The 69-year-old Carmelite friar, originally from Milwaukee, was appointed the Papal Latinist 38 years ago by Pope Paul VI. He spoke with the Sunday Telegraph about the importance of Latin and his desire to see the study of the language restored.
“You cannot understand St Augustine in English. He thought in Latin. It is like listening to Mozart through a jukebox," he told The Sunday Telegraph. "Like classical music, Latin will always be there. If we cannot understand it, it is we who are losing out."
Fr. Foster, who has translated speeches and letters for four popes, including Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est, has just launched a new Latin Academy in Rome in his final effort to prevent it from dying out. He hopes to attract 130 students a year.
But he admitted: "It is dying in the Church. I'm not optimistic about Latin. The young priests and bishops are not studying it." He said priests were no longer compelled to study Latin at seminaries, and now found it impossible to read vital theological tracts.
Paul VI insisted on greater use of Latin within the Vatican, but Fr. Foster said more junior members of the Catholic hierarchy were less enthusiastic now. He offered that the only solution to the decline of Latin was for the Pope to lead by example.
Fr. Foster, who until recently taught a popular course at Rome's Jesuit-run Gregorian University, lamented the loss of Latin in schools across most of Europe. He said students were missing out on important elements of history by not learning the language.
He added that the schools that do teach Latin use outdated teaching techniques. "You need to present the language as a living thing," he said.
Latin is a language that is integral to the life of the Church and it must be saved, says Papal Latinist Fr. Reginald Foster.