Two Notes on Important Words

-What we call “heaven” St. Thomas conspicuously calls “patria” (“the fatherland” or in contemporary English our “native land”). The most well known case of this is the end of St. Thomas’ liturgical hymn called “Tantum Ergo”, which asks that we might be granted eternal life “in patria”. Thomas also uses the term in formal theological discourse, as in his questions on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Beatitudes in the Prima Secundae.

-Both Greek and Latin have a single term to describe both the principle of life (psyche, anima) and what makes that life complete (arete, virtus). This single term allowed for a real dialogue about the source and nature of human life and its meaning. Homer and Plato, Epicurus and Aristotle- all agreed that there was a psyche that should seek arete, but there was a dispute to the very roots over what the two terms meant. English has no corresponding terms to discuss these things, and so we have to train ourselves to see the same concept that the Greek or Latin speaker picked up without effort.

A good example of a profound term that an English speaker picks up with no effort, but which a Greek or Latin speaker would have to train himself to see is the modern English word “right” (as in legal or natural right). Clearly there profound disagreements over its meaning, which are only made possible by many different schools agreeing upon one term. We argue a great deal about rights- the same word can get used by people who disagree as profoundly as Karl Marx and Thomas Aquinas. But as important as it is to get “rights” right, still, the Greeks had the better portion. We need to pay more heed to our souls and virtue than to rights, as any good scholar of rights would tell you.

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