas. The Reformers often taught and wrote in Latin. The language of theology has been Latin for most of the Western church’s existence, from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and beyond. Indeed, if you hope to fully comprehend the commentaries of the previous generation (just read any of the ICC series) or read classic works from Christian authors since the Reformation including many of the Puritans and Barth, you’ll need to know your Latin to comprehend their numerous citations of classical works of theology and philosophy.

2. Latin is the key to the Classics

Some of the greatest works of ancient literature were written in Latin. To know Latin is to gain access to the mind of Caesar, Cicero, Virgil, Pliny, Ovid, and Seneca. Latin also enables one to read the Vulgate, Jerome, Athanasius, and Tertullian, to name a few. In fact, if you’re disciplined and motivated, you can give yourself an entire classical education without ever setting foot in the halls of Oxford: how you like them apples?

3. Latin is the means to intellectual vigor

The study of Latin is useful precisely because it is a “dead” language. It enables its students to enter the ancient world and to dwell there, far beyond what any translation into modern English can offer. Latin lays a foundation for robust thinking rooted in the great texts of Western civilization. The study of this not-so-dead language builds intellectual rigour that just keeps growing with use.

4. Latin is the bedrock of modern languages

Because Latin is learned not (primarily) through speaking but through an understanding of the mechanics of grammar, students are equipped to master many modern languages. This is true even for non-Romance languages, where many rules of grammar still apply. If you are an American or a Brit, you have even more reason to learn Latin: the majority of us are shamefully monolingual, which is quite an embarrassing fact given the multilingual capabilities of most of our scholarly contemporaries from other countries and regions of the world. At least since Latin isn’t spoken anymore you won’t have to embarrass yourself as when asking directions in France, in French.

5. Latin is the perfect complement to Koine Greek

Both Latin and Greek were in use at a critical juncture in history, the first century CE. Although the languages later split geographically, Latin to the West and Greek to the East, they influenced each other for centuries. Both languages complement one another in grammar and overlapping vocabulary. If you know Greek, but don’t know Latin, don’t dismiss me yet: from Latin came a number of modern languages, including French, Spanish, and Italian; Greek, on the other hand, gave birth to far fewer progeny.

6. Latin is the adventure you’ve been waiting for

The best analogy I could think of for committing yourself to the daily study of Latin is if you were to make a decision to take a long hike every morning outdoors. Reading texts in Latin, albeit slowly at first, is akin to advancing further forwards and upwards along a mountain ascent. The paths are simple at first, meandering slowly upwards amongst blossoming meadows.

As you progress, however, the climbing gets steadier and harder, yet at the same time, the vistas become grander. Although you will get lost in the woods now and again, you will also periodically emerge at the edge of a glistening mountain lake, tired but refreshed, elated with the progress that comes with dedicated hard work. There aren’t many things in life that could compete with studying Latin every morning before the rest of the day’s troubles encroach. Start every day with a walk through difficult but rewarding terrain and begin an adventure that will last a lifetime.

I invite you, if you haven’t already, to pick up the torch and run up that mountain. To further that pursuit, you should consider helping a resource currently on Logos pre-pub make it to production, the Oxford Latin Dictionary, or “OLD” for short. You can help get this resource to publication on Logos by signing up early, and encouraging others to do the same.

My personal guarantee to you is that your scholarly research and writing will flourish with the Oxford Latin Dictionary to hand. But don’t take my word for it; listen to what others have said:

By far the most scholarly, reliable, and convenient bilingual dictionary of its scope for any language. The Latinist cannot live without it. — American Notes and Queries

Indispensable for any serious, advanced study in Latin language or literature, and a must for the reference collections of academic and research libraries. — American Reference Books Annual

This massive resource (2 volumes and 40,000 headwords in print) is an absolute must for the student of Latin, much as HALOT, DCH, LSJ, and BDAG are the primary lexical resources for students of Hebrew and Greek.

Because the Oxford Latin Dictionary is currently under development for digital use on Logos, you can get this resource for only $288.99, instead of the later price of $359.99. If you were to buy the print editions (which are not integrated with your entire Logos library, nor instantly searchable) you would pay $450.

Help get the Oxford Latin Dictionary published on Logos, and start tomorrow morning with a walk up the mountain.

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Written by
Tavis Bohlinger

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger is Editor-in-Chief of the Logos Academic Blog and Creative Director at Reformation Heritage Books. He holds a PhD from Durham University and writes across multiple genres, including academia, poetry, and screenwriting. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and three children.

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    • Good question, Larry. The OLD is less cluttered and better presented than Lewis and Short, however it only covers Classical Latin. Anything later and you’ll need other dictionaries. But it’s sort of like having LSJ and BDAG for Greek. They complement each other well, especially when reading works pre-200 CE.

  • Question: Is the OLD actually worth the price if one is only interested in Latin from, say, Jerome, Augustine, and Aquinas?

    • Hi Andrew, you ask an important question. Since the OLD covers works pre-200CE, you might think there is no use for it when reading later, Ecclesiastical Latin. However, the authors you have just noted cite from the Classics frequently, which is where having the OLD to hand will prove extremely valuable. This is especially true considering the amount of citations to be found with each entry in OLD. You can view sample pages on the product page.

    • Hi John, I have already been asking our Mobile Ed team to create this! Will keep putting pressure on them, thanks for the encouragement.

  • “The language of theology has been Latin for most of the church’s existence” Uh, Western church, maybe. Let’s not forget that whole massive Eastern Christianity thing with our western European perspective.

    • Ben, you make a very good point and I stand corrected. I’ve amended the language in the post accordingly.

      • Don’t back down, Tavis. The Eastern Church has existed alongside the Western Church for over 1,000 years, and any Christian you meet would be hard pressed to name one book, one theologian, or even one name of any prominent Eastern Church figure. How many books does Logos even carry from the Eastern Church? Any commentaries? A few devotional books perhaps from 1500 years ago.
        For all practical purposes, Latin has been the language of the Church.
        But it is a bit weird that Christianity is divided into two basic churches, and they have almost nothing to do with each other. Who would have imagined?

        • Larry, the eastern churches have existed for roughly two thousand years, and well-known figures (among English speaking western Christians) include Sts. John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Cyril of Alexandria, and Gregory Nazianzen, as well as (much more recently) Andrei Rublev, Gregory Palamas, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Andy Warhol. Among the well-known living Eastern Christians are Patriarchs Bartholomew and Kirill, Metropolitan Hilarion, and David Bentley Hart.

          FaithLife carries plenty of Eastern Orthodox resources, as well as some Eastern Catholic ones.

          Furthermore, the eastern churches have a great deal to do with the West. The Catholic ones are, of course, in communion with the western Catholics, and the Eastern (including Oriental) Orthodox are vastly nearer to Latin rite Catholics than are virtually all Protestants.

          • Dear Sine
            I think I’m going to stick with my original comments. You certainly can name more Orthodox Christians than most Westerners. Maybe I should have been more clear in my comments. I don’t even consider the Eastern Christians before 1054. All the collections of the fathers include all the Latin, Syriac, and Greek fathers. But after the split, most Western Christians, including the scholars, know very little about them. Logos has about 24 pages of Orthodox works. That’s less than there is in Community Pricing. And there are I believe three commentaries among them, Hebrews, Job, and maybe Romans. I’m not counting Chrysostom, Basil, and the other pre-split writers.
            So when a Westerner calls Latin the language of the Church for two thousand years, I think we can take it in the context of what most Western Christians know.

  • “Latin also enables one to read the Vulgate, Jerome, and Athanasius” – while it is true that we do have Old Latin translations of Athanasius, he wrote Greek with some possible writings in Coptic as well. Quasten’s Patrology has Athanasius in Volume 3, “The Golden Age of Greek Patristic Literature.” I believe Tertullian was the first Church Father to write in Latin and would be a better author to list.

    • Thanks for this, David. I’ve gone ahead and added Tertullian’s name to the list.

  • I love Latin and the sixty nine years that have passed since learning Latin for two years at school, have not diminished my love for it. Now, I would buy the two volumes so masterly presented in the write up, but at the price of $289.99? I cannot afford them in the same way as I cannot afford so much on Logos that I would like.

Written by Tavis Bohlinger