Latin Leaning in the Age of Amnesia

Phillip Donnelly explains how the study of ancient (rather than modern) languages is uniquely suited for Christian education based on the verbal arts.

Although many classical educators readily acknowledge the importance of the verbal and mathematical arts, there is often less con dence about the importance of studying Latin. Is Latin really essential to a Christian education in today’s cultural context? One dif culty with most arguments for the study of Latin is that they present it as a means to something that can also typically be achieved by other means—whether an improved vocabulary, cultural literacy, a better SAT score, or an improved ability to learn modern languages. Are there any bene ts that come only through knowing Latin? I suggest that there are; however, those bene ts are hidden from us because we typically suffer from an amputated imagination. Only by addressing this failure of imagination can we begin to understand why Latin is crucial for a Christian education that aims to prepare students for wise action in the so-called “age of information.” This presentation rst explains how the study of ancient (rather than modern) languages is uniquely suited for Christian education based on the verbal arts. We shall then consider how Latin is unique among ancient languages in that it equips students to practice intellectual leadership in any area of modern human inquiry. These practical bene ts are not obvious to us, I suggest, because we inhabit the “age of amnesia,” which systematically obscures from us the relevance of the past in almost every aspect of our daily lives.

Phillip Donnelly

Dr. Phillip J. Donnelly is Associate Professor of Literature in the Honors College at Baylor University, where he serves as Director of the Great Texts Program. His research focuses on the historical intersections between philosophy, theology, and imaginative literature, with particular a ention to Renaissance literature and the reception of classical educational traditions. The topics of his published work range from St. Augustine and post-modern critical theory to the Renaissance poetry of George Herbert and John Milton. This presentation is part of a larger book project on the verbal arts.

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