There came the time when no one could conceive anything but the classical metres and classical language. So they wrote frigid imitations of classical lyrics. It is the time when people thought it effective to call heaven Olympus, to apply pagan language to God and his saints. There is nothing to be done with this stuff but to glance at it, shudder, and pass on. ....
Through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries people still wrote Latin hymns. They had become by now like the Latin verse of Oxford Dons, correct enough according to the rules (it seems as if their writers are conscious that correctness is all they can offer), correct, too, in sentiment, with here and there an ingenious little trick of ideas, an apt parallel or a clever inversion. But there is not a trace left of the feeling of Ambrose and Prudentius, not a spark of the fire nor a ray of the grace of old hymns.
Indeed, we may not hope for real Latin poetry any more, because Latin is now a dead language to all of us. However well a man may read, write, or even speak Latin now, it is always a foreign language to him, acquired artificially. It is no one's mother tongue. Does a man ever write real poetry in an acquired language ?
(Mind you, Fortescue never had a chance to read Nabokov.) But he saves his real anger for Urban the VIII and his Jesuit hatchet men:
In a fatal moment [Urban, the former Maffeo Barbarini] saw that the hymns do not all conform to the rules of classical prosody. Attempts to reform them had been made before, but so far they had been spared. Urban VIII was destined to succeed in destroying them. He appointed four Jesuits to reform the hymns, so that they should no longer offend Renaissance ears.
The four Jesuits were Famiano Strada, Tarquinio Galluzzi, Mathias Sarbiewski, Girolamo Petrucci. These four, in that faithful obedience to the Holy See which is the glory of their Society, with a patient care that one cannot help admiring, set to work to destroy every hymn in the office.
Perhaps this is an overstatement. We aren't deeply enough versed in the matter to say. But we have most certainly noticed, lately, that when we investigate the history of a great medieval hymn, there are typically two versions available: the original, and the version mucked with by Urban's team. Even a Latinist of the most limited ability can see that the originals are generally better, if by "better" we mean more exciting to read. If by "better" one were to mean more regular in their classical meter and diction, then Urban would win. But why would one?