Benedict XVI resigns Papal office—in Latin; our philological observations on the Pope’s momentous 10 February 2013 ‘declaratio’

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Pope Benedict XVI welcomes the Choir of Westminster Abbey to St. Peter’s Basilica, 29 June 2012. Credit: Westminster Abbey Press Office

It’s not often you find an announcement this important being made in Latin!

Here is the full text of Pope Benedict XVI’s historic 10 February 2013 ‘declaratio‘ in which he announced—in Latin—his intention to resign from the Papacy at the end of that month….

Fratres carissimi: Non solum propter tres canonizationes ad hoc Consistorium vos convocavi, sed etiam ut vobis decisionem magni momenti pro Ecclesiae vita communicem. Conscientia mea iterum atque iterum coram Deo explorata ad cognitionem certam perveni vires meas ingravescente aetate non iam aptas esse ad munus Petrinum aeque administrandum.

Bene conscius sum hoc munus secundum suam essentiam spiritualem non solum agendo et loquendo exsequi debere, sed non minus patiendo et orando. Attamen in mundo nostri temporis rapidis mutationibus subiecto et quaestionibus magni ponderis pro vita fidei perturbato ad navem Sancti Petri gubernandam et ad annuntiandum Evangelium etiam vigor quidam corporis et animae necessarius est, qui ultimis mensibus in me modo tali minuitur, ut incapacitatem meam ad ministerium mihi commissum bene administrandum agnoscere debeam.

Quapropter bene conscius ponderis huius actus plena libertate declaro me ministerio Episcopi Romae, Successoris Sancti Petri, mihi per manus Cardinalium die 19 aprilis MMV commisso renuntiare ita ut a die 28 februarii MMXIII, hora 20, sedes Romae, sedes Sancti Petri vacet et Conclave ad eligendum novum Summum Pontificem ab his quibus competit convocandum esse.

Fratres carissimi, ex toto corde gratias ago vobis pro omni amore et labore, quo mecum pondus ministerii mei portastis et veniam peto pro omnibus defectibus meis.

Nunc autem Sanctam Dei Ecclesiam curae Summi eius Pastoris, Domini nostri Iesu Christi confidimus sanctamque eius Matrem Mariam imploramus, ut patribus Cardinalibus in eligendo novo Summo Pontifice materna sua bonitate assistat.

Quod ad me attinet etiam in futuro vita orationi dedicata Sanctae Ecclesiae Dei toto ex corde servire velim.

Ex Aedibus Vaticanis, die 10 mensis februarii MMXIII 

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

The announcement certainly was a historic one. No Pope had resigned in almost 600 years—since Gregory XII in 1415, to bring to an end the Western Schism. To make sense of all this, we asked Rutgers Classics Associate Professor Serena Connolly for her take at least on the Latinitas of this momentous announcement.

RU Classics Weblog: Does this declaratio have any genuinely interesting details of language?

Professor Serena Connolly: Yes indeed. For example, in just the first sentence there’s the neologism canonizatio and the Christian adaptation of a secular ancient Roman term in Consistorium, which was originally the advisory council to late Roman emperors (so named because its members stood in the emperor’s presence).

RU Classics Weblog: How about the syntactical aspects?

Professor Serena Connolly: The declaratio has a nice scattering of ablatives absolute and even some gerundives—a source of dread to any student of Latin!

RU Classics Weblog: One thing that leapt out was how Pope Benedict XVI expressed contemporary dates…

Professor Serena Connolly: The choice of modern style dating is striking, but understandable: the Roman calendar was confusing [see here for how the Romans did it], and Benedict needed clarity in these details.

RU Classics Weblog: Anything in the way of  literary touches in this short declaration?

Professor Serena Connolly: There’s one particularly lovely one. Benedict writes “ad navem Sancti Petri gubernandam … etiam vigor quidam corporis et animae necessarius est.” The image of the ship of state, with a conscientious and capable statesman at its helm, was a favorite with Cicero (e.g.,  de Rep. 1.29: in gubernanda re publica moderantem cursum). It’s great to see a pagan Classical motif being used in the 21st century by the (current) head of the Catholic Church.

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Benedict XVI, Vatican City (2006) 50 euro coin, dated “Year 2” of pontificate

RU Classics Weblog: In a way, this all seems part of a larger whole. It was just this past November that the Vatican heralded the creation of an 11th Pontifical College, a new Academy for Latin. The announced aims were “to encourage the knowledge and study of Latin—language and literature, classical and patristic, Medieval and humanistic”, and “to promote the use of Latin in various contexts, both as a written and as a spoken language”. So Pope Benedict in his declaration was quite literally putting these aspirations into action. Thank you Professor Connolly!

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Within the walls of Vatican City, perhaps the world’s only Latin-language ATM

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