Esperanto - The New Latin for the Church and for Ecumenism
Translated from Esperanto by Mike Leon and Maire Mullarney
Manuscript of 10 March 2002
This book will be published in June 2002 by Flemish Esperanto Association, Antwerpen. It is already available in German ("Esperanto - das neue Latein der Kirche", Meßkirch 1999) and Esperanto ("Esperanto - la nova latino de la Eklezio", Antwerpen 2001). Translations into some other languages (Italian, Russian, ...) are prepared.
If you see any mistakes or have any ideas for improvement, please do not hesitate to contact the author, who will accept them gratefully till 16 March 2002.
2. The idea of a universal language
2.1 The beginning
2.3 Other new projects
2.4 Some comparisons
3. Ludwig Zamenhof
3.1 The origin of Esperanto
3.2 The early years of the new language
3.3 Zamenhof's view of the world
4. The Church and Esperanto
4.1 The Early Years
4.2 The Protestant Esperanto movement
4.3 Between World War I and World War II
4.4 The Post-war Period
4.5 The Attitudes of Popes and Bishops toward Esperanto
5. How Christians put Esperanto to practical use
5.2 Church Services
5.3 Periodicals and books
5.4 Vatican Radio
5.5 Charitable activities
5.7 Ecumenical Esperanto camps for young people
5.8 Catholic Esperanto Camps
6. Arguments for and against Esperanto
6.1 Language in the Church
6.2 The language problem in the European Union
6.3 Esperanto and cultural diversity
6.4 The advantages of Esperanto
6.5 Deeper considerations
6.6 Criticism and response
E The structure of Esperanto
By Dr György Jakubinyi
Archbishop of Alba Iulia, Romania.
When there is any discussion about Latin, I am caught up by nostalgia. When I was a child, in a communist state, in spite of the difficulties I managed for ten years to be a Mass-server. We learnt the beautiful Latin prayers - the responses of the Mass-servers - by heart and recited them without knowing the language, but our tutors took care that we should at least have an idea beforehand of the content of these Latin prayers. That problem was solved by the introduction of the people's language in the Latin rite.
But now there is a problem of international understanding. It used to be said, before the Vatican Council, that Catholics felt themselves at home anywhere in the world because the liturgy was celebrated everywhere in the same language, and was therefore generally understood. Go to China, they would say, and you will understand the liturgy, because it is in Latin. There's a story from that time about Hungarians from Transylvania; they found themselves abroad and went on Sunday to the Catholic church. When they heard the Mass in Latin one whispered to another. 'Listen, even here they are speaking Hungarian '. But anecdotes like this cannot hide the difficulty of the problem. How many Catholics are able to enjoy the liturgy itself when it is celebrated in the language that enabled liturgical unity? How many Catholics leave their own countries whether as tourists or guest-workers? The Second Vatican Council decided to put first the needs of the majority who remain at home, and introduce local, native languages.
In principle, the Council only permitted the vernacular in the liturgy for the sake of communication:
The use of the Latin language should be retained in the Latin rite unless some special ruling conflicts with this. Since in the Mass, in the adminstration of the sacraments and in other parts of the Liturgy the vernacular may be very helpful to the people, its use is to be permitted, as is its use on a wider scale, particularly in reading and instructions, in some passages of speech and hymns, according to the regulations which are laid out in the following chapters.1
In practice everything turned out quite differently. The native languages completely took over from Latin. I myself am an enthusiastic Latinist, not only because of my education as a Roman Catholic priest, that is, of the Latin rite, but also as literate humanist, who once taught Latin in a small seminary. How delightful it would be, if everyone in the world understood Latin! Sometimes travel guides appear, or conversation manuals in Latin with such charming expressions: Apud tonsorem, at the barber's, etc.2 In what country are you likely to find a barber who understands Latin?
Opening the German Yearbook, "Fischer Weltalmanach 2000" we find that there is only one state in the world in which Latin is an official language, Status Civitatis Vaticanae, the Vatican City. The Republic of San Marino (Res Publica Sancti Marini) has Latin as its second official language, the first being Italian. In the Vatican City Italian is only the second language, but even so it is no use asking a butcher for meat in Latin; everyone speaks Italian. Latin has a position of honor, but not in everyday life.
The same can be said of the Church. Latin was the official language until the Second Vatican Council and so it is still. But since the introduction of the vernacular into the liturgy Latin has been banished. Why study Latin, if it is disappearing from the real Church? The liturgy is the home of Latin. In 1970 most of the Pontifical Universities in Rome introduced Italian, though of course they retained a position of honour for Latin. I myself arrived in Rome to seek a higher degree in Biblical study in that same year 1970 when the professors asked the students whether they wanted to continue to use Latin. There was a general refusal. Nevertheless some professors - not Italians - continued to lecture in Latin; they were sufficiently eminent to retain their audiences.
The Pontifical Universities were bound to accept the students' work in any of six languages: Latin, Italian, English, French, Spanish and German. For oral examinations the professors were required to accept Latin and Italian, together with any other language they might themselves indicate. I was therefore able to take my examination in my native tongue, Hungarian.
The Catholic Church ended the Latin epoch by introducing vernacular languages into the liturgy. Good Pope John XXIII on the one hand supported this move, on the other he would have liked to preserve Latin. It could not be done. When Pope Paul VI was still an Under Secretary he set up a foundation to support Latin, which, when he became Pope, he raised to the status of a Papal Institution, Opus fundatem "Latinitas", by the letter Romani sermonis 30.06.1976. According to the Annuario Pontificio 2000 (p. 2029) the foundation had the task of encouraging the study of both classical and ecclestical Latin as well as mediaeval Latin, and of supporting the use of Latin in the literature of the Church. The Pope himself judged the entries for the competition (Certamen Vaticanum) for the best Latin work in any category.
The Pope's Latinist was Abbot Carlo Egger CRSA, an Augustinian from the South Tyrol, who had written a Latin text book on a new style, teaching Latin as a living and not a dead language. The Foundation had its own journal, "Latinitas" to further its cause. I quote a sample from the textbook, a description of everyday life: "Cum die XI mensis Decembris anno MDCCCCLXXXIII in placida sede domestica mea, poculum cervisiae asorbilans et fistulam nicotianam sugens, televisificum instrumentum aspicerem, rem, quam alii forsitan flocci faciant, me nonnihil commovit." (On the 13th of December 1983, when I was in my quiet home drinking a glass of beer, smoking a cigar and watching television, I saw something which others might think insignificant, but which for me was moving.") Fr. Egger in the official publications of the Holy See (e.g. Acta Apostolicae Sedis) introduced new Latin words and expressions and published a dictionary.3
Still, it did not work. In the Vatican everyone speaks Italian. The 21 Dicasteries of the Vatican accept documents in any of the six languages listed above but it is well known that if you want to have a matter dealt with quickly, you had better present it in Italian, because that is the language used by all the officials. Other languages take their place in the queue.
It is for this reason that, having become a Bishop, twice at Synods in Rome I pleaded that Esperanto take the place of Latin. This was in the course of the two Extraordinary Synods for Europe, on the 29th of November 1991 and 4th of October 1999, in the presence of the Holy Father. I could see that the Synod Fathers were no longer speaking Latin, even though in the first Synod in 1967 Latin was still generally spoken. The first time I spoke of Esperanto as the new Latin I was met with smiles. Eight years later the idea was still resisted, they simply did not know Esperanto. It was useless for me to remark that there was a tinge of antisemitism in this rejection, because the initiator of Esperanto was a Polish Jew. When my works were reported in the press, this observation was ignored. During a break some of my brother bishops asked me, was it a joke? I replied, that I understood that one could hope for attention in the Synod only if one said something sensational; that was why I had commended Esperanto.
At present if a theologian writes something in his own language, it may be looked at by one or two specialists but will not attract any attention abroad. Let a not-so-eminent theologian write an article or a book in English, and everyone reads it, everyone quotes it, it is accepted as professional literature. The great world languages battle for hegemony or at least for joint reign in the field of language. This is also the tragedy of the United Nations, with numerous official languages.
If a national languages becomes a world language it must, like it or not, spread the culture and the thinking of that people. If English is now to become the language for world communication this will be decided by the American dollar, not English culture.
And so it seems to me, if Latin is no longer used in the Church, why on earth not introduce the international, neutral language Esperanto? International understanding within the Church would suddenly become much more simple, much less costly. I do not intend to speak here of the many advantages of Esperanto. Of course what I am talking about is Esperanto used as an auxiliary language, for international use, while at home everyone would speak their own language. If the Church would accept that solution, which has so long been offered, the language problems would disappear.
There are signs already that the Church might be nearer to acceptance. I will mention only the use of Esperanto by Vatican Radio, approval of full liturgical texts in Esperanto, greetings by the Holy Father at Easter and Christmas and acceptance of IKUE, the International Union of Catholic Esperantists by the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
Sebranice is a small village in the Czech Republic, about 150 kilometres east of Prague. In the valley below the church there is a camping site. Every summer young people from five to ten neighbouring countries meet there. They pray together, they discuss things together, they sing together. Anyone happening to pass by the camp site would suppose that they were speaking Spanish or Italian or Latin. Not so. These young people are speaking Esperanto.
"Patro nia, kiu estas en la cxielo, sanktigata estu via nomo", this is how they recite the Lord's Prayer. It is not far from the Latin, "Pater noster, qui es in caelis, sanctficetur nomen tuum." And the two languages have a historical relationship. Latin is the old Esperanto of the Church. It can look back to a 2000 year history. It was the language of the teachers of the Church and, right up to the early modern times, maintained its central role as the language of educated Europeans. The enormous wealth of original texts in theology mean that Latin must always have an important role. In 1962, in his article "On Latin as a Church Language"4, the German theologian Karl Rahner emphasized that "a theological education, essential for priests, is unthinkable without a knowledge of Latin."
This book is not designed to contradict that thesis. Here we shall focus our attention only on the current problems of language. And in this context it is worthwhile to consider the merits of Esperanto. Latin has lost its once invaluable role as a means of understanding across frontiers. It has lost this principally because it is so difficult to learn. Even after four or five years of Latin studies many students are incapable of reading Caesar or Cicero in the original. Innumerable declensions and conjugations have to be memorised, though of doubtful necessity from the pedagogical point of view. It is often difficult to decide the role of a word in a Latin sentence, and the vocabulary of this language is vast.
On each of these points Esperanto has the advantage over Latin. In Esperanto there are no irregular verbs. Nouns and adjectives can be recognised at once from the endings -o and -a. Plurals and accusatives take the endings -j and -n. One can express oneself clearly about any subject using a simple system of prefixes and suffixes and as few as 1,000 root-words, while a further thousand allow subtlety and elaboration. It is worth observing that English speakers find up to 89.5% of the roots partly or completely familiar.5
Let us go back to the summer camp in Sebranice. When eighty young Christians from the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Germany and Romania spend two weeks living together they have a great deal to say to one another - that is, provided they can understand one another. They bring their different life experiences to the gathering and can discuss together how they may shape their futures.
One of the participants comes from a family of strong faith; under socialism they had to suffer disadvantage and privation. Another comes from an atheistic background. Yet in each one an interest in religious questions, in the person of Jesus, in the Christian way of life, has emerged. The summer camp becomes the springboard for a journey into the new world of faith.
Most young people in Eastern Europe have spent about five years in school learning German or English, with mixed results, often with rather lamentable lack of success. They have heard about Esperanto from their friends or acquaintances or perhaps their parish priest; others have read an article about the language in a religious magazine and taken a correspondence course. Six months is enough to make Esperanto their best 'foreign' language. This raises the question, would it not be sensible to introduce Esperanto into the schools?
Miloslav Svácek, for many years head of the Czech section of IKUE, the International Catholic Esperanto Union, stresses that it is well worth taking some trouble to organize the summer meeting, 'Young people from separate countries come together there for two weeks in a Christian atmosphere, they practice their faith together. There is every reason to rejoice.'
It calls up a fascinating vision of some future time when believers throughout the world may be able to understand each other without any difficulty and then really feel themselves to be one community in Jesus Christ. If the Church would give definite backing to Esperanto this would make it so popular that it might before long be introduced into schools worldwide.
This book will enable readers at any level of interest or responsibility to decide for themselves whether such a step would be desirable.
2. The Idea of a Universal Language
Since the Middle Ages there have been more than a thousand attempts to construct a universal language. Methods and motives were very varied, with a spectrum running from Lingua Ignota, a secret language of Blessed Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) to Klingon, designed by the American linguist Mark Okrand for Star Trek. Here we are interested only in the series of projects which aimed at international understanding.
2.1 The beginning
The theory of Universal Language first blossomed in the 17th century, when national languages had begun to displace Latin among European educated classes. Many philosophers, mathematicians and teachers occupied themselves with the construction of a Lingua universalis. It should, on the one hand, be "easy to learn" and "be of admirable service to communication between different peoples"6 while at the same time facilitating the process of rational thought. Komensky, Descartes, Newton and Leibniz all tried to create such a language.
They did not generally borrow the vocabulary for their projects from ethnic languages but based it on a classification of ideas. Newton chose to identify each category by a different letter, i.e., tools with s, animals with t and religious matters with 'b'.7 Leibniz wanted to identify 'Man' as the product of a*r, where a stands for 'animal' and r for 'rational'.8 The authors themselves recognised that such apriori, philosophical projects for a usable language involved a multitude of difficulties. It is, therefore, no wonder that the dream of a new language to illuminate the human mind had to remain utopian.
A more promising idea seemed to be the development of an a posteriori planned language, that is, a language whose vocabulary and grammar would be guided by those of one or more ethnic languages. The first of these, that of Philippe Labbé (1607-1667) was based on Latin, with the title, "grammatica lingue universalis missionum et commerciorum".9 During the following centuries there appeared at least thirty further attempts to modify Latin, of which Latine sine flexione (1903) is the best known. There were many other experiments to modify English, French and some Slavic languages. The earliest international a posteriori project was a draft by A. Gerber in 1832.10
Universalglot, proposed in 1868 by Jean Pirro (1831-1886), a teacher in Lotharingen, seemed one of the most natural and agreeable: "Ma senior! I sende evos un gramatik e un verb-bibel de un nuov glot nomed universal glot. In futur I scripterai evos semper in dit glot."11 However, this quite well designed project did not achieve any practical importance. The first to do so was Volapük, the work of a German priest, Johann Martin Schleyer (1831-1912).
Thanks to the energetic promotion by its author, within a few years of its launch in May 1879 Volapük had a hundred thousand followers throughout the world. Some twenty magazines were published and in 1889 there were already 283 Volapük clubs in existence.12 However, the system of rules made it very difficult to learn; the words seemed peculiar and artificial, and by the turn of the century Volapük faded just as rapidly as it had flowered.
In Warsaw in 1887 Dr. Ludwig Zamenhof (1859-1917) published the first textbook of his international language, under the pseudonym 'Doktoro Esperanto'. His aim was to contribute to peace and understanding between peoples. Before long the 'nom-de-plume' Esperanto (one who hopes) came to be used as the name of the language itself.
Esperanto became the most successful planned language. We shall discuss it in more detail in the next chapter.
2.3 Other New projects
In the early years of the last century there were a number of attempts to reform Volapük and Esperanto and to produce new languages. In 1905 two Frenchmen, Louis de Beaufront (1855-1935) and Louis Couturat (1868-1914), published the Ido project, a reformed Esperanto which was adopted by about 20% of the leaders of the Esperanto movement and at least 3-4% of the ordinary members before the First World War.13 Ido was followed in 1922 by Occidental and this in turn by Novial (1928). In 1951 in New York the 'International Language Association' (IALA) published Interlingua, designed by Alexander Gode. Interlingua endeavored to resemble 'natural' languages, and for that reason accepted irregularities.
Even now new language projects are published almost every year. Internet search engines give an abundance of information about, for example, Lingua Franca Nova (1995) by C. George Boeree, U.S.A., Europanto (1996) by Diego Marani in Belgium, who intended it only as a joke, Latina Nova (1999) by Henricus de Stalo, Ludlange (2000) by Cyril Brosch, both in Germany, and Toki Pona (2001) by Christian Richard, Canada. As often as not these languages are invented for the amusement of the authors, but those who hope that their work may find general acceptance soon learn how difficult it is to attract even one other speaker for the new language.
It is interesting to observe that each new plan attracted those who had adopted Ido, and then moved from one novelty to another. Few language projects survived their inventors. Esperanto is now spoken by from one to three million people in 120 countries, Interlingua by perhaps a thousand in 25 countries and Ido by 200 in 10 countries.
2.4 Some comparisons
Below are examples of the first sentence of the Lord's Prayer in some of the planned languages.
Volapük, Schleyer 1879
O fat obas kel binol in süls, paisaludomöz nem ola, kömomoed monargän ola, jenomöz vil olik, äs in sül i su tal.
Esperanto, Zamenhof 1887
Patro nia, kiu estas en la cxielo, sanktigata estu via nomo, venu via regno, farigxu via volo, kiel en la cxielo, tiel ankaux sur la tero.
Latino sine flexione, Peano 1903
Patre nostro qui es in celos, que tuo nomine fi sanctificato, que tuo regno adveni, que tua voluntate es facta sicut in celo et in terra.
Ido, de Beaufront and Couturat 1905
Patro nia, qua esas en la cielo, tua nomo santigesez, tua regno advenez, tua volo facesez quale en la cielo, tale anke en la tero.
Interlingua, Gode 1951
Nostre Patre, qui es in le celos, que tu nomine sia sanctificate; que tu regno veni; que tu voluntate sia facite super le terra como etiam in le celo.
Klingon, Okrand 1985
vavma' QI'tu'Daq, quvjaj ponglIj: ghoSjaj wo'lIj, qaSjaj Dochmey DaneHbogh, tera'Daq QI'tu'Daq je.
3. Ludwig Zamenhof
3.1 The origin of Esperanto
"The idea, to which I have really given my whole life, appeared to me, ridiculous though it may seem, when I was only an infant, and since then it has never left me. I live with it and I cannot imagine myself without it."14 wrote Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof in 1895 to his Russian friend Nikolaj Borovko. Zamenhof was born in 1859 under the rule of the Russian Tsar in the town of Bia$lystok which is now in north-east Poland close to the border with Belarus. Zamenhof later explained the importance of this town for the genesis of Esperanto:
The place where I was born and spent my childhood gave direction to all my future struggles. In Bia$lystok the inhabitants were divided into four distinct elements: Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews; each of these spoke their own language and looked on all the others as enemies. In such a town a sensitive nature feels more acutely than elsewhere the misery caused by language division and sees at every step that the diversity of languages is the first, or at least the most influential, basis for the separation of the human family into groups of enemies. I was brought up as an idealist; I was taught that all people were brothers, while outside in the street at every step I felt that there were no people, only Russians, Poles, Germans, Jews and so on. This was always a great torment to my infant mind, although many people may smile at such an 'anguish for the world' in a child. Since at that time I thought that 'grown-ups' were omnipotent, so I often said to myself that when I grew up I would certainly destroy this evil.15
While still a schoolboy, Ludwig Zamenhof began working on the construction of a language which would unite people. He was the son of a language teacher. Russian was his mother-tongue, but as a child he spoke Polish and German fluently. He soon learnt French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew and English, and was also interested in Yiddish, Italian, Spanish and Lithuanian.16
His new language must at least be easy to learn, give advantage to none and put no one at a disadvantage. By the age of eighteen he had already composed a first draft of it. With a group of his classmates he celebrated its birthday in December 1878. Together they sang the hymn of "Lingwe Uniwersala" which began with the following verses:
Malamikece de las nacjes Enmity of the nations,
Kadó, kadó, jam temp' está! Fall, fall; it is already time!
La tot' homoze in familje The whole of humanity must
Konunigare so debá.17 Unite in one family.
However, Zamenhof did not stop working on his language and by 1881 had completed another draft version.18 He endeavoured to think directly in his language and by this means finally discovered that, in his own words, "I can assert with certainty that it is no longer an unsubstantial shadow of whatever language I might be occupying myself with at the time; it has gained its own individual aura, its own soul, its own life, its own characteristic physionomy, its own expressions independent of any influence. The language flowed of its own accord, flexible, elegant and completely free, just like the living mother-tongue."19
So in 1885 the Lingvo Internacia took its definitive form. Zamenhof wrote a small book to teach the language. But no publisher was willing to take it on. Let Zamenhof himself describe how he solved the problem:
In 1886 I began my work as an ophthalmologist in Warsaw. There I came to know my wife, Klara Zilbernik from Kovno (...). We were married on the 9th of August 1887. I had explained my ideas and plans for my future activity to my fiancée. And I asked her, would she share her future with me. She not only accepted, no sooner had she heard my request than she gave me all the money at her disposal and this enabled me, after a long and futile search for a publisher to myself publish (in July 1887) my first small brochures (to teach Esperanto through the medium of Russian, Polish, German and French).20
The brochures had a detailed introduction in which Zamenhof explained what great benefits an international language would have for learning, for business and for understanding between peoples, for science and commerce. It is worth remarking here that Zamenhof already insisted that his language 'would not force itself upon the domestic life of any people'. It is certainly not his fault that Esperanto has still today to combat the prejudice that it will undermine the national languages.
These first textbooks also contained the 16 Rules of Grammar fundamental to the International Language, with some examples: the Lord's Prayer, the first verses of the Book of Genesis, a translation of some poems of Henrich Heine and two poems originally written in the new language. A folded sheet had a list of 917 word-roots with an explanation and application of each. On the second page of each brochure there is a notable entry:
'An international language, like every national one, is the property of society, and the author renounces all personal rights in it for ever.' Unlike the inventor of Volapük, Johann Martin Schleyer, Zamenhof handed over his language to be developed by those who would use it. "I know very well that the work of one man alone cannot be free from errors. (...) Every improvement must come from the advice of the rest of the world. I do not wish to be called creator of the language, I want only to be the initiator."21