7 Oct 2012, 5:29pm
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[holy daze] etymology / explanation

Three really cool etymological truths I learned from the first chapter of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch:


… in the beginning was the Word. The Evangelist John’s Gospel narrative of Jesus the Christ has no Christmas stable; it opens with a chant or hymn in which ‘Word’ is a Greek word, logos. The Word, says John, was God, and became human flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.

This logos means far more than simply ‘word’: logos is the story itself. Logos echoes with significances which give voice to the restlessness and tension embodied in the Christian message. It means not so much a single particle of speech, but the whole act of speech, or the thought behind the speech, and from there its meanings spill outwards into conversation, narrative, musing, meaning, reason, report, rumour, even pretence. [...] So the words ‘logos‘ and ‘Christos‘ tell us what a tangle of Greek and Jewish ideas and memories underlies the construction of Christianity. (page 19)


When Christians first described their own collective identity, with its customs, structures, and office-bearers, they used the Greek word ekklesia, which has passed hardly modified into Latin and its successor languages. Greek-speaking Jews before the Christians had used the same word to speak of Israel. Ekklesia is already common in the Greek New Testament; it means ‘Church’, but it is borrowed from Greek political vocabulary, where it signified the assembly of citizens of the polis who met to make decisions.

So the ekklesia represents the polis, a local identity within the greater whole of Christianity or Christendom, just as the Greek polis represented the local identity of the greater whole Hellas, ‘Greekdom’. Yet the Christian ekklesia has become more complicated, because the word can also describe the universal Church, the equivalent of Hellas, as well as the local – not to mention the fragments of universal Christianity with particular identities which call themselves ‘Church’, and even the buildings which house all these different entities. There is a further interesting dimension of the word. If the ekklesia is the embodiment of the city or polis of God, lurking in the word ekklesia is the idea that the faithful have a collective responsibility for the decisions about the future of the polis, just as the people of a polis did in ancient Greece. This creates a tension with another borrowing from Greek which has passed into several northern European languages, and which appears in English as the word ‘church’ or in Scots English as ‘kirk.’ This started life as an adjective which emerged in late Greek, kuriake, ‘belonging to the Lord’, and because of that, it emphasizes the authority of the master, rather than the decision of those assembled. The tension between these perspectives has run through the history of ecclesia/kirk, and is with Christians still. (pages 26-7)


[Aristotle] discussed abstract matters such as logic, meaning and causation in a series of texts which, being placed in his collective works after his treatise on physics, were given the functional label meta physica, ‘After The Physics‘. And so the name of metaphysics, the study of the nature of reality, was born in an accident. (page 33)


My absence from this blog explained but not excused – I have:

  • three jobs,
  • two new kittens,
  • and one husband in his third year of grad school.

    [this entry was originally published on october 7th, 2012, at holy daze.]

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