Several months ago, I received a letter from the Vatican which had been sent by His Eminence Pietro Parolin, Cardinal Secretary of State.
The letter included my appointment to the position of Academicus Ordinarius of the Pontifical Academy for Latin (Pontificia Academia Latinitatis) – a tremendous honour to me as currently the only German member of this newest Pontifical Academy.
This morning, when I woke up (still somewhat exhausted from my research trip to Tarragona), I came across the name of Cardinal Parolin again – this time in a context that made me feel rather less cheerful.
‘La Chiesa deve tener conto di questo risultato, ma nel senso di rafforzare il suo impegno per l’evangelizzazione.’
‘The Church must take this result into account, but in the sense of reinforcing its commitment to the evangelisation.‘
‘Credo che non si può parlare solo di una sconfitta dei principi cristiani, ma una sconfitta dell’umanità.’
‘I believe that one cannot just speak about a defeat of Christian principles, but (sc. that one must speak) about a defeat of humanity.’
It is not my job to judge as to what counts as a defeat of humanity: to allow, or to deny, two people, who love each other, to formalise, celebrate, and commit to their lasting love relationship in a solemn, dignified ceremony for others to witness.
But the use of the term umanità, oscillating between humaneness (human-ness) and humankind, stood out to me.
Humanitas, the Latin term that gave rise to the concept of umanità, ‘humanity’, has fascinated me ever since I first encountered it, as a school boy, when reading the opening of Caesar’s Bellum Gallicum (Caes. Gall. 1.1.1-3; translation from here):
Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur. hi omnes lingua, institutis, legibus inter se differunt. Gallos ab Aquitanis Garumna flumen, a Belgis Matrona et Sequana dividit. horum omnium fortissimi sunt Belgae, propterea quod a cultu atque humanitate provinciae longissime absunt, minimeque ad eos mercatores saepe commeant atque ea quae ad effeminandos animos pertinent important, proximique sunt Germanis, qui trans Rhenum incolunt, quibuscum continenter bellum gerunt.
All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called Celts, in our Gauls, the third. All these differ from each other in language, customs and laws. The river Garonne separates the Gauls from the Aquitani; the Marne and the Seine separate them from the Belgae. Of all these, the Belgae are the bravest, because they are furthest from the civilization and refinement of [our] Province, and merchants least frequently resort to them, and import those things which tend to effeminate the mind; and they are the nearest to the Germans, who dwell beyond the Rhine, with whom they are continually waging war.
Humanitas – the refinement of life, a style of life that not only sets apart humans from other animals, but removes inconvenience and hardships from our daily experience.
Humanitas, whose absence (according to Caesar’s propaganda) makes people brave and focused.
Humanitas – the lifestyle of the city of Rome, advertised in roadside inscriptions for bathhouses across the Roman empire, in Ficulea/Casale Cesarina just outside the gates of Rome (CIL XIV 4015 = ILS 5720) –
In [hi]s praedi(i)s Aure|liae Faustinianae | balineus: lavat(ur) mo|re urbico et omnis | humanitas praesta|tur.
On these premises of Aurelia Faustiniana, there is a bathhouse: bathing in the style of the city, and every amenity is provided.
… just as much as in far-away Equizetum/Ouled Agla (Algeria, Mauretania Caesariensis) (AE 1933.49 = AE 2002.161):
In his praediis Cominiorum | Montani et Feliciani Iun(ioris) | et Feliciani patris eorum | balneum [et] omnis humani|tas urbico more praebetur.
On these premises of the Cominius Family – Montanus, Felicianus Iunior, and Felicianus, their father – there is a bathhouse, and every amenity in the style of the city is provided.
Naturally, when I embarked on my current research project on the Latin verse inscriptions, the use of the term humanitas was among the first things I checked – and today may finally be the day to share the instances that came to light.
Interestingly enough, all three examples that are mentioned in Franz Bücheler’s and Ernst Lommatzsch’s collection of the Carmina Latina Epigraphica date from the early medieval rather than a late antique period, are of decidedly Christian background, and come from the same find context of the province of Gallia Lugdunensis:
- CIL XIII 2476 = ILCV 1169 = CLE 2208 = RICG 15.263 = CAG I p. 98 = ILTG 304 (Ambarri/Briord)
Hic requiiscit bon(a)e me|moreae in Chr(ist)i no(mine) Carusus | pr(es)b(yteru)s qui fuit ad dei officio (!) | paratus. umanetas in eo sa|tes laudanda, amicus omne|bus, qui vixit in pace | annus (!) LXV. transiet (!) | XV K(alendas) Novembris (!) an(no) XXXXVI | rig(no) Clotario i(n)d(ictione) III.
Here rests, in good memory, in the name of Christ, Carusus, presbyter, who was prepared for the duty of god. The humanity in him was sufficiently praiseworthy, a friend to everyone, who lived in peace for 65 years. He died on the 18th of October in the 46th year of the reign of Chlotarius in the third indiction.
- CIL XIII 2481 = ILCV 4824 = CLE 2208 = RICG 15.267 = CAG I p. 98 = AE 1964.49 (Ambarri/Belley)
Hic requi(e)scit bon(a)e | memori(a)e Eunandus. | amicus omnevos (!), umane|tas laudanda nemis, mi|randa voluntas. qui | vixit in pace an(nos) LX,| obi(it) III K(a)l(endas) Fibruarias | (in)d(ictione) VII.
Here rests, in good memory, Eunandus. A friend to everyone, his humanity ever so praiseworthy, his good will admirable. He lived in peace for 60 years, died on 30 January, in the seventh indiction.
- CIL XIII 2482 = ILCV 4825 = CLE 2208 = RICG 15.270 = CAG I p. 99 (Ambarri/Belley)
In oc tom[ulu]m (!) requiiscet (!) bon(a)e | memorea[e] amicus | omnebus, fe[d]es et humanatas | sates laudanda. qui vixet in | pace annus (!) XXX.
In this grave rests, in good memory, a friend to everyone, faith and humanity sufficiently praiseworthy: he lived in peace for 30 years.
Peter Brown, in his book Through the Eye of a Needle, rightly stresses intellectual and ethical continuity since rather more ancient times when he claims that –
“We should not dismiss as hypocritical the lists of social virtues which, in many regions, continued without a break from pagan times up to the end of our period. Clemens, patiens, mancipiis benigna, miranda voluntas, umanetas in eo sates laudanda – “clement”, “patient”, “benign to her slaves”, “of admirable good will”, “endowed with thoroughly praiseworthy humanity”: crudely carved on gravestones from the Rhone valley of the early seventh century A. D. and expressed in distinctly homespun Latin, the laudatory phrases in these inscriptions reach back for centuries.”
Unlike some of the other terms, however, mention of humanitas in a deceased person is something that is still rather special to these inscriptions.
What is even more exciting to me is to see the term in a context of universal friendship and admirable good will – a long, profound development of the humanitas concept that has taken place since its use in Caesar and in Roman advertising!
If universal friendship and admirable good will, tolerance for others and openness of the mind, are concepts that can be celebrated alongside humanitas, then perhaps Cardinal Parolin should not give up on humanity quite yet – and perhaps not even on Christian principles.
Instead of being driven by fear, spite, or even hatred, we may wish to embrace human life in all its colourful, non-binary diversity – and we, as humankind, may wish to demonstrate our humanitas together with profound friendship and an admirable good will.
If the term humanitas can evolve in such breathtaking ways across time and space, then perhaps so may our frame of mind that comes with it.