Sunday, October 16, 2016

Learning Latin with Saint Augustine: Securus Iudicat Orbis Terrarum

In 1839, an Anglican priest named John Henry Newman read a single sentence written more than a thousand and four hundred years earlier by Saint Augustine. And this changed the history of the Anglican Church.

Who would have thought that Latin words penned so long ago could change the course of history so many years later?

Newman had been an ardent advocate of the "Via Media," arguing that the Anglican Church was the "Middle Road" between Catholicism and Protestantism. 

He read the following words:

Quapropter securus judicat orbis terrarum, bonos non esse qui se dividunt ab orbe terrarum, in quacumque parte orbis terrarum. (Contra Epist. Parmen. 3.24)
And on this account, the world securely judges that those who divide themselves from the world are not good, in whatever part of the world (they are).

The context was the position of heretics against the Universal Church.

And Newman immediately concluded that his movement was flawed. He immediately concluded that the Protestant Reformation itself was the "bonos non esse qui se dividunt." 

Though shaken to his core, it would not be until 1845 that Newman converted to Roman Catholicism. 

Newman eventually became a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. His efforts results in what he termed the "Second Spring" of Catholicism in Britain. 

My Story

I followed a similar path. I was raised a Lutheran, but I stumbled on my own "securus iudicat" moment while at Lutheran Seminary. 

I can still remember it. I was sitting in the Seminary Library, a full length wall painting of Martin Luther across from me. 

I was reading 1st Timothy. I read the following:

But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Tim 3:15).

And I was suddenly wondering, what is the "pillar and bulwark of the truth"? 

Is it God (Good Protestant answer)? Or is it the Church (Good Catholic/Orthodox answer)?

I can remember my hand actually shaking as I reached for my Greek New Testament. 

I knew that the answer was as simple as the grammatical case of the words "pillar and bulwark." If the "pillar and bulwark" was God, those words would have to be in the genitive case to be in apposition with "of the living God" (θεου ζωντος).

But if they were in the nominative, then the Church itself was the "Pillar and Bulwark of the Truth." 

The existential premise of the Protestant Movement was that "The Church" had fallen into error and thus needed to be reformed.

But if the Church itself was the "Pillar and Bulwark of the Truth," then it couldn't have fallen into error.

I turned to the page in question.

στυλος και εδραιωμα της αληθειας

F#@k!   Nominative.

If you are scandalized by my use of this expletive, I apologize by explaining that my life had just been turned upside down.

I sat there looking at the Greek words with sorrow. I looked up at the painting of Martin Luther and I remember tears flowing from my eyes.

Certainly, a "securus iudicat" moment is a deeply personal experience. Many Anglicans read that passage from St. Augustine without concluding they have to leave the Anglican Church like Newman did. Many Protestants can read 1 Timothy 3:15 without concluding they have to become a Catholic or Orthodox. 

Like Newman, it would be some years before I could muster the courage to break my Lutheran mother's heart and depart from the Lutheran Communion.

But I eventually did so. And she was heart-broken by it.

Ora pro me, mater mea. Et oro pro te...
Pray for me, my mother. And I pray for you..

Here's a grammatical description of the quote from Saint Augustine:

Grammar Points
And on this account
nom. sing. masc. adj.
sēcūrus, sēcūra, sēcūrum
3rd pers. sing. pres. act. ind. verb
iūdicō, iūdicāre, iūdicāvī, iūdicātus
the globe
nom. sing. masc. noun
orbis, orbis
of lands
gen. pl. fem. noun
terra, terrae
acc. pl. masc. adj.
bonus, bona, bonum; acc. in indirect statement construction
to be
pres. inf.
sum, esse, fui; inf. in indirect statement construction
nom. sing. masc. rel. pronoun
qui, quae, quod
acc. pl. refl. pronoun
se, sui
3rd pers. pl. pres. act. ind. verb
dīvidō, dīvidere, dīvīsī, dīvīsus
Prep. + Abl
the globe
abl. sing. masc. noun
orbis, orbis
of lands
gen. pl. fem. noun
terra, terrae
Prep. + Abl.
abl. sing. fem. adj.
quīcumque, quaecumque, quodcumque
abl. sing. fem. noun
pars, partis
of the globe
gen. sing. masc. noun
orbis, orbis
of lands
gen. pl. fem. noun
terra, terrae

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