Dr. Edward Peters 

To work for the proper implementation of canon law is to play an extraordinarily

constructive role in continuing the redemptive mission of Christ. Pope John Paul II







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28 jan 2014

Resources on Ecclesiastical Latin



Non tam praeclarum est scire Latine quam turpe nescire. Cicero



Greek Page



Ecclesiastical Latin is that form of Latin that emerged from Classical Latin beginning about the 4th century A.D. Despite being gradually replaced by various vernacular tongues (Italian, Spanish, French, etc.) up through the 16th century, ecclesiastical Latin has been used continuously by the Catholic Church as its primary language to the present day. Ecclesiastical Latin is somewhat easier for Americans to learn than is Classical Latin because Ecclesiastical Latin more closely resembles modern vernacular usage patterns (for example, by making greater use of prepositions). A working knowledge of Ecclesiastical Latin affords direct access to nearly two millennia of accumulated Christian wisdom. The Church has repeatedly called on its priests (most recently, 1983 CIC 249) and others to acquire facility in Latin. She recommends that all of her members know at least their basic prayers in the ancient and common tongue of Christians.











Dr. Peters has been helping children, young people, and adults learn Ecclesiastical Latin for many years. For a textbook he uses John Colins, A Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin (Catholic University of America, 1985/1988/1990). Dr. Peters' approach emphasizes the early memorization of basic prayers, poems, and songs in order to assist students in applying Ecclesiastical Latin in their own lives, and later, providing them with a storehouse of familiar grammatical examples. 


In addition to Collins' primer, serious beginning students of Ecclesiastical Latin should consider acquiring the following books:

  • J. Dunlap, An Answer Key to A Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin (Catholic University of America, 2006).

  • Richard Prior & Joseph Wohlberg, 501 Latin Verbs: Fully Conjugated in All the Tenses (Barron's Educational Series, 1995).

  • Leo Stelten, Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin (Hendrickson, 1995). Review: L. Robitaille, Studia Canonica 32 (1998) 530.

  • Donald Fairbairn, Understanding Language (Catholic University of America, 2011) 190 pp. ISBN: 978-0-8132-1866-3. Review: C. Peters, HPR on-line (19 apr 2012) here; E. Peters' Blog note.


St. Jerome

Patron of Latinists


Vide etiam


The Big Five


In the order that I

would buy them



Collins' Primer


Order here

Collins' Answer Key


Order here

 501 Latin Verbs


Order here

Stelten's Dictionary


Order here



Order here


Order here

Latin Declensions


Nouns (Decl. IV & V)


Latin Prepositions Chart


Prayers, Canticles, et c.




"Thanks to the work of many generations of paleographers and textual critics we now have all the ancient texts in printed editions which are both easy to read and more correct than any of the surviving manuscripts. This is not, however, the case with texts from the Middle Ages, since there are many more of them [in fact, hundreds of thousands!] and they have attracted much less interest from Latin specialists. Many of them, even ones that are well worth reading, have been published using only one manuscript that happened to be to hand, even though much better manuscripts may exist. Many more texts have not been published at all, but are waiting in libraries for someone to read them and prepare an edition. There is a limitless amount of valuable work waiting to be done by those who would like to devote themselves to Latin and the Middle Ages." Tore Janson, A Natural History of Latin (Oxford, 2004) at 122.


T. Feeney, "Addictissimus: how to close a Latin letter" The Jurist 17 (1957) 342-345.




























































Some more thoughts on Latin Resources (for English speakers):


Grammars, Ecclesiastical

  • John F. Collins, Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin, Catholic University of America Press, 1985, 1988 et seq.  The single best book for learning Latin as used by the Church from about the 4th century to the present day. Includes numerous liturgical and Scriptural examples. The original 1985 edition had some typographical errors which have been eliminated from later versions. An answer key is now available (see above).

  • Scanlon & Scanlon, Latin Grammar & Second Latin. A 2-volume set geared to philosophy, theology, and canon law. Order Latin Grammar here and Second Latin here. First appeared in 1948 and was widely used. This work was popular in religious circles before Vatican II, and aimed only at giving priests and, even more, nuns, an ability to read liturgical Latin. It is actually somewhat more sophisticated than that, and makes a good supplement for those working through Collins or Wheelock. But I do not think that it is a good stand-alone textbook for beginners, especially for those trying to learn Latin on their own. There are too few explanations offered and it really needs a teacher to explain things. In any event, try to find a used hard-back copy. The modern reprints I've seen are paperback, cheaply glued, and fall apart with minimal usage.

  • Vincent Huber, Latin for Sisters: A Practical Guide to Breviary-Latin, Tabernacle and Purgatory Press, 1919, 1931. Neither intended for nor capable of teaching Latin as a whole, this work instead focuses on points of grammar and syntax needed to get a decent idea of what the prayers of the Divine Office mean. For all its obvious limitations, there are a good number of very practical translation tips in here, and it’s well worth a read by those who already have a decent grasp of Church Latin.

  • Mary Perkins, Your Catholic Language: Latin from the Missal (1940). Using interlinear translations of Mass prayers, Perkins walks one through many (not all, despite her claim) of the important parts of ecclesiastical Latin grammar. Those points she discusses are quite clear and I find the book helpful as a set of self-guided exercises for those who can get fuller explanations elsewhere. (nb: I have seen used copies for sale on the Internet, astonishingly over-priced.)

  • Rhoda Hendricks, Latin Made Simple, Cadillac Pub., 1962. Part of a self-teaching mini-encyclopedia series, this book, while intended as an overview of classical Latin, is actually just as useful for learning ecclesiastical Latin, and so I list here. Makes an excellent supplement for a full grammar book.

  • O. Kuhnmuench, Liturgical Latin (Loyola Chicago, 1939). Little more than organized classroom readings; a few grammatical and vocabulary tips.

  • H. Nunn, An Introduction to Ecclesiastical Latin (Cambridge, 1922). The more I use this, the more I like it. Written by a classicist who did not want to waste words. A reference work, not a teaching text.

  • A. Blaise, A Handbook of Christian Latin: Style, Morphology, and Syntax [1955], Eng. trans from French G. Roti (Georgetown University, 1994). Another more recent find, but looks quite interesting.

Grammars, Classical

  • Frederick Wheelock, Latin: An Introductory Course Based on Ancient Authors, Barnes & Noble Outline, 1956 et seq. Order here. One of the two or three really great modern grammars for classical Latin, this one has the advantage of teaching declensions in the usual ecclesiastical order, and providing copiously footnoted sample readings. There is also available by Groton & May a short reader, Latin Stories, Bolchazy-Carducci, 1986, 1989, designed around Wheelock.

  • Allen & Greenough’s New Latin Grammar for Schools and Colleges, Ginn & Company, 1888, 1903. Order reprints here. A gold mine of technical classical Latin grammar, but still quite useful for those whose needs lean toward ecclesiastical Latin.

  • Robert Henle, Latin Grammar (Loyola, 1945 and later), not to be confused with Henle's famous multi-volume textbooks, this single volume grammar is packed with clear illustrations or technical points. Order here.

  • J. Mountford, “Bradley’s Arnold” Latin Prose Composition, Longmans, Green & Co., revised 1938. Reworking of a famous textbook, the grammar is designed to facilitate Latin-to-English reading and English-to-Latin composition. Assumes that the student already has a solid grasp of declensions and conjugations.

  • Jenny’s First Year Latin, Allyn and Bacon, 1979 et seq. An engaging way for younger people to learn classical Latin, (lots of neat pictures, etc.) Order here. Nicely done (though I have not used it with kids.)

  • H. Oerberg, Lingua Latina, Nature Method Language Institutes, 1954, 1965. Several volumes, teaches Latin by actually reading it first (with the help of pictures and simple sentences) and then explaining, albeit briefly, the grammar. Interesting approach, but requires the assistance of a tutor.

  • C. Bennett, A Latin Grammar (Allyn & Bacon, 1895). The few times I have used it, it's been helpful.

  • Michael Wilson, Essentials of Latin Grammar (Passport Books, 1991). Order here. A recent find, has a knack for pointing out things that others take for granted.

It is not surprising, therefore, that a comprehensive dictionary has eluded us. Almost none of the modern dictionaries covers the whole alphabet, but for basic purposes it is possible to get by with a good dictionary of Classical Latin and a selective dictionary of Medieval Latin. R.  Sharpe, writing in Mantello & Riggs, Medieval Latin, at 93.





Common pairs




































Common enclitics



-ce, -ci













Dictionaries (most "classical" but quite useful for ecclesiastical Latin)

  • Lewis & Short, A Latin Dictionary, Oxford University Press. Among one-volume, still-affordable, dictionaries, this one reigns supreme. Always called "Lewis & Short". Essential for advanced work.

  • Cassell’s New Latin Dictionary, Funk & Wagnalls. Excellent.

  • The New College Latin & English Dictionary, Bantam Books. Very useful.

  • Langenscheidt Pocket Latin Dictionary. From a German company famous for dictionaries, it’s small, rugged, and easy to use. Trademark yellow, waterproof covers. Great for camping trips.

  • Leo Stelten, Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin (Hendrickson, 1995). I like this one, of course, but it's too small to be one's only Latin dictionary. See also Review: L. Robitaille, Studia Canonica 32 (1998) 530.

  • Roy J. Deferrari, A Latin-English Dictionary of St. Thomas Aquinas [1960], St. Paul Editions. Well-regarded, and large, but a bit over-specialized to be one's only Latin dictionary.

  • A. Souter, A Glossary of Later Latin to 600 AD (Oxford, 1949 on). Useful.

  • Latin Dictionary and Grammar Aid (University of Notre Dame).

  • Wilfrid Diamond, Dictionary of Liturgical Latin (Bruce, 1961). Why isn't this better known? It's quite nicely done.

  • J. Bretzke, Consecrated Phrases: A Latin Theological Dictionary, Latin Expressions Commonly Found in Theological Writings (Liturgical Press, 1998). Several small but annoying errors.

  • Freund’s edition of Leverett’s New Lexicon of the Latin Language (Lippincott, 1850), sometimes bound with Leverett’s English-Latin Lexicon of 1837.

Audio Learning Systems

  • S. Seidl, Cursus Linguae Latinae Vivae, Family of St. Jerome, text and audio tapes. Geared to ecclesiastical (emphasis on Scriptural) Latin, this series by a famous Vatican Latin master (and others) teaches Latin as the living language it is. Comes with printed support materials. Can be used a stand-alone, but is even better when fleshed out with a standard grammar book. Also, many recordings of workshop on topics discussed in Ecclesiastical Latin. Contact: Family of Saint Jerome (Familia Sancti Hieronymi), 507 S. Prospect Ave. Clearwater, Florida 33756. 

  • Educational Services, Language/30 Latin, 2 audio tapes with Latin phrases and a very little grammar. Ruthlessly classical in pronunciation (except for a few minutes), but interesting for a one-time listen.


  • F. Mantello & A. Rigg, eds., Medieval Latin: An Introduction and Bibliographic Guide (Catholic University of America, 1996). An amazing resource that I only recently discovered. Not a grammar, lexicon, or reader. Instead, just about everything else!

  • R. Moore, Comparative Greek and Latin Syntax (Bell, 1934/1948; Bristol Classics, 2000). Even if you don't know Greek, this is a still very handy reference for Latin syntax. Highly-regarded (and might make you want to take the plunge into Greek, after all!)

  • J. Mantinband, Dictionary of Latin Literature (Philosophical Library, 1956). Not vocabulary, of course, but rather lists works, authors, etc. Surveys up to the Renaissance.

  • Charles Grandgent (1862-1939), An Introduction to Vulgar Latin (Heath, 1907) 219 pp. Aside from a lengthy discussion of sound production, I found this a very interesting explanation, not just about about the emergence of Vulgar Latin, but about the launch of early modern Romantic languages. Packed with information, more of a reference work than a sit-down read.




Some thoughts for students


There is almost never a student who can sight-read complicated Latin or Greek after a year of study, and even after two, or three, or more years, the number of students who can sight-read difficult literature is relatively small. In fact, the number of teachers who can sight-read difficult materials in those languages is not particularly high. I cannot take anything you might hand me in Greek or Latin, glance at it, and translate it accurately, and I have been reading each of those languages for several decades. Fairbairn, Understanding Language 174.


It should also be clear now that the discoveries that come with studying Greek and Latin are greater than what I mentioned in Part 1. Fundamentally, these discoveries have to do with language, with communication. Greek or Latin can be a window in the world of how we express ideas….Your study of Greek and Latin will make you more conscious of how you think and communicate, and of how others do so. That study will make you more attuned to the subtleties and nuances of both logic and communication. It will make you more aware of the need for rigorous thought, speech, and writing. You will be better at using English because you have studied Greek or Latin. Fairbairn, Understanding Language 183.