The Reginaldus Inscription in the Teresianum
A Remarkable Tribute to A Man Who Lived in Latin.
Rome is like an opera. The city is filled with spectacle, beauty, music, and passion. These are immediate: anyone can understand them. There are also words, and if you don’t know the language, you don’t understand the words. The result is you miss out on much of the story. The opera of Rome is in two languages. Of course there is Italian, the language that animates the daily life of the city. On the walls, in the books, and in the past, the story of Rome is written in Latin.
Another little piece of Rome’s story just got enshrined in Latin. Reginald Foster, the Papal Latin Secretary who gained notoriety as one of Rome’s most colorful characters, has just gotten his first Latin inscription. It’s wonderful, too, and well worth sharing.
MEMORIAE REGINALDI FOSTER SACERDOTIS CARMELITANI
EXIMII LINGVAE LATINAE CVLTORIS OPTIMIQVE MAGISTRI
CVI TANTVM ERAT MODESTIAE IN VITA
INDVSTRIAE IN AGENDO SOLLERTIAE IN DOCENDO
VT NEMO FACERE POTVERIT QVIN EVM
DILIGERET COLLAVDARET ADMIRARETVR
INSTITVTVM PAIDEIA SVMMA EIVS AMICORVM
ET DISCIPVLORVM CONFISVM BENIGNITATE
HOC MONVMENTVM PONENDVM CVRAVIT
KAL IVL ANNO SAL MMXXII
The inscription sits in the garden of Foster’s monastery, the Teresianum, up on the Janiculum. It rests on a bench where Foster and students used to sit during his evening classes sub arboribus, under the umbrella pines of Rome.
When I read this inscription, in my mind I can hear him teaching as he calls on us, one by one, to translate.
“To the memory of Reginald Foster, Carmelite priest.” Fine, friends. Go on. “Remarkable cultivator of the Latin language.” Remarkable — hmm, well, yes. Everyone, look in your Lewis and Short for eximius. See the first meaning there is ‘exempt’! What else do we see? ‘Select, choice, distinguished, extraordinary, uncommon, excellent.’ You see the basic idea is someone who is different from everyone else, in a good way. Then look: they give you synonyms: Egregii Praeclari Divini Lauti Magnifici Linguae Latinae Cultoris. It’s music, that’s what it is!
What did you have for ‘cultoris’? “Cultivator.” Cultivator. Yeah. That’s all right. Take a look in your dictionaries — what do you see? ‘One who bestows care or labor on a thing.’ That’s nice! You’ve got to work, you see. ‘An inhabitant, a dweller.’ I like that, someone who lives in the Latin language. ‘A fosterer, supporter.’ Yes. ‘A worshipper.’ That’s good too. ‘An extraordinary worshipper of the Latin language.’ You see all these things are in the Latin! Caretaker, inhabitant, cultivator, supporter, worshipper! Now don’t tell me ‘I read it in translation’! That means you didn’t read it at all!
“And the best teacher.” Well that too, fine.
“Who possessed…” Where is that? “Dative of possession.” Okay. Just making sure we’re all on the same page here. “Who possessed so much simplicity in his life, diligence in his doing, and acuity in his teaching that no one was able do anything but love him, praise him, and wonder at him.”
All right. Any questions? “Yes, one question. You taught us that result clauses obey the sequence of tenses.” I see what you’re going to ask. Go ahead. “Erat is imperfect, time two. So potuerit should be secondary sequence, track two.” Fine, you’re very smart. So what do you expect with track two? “Posset.” Very good. But we have ‘potuerit’ here. So what’s going on?
Now everyone go look in your Gildersleeve and Lodge, section 513. What does it say there? “Exceptional Sequence of Tenses.” Yes, read it: “In Sentences of Result, the Present Subjunctive is used after past tenses to denote the continuance into the Present, the Perfect Subjunctive to imply final result.” There it is. We call this the Three Percent. In three percent of cases, you will have result clauses with the perfect subjunctive in secondary sequence, to imply a once-and-for-all, final result. By the way, in Latin, how would you say an exceptional, not-according-to-the-normal-rules sequence of tenses?
“Eximia consecutio temporum.” There you have it, friends. It’s all connected, you see. Now let’s keep going!
“The Paideia Institute, relying on the supreme generosity of his friends and students…” The summa goes with what? “Benignitate.” Which is at the end of the next line! You can just hear it! SUMMA eius amicorum et discipulorum confisum BENIGNITATE. That’s Latin, friends!
Question? Ask! “Isn’t confisum passive? You translated it as active.” Yes. The perfect participle for this verb is active. “I looked up confido, but Lewis and Short didn’t say anything about that.” Look it up. Friends we simply MUST know how to read a dictionary! You see there for confido? What are the first words in the entry? “Confido, confisus sum, 3.” You know what that means? The verb is semideponent! In the perfect tense this verb has passive forms used actively. Otherwise, it would be written, Confido, confidi, confisus sum, 3. But there’s only one perfect form there, which means it’s semideponent! So the information is there but you cannot be dreaming! Got the idea? So ask, because I don’t want you leaving Rome and saying I never taught you these things! Semideponent verbs, friends!
So can we keep going? Who was doing this? “… Oversaw the placing of this monument. On July 1, in the year of our salvation 2022.”
That’s the whole thing, friends. Glorious.
The inscription was composed by Foster student and eximio linguae Latinae cultore Jonathan Meyer. I wrote to Meyer for some of his thoughts about the inscription. Here’s part of what he wrote:
I wanted my version of the inscription to memorialize the three central roles Reggie had during his career in Rome: Carmelite priest, papal Latinist, and teacher. As for the Latin, I wanted the word order and syntax to be on the complex side, in a nod to (but certainly not rivaling) Reggie’s lapidary style. In particular, I wanted to include one example of extreme hyperbaton (summa…benignitate) and multiple levels of subordination — this is one of the things Reggie admired most in “the most beautiful sentence in Latin literature” (Cicero, Div. 2.9.23) — and I was hellbent on including a “3%” perfect subjunctive in a result clause (potuerit), which is one of the points of grammar I remember most vividly from Reggie’s classes (and one that I’ve tried to impress upon my own Latin students over the years).
Reginaldus also particularly loved asyndeton — the piling up of words, especially verbs, without connectors like “and.” A textbook example here is the tricolon abundans DILIGERET COLLAUDARET ADMIRARETUR. I also asked Meyer about the inclusion of FACERE with POTUERIT. He certainly could have omitted it — UT NEMO POTUERIT QUIN etc. Here’s what he wrote:
You don’t need facere, but I followed the example of Cicero in his letters:
Fam. 6.13: “facere non potui quin tibi et sententiam et voluntatem declararem meam”
Fam. 10.24: “facere non possum quin in singulas res meritaque tua tibi gratias agam”
Att. 11.7: “Antonius petebat a me per litteras ut sibi ignoscerem: facere se non posse quin iis litteris pareret”
Att.12.27: “facere non possum quin cottidie ad te mittam”
Meyer also noted that he had in mind Cicero’s oration Pro lege Manilia (De Imperio Cn. Pompei), section 29:
Iam vero virtuti Cn. Pompei quae potest oratio par inveniri? Quid est quod quisquam aut illo dignum aut vobis novum aut cuiquam inauditum possit adferre? Neque enim solae sunt virtutes imperatoriae quae volgo existimantur, labor in negotiis, fortitudo in periculis, industria in agendo, celeritas in conficiendo, consilium in providendo, quae tanta sunt in hoc uno quanta in omnibus reliquis imperatoribus quos aut vidimus aut audivimus non fuerunt.
Cicero’s letters, one of his orations, perfect Latin, the Three Percent, semideponents, Lewis and Short, Gildersleeve and Lodge, real Latin word order, asyndeton — it’s all there. Things like this make me believe in the mystical. Reading this inscription makes me feel some kind of supernatural warmth is being released into the universe — the energy released from Reggie beaming up there in heaven.
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