Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

CHAT: unsafe imprecision (was CHAT: Homo Sapiens)

From:Ray Brown <ray.brown@...>
Date:Tuesday, November 4, 2003, 21:00
On Monday, November 3, 2003, at 07:29 PM, Isaac Penzev wrote:

> Isidora Zamora scripsit: > >> In the >> end, it is safer, and more precise, to use the Greek, in my opinion, >> though >> I'm hardly one to speak, because I absolutely can't remember the Greek >> for >> "person" at the moment. > > It depends on the particular theology (Eastern or Western). What the West > calls > "person" - prosopon, the East calls hypostasis.
True - though I think 'proso:pon' was also used in the East. Wasn't it used in the Councils of Chalcedon? 'hypostasis' seems to have gained currency during the Nestorian controversy. In any case, the range of meanings of Greek 'proso:pon' and Latin 'persona' are not co-terminous. Both 'persona' and 'hypostasis' are known and used in the west. In section 252 of the current RC "Catechism of the Catholic Church" we read: "...the term 'person' or 'hypostasis' to designate the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the real distinction among them...." But I fail to see how the use of the Greek term is safer or more precise. The word 'hypostasis' had a very _wide_ range of meanings in Greek, e.g. - the sediment (in liquids) - accumulation of puss, abscess - duration of time - origin, coming into existence [Septuagint, Psalm 138 (KJV 139), 15] - substructure of a temple - subject matter of a speech, poem etc - courage, resolution - undertaking, promise - substance, reality - wealth, property - real nature, essence, character Some precision! Infact, 'hypostasis' is from 'hypo' "under" + 'stasis' "standing" and suggests that the Latin equivalent is 'substantia', which can mean 'material substance' but was generally used to mean "essence" or "being". It lead some in the west to suppose that the Greek use of 'hypostasis' contradicted the Nicene formula which says of Christ that he is _consubstanialem patris_ [Sorry - I've forgotten the Greek], i.e. Greeks were stating Christ was of a different 'being', or 'essence' than the Father. Yes, I _know_ that's not what the Greeks meant. But a 'safe' word should not cause misunderstanding. {Digression} This reminds me of another semantic misunderstanding I discovered when I converted to Catholicism nearly 43 years ago. I was surprised to find that some Catholics genuinely thought Protestants regarded God as something _impersonal_, rather like the deity of the deists. The reason for the misunderstanding was simple: whereas Catholics, following the Douai-Reims translation & began the Pater Noster "Our Father who art in heaven...", Protestants here at that time invariably, following the KJV and 'Book of Common Prayer', began: "Our Father which art in heaven..." That's the trouble with words in all languages, whether English, Latin or Greek; they are tricksy things and never keep still and hold on to one, simple meaning. They move and shift and, if we let them, deceive us. {End of digression} The Latin 'persona', which seems to be of Etruscan origin, also had a widish range of meanings. One possible meaning is 'character', 'person'. I did some research today, but left the darned stuff at College. But one of the early Councils did agree that in the Trinitarian context 'persona' = 'hypostasis', and the western fathers did agree that 'hypostasis' should be Latinized as 'subsistentia', not 'substantia'. As I said, words are tricksy. In the words of our Catechism: "In order to articulate the dogma of the Trinity, the Church had to develop her own terminology with the help of certain notions of philosophical origin: 'substance', 'person' or 'hypostasis', 'relation' and so on. In doing this, she did not submit the faith to human wisdom, but gave a new and unprecedented meaning to these terms, which from then on would be used to signify an ineffable mystery, 'infinitely beyond all that we can humanly understand.' [Para. 251] The last words are a quote from Paul VI. I am reminded of St Paul's: "Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror; but then we shall be seeing face to face." No natural language IMHO can be 'safe' or 'precise' because words simply do not stay still (else they die); they shift. Even Classical Yiklamu, which attempts to achieve near 100% dis-ambiguity, can not, I think, be said to achieve 100% safety and precision in signifying an _ineffable_ mystery. IMO greater understanding is achieved as different languages like Syrian, Russian and, indeed, all our natlangs (and conlangs) try to find the best words they can to give new and unprecedented meanings to in order to express in our feeble human languages an ineffable mystery beyond human understanding. The truth lies between these words and way, way beyond them. Ray. (in mystic mood) =============================================== (home) (work) ===============================================