Question: As you may have noticed, Jesus spoke Aramaic and a little Greek. Is it safe to assume, based on his interaction with Pilate, that he also knew Latin?
Answer: Aramaic would almost certainly have been Jesus’ everyday language. Ancient Hebrew had given way to Aramaic in the same manner that Latin had given way to Italian, Spanish, French, and Romanian, among other languages, in the early years of the Bible. Aramaic was a mother tongue for Jesus and his disciples because it was spoken by Jews throughout the Holy Land.
Jesus would also be able to communicate in ancient Hebrew, which was the language of the Scriptures and also predominated in Temple and synagogue liturgy. Most young men were educated early on how to read and interpret biblical and liturgical Hebrew in the same manner as altar boys were taught basic Latin in the past (and still are in the extraordinary form of the Mass).
Given the presence of Greeks and subsequently Romans, ancient Greek was also well understood by most Jews during Christ’s time. This was owing to their encounters with the gentiles who shared the Roman Empire’s common tongue, Greek. It was undoubtedly required in many marketplaces and other important encounters with non-Jewish people in non-Jewish parts of the Holy Land, such as the Decapolis region (the region of Ten Hellenistic cities just to the east of Israel). Most Jews could get by speaking and understanding Greek, even if they weren’t fluent.
While Latin was the Romans’ mother tongue in and around Italy, the Roman Empire expanded to include extensive areas to the east and south of Rome that had previously been part of the Greek Empire and where Greek was widely spoken. As a result, most Romans and other gentiles in the Holy Land spoke Greek rather than Latin.
As a result, Jesus’ conversation with Pilate was not always done in Latin. Pilate had to know Greek and perhaps a good deal of Aramaic, or he had a translator. As God, Jesus must have understood Latin, but as a man, he may have learned it only by infused knowledge. For the reasons given, neither he nor Pilate would need to use Latin. However, it’s worth noting that in Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ,” the conversation between them is artistically set in Latin. Pilate addresses Jesus in Aramaic, and Jesus responds in Latin. This catches Pilate off guard, and he continues the dialogue in Latin.
It seems Gibson wants to emphasize that Jesus is seeking to reach Pilate by using his mother tongue. This, of course, is a cinematic flourish, which may not reflect the language of the actual conversation.
Question: Can you tell us a little about conscience from the perspective of a Catholic? It appears to be highly subjective at times.
Answer: Conscience is an act of practical reason judgment in which we appraise the moral quality of a specific conduct based on general principles. Because laws and principles are frequently of a general character, practical reason must be used to apply them to each act; this is what conscience does (cf. Catechism No. 1778).
More than a feeling of basic moral ideals, conscience is a state of mind. To be sure, humans have a basic moral intuition about what is right and evil. This type of moral insight is referred to as “synderesis” by St. Thomas. It is the natural awareness of general and self-evident principles, as well as moral and natural law fundamental facts. Synderesis, on the other hand, is not the same as conscience. Conscience makes use of this information, forms inferences, and applies it to a specific situation as a judgment.
Conscience is not its own law and can make mistakes. Insofar as it conforms with or differs from divine law, natural law, and human law that is just and in accordance with divine law, conscience is genuine or false. What is unlawful is judged to be lawful, and what is lawful is judged to be unlawful by a false conscience.
Divine law, as well as fair law and legitimate power, are not independent of conscience. It isn’t a matter of personal inspiration or interpretation. It isn’t a rule in and of itself. Law is not established by conscience. Conscience’s job is to apply what God has taught us (through natural law, divine revelation, and the Church) to specific situations. Conscience’s goal must be to receive and apply such legislation, not to oppose it.
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