Five years ago, my one professor told me: “If you really want to study theology, you’ll have to read what has been written in the past, which means consulting the primary sources. And in order to consult the sources, you’ll need to know Latin.” On another occasion, in relation to historical theology, he similarly said: “If you want to know what happened, consult the sources. The rest is hearsay.”
Consulting the primary sources (particularly Reformed sources of the 16th to early 18th centuries) is exactly what I desired to do, and so the following year I heeded his advice and started studying Latin with this particular end in mind. However, the first three years of my Latin training was entirely in the classics. As delightful and helpful as reading Cicero, Horace, Virgil, Juvenal, Tacitus, and other classical Roman writers may be, this Latin (particularly the poetry) was not quite the same as that which is found in the texts which I desired to read, and for which I started studying Latin in the first place. So for quite a few years I desired a course which would focus specifically on ecclesiastical or theological Latin, and preferably on theological Latin of the early modern era.
By God’s good providence, a friend on social media shared a link to exactly such a course early last year – the Davenant Latin Institute’s (est. 2015) Advanced Early Modern Latin course – about which I was extremely excited. At the time I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew there and then that I simply had to enrol for this course, which today I finally completed. Allow me to share with you about this course, and heartily commend it to anyone who may be interested in it. The Davenant Latin Institute also has other courses, catering for everyone from beginners to advanced students, but due to my experience being limited to the Advanced Early Modern Latin course, I will restrict my discussion to this course, providing a brief overview of its format and what to expect.
Firstly, the course is entirely online, so you can be based anywhere in the world as long as you have internet access. Also, the workload, though substantial, is nevertheless such that it is manageable in conjunction with other studies or work (i.e. its demand is not full-time); our whole class were doing the course while also busy with other studies or endeavours. Consisting of two semesters, the course’s weekly schedule is as follows:
At the beginning of each week, students watch a pre-recorded lecture. These lectures are on a broad array of topics and individual authors. These topics include, but are not limited to, humanism and scholasticism, early modern rhetoric, Ramism and Aristotelianism, translation theory, early modern biblical commentaries, the rise of loci communes, as well as polemical and philosophical writings. The authors read are generally, but not exclusively, Reformed theologians from the period of early orthodoxy (late 16th and early 17th centuries). After watching the weekly pre-recorded lecture, the students have to submit a translation of the week’s selected text by the middle of the week, before attending live online interactive classes every Thursday. The week’s schedule ends with a vocabulary (scholastic theological terms) and grammar test each Friday. There are also two exams each semester, a mid-term and final exam.
One thing which I particularly enjoyed was that they allowed the students to select their own texts (e.g. one which you are working on or have to read for another project) to translate in addition to the prescribed texts during the second semester. This allowed me to translate excerpts from John Brown of Wamphray, Johannes à Marck, and Melchior Leydekker for other things I was busy with, thereby killing two birds with one stone, so to speak.
Another thing is that, beyond the Latin, students get exposed to many insights into early modern Reformed (in particular) theology in addition to what is prescribed in the course, through interaction with lecturers and classmates in the live classes. Together with the content of the source material, this means that the course does not only teach the students early modern Latin per se, but many of the theological and broader historical-intellectual developments behind the texts being read.
One thing is certain: during the two semesters that I spent in the Davenant Latin Institute’s Advanced Early Modern Latin course, not only has my grasp of Latin vastly improved, but also my knowledge of early modern theology and the historical context in which these authors wrote.
In sum, I strongly commend this course (together with their other courses, as suits the prospective student) to anyone who is interested in reading and studying theological texts from the early modern era, but particularly those who plan to do graduate studies in historical theology.