Pope Benedict tweeted in Latin for the first time on Sunday, taking his mission to revive the Catholic Church’s official language to a very 21st-century medium.
“Unitati christifidelium integre studentes quid iubet Dominus? Orare semper, iustitiam factitare, amare probitatem, humiles Secum ambulare,” the pontiff wrote.
Baffled? So were many Twitter users. “Benny, nobody understands a word of Latin! #adviceforthepope” read one response on the online messaging service.
The pope’s tweet meant: “What does the Lord command to those wholly eager for the unity of those following Christ? To always pray, to continually do justice, to love uprightness, to walk humbly with Him,” according to University of Cambridge scholar Tamer Nawar.
The message was shorter and, arguably, more elegant in its original language - one of the reasons why Latin-lovers want to conserve the tongue of ancient Rome, Pope Benedict foremost among them.
The Holy See, where even ATM bank machine transactions are available in Latin, is one of the last bastions of the language that gave rise to Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and Romanian.
In November the pope set up a new Vatican department charged with promoting the study and use of the language within the Roman Catholic Church and beyond.
Known for his traditionalist leanings, the 85-year old pontiff has also allowed a partial return of the old-style Latin Mass that was phased out more than four decades ago.
Once the international language of science and learning, Latin has declined in use among priests since the Church began allowing them to hold masses in vernacular languages in the mid 1960s.
To keep the language updated, Vatican produces a dictionary of modern words in the ancient tongue. “Inscriptio cursus electronici” is the vital word “email”, while “brevissimae bracae femineae” means hotpants.
With just over 5,000 followers, the pope’s Latin-language Twitter account is the smallest of his eight profiles, through which he communicates with more than 2 million followers in languages including Arabic and his native German.
However, Sunday’s Tweet was not actually the first instance of Latin used by the Pope on Twitter.
Benedict’s Twitter handle ‘Pontifex’ is a Latin word literally meaning “bridge-builder”, an ancient title for high priest once held by the emperors of Rome.