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Latin Composition: Thanksgiving Theses

The philosopher Seneca is quoted as saying “docendo discimus” [by teaching we learn].  The idea behind this statement is that one must learn something really well in order to turn around and produce that learning for someone else. We teachers could also say “linguam scribendo discimus” [by writing we learn language].  I love for students to practice the grammar and vocabulary they have learned by reading authentic Latin literature.  We can take these lessons a step further by challenging students to practice these same tools by producing a composition that imitates the literary works they read.  These are two very different disciplines that engage the students in language from two different angles.  Such assignments allow them to cement their language lessons, study important pieces of writing in history and literature, and explore the writing styles of some excellent authors.  Such a composition assignment can feel overwhelming at first.  The lesson plan for the Thanksgiving Theses is a great assignment for it allows students to focus on composing concise statements of gratitude rather than a longer composition.


Around October 31 of each year we read selections from the 95 Theses posted by Martin Luther on the doors of Wittenberg Castle on October 31, 1517.  Luther’s purpose in writing these theses and nailing them to the castle door was to grab the attention of his fellow priests and to provoke a conversation.  He wanted to write with powerful emphasis in order to focus attention on issues he believed were important.  So how did he do that? Our class reading focuses on a collection of theses that have to do with giving to the poor and the needy and a set that discuss salvation.   Several of the theses we read begin with the phrase Docendi sunt Christiani [Christians must be taught]. The repetition of this phrase is an excellent example of the grammar construction known as the passive periphrastic.  This repetition is also an excellent example of the use and power of the literary device known as anaphora (the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a clause or sentence, usually for dramatic emphasis). This is a great device for driving home a point, grabbing attention, creating emphasis. As we enter November I assign the students the task of writing their own set of theses on the topic of Thanksgiving. The assignment is as follows:

  • Compose 5 Theses on the topic of gratitude.
  • Each thesis must use a gerund or a gerundive.
  • Each thesis must be an average of 12 words in length.
  • The collection of theses must use a total of 3 or more different literary devices.  Anaphora may count as one of these three.

As we approach Thanksgiving of 2016 I am pleased to share with you some of my freshmen favorites. See if you can discern some of the literary devices they incorporated in their theses.

Christiani sunt exhortandi agere gratias pro omnibus rebus quas Deus dedit.  [Christians must be encouraged to give thanks for all things that God has given.]

Christiani sunt exhortandi agere gratias pro amicis, qui sunt dona, commoda, solacia ab Deo.  [Christians must be encouraged to give thanks for friends who are pleasant, comforting gifts from God.]

Docendi sunt Christiani ut sit bona res dare gratias quod sic Christus nos iubet.  [Christians must be taught that it is a good thing to give thanks because thus Christ commands us.]

Christiani sunt memoranda dare gratias per omnes, non modo ubi vita est facilis, sed etiam per tribulationes.  [Christians must be reminded to give thanks through all things, not only when life is easy, but also through trials.]

Gaudium est demonstrandum Christianis de nostris amicis, familiis, animalibus, domo.  Hoc Deum honorat. [Joy must be shown by Christians for our friends, families, animals, home. This honors God.]

Docendi sunt Christiani quod qui gratias agat beatus ipse sit.  [Christians must be taught the one who gives thanks is himself a blessing.]

Gratiae agendae sunt Christianis et pluvia et sole, impleti cum magna gratia cotidie.   [Thanks must be given by Christians both in rain and in sunshine, daily filled with great thanks.]

Gratiae agendae sunt Christianis quod Deus regnet caelum et terram, victus leonem vagantem.  [Thanks must be given by Christians that God rules the sky and the earth, having conquered the prowling lion.]

Gratiae agendae sunt Christianis pro avibus, arboribus, caelo, terra, stellis, omne creatione Dei.  [Thanks must be given by Christians for birds, trees, sky, earth, stars, all God’s creation.]

Gratiae agendae sunt Christianis pro familia et aqua et cibo et domu et multa bona.  [Thanks must be given by Christians for family and water and food and home and many things.]

Tandem, docendi sunt Christiani quod necesse est bonis est malis esse laetus, velut Christus erat in terra.  [Finally, Christians must be taught that it is necessary to be happy in both good and bad, just as Christ was on earth.]


For more information on the Latin text of Luther’s 95 Theses visit the previous post titled Reformation Day Latin.

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