Re: Word for Brain

Date: Sun Mar 28 1999 - 02:34:48 EST


I don't know what your purpose in asking about the Greek word for brain
is, but in the scriptures the seat of the NOUS was the KARDIA; not the
EGKEFALOS (Il. 3.300; Od. 9.458) or MUELOS (which is the mod. Greek word
for brain). The "brain" if anything, was the seat of the *faculty* of
LOGISMOS ("reason"; but apart from the reasoning faculty, this word can
also, esp in the plural, refer to "thought(s)"). The LOGISMOS/OI of the
brain are different from the NOUS and its activity. For NT context, see
Lc 24.38,45; RM 1.21,24,28; Ep 4.17-18; etc. Beware of assuming our
late Western psychological map!

The scriptures follow the usage of earlier Greek literature; cf. e.g.,
Iliad 21.441, although there it originally seems to have been somewhat
identified with the breath; and in that connection it is interesting to
note 1Co 14.15. For a complete discussion of the early Classical
sources, see R.B. Onians, The Origins of European Thought about the
Body, the Mind, the Soul [etc]: Cambridge Univ. Press, paperback ed. 1988.

Also, this NOUS-KARDIA remains the understanding of the Greek fathers,
_without exception_: in fact, the terms NOUS and KARDIA are all but
interchangeable throughout the long history of the biblical and
patristic tradition. Here is St. Gregory Palamas (d. 1359): "Nous
legetai kai h tou nou energeia en logismois sunistamenh kai nohmasi.
Nous esti kai h energousa tauta dunamis, htis kai kardia kaleitai para
ths Grafhs. Kaq' hn kuriwtathn ousan twn en hmin dunamewn, logikh estin
h en hmin yuch. H goun en logismois energeia tou nou, tois scolasasin
en proseuchi kai malista monologistwi [he is here referring to certain
practices of deeper prayer], kaqistatai kai kaqairetai raidiws: h de
gennwsa tauthn dunamis, ouk an kaqarqeih, ei mh kai ai allai ths yuchs
danameis pasai: kai gar en esti poludunamon pragma h yuch..." ("On
Prayer and Purity of Heart", 1.g': Philokalia (Astir: Athens, 1976),
vol. 4, p. 133, at g'.) I choose St. Gregory Palamas for an example
because he represents a culmination and summary of the entire Greek
patristic tradition.

I'll give you the english translation because I think this is too
important to miss: "The intellectual activity consisting of thought
(logismoi) and intuition (nohmata) is called intellect (nous), and the
power that activates thought and intuition is likewise the intellect;
and this power Scripture also calls the heart. It is because the
intellect is pre-eminent among our inner powers that our soul is deiform
(logikh [for the fathers, "logikos" in this context often has an eye on
Jn 1.1-2]). In those devoted to prayer, and especially to the
single-phrased [Jesus Prayer], the intellect's noetic activity is easily
ordered and purified; but the power that produces this activity cannot
be purified unless all the soul's other powers are also purified. For
the soul is a single entity possessing many powers..." (see Palmer,
Sherrard, and Ware (trs.), The Philokalia, vol. 4 (Faber & Faber:
London, 1995), p. 344.)

As you can see, to the fathers, this wasn't just a matter of a cultural
opinion about "where thoughts come from". They understood the scriptures
to be quite specifically getting at the purification of the heart
(acquiring "purity of heart") whenever they found these terms. In other
words, the terms themselves had a specificity to native Greek speakers
that they entirely lack for us. My personal opinion, of course, is that
the loss is ours.

Regards to all.

John Burnett

Bill Combs wrote:
> Is there a word the ancient Greeks used for the "brain" in distinction from
> the "mind" (NOUS)? How did they refer to the brain?
> --
> Bill Combs
> Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary
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