For centuries the Church conducted most of its affairs in Latin. While Latin started off as the vernacular of the Western Church, eventually it became a static, dead language. Used in the mass, in the Latin Bible (the Vulgate) in the academy and assemblies, common people were in time excluded from knowledgeable participation in church life because they had no knowledge of Latin. With the Reformation, all that changed. The Church again began to use the common language of the people in most areas. Nevertheless, certain Latin terms and expressions continued to be used in sermons and popular books.
In this series, I want to explain some of the most common Latin terms and expressions our Reformed churches continue to use. I’ll assume everyone is already familiar with the five Latin “solas” of the Reformation, and we’ll move on to some others. These are terms and expressions you may still hear from the pulpit or in books. Sometimes they might be explained (I always endeavour to do so), but sometimes not. They’re all worth knowing.
Today we’re looking at “D.V.” We’re commonly told this means, “the Lord willing.” Growing up in a church of Dutch immigrants, I thought “D.V.” must be short for “DeLord Villing.” But no, it’s actually Latin: Deo volente.
Deo volente does not actually literally translate to “the Lord willing.” It literally means, “God willing.” It’s commonly said to mean “the Lord willing” because of its roots in James 4:15, “…you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” Older writers used to be a little more elaborate and say “sub conditione Jacobi” (under the condition of James). Seeing how the expression comes from James, to be more precise “D.V.” ought to be understood as Domino volente (the Lord willing). However, at the end of the day it all means the same thing, so I for one will not quibble too much about it.
“D.V.” is often attached to plans and announced events in our Reformed churches. By it, we recognize that we may make our plans, but sometimes God decides otherwise. As the Holy Spirit says in James 4:14, “yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.” But is it necessary to always attach a “D.V.” to every plan and event? I don’t think it is. I don’t think James 4:15 requires us to literally say “D.V.” every time we look to something in the future. James 4 is addressing a heart issue. In our hearts, we ought to recognize God’s sovereignty over our plans. And from there, it ought to somehow find expression in the words we speak too. But I believe it sufficient to say, “We plan to hold this or that event” or “We hope to…” or “An elders meeting is scheduled for Monday evening.” Saying things in that manner displays the humility envisioned in James 4. While certainly not wrong to use “D.V.” it can become pious jargon you’re supposed to use, but about which you don’t even really think anymore. Since it involves God’s Name, that can become dangerous. Whether you use “D.V.” or not, the attitude is what really matters.