Last summer I taught myself Latin using Wheelock’s Latin, Groton and May’s 38 Latin Stories, and Richard Upsher Smith, Jr.’s Ecclesiastical, Medieval, and Neo-Latin Sentences. One of the frustrations of being interested in Medieval Latin is the scarcity of teaching resources. While classical authors such as Ovid, Vergil, and Catullus have numerous glossed readers and commentaries for students, Augustine, Bonaventure, and Aquinas do not. So I was excited to find this volume, which was just published this year by Bolchazy-Carducci, a specialist in Greek and Latin teaching texts. Smith, a professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, provides medieval and ecclesiastical Latin sentences to accompany Wheelock’s gold standard Latin textbook.
For every chapter of Wheelock, Smith provides 15 Latin sentences. The blend is diverse: some Vulgate excerpts, a few quotes from patristic and medieval theological Latin, and often a few bits from contemporary Latin liturgy or Vatican II documents thrown in. I really like how Smith provides the sources for his excerpts, so that the reader can dive further into a text if they wish. I also like that he grades each sentence in order of difficulty. (I felt better if I couldn’t get a sentence when I saw that it had an “A” for “Advanced”!) My only complain here is that he often fails to provide context for more obscure sentences. This is particularly a problem for quotes from scholastic or astronomical treatises.
In the second part of the book, Smith provides 16 readings drawn from the Vulgate, Augustine, Latin hymns, Bede, and other famous Latin writers. Trying to include many different types of literature, he even includes a monastery charter and an entire passage from the scholastic Summa of Thomas Aquinas. I haven’t had the chance to work through these yet, so I can’t comment on them too much, but he gives glosses for everything.
Then come the appendices. He has a 12-page outline of differences between medieval and classical Latin, as well as an extensive bibliography of the Latin texts he draws from, with many short biographies of Latin authors. At the end there is an index of every author and book of scripture from which he included exercises.
For the student using Wheelock’s Latin who wants some exposure to ecclesiastical and medieval texts, there is no need to justify this book. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel and write a new Latin textbook, Smith has added to what is already the gold standard in many high school and college Latin programs. This book would also be very useful for someone trained in classical Latin who wants a segue into medieval and ecclesiastical texts. Working through Smith gives the student an idea of some of the medieval and ecclesiastical Latin authors out there, and provides basic vocabulary to understand those texts.
But for the beginning student with no Latin and no prescribed textbook, why not use Collins’ A Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin? Before Wheelock’s, I tried Collins’ book, and found it to be less useful for self-teaching. Because Wheelock’s is so popular, there is a wealth of study aids, flashcard sets, and accompanying volumes (like Smith’s) to use alongside it. Plus Wheelock’s is just fun in a way that Collins is not, and it exposes the student to classical authors and Roman culture along with the grammar. Having tried both methods, I think it better to use Wheelock’s with Smith’s volume, rather than Collins’ by itself.
Smith writes in his preface that as medieval studies grows, more books like his will be needed. In future posts I will review some of these recent texts, such as Randall Meissen’s Scholastic Latin: An Intermediate Course and Scott Goins’ A Vulgate Old Testament Reader. And no student of medieval Latin should be without Leo Stelten’s Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin.