Father Reginald Foster, O.C.D, died on Christmas Eve from complications arising from Covid-19. (Yes, I know – people across America are dying with bullet wounds and head trauma, falls, heart attacks, and what not else from ‘Covid’, but we might trust this one, for now).
But whatever it was that took his soul to God, his death marks the end of an era, and I thought I would squeak in a little Ave atque Vale for Father Foster before this year came to a close. He was one of the foremost Latinists of the 20th century. A brilliant student, the young priest was appointed the Pope’s chief Latinist in 1969, responsible for composing and translating pontifical and Magisterial documents of all sorts, as well as teaching generations of students at the Gregorian. I suppose for those outside the Church’s fold – and, sadly, even for many within – a ‘Latinist’ might signify expertise in Spanish-Hispanic-Mexican-Argentinian culture – like, say, Hilaria Baldwin – but no. Father Foster was a peritus in the linguam Latinam of the ancient Romans, and before them the Etruscans, which was in turn adopted by the Catholic Church in the late fourth century, and then by the Christian culture and civilization that the Church formed and founded.
I’ve often thought that Father Foster had a near-ideal job: Living at the Vatican, immersed in the Church’s teaching, precise translations – with one’s days off hiking in the Dolomites or plunging into the Mediterranean, or wandering the streets and monuments of the Eternal City. I have dreamt that one day, perhaps…But I am a victim of our cultural loss of Latin, and any British schoolboy of 1910 or so would mop the floor with my smattering.