Gilson: Latin Liturgy and Philosophical Education

From Etienne Gilson‘s The Philosopher and Theology, published 1962:

Latin is the language of the Church. The sorry degradation of the liturgical texts by their translation into a gradually deteriorating vernacular emphasizes the need for the preservation of a sacred language whose very immutability protects the liturgy against the decay of taste. As his education is thus proceeding in keeping with the spirit of his own tradition, the young Christian imperceptibly becomes familiar with a Latin philosophical terminology (almost entirely Greek in its origin) embedded in the formulas of Christian dogmas. Liturgy itself forces this terminology upon his attention and fixes it in his memory, since he not only hears this language but also speaks it and sings it. Liturgical music permeates the meaning of the words so thoroughly that, thirty-odd years later, he will only have to sing the Preface to himself in order to recall the words: Non in unius singularitate personae, sed in unius Trinitate subsstantiae . . . et in personis proprietas, et in essentia unitas. . . . No mind can ascribe a meaning to such formulas without assimilating something of the philosophical notions they convey. In the liturgy itself, such words as substance, essence, singularity, propriety, person, point out directly and primarily only the mysterious truths contained in Christian dogma. The sentences that these words constitute are not philosophical propositions. Still, even though they do not bind it to any particular philosophy, a mind that has become familiar with them early enough in life will never be able to accept a doctrine that would consider them meaningless. The Church invincibly opposes any philosophical change that would oblige her to modify the received formulation of dogma. And in this the Church is right, for any change in words would entail a change in meaning, and propositions that have for centuries stood the test of councils cannot be altered without religious truth itself being put in jeopardy.
     Thus, long before he begins studying philosophy proper, the Christian imbibes definite metaphysical notions.

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