What does Latinisation mean?

This can be a sensitive topic and we must be careful to approach it with love and charity.

We encourage you to comment and ask questions to understand more.

It is important to recognise that all Church liturgies and traditions have evolved and have been influenced by the cultures and traditions around them.

The Maronite Church is no exception. There is no doubt that our roots are Syriac Antiochene. Our historical geography has seen organic influences for example such as the Byzantine.
The Maronite Church was greatly affected by the practice known as Latinisation. That differs from the  organic influence. It was process by which liturgical and other aspects of the Eastern Churches (particularly the Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with Rome) were altered to resemble more closely the practices of the Latin Church of the Catholic Church. It was different because the underlying assumption was that the Latin Church way was the only way and anything else was wrong, even heretical.
This influence can be traced back to before the thirteenth century and peaked from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries.

It would be simplistic to state that Latinisation occurred only by force by the Roman Church. Certainly, parts of the Roman Church failed to recognise unity could also be found in diversity and failed to recognise the dignity of the Eastern Catholic Churches at times.

This was especially the case amongst the missionaries and orders of the Roman Church who went to evangelize in North Africa, the Middle East, East Europe and Asia.

There was a view of superiority and a misunderstanding that the differences equated to heresies and errors.

However, in some cases the Eastern Churches themselves willingly adopted the Latinisations. This  worsened as Easterners were being educated by the Latin orders. Some of them themselves started to believe that the Latin was superior. They failed to recognise and stopped believing in the strength and treasure of their differences. Sometimes Latinisation was a way to strengthen allegiances and interests with influential Rome.

By the nineteenth century the dangers and errors of Latinisation were becoming more apparent. This led to Pope Leo XIII sending a clear warning in his encyclical ‘Orientalium Dignitas’. The Encyclical which is an excellent read was published on 30 November 1894. He proclaimed:

“Any Latin rite missionary, whether of the secular or religious clergy, who induces with his advice or assistance any Eastern rite faithful to transfer to the Latin rite, will be deposed and excluded from his benefice in addition to the ipso facto suspension a divinis and other punishments that he will incur as imposed in the aforesaid Constitution Demandatam. That this decree stand fixed and lasting We order a copy of it be posted openly in the churches of the Latin rite.”

He also declared:
“The maintenance in being of the Eastern rites is of more importance than might be imagined. The august antiquity, which lends dignity to these various rites is an adornment of the whole church and a witness to the divine unity of the Catholic faith. Perhaps nothing, in fact, better proves the note of Catholicity in the Church of God than the singular homage paid by these ceremonies which vary in form, which are celebrated in languages venerable by their antiquity, and which are still further hallowed by the use that has been made of them by the Apostles and Fathers of the Church.”

Read it here http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Leo13/l13orient.htm

The importance of de-Latinisation was made no clearer than by the Second Vatican Council’s decree “Orientalium Ecclesiarum” which you can read here

http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19641121_orientalium-ecclesiarum_en.html.

The decree mandated that authentic Eastern Catholic practices were not to be replaced by Latin Rite practices and for Eastern Churches to return to their authentic liturgical practice, theology and spirituality.

Some Eastern Churches have taken up the call more than others.

Latinisation took such a hold on the Maronite Church that in many cases it eclipsed our traditions and many are now unfamiliar or we do not  even know anymore. The ongoing process of de-Latinisation requires a rediscovery of what is authentic, a changing of attitudes and practices, an education of the faithful and an acceptance that it is correct and worthy.
Often it is difficult to convince people to change things they have been doing for their entire life and for them to accept that the changes are our ancient traditions.
We must ourselves believe there is good reason to de-Latinise and believe in the treasures and riches of our ancestors. The writings, especially of the Syriac Fathers are incomparable. Poetic and rich, they provide a alternative and important way of looking at things. They give new perspectives and a deeper understanding of the Gospels which were often written with a Syriac mindset.

The Vatican II decree also declared:
“History, tradition, and numerous ecclesiastical institutions manifest luminously how much the universal Church is indebted to the Eastern Churches. Therefore, …all Eastern rite members should know that they can and should always preserve their lawful liturgical rites and their established way of life … and should honor all these things with greatest fidelity.”

Our differences add to the diversity and tapestry of the whole Church. By promoting and rediscovering our traditions we can provide an authentic and alternative way to those who may be inspired by it. In order to do so we must believe in the richness of our distinctiveness and we must strive to rediscover it. So much has been buried, but it is not lost. It is calling us back, asking us to seek in love and truth.

In the words of the great Melkite Archbishop Tawil:
“It is often easier to get lost in the crowd than to affirm one’s own personality. It takes more courage, character, and inner strength to lead our traditions to bear fruit than it takes to simply give them up. The obsession to be like everyone else pursues us to the innermost depths of our hearts. We recognize that our greatest temptation is always to slip into anonymity rather than to assume our responsibility within the Church. And so, while we opt for ethnic assimilation, we can never agree to spiritual assimilation.”

In the same Pastoral Letter written in 1970 and titled ‘The Courage to be Ourselves’ he wrote wrote:
“Latinization implies either the superiority of the Roman rite -the position denounced by Vatican II – or the desirability of the assimilation process, an opinion with which we cannot agree. Not only is it unnecessary to adopt the customs of the Latin rite to manifest one’s Catholicism, it is an offense against the unity of the Church. As we have said above, to do this would be to betray our ecumenical mission and, in a real sense, to betray the Catholic Church.

For this reason many parishes are attempting to return to the practice of Eastern traditions in all their purity. This has often entailed redecoration of the churches and elimination of certain devotions on which many of the people had been brought up. In some places, our priests, attempting to follow the decree of the Council in this matter have been opposed by some of their parishioners. Other priests have been reluctant to move in this direction, as they feared that division and conflict would result.

We should all know in this regard that a latinized Eastern Church cannot bear anything but false witness, as it seems to be living proof that Latinism and Catholicism are indeed one and the same thing.

To be open to others, to be able to take our rightful place on the American Church scene, we must start by being fully ourselves. It is only in our distinctiveness that we can make any kind of contribution to the larger society. It is only by being what we are that we retain a reason for existence at all.”

Read the rest of the letter here https://melkite.org/faith/faith-worship/the-courage-to-be-ourselves

As is explained by Archbishop Tawil, the process of de-Latinisation can be a difficult one met with resistance, most often within our own Church and Parishes. It is a process of deep discernment by the Church as a whole and must be led by the Holy Spirit. Decisions must be made carefully to seperate organic change from true Latinisation.

In the end the process will reap great rewards. We pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit always and encourage you to rediscover and renew your Maronite Traditions because the rewards are great, not only for you but for anyone looking to encounter Christ.

-Theresa Simon


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