Fr. John Michael McDermott, S.J., takes on that question in an essay of the same name for Homiletic & Pastoral Review:
I always suspected a massive plot behind the sudden demise of classical languages in Catholic schools and universities after Vatican II. Admittedly, those studies were countercultural. While knowledge makes a bloody entrance, in post-conciliar times, “the living was easy.” We were exhorted to adapt ourselves to the times, and the times were clearly in favor of pot and free sex. Why should students be forced into painful studies which would never be useful in the real world? If the Baltimore catechism had yielded to constructing collages, and if experience formed the basis of theology, what did Latin and Greek have to offer? Their demise fit in with the times. Nonetheless, it seemed that the theologians willingly pushed the classics over the side of the Tarpeian cliff. If their students did not have access to the primary texts, they would be in no position to question the new theological view of the universe; doctrine and morality would depend upon theologians’ experience. What can be more absolute than experience?
The intervening years have taught us that experience is, not only multifaceted and susceptible to contradictory interpretations (even among theologians), but also painful and downright confusing. Spin doctors everywhere try to convince us that we experience and want what they want us to experience and want. Democracy declines into promises to fulfill needs both natural and induced. Even in the Church, we have come to realize that not everything can be tolerated. How can we escape the whirlpool of relativism?
The study of Latin and Greek will not solve all the problems of our cultural malaise. But when people are looking for something beyond relativism and post-modernism, it may be opportune to examine again benefits of a “classical education.”
First of all, classical studies train the memory, and memory allows us to transcend the moment’s immediacy.