The Meaning of Epiphany

the meaning of epiphanyAt one point in the history of the Spanish language, a council convened to make a decision.  Do we establish Latin as the official language of the Hibernian peninsula, or do we adopt the common, everyday version of Latin that has emerged?  The council decided to adopt the common language, Spanish, and abandon Latin.  (Spanish, incidentally, is just “new Latin”.)  One of the reasons Latin was discarded is fascinating: the council thought it was “too Christian”.  But, how can a language be “Christian”?

Languages carry the history, culture, and worldviews of a people.  Epiphany is a word that easily demonstrates this idea.  Look the word up in a dictionary and you will find something like,  “a festival of the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles” from French epiphanie, from Latin epiphania,  from Greek ἐπιφάνεια. Epiphany is primarily a celebration of the appearance of Christ.

Laying aside all religious convictions (as if we could), ask yourself this:  If our world was created by an external being, and he revealed himself to us in our own form, would the day of his appearance be significant?  To ask is to answer.  His appearance would change the world.  And, it has.

Now, if the appearance of the creator changes the world, why not language as well? When people say, “I just had an epiphany!”, they may not be thinking of the all significant birth of Christ.  But I guarantee they are only using that particular word because of the birth of Christ.  The word epiphany carries more meaning now than it would have if Christ had never come.  Words are often attached to events.  Over time, the event fades into the past, but the word remains.  Trace the word, and the event can be rediscovered.  Trace English words and you will often find yourself looking at the foundations of a great Christian truth.  This is especially true if the words come through Latin.

Epiphany, referring primarily to the birth of Christ, is a word that has stuck.  It has done so because it was attached to the most significant birth the world has ever witnessed.  When a great idea hits you, don’t say, “Hey, I have a great idea!”  Why not say, “Hey, I just had an epiphany!”  And, after you shout that, pause a moment and give thanks.  The world is a better place today because of epiphany.

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  1. Heather Linville says:

    Great post! I have really enjoyed reading your bl0g. I am teaching Latin for the first time this year and your site has been a valuable resource. Thank you for the time you put into this!

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