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End-of-Finals-Week miscellany

In a nutshell: Greek not so good, Syriac very good.

cursivegkms-640w.gifGreek this semester (my third) has been a war over a particular person getting to make a particular point, fought in such a way so that it is those in the classroom who have been the collateral damage, and the final was very much a final salvo. I’m being deliberately vague for a lot of reasons; suffice it to say I did the work, put in my time, and learned a lot, but it is questionable how much of a high point it will wind up being on my transcript. Oh well; it happens.curetoniansyriac-640w.gif

By contrast, I handed in my Syriac final feeling quite chipper, on the other hand, and I felt quite justified in my chipperness when I saw the posted grade this morning.

Now I get to spend the break reviewing Latin for next semester. Opto, optare, optavi, optatus. Sum, esse, fui, futurus. Femina, feminae, feminae, feminam, femina

Dr. Liccione has an essay entitled “Freedom, evolution, and original sin” which he posted yesterday. It’s the kind of thing which, when I read it, makes me think things along the lines of, “You know, maybe things could be worked out between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy within my lifetime…” I’m not qualified to engage the post on any kind of a theological or doctrinal level, but I do want to point out a few things.

Kecharitomene is an interesting word in Greek. If my Greek teacher were to ask me to give its syntax on a test, I would say that it is a feminine singular participle, perfect tense to show completed aspect, passive voice, in the vocative case, agreeing in gender, number, and case with the unexpressed subject (being the Virgin Mary), and it is being used attributively.

What in the world does all of that mean?

A participle as a verbal adjective; in English we end participles with “-ing” and then use them in conjunction with the verb “to be” to express various tenses periphrastically. If I say, “I am walking,” “am” is the finite verb and “walking” is the participle–it’s attributing the characteristic “walking” to me rather than expressing it directly as a finite verb, whereas a single finite verb in Greek, “baino,” says all of that on its own—the “o” ending indicates that it’s first-person singular, so the subject is already implied, and it in the present tense, so it doesn’t need the helper verb “to be.” In Greek, you would use the participle perhaps to express a parallel thought to the main idea of the sentence (e.g., in “The turkey being cooked, we will now eat dinner”, “being cooked” would be expressed as a participle), often to indicate a present state before an action is taken (my Greek teacher likes to use the example that instead of “Take the money and run,” Plato would say, “Taking the money, run!”), and also to attribute verbal characteristics to people. Think of the movie “The Running Man,” and you’ve got the idea. Kecharitomene is an example of this last use—the verb is being applied to the Virgin Mary as an attribute, and therefore is singular and feminine, since in Greek adjectives must agree with what they modify in gender, number (singular/plural, as in “I/we”), and case. This is direct address, and that case is called “vocative.”

Participles, while not being finite verbs, have tenses like finite verbs; we usually think of tenses as expressing time, but Greek (at least how my teacher taught us) is a little more granular, expressing both time and aspect, aspect being the state in which the action is being performed. There is simple aspect, which means that the action is done once; progressive or repeated aspect, which means that it occurs continuously or over and over, and completed aspect, which means that the action is, well, done to completion. “I am walking” is present time, progressive or repeated aspect. “I was walking” is past time, progressive/repeated aspect. “I walked to the store” is past time, simple aspect. “I have walked home” is present time, completed aspect. And so on. Kecharitomene is in the perfect tense, which indicates present time, completed aspect. One thing about Greek, though, is that participles, if they communicate time at all (outside of the indicative mood, tenses lose connotation of absolute time and only have to do with aspect) communicate time relative to the main verb. “Chaire, Kecharitomene!” being a greeting (“Chaire” is the imperative form of the verb which means “rejoice,” used idiomatically in Greek to mean “Hello”), there’s not really a main verb, so an argument can be made that we can’t really say anything about the time in which this action was performed, only that it is done to completion.

There are two grammatical voices in English, active and passive. In the active voice, the subject performs the action of the verb; “I throw the ball.” In the passive voice, the subject receives the action of the verb; “I am thrown the ball.” Greek has both of these as well (plus a middle voice, where the action is performed reflexively or causatively or there’s some other special meaning being communicated). Kecharitomene is passive, which means the Virgin Mary has received the action of the verb; somebody else has performed the action (presumably, God).

Having now explained the syntax, the base meaning of the verb conjugated as Kecharitomene is “endow with grace.”

Therefore, if we were to try to incorporate every last nuance of the above into a literal English translation of “Chaire, Kecharitomene”, it would come out to “Hello, woman completely endowed with grace (don’t know when that happened, it’s just the way it is)!”

Doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue, does it? Regardless, Dr. Liccione’s summary of the implications is worth a glance:

[The Virgin Mary’s state of being kecharitomene] is sola gratia: a direct product of divine power divinizing. And it is itself but the most proximate effect of…the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of that divine person who is Mary’s Son, a process in which we are all destined to participate, thus becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

Amen! Others can hash it out further.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is an interesting figure, even to the Orthodox; Fr. Seraphim Rose was quite critical of him, and others (such as Fr. John Meyendorff, I believe) evidently thought he hit the nail on the head. I’ve never read any of his works myself, but I don’t claim to have any particular interest in the creation vs. evolution issue. If we are to understand time as a part of creation, and if we are to understand the Fall as having corrupted all of creation, then presumably time was part of what was corrupted, as well as how we perceive it. For all I know (and I wasn’t there), the Genesis account is exactly and literally what happened, but we’re on the wrong side of the event to be able to see empirical evidence of it. I don’t know, and it frankly is irrelevant to me, having no bearing on the personal struggle to become a partaker of the Divine Nature. Maybe that’s a shortsighted point of view, but there we are.

Moving on…

I’m still stewing deep in thought about my Greek class. I can’t really go into a lot of details because the players would easily identifiable, and I don’t want to go there. What I will say is that after the first year of Greek (assuming use of a introductory textbook like Hansen & Quinn, which appears to be the closest the Greek world has to a standard like Wheelock’s is for Latin), I can imagine a very compelling case being made for Religious Studies departments having a second-year sequence running parallel to a Classical Studies department’s sequence. For example, this semester, we spent roughly three-fourths of the term on Plato’s Ion, and the last three or four weeks on the New Testament. That’s all well and good for classicists, but let’s just say that there wasn’t a lot of love left over for anything written Anno Domini, and I believe I would have ultimately benefited more from the ratio having been reversed, particularly since the fourth semester, as taught here, is radio station WHMR, all Homer, all the time.

It also occurs to me that one thing from which my beloved Hansen & Quinn textbook could benefit, faithful and constant companion, friend, and projectile over the last year as it has been, would be something of a supporting library along the lines of what’s available for Wheelock’s. It’s also quite amusing, looking back at the sentences I slaved over for hours in September 2006; if anyone would like an exact count of how many ways Homer can send the brothers into the battle in the country on the road with books, drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do.

OK. Enough for now. Finals week is over, Deo gratias, the syntax of “deo” being that it’s an indirect object “to/for” dative, and in the singular number you decline that deus, dei, deo, deum, deo…

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3 Responses to “End-of-Finals-Week miscellany”


  1. 1 Andreas 25 December 2007 at 6:10 am

    Excuse me, but how is everyone being “conceived in a state of alienation from God in virtue of our common descent” a sign that things could be worked out between Catholicism and Orthodoxy?? Am I missing something here?

  2. 2 Richard Barrett 25 December 2007 at 11:07 am

    Christ is born!

    You’re not missing anything. My point had to do with the general thrust of Dr. Liccione’s essay, which speaks of a common devotion to and veneration of whom, as he correctly points out, we call Panagia, which is itself a function of the worship of whom both Orthodox and Catholics acknowledge as the Incarnate Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity. (Also implicit in my statement, carefully qualified with “maybe”, was a “but then something else happens…” clause.) As I noted, I’m not going to engage specific doctrinal or theological details of what he said, in the interests of both charity as well as acknowledging my own limitations in dealing with them.

    Richard


  1. 1 Classical Studies » Blog Archive » End-of-Finals-Week miscellany Trackback on 27 December 2007 at 11:07 am

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