Aunt Melanie, in her blog ‘Old Pages – New Life,’ shared a wonderful passage from The Conquest of Fear by Basil King (1921). The following central paragraphs touch upon the importance of using the original languages to frame our Christian thinking…
While turning these things over in my mind I got some help from two of the words most currently in Christian use. I had long known that the English equivalents of the Latin equivalents of the terms the New Testament writers used gave but a distorted idea of the original sense; but I had let that knowledge lie fallow.
The first of these words was Repentance. In these syllables there is almost no hint of the idea which fell from the evangelistic pen, while the word has been soaked in emotional and sentimental associations it was never intended to be mixed with. The Metanoia, which painted a sober, reflective turning of the mind, had been so overcharged with the dramatic that sober, reflective people could hardly use the expression any more. Repentance had come to have so strong a gloss of the hysterical as to be almost discredited by men of common sense. It was a relief, therefore, to remember that it implied no more than a turning to God by a process of thought; and that a process of thought would find Him.
The other word was Salvation. Here again our term of Latin derivation gives no more than the faintest impression of the beauty beyond beauty in that which the sacred writer used. Soteria—a Safe Return! That is all. Nothing complicated; nothing high-strung; nothing casuistical. Only—a Safe Return! Yet all human experience can be read into the little phrase, with all human liberty to wander—and come back. True, one son may never leave the Father’s home, so that all that it contains is his; but there is no restraint on the other son from getting his knowledge as he will, even to the extent of becoming a prodigal. The essential is in the Safe Return, the Soteria, when the harlots and the husks have been tried and found wanting.
This excellent article is the first time I have ever heard anyone else (besides myself) explain why it is preferable, even imperative, to retreat from the Latin equivalents of biblical Greek salvation words (and their translations into English, and other languages), and use only the original Greek terms.
This is why I prefer to say and write ‘Holy Triad’ or even ‘unearthly Triad’ based on the Greek ‘Aghia Trias’ (literally: holy triad; ‘unearthly’ is a free translation based on a false etymology that still fulfills the purpose of amplification: a-ghis = not-earth = unearthly), instead of ‘Holy Trinity.’
This is why I prefer to use ‘mystery’ from Greek ‘mystirion’ instead of ‘sacrament,’ and the original Greek without English translation ‘sotiria’ instead of ‘salvation,’ and ‘metanoia’ instead of ‘repentance,’ and even ‘metamorphosis’ instead of ‘transfiguration.’
‘Presbyter’ instead of ‘priest’ follows the same pattern: it reintroduces both the humility and the true authority of the ordained minister of Christ without conjuring up false images of hocus-pocus men, white lace clerical garb and all the guilt-ridden false authority that accompanies painful memories.
Using the Latin-based ‘religion’ words stultifies and even petrifies one in a circumscription of the liberty of Christ, perpetuating imaginary lines, erecting a false religion of dogma without mercy, prepayment for future grace with forced obligation, negating both the free gift of God and the love gifts of men.
The Word of God written in two tongues, Hebrew and Greek, two languages couldn’t be more different from each other, the one grounded in bedrock, the other rushing ahead of the irresistible wind that sends men to seek life on the high ‘seas of leaving,’ yes, leaving all behind, yet losing nothing.
Christ the divine Man and the human God, mortised in the granite of eternity, yet supple to bear the only nourishing fruit that can make us immortal: He is what all religion that is true leads us into. Everything else is mere barbaric yawp. Holy Triad the mystery, Sotiría the progression, Théosis the perfection.
How can we ascend by our own wings? Only as the angels, whose wings are ‘not made by human hands,’ but by the Most-High, only as the angels can we approach the Son without melting. Yes, ‘we can know God easily so long as we do not feel it necessary to define Him.’
Lord, help us to learn to speak Your language, Your words, and purify us thereby, by the Spirit in whom we live and move and have our being. Teach us, only Rabbi of mankind, the meaning of Your words we utter. Satisfy us with the wild rock honey, let our crowns burst into flower.