A legendary living Latinist

Over at Laudator Temporis Acti, which I check every day, there is a great post about legendary Latinist Fr Reginald Foster, OCD, who for decades worked in the Holy See’s office of Latin Letters writing official documents in the Church’s language.  Fr Foster also taught Latin at the Gregorian University for all comers, from beginners to the well-experienced… until the Jesuits threw him out… to their eternal shame.  HERE

The following, which Foster delivered at the beginning session of each year, is absolutely true, as Reggie’s students will raucously attest.

One of the Greatest Things That Ever Happened

Alexander Stille, “Latin Fanatic: A Profile of Father Reginald Foster,” American Scholar 63.4 (Autumn, 1994) 497-526 (at 499):

“You don’t have to be all that intelligent, but Latin takes a little bit of toughness,” he growls. “I hope you are all here voluntarily. I don’t like the idea that some of you have been pushed into this classroom by some requirement,” a word he pronounces with the utmost scorn and distaste. “Because if that’s the case, I’d like to push you right back out. If you have to take Latin and don’t want to, there is a list here, and you can just put your name on it and leave. And I will give you a passing grade for the year. I’m interested in teaching Latin to people who want to learn. So, if you don’t like me or you don’t like Latin, then you can leave and that will be that. Got it? If you want to learn Latin, we’ll learn Latin. I don’t care if you are registered. You can sit here for five years and not be registered. I don’t know how much they’re charging downstairs — I think it’s too much.”


“Why do you want to study Latin? The question is, Why don’t people want to study Latin?” he asks the class in a loud rhetorical shout, pacing back and forth in front of the blackboard. “If you don’t know Latin, you know nothing! I had my first experience of Latin forty years ago, and I have not been bored by Latin for ten minutes in these forty years. Latin is one of the greatest things that ever happened in human history.”

When Foster begins to shift into high gear, he picks up in speed and volume, like a high-performance car moving into overdrive. “If you don’t know Latin, you’re sitting out there on the sidelines — don’t worry, most of the world is out there with you. But if you want to see what’s going on in this whole stream of two thousand years’ worth of gorgeous literature, then you need Latin.”

Id. (at 500):

“People are not told what Latin is all about,” Foster says. “They are just told to memorize all the forms, the conjugations and declensions. Latin has nothing to do with memorization. Every bum and prostitute in ancient Rome spoke Latin and they didn’t learn it by memorization. Got it?”

With help, Foster is publishing volumes which describe – if that’s possible in a book – his approach to Latin.  The first volume is out.  I believe the next volume will contain his renowned home work sheets, his ludi domestici.   I don’t care how good your Latin was, those sheets gave you a work out!  They made Ivy League profs break down like little girls.


Ossa Latinitatis Sola

Fr. Foster is now in Milwaukee where he still teaches Latin to interested students during the summer.

Canonical link: A legendary living Latinist