Roderick Saxey II
Linguistics 450
Inquiry #2

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The other day, I was going out for a walk on my usual course from 600 North down to 600 South (I’d like to go farther, but the railroad is in the way) and, as I looked around me with my weak and hazy eyesight, a verse of scripture impressed itself on my mind. It was from 1Cor. 13.12: "For now we see through a glass, darkly..." As I thought about how very true this is, I reckoned that, since we don’t see all things and can’t even understand all we do see, the most important thing to do, if just to be on the safe side, is to show charity. I was glad the next day when I found that Paul seemed to agree with me. I found that he writes this verse in the context of a short chapter all on charity. The last two verses read in full:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

The original is as follows:

blepomen gar arti di esoptrou en ainigmati, tote de proswpon proV proswpon _ arti ginwskw ek merouV, tote de epignwsomai kaqwV kai epegnwsJhn. Nuni de menei pistiV, elpiV, agaph, ta tria tauta _ meizwn de toutwn h agaph.

I will now discuss five important words in this passage: glass, darkly, faith, hope, and charity. I will look at the English words, but concentrate on the Greek, since, in the final analysis, that’s the only important version.


Our English word glass comes from old English glæs, of a pan-Germanic root probably related to glow (OED), gold, and glisten, etc. (Watkins) from the IE root *ghel-2 (Watkins). It has, as well as that of the substance, meanings such as "3. A mirror; a looking-glass... 8. A perspective glass; as an optic..." (Webster) and the OED records its first use as a translation of speculum "mirror" (whence Spiegel) in 1484 and as a magic crystal in 1566. Touching me personally, it took by at least 1545 the meaning of spectacles.

The Greek word is to esoptron, meaning, as the translation, "looking-glass, mirror" (Liddell) and comes ultimately from osse, meaning "[two] eyes" (a cognate of oculus and of our own word eye, and of the Gothic ahjan "think"—Wharton). The Gothic cognate is interesting, because it is from the senses that we do all our reasoning—we reckon according to what we have seen . Paul says here that we are doing this reckoning as though a glass, a mere reflection of what things are like. Ancient esoptra, consisting usually of nothing but polished metal, were not nearly as good as the practically perfect ones we have today; they might stretch one part or shrink another, and gave a distorted and darkened view of reality. It is through the imperfect that we now see, through the perfect that we will see. The idea of looking through a distorted mirror reminds one of Plato’s image of the Forms: We now see the mere shadow of objects (or rather, shadows of copies of real objects), but will one day see the objects themselves and in their true light.


Dark comes from Old English deorc and has no corresponding adjectives in other languages, but is cognate to the Old High German verb for "cover" (OED). Buck points out that words for dark often come originally from specific colors, such as black (Greek kelainoV and Brythonic du), or even white (=devoid of color: Old English wann and Latin pallus); "dusty" (Latin fuscus, Sanskrit dhusara-); or ideas of being covered, closed, or deep (Latin obscurus, Rumanian închis, French foncé); though the most common, as with English, is the idea "lacking light".

In both the spiritual and the physical then, the only remedy for darkness is light, which shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth (=understandeth, or, if you prefer, captureth, overpowereth) it not. And if we take dark to mean covered or closed, we must go even further and seek our light and knowledge by revelation (apokaluptw in Greek means to uncover; Latin revelare means to draw back a curtain or veil).

Though this all fits our discussion very well, darkly is just a translation (good enough as it is) for the phrase en ainigmati, meaning in a riddle or puzzle, by an enigma. A riddle is a short and particularly difficult metaphor or sketchy description, and it is often very difficult to understand the symbolism; so it is with life. And if we fail to know the symbolism or significance of things (Plato would say, if we see the shadows without the forms), we become modern literary critics and life becomes a riddle with no answer. "Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,/ And then is heard no more; it is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" (Mac .5.5.24-28). But though we understand in part, what’s left still to pick apart is overwhelming.

Sophocles gives us an additional warning. Oedipus was one who could solve riddles, perhaps even the most important one of all, given by the Sphinx : he could recognize Man. Yet this seeing and knowing—we would say a testimony—is not enough. At the end of Oedipus the King, the chorus warns us, as though we were members of Oedipus’s home-town:

w patraV QhbhV enoikoi, leusset OidipouV ode,

oV ta klein ainigmata hdei, kai kratistoV hn anhr,

ostiV ou zhlw politwn kai tucaiV epiblepwn

eiV oson kludwna deinhV sumjoraV elhluJen,

wste Jnhton ont ekeinhn thn teleutaian idein

episkopounta hmeran, mhden olbizein prin an

terma tou bio perash mhden algeinon paJwn!


That is to say, no matter how great you are or how favored by the gods or how much you know, nothing’s for sure until death. No one is done at only knowing one thing, and knowing even the great riddles does not mean you know everything. It’s never too late to repent, never too late to fall.


Faith is, along with charity, one of the two words on our list not native to our tongue. The actual substance comes from hearing the word of God, but the term comes from Old French feid or feit, from Latin fides. This is a cognate to the word it’s a translation of, namely pistiV. The common root *bheidh- had a basic meaning of "trust, confide, persuade" (Watkins). Through Latin, this gives us words such as confide and defiance; through our own Germanic, the words (a)bide ("to wait trustingly, expect, trust" Watkins) and bind (Wharton; the Sanskrit is the same: bandh; in both cases it’s a small leap from "persuade" to "bind"). The Greek verb is peiqw, meaning to persuade, though the sense of binding is present, as in the Latin foedus "treaty" (>federation), in peisma "cable" and penqeroV "father-in-law." In Old Irish, it shows itself as band "law" (Wharton).

If we want to draw a lesson from the general root, we can say, since to have faith one must know that one’s life is in harmony with God’s will (as per the Lectures on Faith), that when we do his will and create this faith, or this binding, he is bound when we do what he says.

But the importance of the word is how it was actually used. The noun was (and is still) used not only to denote "trust...trustworthiness, honesty...[commercial] credit", but also "II. that which gives confidence: hence, 1. assurance, pledge of good faith, guarantee... pisti te labein (or katalabein) kai orkioisi tina bind by assurances and oaths, Hdt.... 2. means of persuasian, argument, proof...in Arist., opp. a demonstrative proof (apodeixiV)..." (Liddell). I believe the most important of these to the present discussion is that of an assurance or guarantee: We do not see clearly and cannot know truth, or how things really are, by ourselves. Thus, we cannot be expected to be true, or to act as God would have us do, unless he provides us some kind of assurance.

This is what faith is: an assurance of things true but not seen. Though we cannot see properly to make life’s journey for ourselves, we can actually walk by faith . Further, we can say again that one gets faith by hearing and (gets) hearing by the word of God , and so we find another witness that God’s word, also shown as an iron rod, will lead one safely through the mists of darkness.


Our word hope comes from Old English hopian, common to West Germanic (though not found in Old High German—OED). Buck adds, "etym. much disputed, but perh. as orig. ‘refuge’ fr. ‘place one springs to’ : OE hoppian ‘spring, hop’."

The Greek word is elpiV, with the verb elpizw from earlier elpomai, related to the old verb eldomai "to wish" and Homeric eeldwr "a wish", and, like the Lithuanian word for "hope", a cognate to the Latin velle and English will (Buck). Buck also points out that "‘Hope’ is a ‘wishful expectation’, and in the majority of words ‘hope’ comes from, or at least through the medium of, either ‘expectation ’ or ‘wish’." The root brings that sense of expectation into Greek as well: Liddell and Scott define the verb as "hope for, or rather (in earlier writers) look for, expect...of evils, look for, fear...deem, suppose that [such is actually the case]."

Thus, hope is a wish for something realistic: as Webster puts it, "A desire of some good, accompanied with at least a slight expectation of obtaining it, or a belief that it is obtainable." The Greeks themselves, when pressed to give a definition of the word, do the same: "elpida (h) ous. prosdokia, anamonh kapoiou kalou·· o,ti elpizei kaneiV h ekeino sto opoio sthrizei thn elpida tou·· jr. par elpida, anelpista" (Mandala). Anyone can desire any good thing, but without an assurance that it is a true thing—in this case, that it is obtainable—one cannot hope for it.


Now the sweetest part. The word charity came into our language by 1145 from Old French charité, from older charitet, from Latin caritas (gen. caritatis) (OED). The Latin root is carus "dear", from the IE *ka- (whence also Sanskrit kamah "love, desire" and Kamasutra; and Germanic whore ).

The Greek word is agaph and means "love"; there’s no distinction between "love" and "charity", but there are different kinds of love—physical, social, and this, ideally the highest form (as we would say, the pure love of Christ). The Greeks themselves describe it (it’s hard to define, or limit, it) this way: "baqia yucikh sumpaJeia, storgh·· yucikoV desmoV, jilia·· zwhro endiajeron..." (Mandala). Liddell and Scott find examples of its use as "the love of husband and wife... love of God for man and of man for God... alms, charity." The first and third go with the second: One cannot love God without loving one’s wife or husband, nor without imparting unto the poor .

I like Johnson’s list of possibilities, because they are all characteristics of the true Christian: "1. Tenderness; kindness, love; 2. Goodwill; benevolence; disposition to think well of others; 3. The theological virtue of universal love; 4. Liberality to the poor; 5. Alms; relief to the poor."

The word has no known cognates in other languages, but is related to the word aganoV "gentle", from a common root that manifests itself in such forms as agan "much" (and so agaph is related to megaV), agallw "glorify", and agamai "be surprised, amazed" (Wharton). It is tempting to speak here of "the glory of love", and perhaps that’s not entirely inappropriate ; but I think the more general idea is that of surprise or wonder, whence come both the feeling to glorify and the feeling to love.

And is this not what one is bound to feel, if one does not fight against it? We walk in the dark, led by faith and hope, which, we learn here, though necessary, are not all, or even greatest. And in this darkness, this mind-bending unlooseable riddle, this dale of darkness and the shadow of death, we see in the faces of our fellow man, in gentle whisps like an occasional breeze, the shimmering reflections of the brightest and most wonderful thing that we can begin to imagine: that God of Glory that created our brothers and sisters in his image.

And will that not cause us to wonder? If we let it, yes—Brigham Young said he could hardly contain himself when he thought of it. And what comes of this wonder? Along with a will to glorify the Maker, there comes this gentleness and this will to love—charity, agaph. And as we follow this inclination, our love waxes, and we get that rare and wonderful feeling (which in a previous paper I said one gets studying Greek in Greece) of being, at once, both motivated and content.

So perhaps we’re bringing this chapter of Paul’s to completion. It seems strange at first that, in the middle of a chapter on love, he should mention darkness or distorted sight. But if we’re right about what we’ve said, then charity is a light shining in that darkness and stronger than the darkness. In the text, Paul paints in the midst of charity, darkness; but then in the midst of darkness, charity.


Works Cited

Buck, Carl Darling. A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principle Indo- European Languages. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949.

Johnson, Samuel. A Dictionary of the English Language. 1755. New York: AMS Press, Inc., 1967.

Liddell, Henry George and Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.

Luther, Martin. Biblia: Das ist: Die gantze Heilige Schrifft / Deudsch / Auffs new zugericht. 1545. Nachwort Wilhelm Hoffmann. Stuttgart:

Würtembergische Bibelanstalt, 1967.

Mandala, Maria, suntaktria. TegopouloV-FutrakhV Mikro Ellhniko Lexiko. AJhna: EkdwseiV Armonia A.E., 1995.

Watkins, Calvert. "Indo-European Roots Appendix" to The American Heritage College Dictionary. 3rd ed. Joseph P. Picket et al., eds. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993.

Simpson, J.A. and E.S.C. Weiner, preparers, et al. multi. The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.

Webster, Noah. An American Dictionary of the English Language. 1828. Introduction Mario Pei. New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1970.

Wharton, E.R. Etymological Lexicon of Classical Greek: Etyma Graeca. 1882. Chicago: Ares Publishers Inc. (Date of Reprint not given.)

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Last Updated: Monday, September 6, 1999