The lexicographer and the theologian

From: Maurice A. O'Sullivan (
Date: Mon Feb 22 1999 - 07:52:55 EST

List members may derive some amusement from exchanges in the "Letters"
column in "The Tablet."
Are we on the frontiers of lexicography and theology, or just seeing once
again the dangers of a little Greek?.

Over the name of that distinguished scholar, Dr. C.F.D. Moule, this letter
appeared on Feb 13.

Sir, If Ruth GledhiIl ("A time to dance", The Tablet, 2 January) will but
open a lexicon, she will see that _perichoresis_ (with a long 0,omega) has
nothing to do with " the Greek word for dance" , which is spelt with a
short 0 (omicron.) As a technical term in trinitanan theology,
_perichoresis_ means "interpenetration".

Ruth Gledhill, who is the Religion Correspondent of " The Times " ( London
) replied ( Feb 20 )
Sir, ......... , I must apologise for my faulty knowledge of New Testament
Greek. as noted by Professor Moule (Letters, 13 February).

I would like to point out, however, that I took this concept for my dance
article from a speech delivered by the Archbishop of Cantcrhury, Dr George
Carey. In his Ashe Leeture for 1997, Dr Carey referred to the theology of
the Cappadocian Fathers as follows: .'They had a particular vision of the
Holy Trinity as interdependent - in fact they used the word _perichoresis_
to describe the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a word
that has its root in the word for dance, "

In the same issue, the Dominican theologian, Fr. Edmund Hill writes:

Professor Moule's statement that _perichoresis_ has nothing m do with "the
Clireek word for dance" is of course lexicographically impeccable. But
words can he played with, or on, can they not? And to be reminded of round
dancing or perichoreu-ing (with a short 0, omicron) hy the perichoresis
(with a long 0, omega) of the three divine persans, cauld surely have
tickled the fancy of even a classical Greek ear. In modern Greek, I
believe, the two o's, omicron and omega. are indistinguishable in sound.


Maurice A. O'Sullivan
[Bray, Ireland]

" To bury oneself in a Greek lexicon is to rise with Christ "
--- Sir Edwyn C. Hoskyns, Bart.

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