Wednesday, 18 June 2008

The Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis

Many linguists, including Noam Chomsky, contend that language in the sense we ordinary think of it, in the sense that people in Germany speak German, is a historical or social or political notion, rather than a scientific one. For example, German and Dutch are much closer to one another than various dialects of Chinese are. But the rough, commonsense divisions between languages will suffice for our purposes.

There are around 5000 languages in use today, and each is quite different from many of the others. Differences are especially pronounced between languages of different families, e.g., between Indo-European languages like English and Hindi and Ancient Greek, on the one hand, and non-Indo-European languages like Hopi and Chinese and Swahili, on the other.

Many thinkers have urged that large differences in language lead to large differences in experience and thought. They hold that each language embodies a worldview, with quite different languages embodying quite different views, so that speakers of different languages think about the world in quite different ways. This view is sometimes called the Whorf-hypothesis or the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis, after the linguists who made if famous. But the label linguistic relativity, which is more common today, has the advantage that makes it easier to separate the hypothesis from the details of Whorf's views, which are an endless subject of exegetical dispute (Gumperz and Levinson, 1996, contains a sampling of recent literature on the hypothesis).

The suggestion that different languages carve the world up in different ways, and that as a result their speakers think about it differently has a certain appeal. But questions about the extent and kind of impact that language has on thought are empirical questions that can only be settled by empirical investigation. And although linguistic relativism is perhaps the most popular version of descriptive relativism, the conviction and passion of partisans on both sides of the issue far outrun the available evidence. As usual in discussions of relativism, it is important to resist all-or-none thinking. The key question is whether there are interesting and defensible versions of linguistic relativism between those that are trivially true (the Babylonians didn't have a counterpart of the word ‘telephone’, so they didn't think about telephones) and those that are dramatic but almost certainly false (those who speak different languages see the world in completely different ways).
A Preliminary Statement of the Hypothesis

Interesting versions of the linguistic relativity hypothesis embody two claims:

Linguistic Diversity:
Languages, especially members of quite different language families, differ in important ways from one another.

Linguistic Influence on Thought:
The structure and lexicon of one's language influences how one perceives and conceptualizes the world, and they do so in a systematic way.

Together these two claims suggest that speakers of quite different languages think about the world in quite different ways. There is a clear sense in which the thesis of linguistic diversity is uncontroversial. Even if all human languages share many underlying, abstract linguistic universals, there are often large differences in their syntactic structures and in their lexicons. The second claim is more controversial, but since linguistic forces could shape thought in varying degrees, it comes in more and less plausible forms.
1. History of the Hypothesis

Like many other relativistic themes, the hypothesis of linguistic relativity became a serious topic of discussion in late-eighteenth and nineteenth-century Germany, particularly in the work of Johann Georg Hamann (1730-88), Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), and Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835). It was later defended by thinkers as diverse as Ernst Cassirer and Peter Winch. Thus Cassirer tells us that

...the distinctions which here are taken for granted, the analysis of reality in terms of things and processes, permanent and transitory aspects, objects and actions, do not precede language as a substratum of given fact, but that language itself is what initiates such articulations, and develops them in its own sphere (1946, p. 12).

But the hypothesis came to prominence though the work of Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Lee Whorf. Indeed, it is often called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, or simply the Whorf hypothesis.

There are connections among some of these writers; for example, Sapir wrote his M.A. thesis on Herder's Origin of Language. Still, this is a remarkably diverse group of thinkers who often arrived at their views by different routes, and so it is not surprising that the linguistic relativity hypothesis comes in a variety of forms.
Sapir and Whorf

It will help to see why the linguistic relativity hypothesis captivated so many thinkers if we briefly consider the more arresting claims of Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf. Sapir was an American anthropological linguist who, like so many anthropologists of his day, was a student of Franz Boas. He was also the teacher of Whorf, a businessman and amateur linguist.

Unlike earlier partisans of linguistic relativism, Sapir and Whorf based their claims on first-hand experience of the cultures and languages they described, which gave their accounts a good deal of immediacy. I will quote a few of the purpler passages to convey the flavor of their claims, for this was partly what galvanized the imagination of so many readers.
In a paper published in 1929 Sapir tells us:

Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. It is quite an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of language and that language is merely an incidental means of solving specific problems of communication or reflection (1929, p. 209).

Our language affects how we perceive things:

Even comparatively simple acts of perception are very much more at the mercy of the social patterns called words than we might suppose. …We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation (p. 210).

But the differences don't end with perception:

The fact of the matter is that the ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group. No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same worlds with different labels attached (p. 209).

The linguistic relativity hypothesis grained its widest audience through the work of Benjamin Lee Whorf, whose collected writings became something of a relativistic manifesto.

Whorf presents a moving target, with most of his claims coming in both extreme and in more cautious forms. Debate continues about his considered views, but there is little doubt that his bolder claims, unimpeded by caveats or qualifications, were better suited to captivate his readers than more timid claims would have been.

When languages are similar, Whorf tells us, there is little likelihood of dramatic cognitive differences. But languages that differ markedly from English and other Western European languages (which Whorf calls, collectively, “Standard Average European” or SAE) often do lead their speakers to have very different worldviews. Thus

We are thus introduced to a new principle of relativity, which holds that all observers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe, unless their linguistic backgrounds are similar, or can in some way be calibrated. …The relativity of all conceptual systems, ours included, and their dependence upon language stand revealed (1956, p. 214f, italics added).

We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages. The categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they stare every observer in the face; on the contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds--and this means largely by the linguistic systems in our minds (p. 213).

…no individual is free to describe nature with absolute impartiality but is constrained to certain modes of interpretation even while he thinks himself most free (p. 214).

In fairness it must be stressed that these passages come from a single essay, “Science and Linguistics,” of 1940, and in other places Whorf's tone is often more measured. But not always; elsewhere he also says thing like

…users of markedly different grammars are pointed by their grammars toward different types of observations and different evaluations of externally similar acts of observation, and hence are not equivalent as observers but must arrive at somewhat different views of the world (1956, p. 221).

And in yet a third essay “facts are unlike to speakers whose language background provides for unlike formulation of them” (1956, p. 235).

The passages from Sapir and Whorf bristle with metaphors of coercion: our thought is “at the mercy” of our language, it is “constrained” by it; no one is free to describe the world in a neutral way; we are “compelled” to read certain features into the world (p. 262). The view that language completely determines how we think is often called linguistic determinism. Hamann and Herder sometimes seem to equate language with thought, and in these moods, at least, they came close to endorsing this view.
1.1 Linguistic Relativism and Metaphysics

Some writers have linked these themes directly to issues in metaphysics. For example Graham (1989, Appendix 2) argues that there are vast differences among human languages and that many of the concepts or categories (e.g., physical object, causation, quantity) writers like Aristotle and Kant and Strawson held were central, even indispensable, to human thought, are nothing more than parochial shadows cast by the structure of Indo-European languages. These notions, it is said, have no counterparts in many non-Indo-European languages like Chinese. If this is so, then a fairly strong version of the linguistic relativity hypothesis might be true, but the thesis hasn't been backed with strong empirical evidence and the most common views today lie at the opposite end of the spectrum. Indeed, Whorf himself held a similar view:

[Western] Science …has not yet freed itself from the illusory necessities of common logic which are only at bottom necessities of grammatical pattern in Western Aryan grammar; [e.g.,] necessities for substances which are only necessities for substantives in certain sentence positions …(1956, pp. 269-270).

It is worth noting, finally, that although Whorf was certainly a descriptive relativist he was not a normative relativist. He believed that some languages gave rise to more accurate worldviews than others. Indeed, he thought that the Hopi worldview was superior in various ways to that of speakers of Indo-European languages (e.g., 1956, p. 55, p. 262).
2. The Many Versions of Linguistic Relativism

Any serious discussion of the linguistic relativity hypothesis requires us to answer three questions

1. Which aspects of language influence which aspects of thought in some systematic way?
2. What form does that influence take?
3. How strong is that influence?

For example, certain features of syntax or of the lexicon might exert a causal influence on certain aspects of visual perception (e.g., on which colors we can discriminate), classification (e.g., on how we sort things by their color), or long-term memory (e.g., on which differences among colors we remember most accurately) in clearly specifiable ways. If there is such an influence we would also like to know what mechanisms mediate it, but until we have clearer answers to the first three questions, we are not well positioned to answer this.

Human languages are flexible and extensible, so most things that can be said in one can be approximated in another; if nothing else, words and phrases can be borrowed (Schadenfreude, je ne sais quoi). But what is easy to say in one language may be harder to say in a second, and this may make it easier or more natural or more common for speakers of the first language to think in a certain way than for speakers of the second language to do so. A concept or category may be more available in some linguistic communities than in others (e.g., Brown, 1956, pp. 307ff). In short, the linguistic relativity hypothesis comes in stronger and weaker forms, depending on the hypothesized forms and the hypothesized strength of the hypothesized influence.

Various aspects of language might affect cognition.

Languages can differ in their grammar or syntax. To take a simple example, typical word order may vary. In English, the common order is subject, verb, object. In Japanese it is subject, object, verb. In Welsh, verb, subject, object. Languages can differ in whether they make a distinction between intransitive verbs and adjectives. And there are many subtler sorts of grammatical difference as well. It should be noted that grammar here does not mean the prescriptive grammar we learned in grammar school, but the syntactic structure of a language; in this sense, a grammar comprises a set of rules (or some equivalent device) that can generate all and only the sentences of a given language.

Different languages have different lexicons (vocabularies), but the important point here is that the lexicons of different languages may classify things in different ways. For example, the color lexicons of some languages segment the color spectrum at different places.

Different languages have different semantic features (over and above differences in lexical semantics)

Different languages employ different metaphors or employ them in different ways.

It is increasingly clear that context plays a vital role in the use and understanding of language, and it is possible that differences in the way speakers of different languages use their languages in concrete settings affects their mental life.

For the most part discussions of the linguistic relativity hypothesis have focused on grammar and lexicon as independent variables. Thus, many of Whorf's claims, e.g., his claims about the way Hopi thought about time, were based on (what he took to be) large-scale differences between Hopi and Standard Average European that included grammatical and lexical differences (e.g., 1956, p. 158). Subsequence research by Ekkehart Malotki (e.g., 1983) and others suggests that Whorf's more dramatic claims were false, but the important point here is that the most prominent versions of the linguistic relativity hypothesis involved large-scale features of language.
Language might influence many different aspects of thought. Most empirical work has focused, appropriately enough, on those aspects that are easiest to assess without relying on language. This is important, since we otherwise risk finding influences of one aspect of language on some related aspect of language, rather than on some aspect of thought. Commonly studied cognitive variables include perceptual discrimination, availability in memory, and classification.
2.1 Testing the Linguistic Relativity Hypotheses

In light of the vast literature on linguistic relativity hypotheses, one would expect that a good deal of careful experimental work had been done on the topic. It hasn't. Often the only evidence cited in favor of such hypotheses is to point to a difference between two languages and assert that it adds up to a difference in modes of thought. But this simply assumes what needs to be shown, namely that such linguistic differences give rise to cognitive differences. On the other hand, refutations of the hypothesis often target implausibly extreme versions of it or proceed as though refutations of it in one domain (e.g., color language and color cognition) show that it is false across the board.
2.2 Many Versions of the Hypothesis have not been Tested

A linguistic relativity hypothesis says that some particular aspect of language influences some particular aspect of cognition. Many different aspects of language could, for all we know, influence many different aspects of cognition. This means that a study showing that some particular aspect of language (e.g., the color lexicon of a language) does (or does not) influence some particular aspect of cognition (e.g., recognition memory of colors) does not tell us whether other aspects of language (e.g., the lexicon for spatial relations) influence other aspects of cognition (e.g., spatial reasoning). It does not even tell us whether the single aspect of language we focused on affects any aspects of thought besides the one we studied, or whether other aspects of language influence the single aspect of thought we examined.

The point here is not merely a theoretical one. When the mind is seen as all of a piece, whether it's the result of stepping through Piaget's universal stages of development, the output of universal learning mechanisms, or the operation of a general-purpose computer, confirming or disconfirming the hypothesis in one area (e.g., color) might bear on its status in other areas. But there is increasing evidence that the mind is, to at least some degree, modular, with different cognitive modules doing domain specific work (e.g., parsing syntax, recognizing faces) and processing different kinds of information in different kinds of ways. If this is right, there is less reason to expect that findings about the influence of language on one aspect of cognition will generalize to other aspects.
The Upshot

Only a handful of versions of the claim that linguistic feature X influences cognitive feature Y in way Z have ever been tested. Some can doubtless be ruled out on the basis of common sense knowledge or previous investigation. But many remain that have yet to be studied. Moreover, those that have been studied often have not been studied with the care they deserve. A few have, though, and we will now turn to them.
Example: Color Language and Color Cognition

Much of the most rigorous investigation of the linguistic relativity hypothesis involves color language and color cognition. In the 1950s and 60s, this was an area where linguistic relativity seemed quite plausible. On the one hand, there is nothing in the physics of light (e.g., in facts about surface spectral reflectances) that suggests drawing boundaries between colors at one place rather than another; in this sense our segmentations of the spectrum are arbitrary. On the one hand, it was well known that different languages had color terms that segmented the color spectrum at different places. So since nothing in the physics of color could determine how humans thought about color, it seemed natural to hypothesis that color cognition followed the grooves laid down by color language.

Color was also an auspicious object of study, because investigators could use Munsell color chips (a widely used, standardized set of chips of different colors) or similar stimulus materials with subjects in quite different locations, thus assuring that whatever differences they found in their dependent variables really did involve the same thing, color (as anchored in the chips), rather than something more nebulous.

Brent Berlin and Paul Kay's work (1969) on basic color terms did much to raise the quality of empirical work on the linguistic relativity hypothesis. And together with much subsequent work it strongly suggests that the strongest, across-the-board versions of the linguistic relativity hypothesis are false when it comes to color language and color cognition. We now know that colors may be a rather special case, however, for although there is nothing in the physics of color that suggests particular segmentations of the spectrum, the opponent-process theory of color vision, now well confirmed, tells us that there are neurophysiological facts about human beings that influence many of the ways in which we perceive colors. We don't know of anything comparable innate mechanisms that would channel thought about social traits or biological classification of diseases in similarly deep grooves. There may well be cross-cultural similarities in the ways human beings think about these things, but we can't conclude this from the work on color.
3. Innateness and Linguistic Universals

The linguist Noam Chomsky has argued for almost half a century that human beings could only learn natural languages if they had a good deal of innate linguistic equipment to guide their way. He has characterized this equipment in different ways over the years, but the abiding theme is that without it children could never get from the sparse set of utterances they hear to the rich linguistic ability they achieve.
3.1 Poverty of the Stimulus Arguments

In just a few years all normal children acquire the language that is spoken by their family and others around them. They acquire a very complex and virtually unbounded ability to distinguish sentences from non-sentences and to understand and utter a virtually unlimited number of sentences they have never thought of before. The child acquires this ability on the basis of the utterances she hears and the feedback (rarely in the form of corrections) she receives. The problem is that the child's data here are very unsystematic and sparse compared to the systematic and nearly unbounded linguistic competence the child quickly acquires.

Hence, the argument continues, the child needs help to get from this impoverished input to the rich output (the acquisition of a grammar of a complex natural language), and this help can only be provided by something innate that constrains and guides the child in her construction of the grammar. The point is quite general: if the input, or data stream, is exiguous then (barring incredible luck) it is only possible for someone to arrive at the right theory about the data if they have some built-in inductive biases, some predispositions to form one kind of theory rather than another. And since any child can learn any human language, the innate endowment must put constraints on which of the countless logically possible languages are humanly possible.

If the features of human languages are limited by such innate, language-acquisition mechanisms, there is less scope for the large differences among languages that the more extreme linguistic relativists have imagined. But might linguistic universals leave room for less extreme versions of linguistic relativism that are still interesting? That depends on what linguistic devices there are and on their relationships to other cognitive mechanisms.
3.2 Modularity

From the perspective of nativist accounts of language, many of the questions about linguistic relativity boil down to questions about the informational encapsulation of mental modules. To say that a module is encapsulated means that other parts of the mind cannot influence its inner workings (though they can supply it with inputs and use its outputs). What are the implications of this for the linguistic relativist's claim that a person's language can exert a dramatic influence on his perception and thought?

The answer may be different for perception, on the one hand, and the higher mental processes, on the other. For example Jerry Fodor (1984) argues that there is a module (or modules) for visual perception and that information from other parts of the mind cannot influence it in the way that many psychologists have supposed. For example, even though I know that the two lines in the Müller-Lyer illusion

missing text, please inform
Müller-Lyer Illusion

are the same length, I cannot help seeing the line on the left as longer than the line on the right. I know the lengths are the same, but my visual module (or models) does not. It is encapsulated; this information can't get through to it, so it can't influence how I see the figure. If this is so, then linguistic information could not penetrate any vision modules, and so versions of linguistic relativism which hold (as most do) that our language can influence how we see things is wrong.

By contrast, Fodor holds that there is no special module for higher mental processes and, indeed, that we are a long way from having any account of how thinking and reasoning work (e.g., 2000). If this is right, then for all we know now, some aspects of linguistic relativism could be right. The workings of various linguistic modules might influence thought in interesting ways.

It bears stressing that many of the issues involving cognitive architecture are vigorously contested. Among other things, not all champions of modules see them as Fodor does. According to them what is special about visual modules may just be that they process visual information, not that they lack access to other kinds of information (indeed, top-down aspects of perception suggest that they often do have such access). If this is so, there is more room for language to influence perception and other cognitive processes than there is if modules are tightly insulated.

The dust here hasn't begun to settle, but one general moral is clear. If at least moderately strong nativist and modular views of the mind are on the right track--and there is now certainly some reason to think that they are--then many of the empirical issues about linguistic relativity will translate into issues concerning the ways in which various modules can influence one another.
4. Morals for other Independent Variables: Modularity and Encapsulation

We have gone into detail about the linguistic relativity hypothesis, because the main lessons here carry over to the study of the impact of other variables, e.g., culture, on cognition. Some of these emerged above; others are obvious once they are noted. They are

1. Questions about the impact of a variable on cognition are empirical and causal questions.
2. Such questions can only be answered with care once we specify which aspects of an independent variable, say culture, influence which aspects of thought and what form that influence takes.
3. Such hypotheses can vary greatly in specificity, strength, and scope.
4. Testing a specific version of the hypothesis requires a combination of skills, including those of a good ethnographer, linguist, and experimental psychologist.
5. A comparison of more than two cultures is needed to draw any firm conclusions.
6. The truth of specific hypotheses may turn on issues involving the modularity of mind and the degree of modular encapsulation.
7. If the mind is highly modular, finding an influence of one aspect of language or culture of some aspect of cognition may tell us little about the influence of other aspects of language or culture on cognition.

These lessons are easier with some variables than with others. It is probably easiest with some aspects of language, because a good deal is now known about many of the languages of the world. It will often be more difficult in the case of culture, where things are more difficult to pin down than they are in the case of language. And it will be virtually impossible when history is the relevant variable; here much more speculative interpretations of historical documents may be the best we can do. But the basic point remains. Relativistic claims are empirical causal claims and they can only be settled by empirical evidence.

It is not always easy to strike the proper balance when thinking about empirical work on these matters. On the one hand it is useful to cultivate an “it-can't-be-that-simple” reflex for use when reading an isolated study or two. But on the other hand empirical investigation is the only thing that can answer many of the difficult questions about the complex, entangled processes of language, culture, and thought.

The Vocabulary of Ontology


"Any linguistic study of the Greek verb be is essentially conditioned, and perhaps ultimately motivated, by the philosophic career of this word. We know what an extraordinary career it has been. It seems fair to say, with Benveniste, that the systematic development of a concept of Being in Greek philosophy from Parmenides to Aristotle, and then in a more mechanical way from the Stoics to Plotinus, relies upon the pre-existing disposition of the language to make a very general and diversified use of the verb einai. Furthermore, insofar as the notions expressed by on, einai, and ousia in Greek underlie the doctrines of Being, substance, essence, and existence in Latin, in Arabic, and in modern philosophy from Descartes to Heidegger and perhaps to Quine, we may say that the usage of the Greek verb be studied here forms the historical basis for the ontological tradition of the West, as the very term "ontology" suggests.
At the same time it is generally recognized that this wide range of uses for the single verb eimi in Greek reflects a state of affairs which is "peculiar to Indo-European languages, and by no means a universal situation or a necessary condition." (1) The present monograph series on "the verb 'be' and its synonyms" shows just how far the languages of the earth may differ from one another in their expression for existence, for predication with nouns or with adjectives, for locative predication, and so forth. The topic of be can itself scarcely be defined except by reference to Indo-European verbs representing the root *es-. The question naturally arises whether an historical peculiarity of this kind can be of any fundamental importance for general linguistics and, even more pressing, whether a concept reflecting the Indo-European use of *es- can be of any general significance in philosophy."

(1) Émile Benveniste - "Catégories de pensée et catégories de langue" (1958) - in: Problèmes de linguistique générale - (Paris , 1966) p. 73
From: Charles H. Kahn - The verb 'Be' in ancient Greek - Dordrecht, Reidel (1973) p. 1 (Reprinted Indianapolis, Hackett, 2003 with a new introduction)

"When the early Greek thinkers initiated philosophical speculation, the very first question they asked themselves was: What stuff is reality made of? Taken in itself, this question was strikingly indicative of the most fundamental need of the human mind. To understand something is for us to conceive it as identical in nature with something else that we already know. To know the nature of reality at large is therefore for us to understand that each and every one of the innumerable things which make up the universe is, at bottom, identical in nature with each and every other thing. Prompted by this unshakable conviction, unshakable because rooted in the very essence of human understanding, the early Greek thinkers successively attempted to reduce nature in general to water, then to air, then to fire, until one of them at last hit upon the right answer to the question, by saying that the primary stuff which reality is made of is being.
The answer was obviously correct, for it is not at once evident that, in the last analysis, air and fire are nothing else than water, or that, conversely, water itself is nothing else than either air or fire; but it cannot be doubted that, whatever else they may be, water, air and fire have in common at least this property, that they are. Each of them is a being, and, since the same can be said of everything else, we cannot avoid the conclusion that being is the only property certainly shared in common by all that which is. Being, then, is the fundamental and ultimate element of reality.
When he made this discovery, Parmenides of Elea at once carried metaphysical speculation to what was always to remain one of its ultimate limits; but, at the same time, he entangled himself in what still is for us one of the worst metaphysical difficulties. It had been possible for Parmenides' predecessors to identify nature with water, fire or air, without going to the trouble of defining the meaning of those terms. If I say that everything is water, everybody will understand what I mean, but if I say that everything is being, I can safely expect to be asked: what is being? For indeed we all know many beings, but what being itself is, or what it is to be, is an extremely obscure and intricate question. Parmenides could hardly avoid telling us what sort of reality being itself is. In point of fact, he was bold enough to raise the problem and clear-sighted enough to give it an answer which still deserves to hold our attention."
From: Étienne Gilson - Being and some philosophers - Toronto, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies - Second edition, 1952, pp. 6-7

In a first acceptation, the word being is a noun. As such, it signifies either d being (that is, the substance, nature, and essence of anything existent), or being itself, a property common to all that which can rightly be said to be. In a second acceptation, the same word is the present participle of the verb 'to be.' As a verb, it no longer signifies something that is, nor even existence in general, but rather the very act whereby any given reality actually is, or exists. Let us call this act a 'to be,' in contradistinction to what is commonly called 'a being.' It appears at once that, at least to the mind, the relation of 'to be' to 'being' is not a reciprocal one. 'Being' is conceivable, 'to be' is not. We cannot possibly conceive an 'is' except as belonging to some thing that is, or exists. But the reverse is not true. Being is quite conceivable apart from actual existence; so much so that the very first and the most universal of all the distinctions in the realm of being is that which divides it into two classes, that of the real and that of the possible. Now what is it to conceive a being as merely possible, if not to conceive it apart from actual existence? A 'possible' is a being which has not yet received, or which has already lost, its own to be. Since being is thinkable apart from actual existence, whereas actual existence is not thinkable apart from being, philosophers will simply yield to one of the fundamental facilities of the human mind by positing being minus actual existence as the first principle of metaphysics."
From: Étienne Gilson - Being and some philosophers - Toronto, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies - Second edition, 1952, pp. 2-3

"If for us Being is just an empty word and an evanescent meaning, then we must at least try to grasp fully this last remnant of a connection. So we ask, to begin with: 1. What sort of word is this anyway --Being -- as regards its formal character as a word? 2. What does linguistics tell us about the originary meaning of this word?To put this in scholarly terms, we are asking 1) about the grammar and 2) about the etymology of the word Being.
The grammatical analysis of words is neither exclusively nor primarily concerned with their written or spoken form. It takes these formal elements as clues to definite directions and differences in direction in the possible meanings of words; these directions dictate how the words can be used within a sentence or within a larger discursive structure. (...)We can easily see that un the formation of the word Being, the decisive precursor is the infinitive 'to be.' This form of the verb is transformed into a substantive. The character of our word Being, as a word, is determined, accordingly, by three grammatical forms: verb, infinitive, and substantive. Thus our first task is to understand the meaning of these grammatical forms. Of the three we have named, verb and substantive are among those that were first recognized at the start of Western grammar and that even today are taken as the fundamental forms of words and of language in general. And so, with the question about the essence of the substantive and of the verb, we find ourselves in the midst of the question about the essence of language. For the question of whether the primordial form of the word is the noun (substantive) or the verb coincides with the question of the originary character of speech and speaking. In turn, this question entails the question of the origin of language. We cannot start by immediately going into this question. We are forced onto a detour. We will restrict ourselves in what follows to that grammatical form which provides the transitional phase in the development of the verbal substantive: the infinitive (to go, to come, to fall, to sing, to hope, to be, etc.).
What does "infinitive" mean? This term is an abbreviation of the complete one: modus infinitivus, the mode of unboundedness, of indeterminateness, regarding the manner in which a verb exercises and indicates the function and direction of its meaning. (...).
Above all we must consider the fact that the definitive differentiation of the fundamental forms of words (noun and verb) in the Greek form of onoma and rhema was worked out and first established in the most immediate and intimate connection with the conception and interpretation of Being that has been definitive for the entire West. This inner bond between these two happenings is accessible to us unimpaired and is carried out in full clarity in Plato's Sophist. The terms onoma and rhema were already known before Plato, of course. But at that time, and still in Plato, they were understood as terms denoting the use of words as a whole. Onoma means the linguistic name as distinguished from the named person or thing, and it also means the speaking of a word, which was later conceived grammatically as rhema. And rhema in turn means the spoken word, speech; the rhetor is the speaker, the orator, who uses not only verbs but also onomata in the narrower meaning of the substantive.
The fact that both terms originally governed an equally wide domain is important for our later point that the much-discussed question in linguistics of whether the noun or the verb represents the primordial form of the word is not a genuine question. This pseudo-question first arose in the context of a developed grammar rather than from a vision of the essence of language, an essence not yet dissected by grammar."
From: Martin Heidegger - Introduction to metaphysics - New translation by Gregory Fried and Richard Polt - New Haven, Yale University Press, 2000, pp. 55-60 (notes omitted).


"On the other hand, by means of the so-called noun clause the Hebrew language is much better able to express the 'static' or 'that which is' in its logical sense than the Greek and our modern languages permit with their copula and their verbs of inaction. We shall define the noun clause in agreement with Gesenius-Kautzsch, in order to be able to understand the 'being' expressed in it:Every sentence, the subject as well as the predicate of which is a noun or noun equivalent is called a noun clause, while in a verbal clause the predicate is a finite verb. This distinction is indispensable for more subtle understanding of Hebrew syntax (as of Semitics in general) because it is not merely a matter of an external, formal distinction in meaning but of one that goes to the depths of the language. The noun clause, the predicate of which is a substantive, offers something fixed, not active, in short, a 'being'; the verbal clause on the other hand asserts something moving and in flux, an event and an action. The noun clause with a participial predicate can also assert something moving and in flux, except that here the event and action is fixed as something not active and enduring, as opposed to the verbal clause. For our purpose, it is not necessary to discuss all the various kinds of noun classes, and in particular not those with participial predicates which should logically be considered as verbal clauses."
(1) Friedrich Heinrich Wilhelm Gesenius (1786-1842) and Emil Friedrich Kautzsch (1841-1910) - Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar. Edited and enlarged by E. Kautzsch Translated and revised from German 28th edition by Arthur Ernest Cowley. 2nd edition, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910 - § 140 [Reprinted by Oxford University Press in 1995]
From: Thorleif Boman - Hebrew thought compared with Greek - English updated translation by Jules Moreau - Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1960; reprinted by W. W. Norton & Company, 2002 pp. 35-36. (some notes omitted). Original edition: Das hebräische Denken im Vergleich mit dem griechischen - Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1952 (second revised edition 1954)

"What is the basic fact of 'being' for the Israelites will result from the analysis of the verb hayah that follows.
A) The verb hayah: We must devote special attention to this verb not only because it occurs most frequently but also because the verbal problems discussed above are concentrated in this verb and appear in it in their most difficult form. (...) The most important meanings and uses of our verb 'to be' (and its equivalents in other Indo-European languages) are: (1) to express being or existence; (2) to serve as a copula. Now, as we have shown above, Hebrew and the other Semitic languages do not need a copula because of the noun clause. As a general rule, therefore, it may be said that hayah is not used as a copula; real or supposed exceptions to this rule will be cited later. The characteristic mark of hayah, in distinction from our verb 'to be', is that it is a true verb with full verbal force. The majority of formal considerations as well as the actual ones lead to this conclusion:
I. The peculiarity of emphasizing the verbal idea by use of the infinitive absolute before finite verbs;
II. the occurrence of the passive form Niph'al;
III. its frequent occurrence in parallel with other verbs whose verbal force is beyond doubt; this is so frequent an occurrence that a few examples will suffice: Jahveh hurled a great wind, and a mighty tempest was ( Jonah 1.4); God created (made, spoke) and the corresponding thing was ( Gen. 1.3, 9, 11); its parallel use with qûm = 'be realized' (Isa. 7.7; 14.24); the messengers of the king command the prophet Micaiah to prophesy safety and victory, 'Let thy word be as the word of one of them (i.e. the prophets of good fortune)', ( I Kings 22.13).
The meaning of hayah is apparently manifold; hayah has thus been considered to some extent a general word which can mean everything possible and therefore designates nothing characteristic. Closer examination reveals, however, that this is not the case. It is therefore necessary to establish the many meanings and shades of meaning of hayah and to find their inner connexion. We shall use first the results of Ratschow (1) who has examined the occurrences of hayah in the Old Testament with a thoroughness hardly to be excelled and in whose work is to be found extensive evidence. He found three principal meanings: 'to become', 'to be', and 'to effect'; but these are related internally and form a unity. In the main this will be right, and it agrees with our understanding of Hebrew thought; we must object, however, to details."
(1) Carl H. Ratschow - Werden und Wirken, Eine Untersuchung des wortes hajah als Beitrag zur Wirklichkeitserfassung des Alten Testaments ("Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft", 70) - Berlin, A. Töpelmann, 1941.
From: Thorleif Boman - Hebrew thought compared with Greek - English updated translation by Jules Moreau - Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1960; reprinted by W. W. Norton & Company, 2002 pp. 38-39. (notes omitted). Original edition: Das hebräische Denken im Vergleich mit dem griechischen - Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1952 (second revised edition 1954).

"In modern biblical theology it is commonly held that the Israelites were not interested in 'existence' as distinct from active existence, action or life; and correspondingly that the language has no means of expressing mere existence. The same seems to be the opinion of Boman, who several times says that a static being is a nothing to the Israelites.
It was mentioned earlier that 'the verb 'to be' as copula or existential was one of the subjects of the questionnaire circulated by Basson and O'Connor and reported on in their article. On this question they got an answer, and they report as follows: 'Semitic languages have in general no copula, but Hebrew and Assyrian both have a special word for "exists" '.1 Does this contradict the opinion I have just described?There are at least three linguistic phenomena which are relevant to the discussion of 'to be' in Hebrew:(a) The ordinary type of sentence where the copula 'is' is used in English, such as 'David is the king', 'he is the man', has no verb as copula in Hebrew. Hebrew uses the nominal sentence, which is a mere juxtaposition of the two elements 'David' and 'the king'. The nominal sentence is a very well-established feature of Semitic syntax. A common addition is the pronoun 'he' or 'she' introduced after the subject, giving the sentence 'David-he-the-king'. Since this pronoun is not indispensable and is indeed very frequently not so inserted, I think it can be neglected in a discussion of the copula.
(b) The verb hayah 'to be'. This is discussed at length by Boman, and I shall later make some remarks about his treatment of it. For the present we have to make clear only the most important fact for the co-ordination of hayah with other terms corresponding to English 'to be': it is only at certain points that this verb coincides in function with 'to be as copula or existential'. In a very large number of its occurrences it will be well translated by 'come to be' or 'come to pass'. Or, conversely, English sentences using 'is' in the present tense either as copula or as existential will seldom be rendered into Hebrew with hayah; they will much more normally use the nominal sentence, or the particle yel 'there is'. We are not on the other hand justified in removing hayah altogether from the sphere of what is relevant to English 'is' and making it equivalent (say) to English 'become'. For example, a statement like 'the earth is waste' will have the nominal sentence, and no verb; but if we put it in the past and say 'the earth was waste (and is no longer so)', then the verb hayahis used, as in Gen. I: 2. It would be quite perverse to insist on the meaning 'became' here, and so a certain overlap with 'be' has to be observed. In fact the sense of 'come to he' or 'come to pass' is not to be explained by going over to 'become' as the basic sense, but by noticing that very frequent uses have an ingressive element which with a verb meaning 'be' will lead to a sense roughly of 'come to be' or 'come to pass'.
(c) The word yeš; 'there is' and the opposite 'ayin or 'en 'there is not'. This is of course the 'special word for exists ' mentioned in the report above. Boman in his discussion of 'being' does not mention this frequent and important word at all. Moreover, a considerable complication is introduced into the discussion by this word. Basson and O'Connor (1) are right in saying that it is a 'special word for 'exists', in the sense that it is not normally used as a copula in sentences like 'David is the king'. You use it in sentences like 'There is a dish on the table' or 'There is a God in heaven'.
The complication to which I refer is that this word, which we might describe rather vaguely as a particle, is certainly not a verb, has some of the characteristics of the noun and may be translated 'being, existence' in a rather over-literal rendering.
"Now another point of some importance can be illustrated from this word. The point I wish to make is that the question whether the Israelites laid any emphasis on 'mere' existence as distinct from active existence of some kind is a different one from the question whether their language had words that could express 'mere' existence. The word yeš can be well translated by 'there is', and as in English 'there is' we press too far if we try to find in it the expression of 'mere' existence. In fact many cases which use it have also some locality indicated: 'There is bread in my house', 'There is Yahweh in this place'. This is no doubt the 'existential' sense of 'is' as against the 'copula' type. Nevertheless 'exists' would not be a good translation in these sentences, since we would not normally say 'Bread exists in my house' or 'There exists a dish on the table'. In other words, the 'existential' use of the word 'is' does not coincide semantically with 'exists' and does not raise the problem of 'mere' existence, especially when a locality is indicated."

(1) A. H. Basson, and D. J. O'Connor - Language and philosophy: some suggestions for an empirical approach - Philosophy, XXII (1947) p. 59.

From: James Barr - The semantics of biblical language - Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1961 - pp. 58-61 (some notes omitted).

"einai: to be, to exist; to on: that which is, the real; ousia: being, essence. This verb caused great philosophical difficulty to the Greeks and consequential difficulties for us. Much of the trouble arises from the fact that one can say Platôn esti - Plato exists - or Platôn esti philosophos -- Plato is a philosopher - making use of the same verb, whereas in English `Plato is' is at best an unidiomatic way of saying that he exists. This double use led some earlier Greek philosophers to think that a sentence beginning Platôn ouk esti... must deny the existence of Plato even if the next word is barbaros. This leads to translation difficulties for us, as for instance with the sentence ei ti phaneiê hoion hama on to kai mê on, to toiouton metaxu keisthai tou eilikrinôs ontos kai tou pantôs mê ontos(Plato Rep. 478d), which might be translated either as 'if something should appear such as both to have and not to have a certain predicate [we said that] such a thing would lie between being clearly of that sort and not being so at all' or as `if something should appear such that it simultaneously exists and does not exist [we said that] such a thing would lie between clearly existing and not existing at all'. It was presumably these difficulties that led Parmenides to say such things as khrê to legein to noein t'eon emmenai esti gar einai, mêden d'ouk estin - that of which one can speak and think must be: for it is possible for it, but not for nothing, to be (Parmenides in Simplicius, Physics 117.4). In an impersonal use esti frequently means `it is possible' as in estin adikounta mêpô adikon einai - it is possible to do what is unjust without being an unjust person (Aristotle N.E. 1134a 17), and in the quotation from Parmenides above. There are also adverbial expressions such as estin hote, sometimes, and estin hôs, in some ways.".
"on: to on,in the widest sense, is everything that is and, as such, is contrasted with to mê on, that which is not; in a narrower use to on, sometimes called for clarity to ontôs on, the really real, is unchanging and imperishable and eternal, and is contrasted with the gignomenon that is changing and perishable. In the dispute between Parmenides and the atomists it is hard to doubt that to mê on as the non-existent is confused with empty space: oute gar an gnoiês to ge mê on: ou gar anuston -- you cannot know that which is not; it is impossible (Parmenides, fr. 2); ouden gar estin ê estai allo parex tou eontos -- nothing other than what is either is or will be (Parmenides, fr. 8). But Simplicius reports Leucippus as saying ouden mallon to on ê to mê on huparkhein -- there is that which is no more than that which is not (Simplicius, Physics 28.12); here to mê on seems to be the kenon, void; cf. the den of Democritus. In the narrower use, to men pantelôs on pantelôs gnôston -- the completely real is completely knowable (Plato Rep. 477a); ei gar panta to onta tou agathou ephietai, dêlon hoti to prôtôs agathon epekeina esti tôn ontôn -- for if everything that is aims at the good, it is clear that the primary good transcends things that are (Proclus, Elements of Theology 8); to gar houtôs on proteron têi phusei tou gignomenou esti - that which is in this [narrow] way is prior in its nature to the becoming (Simplicius, Physics 1337.4)."
From: James Opie Urmson - The Greek philosophical vocabulary - London, Duckworth 1990 pp. 49-50 and 117.

"on ónta (pl.): being, beings.
1. The question of the nature of being first arose in the context of Parmenides' series of logical dichotomies between being and nonbeing (me on): that which is, cannot not be; that which is not, cannot be, i.e., a denial of passage from being to nonbeing or genesis (q.v.; fr. 2) , and its corollary, a denial of change and motion (fr. 8, lines 26-33, 42-50; for the theological correlatives of this, see nous 2). Secondly, being is one and not many (fr. 8, lines 22-25) . And finally, the epistemological premiss: only being can be known or named; nonbeing cannot (fr. 3; fr. 8, line 34); see doxa. Being, in short, is a sphere (fr. 8, lines 42-4g) . Most of the later pre-Socratics denied this latter premiss (cf. stoicheion and atomon), as did Plato for whom the really real (to ontos on) were the plural eide, and who directed the latter half of the Parmenides (137b-166c) against it.
2. The solution to the nonbeing dilemma (for its epistemological solution, see doxa and heteron) and the key to the analysis of genesis began with Plato's positing of space (see hypodoche) in which genesis takes place, and which stands midway between true being and nonbeing (Tim. 52a-c). For Plato, as for Parmenides, absolute nonbeing is nonsense (Sophist 238c), but there is a relative grade illustrated not only by the Receptacle cited above, but by sensible things (aistheta) as well (Sophist 240b; Timaeus. 35a, 52c). Among the Platonic hierarchy of Forms, there is aneidos of being; indeed it is one of the most important Forms that pervade all the rest (Sophist 254b-d; compare this with the peculiar nature of on in Aristotle, Metaphysics 1003a) . Further, Plato distinguishes real beings (ontos onta) from those that have genesis, and in Timaeus 28a he works out an epistemological-ontological correlation: onta are known by thought (noesis) accompanied by a rational account (logos); generated beings are grasped by opinion (or judgment, see doxa) based on sensation (aisthesis).
3. Since being is the object of the science of metaphysics (Metaphysics 1031a) Aristotle's treatment of on is much more elaborate. The first distinction is between "being qua being" (to on he on), which is the object of metaphysics, and individual beings (onta), which are the objects of the other sciences. This is the view in Metaphysics 1003a, but Aristotle is not consistent on the point: elsewhere (see Metaphysics 1026a; Physics 192a, 194b; De an. 403b) he states that metaphysics studies being that is separate and unmoving (see theologia). Again, 'being' is peculiar in that it is defined not univocally or generically, but analogously through all the categories (Metaphysics 1003a) , and in this it is like 'one' (hen) (Metaphysics 1053b ) and 'good' (agathon) ( ibid. Nichomachean Ethics I, 1096b ) ; see katholou. There follows a basic distinction (ibid. 1017a-b): something 'is' either accidentally, or essentially, or epistemologically, or in the dichotomy act (energeia) / potency (dynamis). The epistemological 'being' (see doxa) is dealt with elsewhere ( see Metaphysics 1027b-1028a, 1051a-1152a), as is potency/act (see Metaphysics Theta passim), so Aristotle here concentrates his attention on what 'is' essentially. It is something that falls within the ten kategoriai (Metaphysics 1017a) and is, primarily, substance (ousia; ibid. 1028a-b). A somewhat different point of view emerges from Aristotle's breakdown of the various senses of nonbeing (me on) in Metaphysics 1069b and 1089a: something is not either as a negative proposition, i.e., a denial of one of the predicates, or as a false proposition, or finally, kata dynamin, i.e., by being something else only potentially but not actually. It is from this latter that genesis comes about ( see also dynamis, energeia, steresis) .
4. In the Plotinian universe the One (hen) is beyond being (Enneads V, 9, 3; compare Plato's description of the Good beyond Being in Republic 509b and see hyperousia). The realm of being begins on the level of nous since both being and nous are contained in nous (ibid. V, 5, 2; V, 9, 7). Nonbeing is treated in much the Platonic and Aristotelian fashion: matter (hyle) that is only a replica (eikon) of being is only quasi-being ( Enneads I, 8, 3). Philo, with his strongly developed feeling of divine transcendence (see hyperousia), restricts true being to God alone (Quod deterius potiori insidiari soleat. 44., 160) , arid introduces into the discussion the metaphysical interpretation of the famous phrase in Exodus 3, 14: 'I am who am'; see hypodoche, hyle, genesis."
From: Francis Edwards Peters - Greek philosophical terms. A historical lexicon - New York, New York University Press, 1967 pp. 141-142.

"There can be no doubt that Parmenides' Goddess's philosophy course is concerned with 'being.' But saying this is not saying anything. In Greek, as in Spanish [or English], 'to be' is a verb and, like any verb it can be used as a noun, and then we can speak of 'being' (used as a noun). But this verbal noun is essentially different in Greek than it is in other languages, and so we cannot ignore the problem. This specificity is one of the results of the flexibility of the Greek language, which permits all kinds of juggling. E. Benveniste wrote that "the linguistic structure of Greek created the predisposition for the notion 'to be' to have a philosophical vocation." (1) Indeed, the use of the verb 'to be' as a noun absolutely does not mean what Philosophers call 'being' (the noun). To use an infinitive as a noun in Spanish it must be preceded by an article, in this case 'el' ['the']. Then the infinitive 'ser"'['to be'] becomes 'el ser' ['the being'] used as a noun, in Greek 'tò eînai.' However, this formula never figured among the concerns of the Greek philosophers. No Greek philosopher who inquired into what today we might call 'the being of things,' or even 'certain types of beings,' including the supreme being, ever asked 'what is tò eînai?' literally 'what is being?' As we know, especially since the Aristotelian systemization, the formula used by all Greek philosophers to ask the question of being is tí esti tò ón (to eon in Parmenides), 'What is being?' 'Tò eon' is the present participle of the verb to be, used as a noun. The difficulty of grasping the scope of this neuter present participle (since there is also a masculine and a feminine present participle) has always given rise to all kinds of misunderstandings, since its use as a noun, represented by the neuter article 'tó,' is deceptive, and so Parmenides avoids it whenever he can. Indeed, just as verbal-noun infinitives always have a dynamic character, something similar occurs with the participle tò on, which as a present participle means that which is being,' that which engages in the act of being now. In all that I have said up till now, philosophy is absent: I have only summarized, perhaps too superficially, what Benveniste calls 'un fait de langue,"' (2) a fact about Greek simply as a language.
It is upon this linguistic fact that Parmenides reflects. In Greek the word for 'things' is ónta. Even in current everyday language, things are 'beings,' 'something(s) that is (are),' 'that which is being.' Philosophy has not yet come into it: that's the way the Greek language is. But why do we call something that is a 'being'? Because the fact of being manifests itself in that which is; if there is that which is, then the fact of being is assumed. Without the fact of being, there would not be things that are. This sort of platitude will constitute the nucleus of Parmenides' philosophy. And that is the reason why his thinking starts from an analysis of the notion of the fact of being, arrived at from the evidence that 'is' is occurring. If there is something undeniable for anyone who is, it is 'is.' If Greek syntax allowed the formula, we could say, with R. Regvald, that the basic question would be 'tí esti ésti,' 'What is 'is'?"
(1) Emile Benveniste, Problèmes de linguistique générale - Paris, Gallimard, 1959 p. 73
(2) ibid. p. 71 note 1.
From: Néstor-Luis Cordero - By Being, It Is. The thesis of Parmenides - Las Vegas, Parmenides Publishing, 2004 pp. 59-60 (some note omitted).

"It is an understatement to claim that `being' is one of the central concepts of ancient Greek metaphysics. Unfortunately, there is a split between contemporary commentators as to what is under discussion when being is the topic. On one side are those who think that these discussions are basically about existence; what exists, the various sorts of existence, what can be inferred from the fact that something exists, etc. On the other side are those who believe that these discussions are investigations into the nature of predication; of being something or other, the various ways a thing can be what it is, what can be inferred from the fact that a thing is something or other, etc. Obviously these are two quite different topics. For example, on the existence interpretation, as I shall call it, one of Parmenides' main points is that we cannot (meaningfully) speak of what does not exist. His mistake is to think that words and phrases which purport to refer but which do not refer are meaningless. On the predication approach, Parmenides is correctly pointing out that we cannot speak about nothing (what is not anything at all) and still be speaking. His mistake is to confuse not being something or other with not being anything at all. (1) On the existence interpretation, it is perhaps fair to say that Plato's distinction between real being and a lesser sort is a distinction between kinds of existence. On the predication approach, it is a distinction between really being this or that and being in a way or qualifiedly this or that. One's view of Greek metaphysics is going to be strongly influenced by which approach one takes. A little can be said about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two approaches without getting into the details where, as we all know, the devil dwells. In philosophical discussions of being we frequently find the Greek, 'èsti', occurring without a completion. On the predication approach, sentences of the form, 'x is', are understood as meaning much the same as, 'x is something or other', in the way that, 'x sees', means much the same as, 'x sees something or other'. Furthermore, 'x is something or other', is understood as different in meaning from, 'x exists'. For example, Centaurs do not exist but they are mythical creatures, discussed, thought of and sometimes believed in. Thus, they are something or other though they do not exist. The problem for the predication approach is that there is no unambiguous use of, 'x is', to mean, 'x is something or other', in ordinary Greek. Such sentences can, however, mean, 'x exists'. This is a significant point in favor of the existence reading. This would probably be the end of the story were it not for the fact that in the metaphysical texts in question examples are given or inferences are drawn which make it clear that predication is in some way involved. For example, in the Theaetetus, 152 a ff., Socrates introduces Protagoras' relativism as follows: "Man is the measure of all things - of the things that are that they are and of the things that are not that they are not." Though an existential reading is perfectly natural, it is all but contradicted by what follows. Socrates illustrates the quoted dictum by pointing out that a wind may be chilly to one person and not chilly to another, i. e., that a thing may be thus and so to one person and not be that to another. Existence seems not to be in question. The strength of the predication approach stems from the fact that frequently the philosophical texts in question require us to somehow understand the verb,'ésti', as the copula.
(1) Mohan Matthen, "Greek Ontology and the 'Is' of Truth", presents and defends what is perhaps the most detailed and well worked out existence approach in the literature.(2) After pointing out that Greek philosophers sometimes use the verb, 'einai', in such a way that it seems to express both existence and predication, he presents an interesting account of this phenomenon which allows us to read absolute occurrences of the verb as neither the copula nor as (con)fused but as meaning simply, 'exists'. The assimilation of these occurrences to the copula is achieved by arguing that speakers of ancient Greek were committed to the existence of a type of entity which is unfamiliar to us and which he calls a 'predicative complex'. (3) (1) Richard J. Ketchum "Parmenides in What There Is", Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 20/2 (1990), 167-190.
(2) "Greek Ontology and the 'Is' of Truth", Phronesis, 28/2 (1983), 113-135.
(3) Matthen sometimes writes as if his thesis is restricted to philosophical Ancient Greek as opposed to Ancient Greek generally. For example, the task he sets for himself is to explain why Greek Ontologists accepted some principles which he in turn uses to account for the apparent ambiguity (p. 116). I shall assume here, however, that this thesis is intended to cover Ancient Greek generally. Greek ontologists other than Aristotle were at least sometimes writing for the general public. If the principles in question were accepted only by the ontologists, the various uses of 'shat' would have been as confusing to the ancient Greek as they are to us. If we restricted the thesis to ontologists, we would also need some explanation as to why the ontologists assumed principles of which the ordinary Greek was unaware.
From: Richard J. Ketchum "Being and existence in Geek ontology" Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 80, (1998) p. 321-322


"How scant of words our language is, nay, how poverty-stricken, I have not fully understood until today. We happened to be speaking of Plato, and a thousand subjects came up for discussion, which needed names and yet possessed none; and there were certain others which once possessed, but have since lost, their words because we were too nice about their use.
You will say, I suppose: 'What is the purpose and meaning of this preamble?' I shall not keep you in the dark; I desire, if possible, to say the word essentia to you and obtain a favourable hearing. If I cannot do. this, I shall risk it even though it put you out of humour. I have Cicero as authority for the use of this word, and I regard him as a powerful authority. If you desire testimony of a later date, I shall cite Fabianus, careful of speech, cultivated, and so polished in style that lie will suit even our nice tastes. For what can we do, my dear Lucilius? How otherwise call we find a word for that, which the Greeks call ousia, something that is indispensable, something that is the natural substratum of everything? I beg you accordingly to allow me to use this word essentia. I shall nevertheless take pains to exercise the privilege, which you have granted me, with as sparing a hand as possible; perhaps I shall be content with the mere right. Yet what good will your indulgence do me, if, lo and behold, I can in no wise express in Latin the meaning of the word which gave me the opportunity to rail at the poverty of our language? And you will condemn our narrow Roman limits even more, when you find out that there is a word of one syllable which I cannot translate. 'What is this ?' you ask. It is the word on. You think me lacking in facility; you believe that the word is ready to hand, that it might be translated by quod est. I notice, however, a great difference; you are forcing me to render a noun by a verb. But if I must do so, I shall render it by quod est. There are six ways in which Plato expresses this idea, according to a friend of ours, a man of great learning, who mentioned the fact today. And I shall explain all of them to you, if I may first point out that there is something called genus and something called species."
From: Seneca - Ad Lucilium. Epistulae morales - With an English translation by Richard M. Gummere - London - William Heinemann, 1953 ( Loeb Classical Library) pp. 387; 389-391).


Sunday, 11 May 2008

Veni Creator Spiritus

Een kerkelijk pinkster hymne

(vermoedelijk van de benedictijner monnik Hrabanus Maurus - 780-856)

Veni, Creator Spiritus
mentes tuorum visita
Imple superna gratia
quae tu creasti pectora.
Qui Paraclitus diceris,
Donum Dei Altissimi,
fons vivus, ignis, caritas,
et spiritalis unctio.
Tu septiformis munere,
dextrae Dei tu digitus;
tu rite promissum Patris,
sermone ditans guttura.
Accende lumen sensibus,
infunde amorem cordibus,
infirma nostri corporis,
virtute firmans perpeti.
Hostem repellas longius,
pacemque duces protinus,
ductore sic te praevio,
vitemus omne noxium.
Per te sciamus da Patrem,
noscamus atque Filium,
te utriusque Spiritum
credamus omni tempore.
Sit laus Patri cum Filio,
Sancto simul Paraclito:
nobisque mittat Filius
charisma Sancti Spiritus.

Kom Schepper, Geest, daal tot ons neer,
houd Gij bij ons uw intocht, Heer;
vervul het hart dat U verbeidt,
met hemelse barmhartigheid.
Gij zijt de gave Gods, Gij zijt
de grote Trooster in de tijd,
de bron waaruit het leven springt,
het liefdevuur dat ons doordringt.
Gij schenkt uw gaven zevenvoud,
O hand die God ten zegen houdt,
O taal waarin wij God verstaan,
wij heffen onze lofzang aan.
Verlicht ons duistere verstand,
geef dat ons hart van liefde brandt,
en dat ons zwakke lichaam leeft
vanuit de kracht die Gij het geeft.
Verlos ons als de vijand woedt,
geef ons de vrede weer voorgoed,
Leid Gij ons voort, opdat geen kwaad,
geen ongeval ons leven schaadt.
Doe ons de Vader en de Zoon
aanschouwen in de hoge troon,
O Geest van beiden uitgegaan,
wij bidden U gelovig aan.
Aan God de Vader zij de eer
en aan de opgestane Heer
en aan de Geest die troost en leidt
van eeuwigheid tot eeuwigheid.

Veni Creator Spiritus

Het kerklied als vertolking van het evangelie

(door A. Noordegraaf)

De feestloze helft van het kerkelijk jaar... zo wordt de periode na Pinksteren in de kerk soms wel aangeduid. Ik vind het altijd een merkwaardige uitdrukking, sterker nog, ik heb het gevoel dat de woorden volstrekt misplaatst zijn. Is elke zondag niet een herinnering en verwijzing naar het paasgebeuren, de opstanding van Christus? In die zin gaan we van zondag tot zondag van feest tot feest. Dat danken we aan Pinksteren. De uitstorting van de Geest is een heilsfeit, even eenmalig als de
geboorte van Christus of de opstanding. Wij leven van de wind. Ook en juist na


Cultuurfilosofen mogen onze tijd dan betitelen als post-christelijk - en je kunt je daar best iets bij voorstellen -, toch is het goed om elkaar er aan te herinneren dat wij sinds Pinksteren niet in een lege tijd leven. God heeft zijn Geest uitgestort en nog nooit teruggenomen. Daaraan danken wij het Leven.
In deze bijdrage die de lezer zo omstreeks september bereikt, wil ik daarom een pinksterlied aan de orde stellen. Mijn keus viel op de klassieke hymne ‘Veni Creator Spiritus’. In het Liedboek voor de kerken staan vier versies van dit kernlied voor Pinksteren bij uitnemendheid (Gez. 237-240), waaronder twee bewerkingen van Maarten Luther. Luther was bijzonder gesteld op deze hymne op de Geest, omdat deze hymne zo strak en orthodox en helder spreekt over de Heilige Geest zonder te vervallen in dwepen en dromen.

Karolingische renaissance

Ik beperk me voornamelijk tot de middeleeuwse versie die u als gezang 237 in het Liedboek aantreft [1]. Schulte Nordholt schrijft in het Compendium bij het Liedboek dat het zingen van dit lied in de Middeleeuwen omgeven werd met een bijzonder ontzag en met een plechtige toewijding, door het luiden van klokken, het branden van wierook en het ontsteken van kaarsen.
Het stamt vermoedelijk uit de tijd van de zogenoemde Karolingische renaissance. Daarmee duiden we de periode aan, waarin Karel de Grote (768-814) zich inzette voor de bevordering van onderwijs, wetenschap en cultuur naar het voorbeeld van de klassieken en tegelijk grote aandacht gaf aan de organisatie van het kerkelijk leven en de hervorming van de liturgie. Enkele bouwwerken, zoals Karels paleiskapel in Aken vormen nog altijd een zichtbare erfenis van deze karolingische aandacht voor kerk en cultuur.
Geloof en theologie gingen hem zeer ter harte. Onder zijn invloed en op zijn aandrang werd op een rijkssynode in Aken bepaald en vastgelegd dat de Heilige Geest niet alleen aan de Vader zijn oorsprong dankte, zoals de Oosterse kerk beleed, maar uitging van de Vader en de Zoon.

Hrabanus Maurus

In de door Karel de Grote gestichte scholen kwam vooral de dichtkunst tot grote bloei. Maar, zo is opgemerkt, voor de kerk leverde dat niet zoveel op. De hoftheoloog, Alcuinus, een middelmatig dichter, schreef enkele hymnen die nauwelijks bekendheid kregen. De meeste bekendheid kreeg het lied dat we hier bespreken, de hymne over de Heilige Geest. De dichter van dit lied is vermoedelijk Hrabanus Maurus (780-856), een bekwaam theoloog, opgeleid aan de kloosterschool in Fulda. Later werd hij abt van dit klooster, terwijl hij als ruim zeventigjarige verkozen werd tot bisschop van Mainz.
Hymnologen wijzen er op dat het lied in zijn opbouw en strofenvorm invloed verraadt van de beroemde hymnendichter Ambrosius van Milaan, wiens betekenis voor het kerklied we nauwelijks kunnen overschatten. Vanaf de tiende eeuw raakt het lied hoe langer hoe meer ingeburgerd. Niet alleen was het het Pinksterlied bij uitstek, maar ook werd het gezongen bij bijzondere gelegenheden zoals de wijding van priesters en de zalving van koningen.
Wat maakt dit lied nu zo indrukwekkend, zodat het ook na zoveel eeuwen nog altijd aanspreekt? G. van der Leeuw verwoordt dat mijns inziens trefzeker, als hij opmerkt: ‘Zijn kracht ligt in de volstrekte afwezigheid van alle bespiegeling, in de directe aanroeping van de Geest, Wiens tegenwoordigheid als realiteit wordt ervaren.’ Ongetwijfeld geeft dit lied vele leermomenten die ons helpen de betekenis van de persoon en het werk van de Geest te verstaan. Maar het dogma is lied geworden, gezongen evangelie. Wij leren zingend geloven. De leer krijgt in deze hymnische vorm geen kans om te verstarren. Temeer, omdat het lied direct terugkoppelt op de taal van de Schrift.

Kom Schepper, Geest

De inzet is een smeekbede. En dit gebed om de komst van de Geest zet de toon.

Kom Schepper, Geest, daal tot ons neer,
houd Gij bij ons uw intocht, Heer;
vervul het hart, dat U verbeidt,
met hemelse barmhartigheid.

Dat gebedswoord ‘kom’ past echt bij Pinksteren. Heilsfeiten zijn immers van een andere orde dan de feiten van elke dag. Heilsfeiten getuigen van de daden van God die ons vandaag aanspreekt. Je kunt geen Pinksteren vieren en dan overgaan tot de orde van de dag. Het pinksterevangelie wil resoneren in ons leven. En de resonans is de roep om de Geest, even dringend en verwachtend als de eerste leerlingen van Jezus volgens Handelingen 1:14 geroepen hebben.
Roepen om de Geest: dat impliceert dat we ons nooit kunnen opwerpen als gelukzalige bezitters, die over de Geest beschikken. Wie de geschiedenis van kerk en christendom nagaat, weet dat het altijd weer de grote verzoeking is om de Geest te binden aan het sacrament, een kerkinstituut, het innerlijk licht, de leer. In de kortste keren wordt dan de Heilige Geest van de Heere God ingewisseld voor de geest van de heren. Geloofszekerheid en geloofsblijdschap verworden dan tot parmantige zelfverzekerdheid. We behoeven daarbij niet alleen te denken aan het massieve katholicisme van het rijke Roomse leven. Ook reformatorische bewegingen zijn nogal eens in de valkuil van de ‘gelukzalige bezitters’ gevallen die het roepen verleerd hebben.
Vernieuwing of hervorming van de kerk betekenen altijd dat we weer opnieuw leren roepen om de Geest. Zo juist, als bedelaars om licht, ontdekken we de rijkdom van Pinksteren. In de beste uitingen van gereformeerde vroomheid klinkt de toon van deze katholieke gebedsroep ‘kom’ door. In de gereformeerde liturgie neemt het gebed om de verlichting door de Geest een grote plaats in. Het sursum corda uit de avondmaalsliturgie herinnert ons er aan, dat de verhoogde Christus present is door de kracht en de werking van zijn Geest. Er is een diepe samenhang tussen de voor de gereformeerde spiritualiteit zo kenmerkende notie van de ‘vreze des Heeren’ en de gebedsroep ‘kom’. Vreekamp schrijft naar aanleiding van het komen van Christus in de Geest: ’Wanneer Hij op de wijze van Woord en Geest zo verborgen nabij is, zullen we Hem slechts kunnen ontmoeten in de vreze des Heeren.’

Gaven zevenvoud

Gevoed door de beeldenrijkdom van de bijbel vertolkt de hymne de betekenis van de persoon en het werk van de Geest: De Gave Gods, de Trooster - Paraclitus staat er in de latijnse tekst, de erbij geroepene, de voorspraak -, levende bron, liefde, gloed, vinger van Gods rechterhand, geestelijke zalving. Ook dat laatste. De Geest zalft ons met zijn vuur om ons toe te rusten, te vormen tot een messiaanse gemeenschap, die profetisch, priesterlijk en koninklijk in de wereld staat. De Geest en zijn gaven zijn onlosmakelijk met elkaar verbonden.

Gij schenkt uw gaven zevenvoud.
o, hand die God ten zegen houdt,
o, taal waarin wij God verstaan,
wij heffen onze lofzang aan.

Dat zevenvoud aan gaven en vruchten herinnert aan en is terug te voeren op de messiaanse profetie van Jesaja 11:2, waar van de Messias gezegd wordt: ‘En op Hem zal de Geest des HEREN rusten, de Geest van wijsheid en verstand, de Geest van raad en sterkte, de Geest van kennis en vreze des Heren...’.
Maar er is meer. We worden onwillekeurig herinnerd aan de betekenis die de bijbel toekent aan het getal zeven als het getal van de volheid. Ik denk aan de zevenarmige menora, de kandelaar in tabernakel en tempel. In één van de nachtgezichten van Zacharja wordt dit licht van de kandelaar betrokken op het werk van de Geest. Over de vaak moeilijke situatie van de teruggekeerde ballingen valt dit licht als een straal van hoop: ‘Niet door kracht, noch door geweld, door mijn Geest zal het geschieden’ (Zach. 4:6).
Ik denk ook de visioenen uit de Openbaring van Johannes als een bron van troost voor een vervolgde gemeente: de verhoogde Christus temidden van de zeven gouden kandelaren (Op. 1:12,20), de zeven Geesten Gods als de zevenkleurige regenboog rondom de troon van God (Op. 3:1;4:3,5). ‘In het zevenvoud van gaven aan de mensen door de ene Geest is de volkomen sabbatsvrede uitgedrukt, tot oprichting en herleving van de mens’ (Beker-Hasselaar).


Pinksteren is bepaald geen karig gebeuren. Pinksteren is het feest van de royaliteit van God. Het is ook geen wazig gebeuren. De Geest is concreet in zijn gaven. Dat is in de de gereformeerde orthodoxie lang niet altijd begrepen. Het werk van de Geest werd dan versmald tot een puur innerlijke zaak. Soms kreeg je de indruk dat het zich beperkte tot de wedergeboorte van het verdorven hart. Hoe wezenlijk ook, dat is toch te smal. Wij mogen de charismatische beweging dankbaar zijn, dat ze ons attendeert op aspecten van Pinksteren die we onderweg kwijtgeraakt zijn.
De gave van de Spiritus septiformis geeft verlof om te bidden:

Verlicht ons duistere verstand
geef dat ons hart van liefde brandt,
en dat ons zwakke lichaam leeft
vanuit de kracht, die Gij het geeft.

De creativiteit van de Pinkstergeest wil ons helemaal doordringen. Hij raakt ons hele bestaan: verstand, hart, lichaam.
In onze gefragmentariseerde cultuur, waar vertechnisering en een verrationaliseerde wetenschap gezorgd hebben voor de kaalslag van het leven, hebben New Age-propagandisten de wind in de zeilen, omdat ze opkomen voor de heelheid van het leven en mensen willen begeleiden naar de ervaring van een geheeld bestaan. Kerken weten daar vaak niet zo goed raad mee. Sommigen omhelzen dit denken als het antwoord op de crisis van onze tijd. Anderen bestoken het vanuit de luwte van een stoere orthodoxie.
Ik denk dat we deze pantheïserende stromingen alleen dan de wind uit de zeilen nemen, als we ons in ons individuele bestaan, in ons kerkelijk leven, in onze omgang met de cultuur laten sturen door de wind van de Heilige Geest. Pastoraat en diaconaat zullen daar wel bij varen.

Taal waarin wij God verstaan

Dr. J. Koopmans maakt ergens de opmerking: ‘Op de Pinksterdag valt er het minst te zien, maar van alle dagen des heils valt er wellicht het meest te horen’. Als de Geest wordt uitgestort, komt het Woord aan het woord. In alle talen worden de grote daden van God vertolkt en gehoord. In de herdichting van Schulte Nordholt van het Veni Creator wordt dat wat vrij vertaald weergegeven in die prachtige regel: ‘o taal, waarin wij God verstaan...’. Dat betekent, zegt J.T. Bakker, dat God weer een woord wordt in de gewone mensentaal.
De Geest bindt zich niet aan één taal, laat staan aan één vertaling. Hij spreekt ons aan in onze moedertaal (Hand. 2:8).
En wat klinkt er nu vertrouwder dan je moedertaal. De grote geleerde Erasmus was gewoon zich in het Latijn uit te drukken, Vrienden die om zijn sterfbed stonden hoorden hem voortdurend steunen: ‘O, Jesu, misericordia; Domine libera me; Domine, miserere mei!. Maar zijn allerlaatste woord was een woord in zijn moedertaal: ’Lieve God’.
Taal, waarin wij God verstaan. De Heilige Geest als tolk (O. Noordmans). De taalbrug van Pinksteren bewerkt communicatie: een nieuwe gemeenschap van mensen die in een vaak vervreemdende wereld rondom het getuigenis van de Geest de weg tot God en tot elkaar vinden.
In onze cultuur is er met de taal van alles en nog wat aan de gang. We spreken in verschillende taalvelden. Soms schrik je van de wijze waarop de taal afgeplat wordt. Van de weeromstuit houden anderen het dan maar bij de geijkte taal van onze vaderen die gekoesterd en gecultiveerd wordt als een heilige taal. In beide gevallen raakt de communicatie zoek. Het is binnen de kerk vaak moeilijk om elkaar te verstaan. En we tillen terecht zwaar aan de vraag hoe we in de preken de kloof met onze cultuur kunnen overbruggen, hoe we God ter sprake kunnen brengen.
Die vragen worden ons niet bespaard. Want als God een woord wordt in gewone mensentaal, betekent het, dat de Geest zich van gewone mensen bedient. Dan gaan de vragen van vertaling en vertolking met ons mee. We zijn permanent bezig met spraakoefeningen. Maar dat houd je alleen maar vol binnen de ruimte van de Geest.
Geest en Woord
Leggen we naast de middeleeuwse hymne de herdichting van Luther dan valt je op dat Luther de verbinding tussen de Geest en het Woord accentueert. Het is de Geest, ‘Die ’s Vaders woord ons toevertrouwt, zodat het klinkt in ieders land’ (Gez. 239:4). De heldere melodie van de oude hymne aldus Beker-Hasselaar, wordt overgezet in de reformatorische toonsleutel: de Geest draagt de verkondiging van het Woord Gods en maakt haar effectief. Tegenover een dopers beroep op geestelijke ervaringen, los van de Schrift - en juist onze tijd is daar gevoelig voor - is het goed met de reformatoren te bedenken dat de Geest zich paart aan het Woord en tegelijk dat het diezelfde Geest is die de Schrift voor mensen tot een open boek maakt, een gids voor onderweg in ons aangevochten bestaan.
Want leven op de adem van de Geest is een onrustig bestaan. De gelovige is verwikkeld in een gevecht met de macht van de boze.

Verlos ons, als de vijand woedt,
geef, Heer, de vrede ons voorgoed,
Leid Gij ons voort, opdat geen kwaad,
geen ongeval ons leven schaadt.

Ook zulke regels moeten Luther zeer aangesproken hebben. Want als er iemand van aanvechting wist dan hij. Maar met de kerk der eeuwen wist hij ook van de troost van de Geest die ons bewaart in de strijd en ons de wapenrusting van het Woord geeft.
Daarom is er temidden van alle strijd uitzicht op de volle vrede, de vreugde van het rijk dat komt. De laatste strofe verwoordt dit eschatologische uitzicht:

Doe ons de Vader en de Zoon
aanschouwen in de hoge troon,
o Geest, van beiden uitgegaan,
wij bidden U gelovig aan.

Het smeekgebed heeft iets van een lofzang. Het verlangen wordt vervoegd in de modus van de aanbidding. Want de Geest is uitgestort als eersteling en onderpand van Gods grote toekomst.

Compendium bij de gezangen voor het liedboek, Amsterdam 1977.
C.P. van Andel, Tussen de regels. De samenhang van kerkgeschiedenis en kerklied, ’s Gravenhage 1977.
J.T. Bakker, Gezongen evangelie, Kampen 1990.
E.J. Beker-J.M. Hasselaar, Wegen en kruispunten in de dogmatiek, deel 4, Kampen 1987.
J. Koopmans, Nieuwe Postille, Nijkerk 1940.
G. van der Leeuw, Beknopte geschiedenis van het kerklied, Groningen 1939.
H. Vreekamp, Eerbied. De vreze des Heeren als bron van leven, Kampen 1984; genoemd citaat op blz 40.
[1] Gezang 237 is deze keer niet in z’n geheel afgedrukt omdat het vrijwel volledig in de tekst van dit artikel voorkomt.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Language of the Soul

Communicating with children is a challenge under the best of circumstances. And when we attempt to speak about the things that are the most important -- the inner feelings and character traits of our children -- the task seems almost overwhelming. How do we talk to our kids about things like love and kindness, faith and courage, honesty and trust? Though these are the things we most want to communicate to them, they are the most difficult to speak about.

The task becomes even more difficult because these virtues and character traits are not consistent. They tend to be fluid and abstract. They don't behave the same in every situation. Unrestrained kindness, while generous and flowing, is not always wise. Loyalty, while an exquisite quality, can lead our children astray when applied blindly.

But how to understand these subtleties clearly enough to begin to talk about them with our children? How, for example, to distinguish between the horror of violence and the necessity of war, the purity of honesty and the cruelty contained in speaking unnecessary truths, productive assertiveness and hostile aggressiveness?

To do so wisely requires an understanding of these qualities. And a language, a vocabulary for expressing their subtleties.

But where to find this language? How to explain these nuances?

There is a source that reveals itself to us specifically at this time of year. It is a language contained in "the counting of the omer", a mitzvah we perform in the forty-nine days between Passover and Shavuot.

After the Children of Israel left Egypt, forty-nine days passed before they received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. Tradition teaches that each of these days was necessary for the Children of Israel to refine themselves and be worthy of this gift. On each day they examined and corrected another of their inner traits and qualities. There were forty-nine in all.

These forty-nine traits were comprised of seven basic attributes. Each of the seven contained all of the other seven, thus comprising forty-nine.

The Kabbalists tell us that the soul of man includes these seven basic Attributes:

* Love/Kindness (Chessed)

* Vigor/Discipline (Gevurah)

* Beauty/Harmony/Compassion (Tiferet)

* Victory/Endurance/Determination (Netzach)

* Humility/Devotion (Hod)

* Foundation/Bonding/Connection (Yesod)

* Majesty/Dignity (Malchut)

As we fulfill the mitzvah of counting the days and weeks from Passover to Shavuot, each of the seven weeks is devoted to a different attribute -- one week for Kindness, another week for Discipline, another for Compassion, etc. On each of the seven days of the week we refine another of the seven aspects of the week's attribute. For example, on the week devoted to kindness we will devote one day to refining that aspect of kindness that requires discipline and another day to refining that aspect of kindness that requires compassion, and so forth. During the week we are refining beauty, we spend one day refining that aspect of beauty that requires dignity and another day on that aspect of beauty that requires humility, until we have refined all seven aspects of beauty.

Ultimately, all character traits derive from combinations of these seven basic ones. Each quality continually interacts with the others, and in so doing has the capacity to modify its expression and effect. To be whole, a character trait must incorporate all seven; a lack or overabundance of even one of the seven renders it corrupt and, in some cases, damaging. Discipline, for example, can easily become cruelty with but a slight exaggeration.

Knowing this, we can use these attributes to begin to distinguish and explain the characters and behaviors of our children and our selves. These attributes, which we count and refine in our forty-nine day journey, can be used as the foundation of a new language, a Language of the Soul.

This language will provide a vocabulary that allows us to both name, identify and then speak with our children about qualities that are non-tangible -- that cannot be touched nor seen -- but can be expressed in action.

If we learn to talk about these inner qualities with our children in clear, specific, and concrete ways, we have the possibility of penetrating their hearts and minds and opening their own ability to communicate with us from a deeper part of themselves.

Using the seven attributes as a guide we can speak to our children not only about what something is, but how it is that way. We cannot only define kindness, we can also describe what it looks like in action. Does it always look the same? Can the same act be kind in one situation and cruel in another? Can an act appear cruel and yet still be kind? How and why?

The expression of any of these seven attributes requires modification depending on circumstances and results in a variety of ways in which a particular quality might be expressed differently to meet a specific situation.

If being helpful is good, then why is helping someone steal not good? If being courageous is important, then why is doing something dangerous wrong? If being loyal is meritorious, then why not go along with the crowd even when I think they are doing something harmful? If tolerance results in a more peaceful world, then why must I sometimes stand against what someone does, or make a distinction between right and wrong?

As you explore each of these seven qualities and understand how they affect each other, you begin to see that the lack or addition of any of them dramatically shifts the meaning or expression of the others.

Though the essence of "love" is "giving," would a child be loving if he gave a book of matches to a young seven-year-old friend, or if she gave away without asking a toy that belongs to the child's brother or sister, or if he or she told a lie in order to prevent a friend from getting into trouble?

If you spend time reflecting on each of these seven -- kindness, discipline, compassion, endurance, humility, connection, and dignity -- and how they interact with each other you can use them like a check list to see which, if any, of these qualities is missing or in overabundance in any given situation. This will allow you to more easily talk about them with your children.

Let's look at assertiveness as an example. Many of us wish to encourage this trait in our children. It is an inner quality necessary for accomplishment and for independence (going against the crowd). Yet, we know that assertiveness borders on aggressiveness and can easily become a quality that is mis- or over-used resulting in some potentially nasty character traits. But how to explain this distinction to our children? Let's try to apply our seven attribute check list.

For example, what would assertiveness look like if it lacked the attribute of love or discipline? How often have you met someone who proclaims to be assertive, yet reeks of hostility? Can your child be both assertive and compassionate (understanding and considerate of the needs of others) at the same time?

On the one hand, being assertive can help your child to be independent and not follow the crowd. It may prevent him or her from being bullied. But without instilling humility and compassion in your child, how can you be assured that he or she will not become the next bully on the block? Without humility, even though your child's assertiveness may bring him success, might it also result in arrogance and pridefulness?

How effective will your child's assertiveness be if it lacks endurance? Why do some very assertive people -- passionately dedicated to their very worthwhile goal -- still lack the ability to accomplish much? Could it be that with all their strength and enthusiasm they lack endurance and discipline?

And how often have we met assertive, disciplined, committed people who lack openness to new ideas or the flexibility to respond to changing situations? Could it be that they lack a sense of connectedness to a large and ever-changing world? Do they fail to see that their actions effect this world in ways larger than themselves and that the world to which they are connected is constantly affecting them and their goals? Or, lacking this quality, do they tend towards a self-centered approach to life that may move them towards their individual goals at the expense of others and without a positive effect on the world around them.

And finally, upon acquiring assertiveness, your child should have a sense of dignity -- a sense of self-respect and of being worthy of the respect of others. When you think about it, would not this only be achieved if your child was able to be assertive in a loving, disciplined and compassionate manner, exercising endurance and humility, and realizing the consequences of his/her actions to both himself and others? Don't we all know assertive people who lack one of these qualities and consequently don't engender our respect? Doesn't your child have a schoolmate who seems to always get what he/she wants, yet is neither liked nor respected by the other children? Could you identify one or more of the seven attributes that this child is lacking? Can you see how a lack in any one of the basic seven attributes can quickly turn a positive quality into a negative one? Can you explain this to your child?

After reading the above paragraph, can you now imagine a discussion with your child in which you try to explain to him or her the difference between assertive and aggressive behavior using the seven attributes as your vocabulary?

If the above description has helped you understand assertiveness better, or has given you some insight into yourself or someone you know, then you have begun to see Language of the Soul in action.


A Spiritual Guide to Counting the Omer by Simon Jacobson

Ten Keys for Understanding Human Nature by Mattis Kantor

Mystical Concepts in Chassidism by Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Shochet

The author wishes to acknowledge the contribution of the work of Rabbi Simon Jacobson to this article.

Friday, 14 March 2008

GilGal !

De betekenis van het gebeuren te Gilgal...

Bijbeltekst: Jozua 5:12


De spectaculaire en dramatische gebeurtenissen van de woestijntocht van het volk Israël, zoals beschreven in de boeken van Mozes, zijn voor velen bekende verhalen. Ik noem, bijvoorbeeld, te gebeuren te Mara, waar het bittere water zoet werd, de oase Elim met palmbomen en waterbronnen, de wetgeving op de Sinaï, de bouw van de tabernakel, de plaag van slangen, die aan duizenden het leven kostte en de opstand van Miriam, die melaats werd. Het voorval te Gilgal is minder bekend en de verstrekkende betekenis ervan ontgaat veel gelovigen. Het gebeuren te Gilgal was echter zeer belangrijk, want het was een laatste voorwaarde voor een succesvolle
verovering van het land Kanaän en de vervulling van Gods beloften. Voordat we kijken naar hetgeen er te Gilgal gebeurde en de betekenis ervan, geef ik eerst een kort overzicht van wat er was gebeurd voordat het volk zich in Gilgal legerde.

De overtocht en de aankomst te Gilgal

Na een lange reis en veel moeilijkheden waren de Israëlieten eindelijk aangekomen bij het hun toegezegde land. Zij legerden zich aan de oostelijke oever van de Jordaan, die de natuurlijke grens van Kanaän vormt. Aan de overzijde zagen zij het heuvelachtige en hogere Kanaän liggen en de stad Jericho in de westelijke Jordaanvlakte.

Maar hoe kom je met een volk, compleet met kinderen en dieren en veel goederen, zonder boot of iets anders de rivier over - probleem nummer zoveel. Op het juiste moment vond er echter stroomopwaarts in de Jordaan plotseling een zeer grote instorting van de oever plaats; zie Jozua 3:16, waardoor de benedenloop droog kwam te liggen. God sprak tot Jozua; wij lezen Jozua 3:7, "En de HERE zeide tot Jozua: Op deze dag zal Ik beginnen u groot te maken in de ogen van geheel Israël.... Beveel dat de priesters, die de ark van het verbond dragen, zodra gij gekomen zijt aan de oever van het water van de Jordaan, zult gij in de Jordaan blijven staan.... - vers 13b. Zodra dan de voetzolen van de priesters, die de ark van het verbond dragen, in het water van de Jordaan rusten, zal het water van de Jordaan afgesneden worden, het water, dat van boven afkomt, zal als een dam blijven staan." Vers 16, "Het water... bleef staan, het rees op als een dam, zeer ver weg bij Adam."

Het was een wonder van timing. De Jordaan kwam geheel droog te liggen en zonder enig probleem kon het gehele volk aan de overkant komen. Toen het bericht hierover tot de stammen doordrong waren zij volkomen verrast en ontzet. Wij lezen in Jozua 5:1, "Zodra alle Kanaänieten hoorden dat de HEER de wateren van de Jordaan voor het aangezicht van de Israëlieten had doen opdrogen, totdat zij erdoor waren getrokken, versmolt hun hart en zij hadden geen moed meer vanwege de Israëlieten." Als bewijs van deze overtocht werd er midden in de Jordaanbedding een grote hoop stenen opgericht, die nog lang na dit gebeuren zichtbaar moet zijn geweest.
Aan de overkant, in het Westjordaanse land, maakten de Israëlieten een nieuw kampement en noemden het Gilgal, dat waarschijnlijk 'rollen' of 'afwentelen' betekent. Zie vers 9, waar God verklaart dat de 'smaad van Egypte' van haar afgewenteld is.

De overtocht over de Jordaan was een machtige demonstratie van Gods kracht en timing geweest; zie Jozua 3 en 4. De stammen in en rondom Kanaän moeten hebben gedacht: "Wij zijn veilig hier in het land aan de westzijde van de Jordaan, want dit nomadenvolkje Israël komt er nooit over. Het water is te diep, er is geen brug, er is geen veerdienst, er is geen hout aanwezig waarmee zij vlotten kunnen maken, zij hebben geen middelen waardoor het mogelijk is over die rivier te komen met hun vrouwen, kinderen, dieren en al hun goederen. "Israël, vergeet het maar, je komt er nooit over. Wij zijn veilig hier in Kanaän." Deze heidense volkeren kenden echter nog niet voldoende de kracht en de mogelijkheden van de God van Israël.

Te Gilgal....

De Israëlieten waren ongetwijfeld in een opperbeste stemming na die succesvolle en gemakkelijke overtocht door de droog gevallen bedding van de Jordaan. Wie had durven dromen dat die rivier droog kwam te liggen op het moment dat Jozua door een profetisch woord van God het volk gereed maakte voor de overtocht? Zij erkenden dat dit het werk van hun machtige God moest zijn geweest - er was geen twijfel mogelijk. Nu keken zij naar het gebied dat zij moesten innemen, het was hun beloofd. Hun geloof in een gemakkelijke overwinning van de heidense stammen was ongetwijfeld tot recordhoogte geklommen, de mannen waren paraat voor de strijd en sommigen liepen waarschijnlijk al met hun wapenen rond.

Er stond echter iets totaal onverwachts te gebeuren, dat alle mannen enige tijd ongeschikt voor de strijd maakte, een pijnlijke ervaring, die hen enkele dagen op bed deed liggen, zij moesten besneden worden. U moet begrijpen dat we hier te maken hebben met de jonge generatie, waarvan de meesten in de woestijn waren geboren. In de woestijn was geen babyjongetje besneden. Nu waren er mannen tot de leeftijd van veertig jaar, die niet volgens het gebruik bij hun geboorte de besnijdenis hadden ondergaan, maar dat moest nu gaan gebeuren, zo wist Jozua van de HEER.
"Alle mensen, moet dat nu gebeuren," hoor ik de mannen verzuchten, "had dat nou niet aan de andere kant van de Jordaan kunnen plaats vinden, daar hebben we maanden gelegen en hadden we alle tijd. Nu willen we ertegen aan gaan en die goddeloze Kanaänieten verdrijven. Jozua, man, weet wat je ons aandoet. Straks komen die Kanaänieten hier, terwijl we met pijn op bed liggen en maken ons allen af." Maar Jozua was sterk en hield vol dat de Here het geboden had en dus ondergingen allen de pijnlijke ingreep.

Christenen behoeven zich niet te laten besnijden om de tegenwoordigheid en kracht van God te ervaren, dat wordt duidelijk in het Nieuwe Testament geleerd. Er zijn voor ons, Nieuw Testamentische gelovigen, kostbare, diepzinnige, heerlijke, maar ook pijnlijke lessen te leren uit dit verhaal. Ik noem er enkele en zal deze verkondigend en onderwijzend uitwerken. De besnijdenis zien we als een typebeeld van een geestelijke waarheid. Onthoud deze waarheid:
De Besnijdenis is een illustratie van de kruisiging van de oude, zondige natuur en van de voorwaarde voor een vernieuwd leven.

1. Besnijdenis

In Gilgal werden de mannen besneden en het volk moest er blijven tot zij hersteld waren van deze ingrijpende en pijnlijke chirurgische ingreep.
Israëlieten waren (en zijn het nog) er trots op dat zij besneden waren, want dat gaf hen de identiteit van het Verbondsvolk van God. Maar Joden die dieper nadachten wisten reeds onder het Oude Verbond dat de besnijdenis van het lichaam niets betekent als het hart niet besneden is. Ik lees uit Jeremia 4:4, "Besnijdt u voor de HEER en doet weg de voorhuid van uw hart, gij mannen van Juda en inwoners van Jeruzalem." En in Jeremia 9:25 schreef hij over hen, die besneden waren, maar toch de voorhuid nog hadden. Hiermee bedoelde hij de mannen, die een kwaad, vleselijk en ongehoorzaam hard hadden en de ware vrees voor God niet kenden.
Paulus werkte dit inzicht uit in de Romeinenbrief. Ik citeer 2:25, "Want besneden te zijn heeft wel betekenis, indien gij de wet volbrengt. Maar indien gij een overtreder van de wet zijt - en wie is dat niet - is uw besnijdenis tot onbesnedenheid geworden." Duidelijke taal, dacht ik, en dat nog wel van een rasechte Jood, zoals Paulus was!

De besnijdenis van de kinderen Israëls te Gilgal kan als typebeeld worden beschouwd van de besnijdenis van het hart van de kinderen Gods, de gelovigen in de gemeente van Jezus Christus; zie Colossenzen 2: 11-15, waar we lezen: "In Hem zijt gij ook met een besnijdenis, die geen werk van mensenhanden is, besneden door het afleggen van het lichaam van het vlees." Deze besnijdenis wordt gesymboliseerd door de doop, zie vers 12, "Daar gij met Hem begraven zijt in de doop."
U, jij en ik, dienen er ons ook op te bezinnen dat de doop, de onderdompeling, geen echte waarde heeft als ons hart onveranderd blijft, of zoals het onder het Oude Verbond met Israël heette, als wij onbesneden van hart blijven.

2. Herstel

Er mocht geen begin gemaakt worden met de verovering van het land, tot allen van de besnijdenis hersteld waren en in staat waren om keihard te strijden, niet gehinderd door `het vlees.' Jozua 5:8.
De tijd van herstel van deze mannen in het kamp was een tijd van rust. Wij, als Christenen, dienen ons ook regelmatig te bezinnen op onze identiteit als kind van God. Leef ik vanuit een gereinigd, geheiligd hart of ben ik vleselijk bezig? Leef ik als een onbesnedene? Heel veel Christenen, en echt niet alleen jongere, zijn ontrouw aan de doopbelofte. Wat hield die ook weer in? Zijn we dat vergeten, het lijkt er soms wel op. De doopbelofte was: Ik ga leven voor Christus en wil Hem volgen. Ik ga leven uit zijn kracht als een vernieuwd mens.' Wow - dat is nog al wat, en dat zal iedereen hier wel 'in de gaten' hebben gekregen. In Gilgal is er een tijd van rust, van bezinning, van vernieuwde oriëntatie op de betekenis en de gevolgen van onze doop, de besnijdenis van ons hart. Vanmorgen heeft de hemelse Leider, de Heilige Geest, ons te Gilgal gebracht. Hij zegt: Hé, blijf hier eventjes, denk na, bezin je op de betekenis van de doop en begrijp de consequenties ervan.

3. Smaad en vloek verwijderd

De schande en de schuld zowel overgedragen door vroegere generaties, als van de huidige, moest worden verwijderd; zie Jozua 5:9.
Kleefde hun nog smaad aan, terwijl zij toch Gods volk waren? Ja, zij waren niet volledig gehoorzaam geweest aan Gods instellingen. Let er op dat we hier te maken hebben met de tweede generatie van het volk. Toch kleefde ook deze generatie de smaad van ongehoorzaamheid en rebellie. Er moest nu, staande voor de laatste en belangrijkste opdracht: Het beloofde land in bezit te gaan nemen, een diepe verootmoediging, reiniging en bevrijding plaats vinden.

Gilgal was een prachtig nieuwe start voor de kinderen van Israël. De besnijdenis maakte dat de vloek en de smaad, de smet van afgoderij, occultisme, verkeerde leringen en slaafse intimidatie verbroken werden. De HEER wentelde alles van hen af. Ik zag de Israëlieten opstaan van hun bedden, de pijn van de besnijdenis was weg, alles was genezen en dat zonder moderne verband- en geneesmiddelen, tetanus injecties, antibiotica en weet ik wat nog meer. Zij stonden op, rekten zich uit en zeiden tot elkaar: "Ik voel me een stuk beter, ik voel me goed. Ik voel me vrij. De Heer is hier. Ik ervaar kracht en heb zin er tegenaan te gaan voor Hem. Het lijkt inderdaad alsof negatieve, duistere machten zijn verbroken!" Wow, wat een heerlijk besef. Wat een geweldig gevoel.

Let op: Om je zo te voelen, zo vrij en blij in Christus, dien je niet slechts gedoopt te zijn, maar ook met je gehele hart ernaar te leven. Heilig, rein, vervuld van de Geest van God. Het is de moeite waar om nog even in Gilgal te blijven, totdat je dit geheel door hebt en het wilt uitvoeren.

4. Het Manna kwam niet meer

Het manna hield op te komen. Het manna, de gemakkelijke voorziening van voedsel, bezorgde hen als het ware, het brood in de mond. Nu stopte deze voorziening. Zij moesten gaan leven van de opbrengst van het land en er dus voor werken; Jozua 5:12.
Er zijn in het geestelijk groeiproces van de gelovige ook opeenvolgende stadia. Er zijn velerlei voorzieningen van God voor onze geestelijke groei naar volwassenheid in het geloof. Wij moeten ons echter nooit op één aspect blijven fixeren. Wij dienen open te staan voor veranderingen, ook al zijn die soms voor ons vlees onaangenaam. Gilgal was en blijft voor het vlees onaangenaam, pijnlijk, maar het opent wel de deur naar een krachtige vernieuwing! Als Gods beloften in vervulling gaan moeten we paraat zijn voor nieuwe uitdagingen en voorzieningen. Dit is ook een belangrijk beginsel: God doet wonderen als niets anders ons kan helpen, als er geen andere mogelijkheid is. De woestijn was onvruchtbaar, dus kwam er manna. Het beloofde land is wel vruchtbaar, dus eet ervan! Dan moeten we niet om broodjes uit de hemel blijven vragen, maar aan de slag gaan en de belofte als het ware plukken! Het ophouden van het manna is een typebeeld van geestelijke groei naar een grotere mate van volwassenheid en bruikbaarheid. Tot op dit moment hadden zij in een meer kinderlijke afhankelijkheid geleefd, nu moesten zij als ontvangers van de belofte, nemen van de vrucht!

In welk geestelijk stadium bent u, ben jij? In het meer kinderlijke of in het volwassener? Pauilus schreef in 2 Cor. 1:20 dat al Gods beloften in Christus, 'Ja' en 'Amen' zijn. God roept u via de weg van het kruis van Christus in uw leven, dat is uw Gilgal, tot grotere bruikbaarheid en vruchtbaarheid. De uitdaging is: Benut de nieuwe mogelijkheden, die God u biedt!

5. Gilgal bleef centraal

Eenmaal besneden en hersteld, konden er voorbereidingen voor de inname van Jericho, een machtig bolwerk in die tijd, worden gemaakt. Elke dag keerde men naar Gilgal terug, waar het kamp was gelegerd en de tabernakel bleef staan met de continuatie van de priesterdiensten; zie Jozua 6:11. Telkens weer zal de gelovige zich dienen te bepalen bij en zich te bezinnen op de besnijdenis van zijn hart; opdat de gezindheid van Christus in hem zal regeren.

Gilgal bleef dan ook langere tijd het hoofdkwartier, van waaruit de verovering werd ondernomen.; zie Jozua 9:6, 10:6, 10:15, 14:6. Zij bleef het centrale hoofdkwartier totdat Silo was ingenomen; zie Jozua 18:1.
Zo zal er ook na de kruisiging van het vlees, dat is de besnijdenis van ons vlees en na de overwinning over alle zonde- en demonische machten, een nieuw centrum voor aanbidding van God in ons leven en in de gemeente ontstaan. Silo, waar rust is, waar aanbidding is, maar men God ervaart op een zeer ontspannen en verheven wijze.
Galaten 2:20 zal de centrale waarheid blijven ons gehele leven hier op aarde, terwijl we toeleven naar de vervulling van al Gods beloften: "Ik ben met Christus gekruisigd, en toch leef ik, dat is niet meer mijn ik, maar Christus leeft in mij. En voor zover ik nu nog in het vlees leef, leef ik door het geloof in de Zoon van God, die mij heeft liefgehad en Zich voor mij heeft overgegeven."

Toepassing, oproep

God wil ons allen, die geloven, eerst te Gilgal houden voor de besnijdenis van ons hart en dan kan Hij ons, bekrachtigd door zijn Geest, leiden van overwinning tot overwinning. Dan worden boosaardige, onreine machten vernietigd en Gods beloften gaan in vervulling. Als vanzelf, zou ik haast zeggen, komen we in de verheven plaats van lofprijs, aanbidding en genieten van Gods tegenwoordigheid. Kom dus telkens terug te Gilgal, de plaats van het sterven van het vlees, maar ook de plaats waar God woont en zijn heerlijkheid zichtbaar aanwezig is. Bezin u regelmatig op de waarheid van Galaten 2:20, "Met Christus ben ik gestorven, en toch leef, dat is Christus in mij."
Ik roep u op: Ontwijk Gilgal niet. Onderwerp u aan de geestelijke noodzakelijkheid van Gilgal en kom er regelmatig terug. Blijf enkele dagen in Gilgal totdat u weet dat uw hart vernieuwd is door de Geest van de Heer. Tijdens de strijd om de verovering van het land, was de Heer tegenwoordig in Gilgal; zijn Shekinah heerlijkheid vervulde zijn heiligdom. Dit mag u ook weten: Hij is aanwezig; Zijn heerlijkheid en genade rust op de mens, die zich besneden weet in de dood van Christus.