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Beware The Danger of Wheelock’s Latin Grammar

November 1, 2007

wheelock.jpgWheelock’s Latin Grammar: just the mere mention of this book should send shivers down the spines of good Catholics everywhere. It’s a deceptive little book, trying to convince good, faithful Catholics into reading pagan literature which glorifies the evil pagan gods of Rome.

Good Christians died so they didn’t have to praise Jupiter or Pluto. Such worship, they believed, would jeopardize their very souls. And what do we have here? A book which an unsuspecting Catholic might use to teach themselves Latin. It convinces its adherents to write out long, detailed praises to the those gods which we all know were in reality bloodthirsty demons. Christians, the martyrs died so we could abandon the ways of pagan Rome, so why do you go back and fall for this blatant piece of pagan propaganda? If you question the seriousness of this, just look at what kinds of books are put next to it: Virgil’s Aeneid, Cicero’s On the Nature of the Gods, or Apuleius’ Golden Ass. Can any good come from a book associated with such evil? Of course not!

OK, I admit, this is more than a bit silly. But this is the kind of argumentation I have recently seen used to condemn the Harry Potter series by Fr. Euteneuer. He admits he has not read the series – but he is full of opinions about it. He knows it is an evil work of occult lore because people who have not read it have questions about it.

Let us look at a few things which he has said:

There is, among good Catholics, a general unease about the series, but the sense of disquiet is very, very difficult to define.

He begins by poisoning the well. If you are a good Catholic, you will follow through with a general unease with the Harry Potter series. This leads to suggest that those who do not hold this same reservation probably are not good Catholics. But since Fr. Fleedwood, whom the then Cardinal Ratzinger suggested should be contacted about the Harry Potter series, does not hold this same reservation about the books, one must wonder how good a Catholic he is. And one should then begin to wonder why Cardinal Ratzinger would suggest someone contact a person who just isn’t a good Catholic.

4100 pages of word images about magic and the occult are not harmless, even if they fit the literary genre of “fantasy.” Tolkein’s Lord of the RingsTrilogy amounts to 1216 pages of beautiful imagery, but relatively few of the pages are about magic, let alone imbued with magic. Indeed, Tolkein’s trilogy is a self-consciously mythical representation of reality in the light of the Christian faith, something Rowling can’t claim.

How can he know it is all about magic if he has not read the series? If he had, he would know this characterization is as false as it is absurd. Moreover, Rowling does claim she wrote her works to follow Christian themes. It would do well for someone who is as respected as Fr. Euteneuer to at least get his facts right before he sends people on an evangelical headhunt against Potter.

Fundamentally, Harry Potter indoctrinates young souls in the language and mechanics of the occult.

I will grant him this argument. The Harry Potter books do teach people about Latin and the Latin language, the language most often used by classical works of the occult (like Cornelius Agrippa). So the best solution is, of course, to stop people not only from reading the Potter series but also, and more specifically, any work which teaches the fundamentals of the Latin language (such as Wheelock’s Latin Grammar — er grimoire).

The fact that the fake curses and hexes are not able to be reproduced because the “ingredients” are pure fantasy is beside the point. Curses are not pure fantasy. The fact that “curse” as such, and other elements of witchcraft, are presented in a glorified state throughout the Harry Potter series means that our kids’ minds are being introduced to and imbued with occult imagery.

I hope young children do not read the Torah. Yahweh is full of curses, especially towards those He makes covenants with if they break that covenant. Who knew the Bible was so filled with the occult?

If Harry Potter is innocent fun, its literary spawn certainly are not. One trip to the Harry Potter section of a Borders bookstore (way before Halloween) gave me pause. Surrounding the Harry Potter rack in the children’s section of the store and in the front display were other titles that should raise the hair on the back of any parent’s neck. I recount just a few titles here: Dark Possession, The Wheel of Darkness, The Care and Feeding of Spirites [sic], The Night of the Soul Stealer, The Thief Queen’s Daughter, Blade of Fire, Secrets of Dripping Fang, My Father’s Dragon, The Dark Hills Divide, Peter and the Shadow Thieves, Soul Eater, Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, Vampirates Tide of Terror, Nightmare Academy, Enter the Portal to Monster and Mayhem, Lyra’s Oxford (authored by vicious anti-Catholic Phillip Pullman of “Golden Compass” and “His Dark Materials” fame)… and others.

Of course we know what is near the Bible in the religion section of a Borders bookshop: Drawing Down the Moon, The Satanic Witch, The Satanic Bible, et. al. I admit, I’ve heard we are not to judge a book by its cover, but I guess we are to judge it by what is found near it in a bookstore (see argument above).

I would have said nothing here and made no comment except for the fact that Fr. Euteneuer’s commentary apparently was sent out on Halloween, and has already been used as proof positive by many that Harry Potter is indeed evil. Just because someone who has not read the books has condemned them, I guess, should be good enough for all of us!

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26 Comments
  1. Jonathan permalink
    November 1, 2007 6:11 pm

    Henry,

    Here is an excellent article with some similar themes, though it’s not argumentative to the extent of your post: http://www.up.edu/portlandmag/2004_summer/potter.htm.

  2. digbydolben permalink
    November 1, 2007 6:33 pm

    would have said nothing here and made no comment except for the fact that Fr. Euteneuer’s commentary apparently was sent out on Halloween, and has already been used as proof positive by many that Harry Potter is indeed evil

    And it will be used by just as many others, on the other side of the rabidly polarized ideological camps of this weird, intensely heretical polity to prove that folks who take the Christian faith seriously are just plain nuts. Lord, deliver us from Your “friends,” as well as your “enemies”!

  3. November 1, 2007 7:29 pm

    I thought you were serious for a second when I read the post on the main page… and I was like “what??” Hehehe… Michael teaches Latin with this book and he likes it a lot :)

    I know I’m going to hit a nerve here, but I REALLY don’t like Harry Potter :) But I don’t care for the Lord of the Rings either… it’s just not my type of literature at all… that’s all. I won’t speak out of ignorance against them though ;)

  4. Policraticus permalink*
    November 1, 2007 7:45 pm

    Yes, I use this text for my Latin classes! How dare you!

  5. Henry Karlson permalink
    November 1, 2007 7:50 pm

    Jonathan: True. the post is not in response to a specific criticism and so is different in nature, but it still hits some valid points. I have plans for a more serious discussion on Potter in the works using Balthasar as an interpretive key.. more about that later but you might find it interesting when I get it done.

    Digby: I agree! Christians need to respond to erroneous remarks if nothing else to help contend against a “guilt by association” mentality (even if wrong).

    Katerina: I hoped some people would think I was serious (I cut off the post at just the right point to make people think I was). There is nothing wrong with saying a specific genre and kind of literature is not to one’s liking — I get upset when people view Potter as Satanic, not if they say it is not something they enjoy. Of course, I think there is a radical Christian vision in Potter which most have not seen and most do not suspect, one which is in accord with Balthasar’s theology (hence what I said to Jonathan). So I like the works, but I also like fantasy literature in general. I realize not everyone does. Of course, Tolkien technically doesn’t fit fantasy literature (and why he is often misunderstood), but still the similarity in myth and fantasy allows for the association.

  6. Henry Karlson permalink
    November 1, 2007 7:52 pm

    Policraticus: Since I was taught Latin by Wheelock’s I know how pagan the text really is ;)

  7. November 1, 2007 7:53 pm

    Henry,

    Well, you got me! :) I like writing things like that from time to time for effect too… hehe

  8. SMB permalink
    November 1, 2007 9:43 pm

    Nesciebam hunc blogum adeo repletum esse latinistis!

  9. November 1, 2007 9:48 pm

    Could this be a set up for the anti “Golden Compass” movement? I have been bombarded with emails asking to preach against the evils of the Golden Compass movie. I rather enjoyed all of the Harry Potter books, what does that make me? peace to all

  10. November 1, 2007 10:24 pm

    Bashing Harry Potter is a lot easier than campaigning against the real filth, blasphemy, and bloodlust produced by Hollywood and various web sites. Which is more influential?

  11. X-Cathedra permalink
    November 1, 2007 10:41 pm

    Down with Wheelocks! Many a sleepless night I have spent writing praise to those fallen angels the Romans call gods!

    Pax Christi,

  12. Donald R. McClarey permalink
    November 2, 2007 12:00 am

    “Latin is a Language
    as dead as can be
    it killed the ancient Romans
    and now it’s killing me”

    The best that I can say about the process of learning Latin is the year and a half I spent attempting to learn Russian made me appreciate its relative simplicity.

    Ad astra per aspera.

  13. John14v15@gmail.com permalink
    November 2, 2007 1:21 am

    My concern is that I don’t think your post refutes or even seriously addresses the concerns Fr Euteneuer ennumerates. But first, a disclaimer — I am not taking sides on this issue.

    “He admits he has not read the series – but he is full of opinions about it. He knows it is an evil work of occult lore because people who have not read it have questions about it” I don’t think this is what he says. What Fr Euteneuer writes very frankly is ” I am at a bit of a disadvantage to comment on any particulars of the books since I have not read any of them or seen the movies… I do, however, feel it is important to offer some guidance on this issue from a third person point of view because some things can be observed about the books without having read them.” It seems his intent is to offer guidance on the general issue of books that present a world of magic and occult, but on this series in particular because it is so popular and apparently he has gathered that the imagery is very engrossing to its young readers, perhaps judging by their numbers.

    What seems to be Fr Euteneur’s view? I would think since he mentions this first, he is most concerned about this: “First and foremost, all adolescent obsessions have the capacity to steep the vulnerable souls of these kids in imagery and language that strikes deeper than the sermons they may (or may not) hear on Sunday.”

    He continues, “… in my opinion, this is dangerous. 4100 pages of word images about magic and the occult are not harmless” I think it fair to allow him that he is not claiming the series’ every single word or event is about magic and the occult, but the action and plot of the book place within a context that certainly has parallels to the occult and magic.

    Fr Euteneuer continues, “Fundamentally, Harry Potter indoctrinates young souls in the language and mechanics of the occult” which to him “means that our kids’ minds are being introduced to and imbued with occult imagery.” I don’t think you answer his argument by accusing him of referring to Latin instead of his perhaps actual metaphorical meaning of the words “language and mechanics.” Instead of refuting, your argument ridicules a straw man, so to speak.

    Your post does not address this concern of Fr Euteneuer, “Is indoctrination too strong a term? How about socialization? Should it not concern parents that Rowling only now, ten years after the introduction of the character Dumbledore, admitted that she intended this character to be “gay”? For goodness sake, this character is a father figure and a mentor in the books, and he falls in love with his evil arch-enemy! Rowling has said that her books were a “prolonged argument for tolerance” (Time, 10/20/07).

    Fr Euteneuer writes about what he terms, ” negative imagination that these books generate.” “If Harry Potter is innocent fun, its literary spawn certainly are not.” To compare this observation with Bibles positioned on bookstore shelves next to all sorts of controversial “religious” books is no refutation of his concern that children are being enticed to read perhaps more seriously and frank occult-themed books.

    He ends with a succinct statement of his concern: “337 million copies of occult imagery… about something dark dressed up as something fun. That’s a great way to get kids hooked on the occult.”

    Are there some arguments that can show the weakness or strength of Fr Euteneuer’s?

  14. jimklasz permalink
    November 2, 2007 1:49 am

    after a year with wheelock’s latin my son switched to henle latin and in his second year he began to study, learn and above all (this is why i’ve stuck to lower case) ENJOY latin. Father Henle, a Catholic educator.

  15. November 2, 2007 3:34 am

    I’ve known people who have serious moral problems with Wheelock’s Latin for the very reasons you jokingly cite, but then, I’ve known people who crusade against learning Latin and even proclaim the evils of grammar.

  16. Henry Karlson permalink
    November 2, 2007 7:40 am

    John

    If you actually read the top of the post, you will see how I have applied his same argument to Wheelocks, before actually dealing with Fr. Euteneuer’s writing. Here are a few more things

    1) He has not read the series. He is characterizing books he has not read for contents he does not know. Just because he states it is all about occult and the plot is about the occult does not make it so. The plot, actually, is not about the occult at all. The magic is accidental to the plot and is not occultish in its application. The point about the Latin is not a strawman: his comments are the strawman about Potter and comes from not reading it. If he had, he would know the so-called magic is just Latin words (and if one studied the Latin, one would often see the Christian allegory even in the magic).

    2) The so-called indoctrination argument is another strawman, and has been discussed before in other posts. Dumbledore is not a perfect character, and the point that he has some fatal flaws comes out in the 7th novel — his way is not accepted but has to be rejected by the end of the series. And of course there are people, even father figures (priests) who are gay — so I guess a similar argument can be used against the Catholic Church. Oh yes, the Church does tell us to follow tolerance of people as well (not necessarily the actions).

    3) Citing books which are found near Potter says nothing about the “imagination they inspire.” But I can show you all kinds of evil that has come from reading the Bible. Indeed, Satanism is inspired from reading the Bible. Again, accident of placement has nothing about the contents of the book in question. It’s not a good argument (guilt by association never is — of course, the Pharisees tried it with Jesus).

    Again he is making all kinds of false characterizations and just because he says it is so about the books doesn’t mean it is. IF he had read them he would know this. Those who have had positions in authority in the Vatican who have given official declarations of the book have responded to similar charges before and refuted them (including ones the present Pope has suggested people contact). There really is nothing to his arguments which is why the best refutation was a discussion of Wheelock. I can’t help more than that.

  17. Henry Karlson permalink
    November 2, 2007 7:54 am

    I should have said “as close to official declarations as possible”

  18. November 2, 2007 10:05 am

    Kyle

    I know the kind of people you mean (and one of the reasons I was able to do a tongue-and-cheek commentary like this). And people really should study up on what a grimoire was to know how evil the study of grammar is (no matter what language ;) ).

  19. Jonathan permalink
    November 2, 2007 12:27 pm

    Henry,

    I look forward to it. I have become interested in Balthasar since the debate on his works appeared in a recent debate between Fr. Oakes and Alyssa Pitstick in the famous / infamous (see the Three Amigos for info on the latter) conservative rag, FT.

  20. November 2, 2007 12:44 pm

    Jonathan

    You have to realize I am becoming a bit of a Balthasar scholar; I am not there yet but will be by the time I finish my PhD (since my PhD is on his notion of perdition in dialogue with a Buddhist notion of perdition). Going through his main works is giving me great insight in his ideas, but also, when I read on his notions of evil, their connection to how evil was potrayed in the Potter series just rang loud and clear in my head. I knew I had to do something on it. So the plans are in the works (I hope to write something in November, even if a short draft to be extended at another time).

  21. darcee permalink
    November 2, 2007 2:02 pm

    You had me there for a second. I rather enjoyed Wheelock. I still have my text from my college days.

    Funny stuff.

  22. November 2, 2007 2:13 pm

    “And people should really study up on what a grimiore was to know how evil the study of gramar is…”

    You are hilarious, Henry.

  23. John14v15@gmail.com permalink
    November 2, 2007 6:42 pm

    Henry, why do you assume I didn’t read your whole post and then go with your assumption? That is interesting. Anyway there are arguments one can consider in your comment.

    “1) He has not read the series. He is characterizing books he has not read for contents he does not know. Just because he states it is all about occult and the plot is about the occult does not make it so. The plot, actually, is not about the occult at all. ”

    Fr Euteneuer seems to think that the use of magic and the techniques so employed in the book about a school of wizardry is close enough in similarity to the occult as to “lead young readers towards other reading that is more occultist. He doesn’t seem to say that the series itself is occultist however that the plot and characters exist and function in a setting of wizardry not far removed from the occult. I think this is a subjective value assessment and cannot be refuted objectively. I may be misinterpreting him, but I think that he views the world presented in the series, and so is concerned about the impression it can make on young and thus less discriminating readers.
    “The magic is accidental to the plot and is not occultish in its application.” Accidental or not to the plot is not the concern expressed by Fr Euteneuer, but that the magic is there, or perhaps because it is the in a critically important way.

    “The point about the Latin is not a strawman: his comments are the strawman about Potter and comes from not reading it. If he had, he would know the so-called magic is just Latin words (and if one studied the Latin, one would often see the Christian allegory even in the magic).” If a refutation states that his use of the words “language and mechanics” doesn’t take into consideration the very great likelihood that he is speaking metaphorically about the actual historical language used or perhaps actually about how that language, in perhaps his view, is misused, then the argument being used to refute is a strawman. Conversely, his whole series of comments cannot all be a strawman; and not reading the books doesn’t inherently create a strawman.

    “2) The so-called indoctrination argument is another strawman, and has been discussed before in other posts. Dumbledore is not a perfect character, and the point that he has some fatal flaws comes out in the 7th novel — his way is not accepted but has to be rejected by the end of the series.” Fr Euteneuer seems to be concerned, at least in part, with the method and timeline by which Dumbledore’s sexual orientation is revealed… in the current culture struggles this is manipulative and clearly meant for indoctrination, by the author’s own admission. This is a reality, not a strawman.

    “And of course there are people, even father figures (priests) who are gay — so I guess a similar argument can be used against the Catholic Church. ” I have to write that the difference is that the Catholic Church isn’t trying to legitimize active homosexuality and Rowling explicitly is?

    “Oh yes, the Church does tell us to follow tolerance of people as well (not necessarily the actions).” But this is not the message Rowling says she wants to send, hence Fr Euteneuer’s concern. Also where has Fr Euteneuer said that to love the sinner is wrong?

    “3) Citing books which are found near Potter says nothing about the “imagination they inspire.” ” Fr Euteneuer is saying I think that the imaginations of the children reading the Potter series so voraciously are excited to visit other books which are more occultist and that possibility would seem to be the inspiration behind marketing a large number of occultist-themed books right next to the Potter displays.

    “But I can show you all kinds of evil that has come from reading the Bible. ” It is not the Bible’s purpose to encourage readers to do evil, but to learn not to do it from the consequences that follow in the Bible.

    “It’s not a good argument (guilt by association never is — of course, the Pharisees tried it with Jesus).” Fr Euteneuer doesn’t seem to be merely assigning guilt by association judging from the entirety of his post. He recognizes a path from the Potter series to similiarly themed books, a path apparently also recognized by book sellers. Therefore I don’t think we can call him a Pharisee.

    “Again he is making all kinds of false characterizations and just because he says it is so about the books doesn’t mean it is. IF he had read them he would know this. ” I don’t think it is proven yet that his characterizations are false. I don’t think he expects anyone to believe him just because he says so, but is suggesting a possibility for consideration. He expresses a viewpoint, expressed by many who are routinely denounced for it, that he has concerns about the content, albeit general, and impact of the series. I don’t think his concerns necessarily would be allayed by reading the series; they may even be heightened because his concerns center on issues larger than the series but reflected, to children’s detriment he seems to feel, in the series.

    “Those who have had positions in authority in the Vatican who have given official declarations of the book have responded to similar charges before and refuted them (including ones the present Pope has suggested people contact). ” But as always this is not the final word unless one is a blind follower, or a thing is magisterially declared. Yes, some in the Vatican have seen no problem with the book; other rank and file Catholics still remain unconvinced.

    “There really is nothing to his arguments which is why the best refutation was a discussion of Wheelock.” I think there is always something to a person’s arguments when they are presented respectfully, and so there is always something to be said to try to dissuade the person if one disagrees. But on this topic of the Harry Potter series, not much real debate occurs.

    “I can’t help more than that.” You have helped immensely! Thank you very much for taking the time and putting out all the effort.

  24. Henry Karlson permalink
    November 3, 2007 8:10 am

    John

    I think the opinions of Fleedwood, who has read the series and was recommended by Ratzinger and had a specific official position in the Vatican to deal with culture is a bit more than someone who has not read the book, so all he has is claims without anything backing up.

    If you find the argument of someone who just proclaims it is occult without demonstrating how it is, is fine, there is not much more I can do. I can’t argue against him because he didn’t offer evidence. He is the one making the charge, so unless he does, not much I can do. To show a negative might be possible, but rather difficult, and won’t convince people who don’t know the books and those who do, I feel, would likely not need it.

  25. John14v15@gmail.com permalink
    November 3, 2007 2:10 pm

    Henry,

    I understand that opinions put forth by the Vatican should be seriously considered, yet they are not necessarily always correct. So there is still room for questioning and discussion.

    I agree it is difficult to argue against claims if there is not evidence listed to back it up, but I think Fr Euteneuer is talking in abstracts, ie on the principle of exposing vulnerable audiences to entertainment that is seen as posing a danger. It seems that he sees a danger in presenting, to children, a series whose setting is a school of wizardry and whose “language and mechanics” involve wizardry which is the use of the power of magic, fictional itself but very close in appearance, effect, and appeal to the powers of the occult. The fact that this is the setting of the series, and that wizardry mimics the occult to some degree, and that wizardry is employed as a source of power, whether for good or evil result, in the series is the evidence that Fr Euteneuer presents. I don’t think this sort of uncontested evidence, that is frankly present evidence needs cited examples because it is uncontested.

    Fr Euteneuer’s argument is one I have heard presented a number of times over the past few years, but I have never heard it addressed seriously. I appreciate your addressing it as this is the first place I personally have seen it, although I certainly could have missed it other places. The only rebuttal I have seen is that much classic literature innocuously and effectively employs magic and fantasy. Yet there is something about the Potter series that disturbs people. If we are Christian we can interpret it through Christian lens, although we would need to define “christian.” When Rowling uses the term in the context of pointedly encouraging a view that homosexual sex is not dysfunctional and in the context of trying to get her readers to “question authority” as an explicit main objective of her books, we can see that this is not the classic use of magic and fantasy to teach traditional morals and to dramatize the battle of good vs evil.

    Thank you again. It has been good to discuss this with you.

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