deisis“There are two kinds of people in this world,” we are told. I would suggest this observation should end with: “Those who can safely use a dictionary and those who cannot.” Sadly I am one of those who is drawn on from one word to the next by the irresistible call of the see also link. People with this affliction often come to their senses and realize they have spent hours immersed in Wikipedia, or that they now have nearly every volume of the Britannica or Early Christian Fathers piled on their desk.

This morning I began jotting notes toward a simple explanation in Cebuano of the foreign word “Orthodoxy.” As an unsatisfying calque, I can say saktong himaya, saktong pagtuo or saktong pagsimba… and you’ve already gone off clicking on the links, haven’t you. I see I am not the only one suffering from this condition!

After a few hours of reading and jotting notes, I have certainly not put together a concise article ready for translation into Cebuano. In fact, unless you are a certified Word-nerd™ it may be of no interest at all. But posting it here seems as good a way as any to have it available for reference. So, without further apology, some notes on Orthodoxy, glory, worship, and several notable rabbit-trail diversions:


We translate “Orthodoxy” in two different ways: right worship and right faith. (I would say right glory, but the word “glory” is itself in need of some unpacking. More on that in a moment.) Orthodoxy is a two-part word. The first half, orthos, means straight, upright, true, correct. This is why a doctor who straightens teeth is called an orthodontist. The other half of the word is doxa. This comes from a root word dokein, meaning “to appear, to seem, to think, to accept.” Doxa came to mean “opinion others have regarding someone (good or bad), reputation, fame.” In this sense doxa expresses the belief of the one holding an opinion.

By the third century BC, when Jewish scholars translated the Bible from Hebrew into Greek, they used this word doxa to translate Hebrew kavod, which originally meant “heavy, important,” and came to describe “wealth, honor, splendor, majesty, magnificence.” The Hebrew word addresses the worth of the one being described — so in prayer or in the Psalms, “Glory to God” means something like “Let glory be [rightly!] ascribed to God.”

So in Greek orthē doxa is either right belief, with regard to yourself, or right glory, with regard to your worship, your expression of God’s goodness. By the second century, early Christians began referring to strange teachings as heterodox (different-glory) as opposed to orthodox (right-glory).

Related words from the same Greek root (courtesy of the Online Etymology Dictionary):

  • Doxology
    “hymn of praise,” 1640s, from Medieval Latin doxologia, from Ecclesiastical Greek doxologia “praise, glory,” from doxologos “praising, glorifying,” from doxa “glory, praise” (from dokein “to seem good;” see decent) + logos “a speaking” (see lecture (n.)).
  • Dogma
    c. 1600 (in plural dogmata), from Latin dogma “philosophical tenet,” from Greek dogma (genitive dogmatos) “opinion, tenet,” literally “that which one thinks is true,” from dokein “to seem good, think” (see decent). Treated in 17c.-18c. as a Greek word in English.

And from a related Latin word, we get:

  • Decent
    1530s, “proper to one’s station or rank,” also “tasteful,” from Middle French décent, or directly from Latin decentem (nominative decens) “becoming, seemly, fitting, proper,” present participle of decere “to be fitting or suitable,” from PIE *deke-, from root *dek– “to take, accept, to receive, greet, be suitable” (source also of Greek dokein “to appear, seem, think,” dekhesthai “to accept;” Sanskrit daśasyati “shows honor, is gracious,” dacati “makes offerings, bestows;” Latin docere “to teach,” decus “grace, ornament”). Meaning “kind, pleasant” is from 1902. Are you decent? (1949) was originally backstage theater jargon for “are you dressed.”
  • Doctor
    c. 1300, “Church father,” from Old French doctour, from Medieval Latin doctor “religious teacher, adviser, scholar,” in classical Latin “teacher,” agent noun from docere “to show, teach, cause to know,” originally “make to appear right,” causative of decere “be seemly, fitting” (see decent).
  • Doctrine
    late 14c., from Old French doctrine (12c.) “teaching, doctrine,” and directly from Latin doctrina “teaching, body of teachings, learning,” from doctor “teacher” (see doctor (n.)) + -ina, fem. of -inus, suffix forming fem. abstract nouns (see -ine (1)).

And some English words, unrelated in origin but sharing the same meanings:

  • Glory
    c. 1200, gloire “the splendor of God or Christ; praise offered to God, worship,” from Old French glorie “glory (of God); worldly honor, renown; splendor, magnificence, pomp” (11c., Modern French gloire), from Latin gloria “fame, renown, great praise or honor,” a word of uncertain origin. Meaning “one who is a source of glory” is from mid-14c. Also in Middle English “thirst for glory, vainglory, pride, boasting, vanity” (late 14c.), Sense of “magnificence” is late 14c. in English. Meaning “worldly honor, fame, renown.” Latin also had gloriola “a little fame.” Glory days was in use by 1970. Old Glory for “the American flag” is first attested 1862. The Christian sense arose from the Latin word’s use in the Bible to translate Greek doxa “expectation” (Homer), later “an opinion, judgment,” and later still “opinion others have of one (good or bad), fame; glory,” which was used in Biblical writing to translate a Hebrew word which had a sense of “brightness, splendor, magnificence, majesty of outward appearance.” The religious use has colored that word’s meaning in most European tongues. Wuldor was an Old English word used in this sense.
  • Worthy
    mid-13c., “having merit,” from worth (n.) + -y. Old English had weorþful in this sense. Attested from late 14c. as a noun meaning “person of merit.”
  • Worship
    Old English worðscip, wurðscip (Anglian), weorðscipe (West Saxon) “condition of being worthy, dignity, glory, distinction, honor, renown,” from weorð “worthy” (see worth) + –scipe (see –ship). Sense of “reverence paid to a supernatural or divine being” is first recorded c. 1300. The original sense is preserved in the title worshipful “honorable” (c. 1300).

Until very recently, “worship” was not a word exclusively used in relation to God; rather it described a person’s great worthiness, or one’s act of expressing another’s great worthiness. About 1485, in Le Morte D’Arthur, Thomas Malory wrote (among many other, similar passages):

  • “And ever now and now came all the knights home that Sir Turquine had prisoners, and they all honoured and worshipped Sir Launcelot.” — Vol. 1, Chapt. 18
  • “I owe of right to worship you an ye were not my brother, for ye have worshipped King Arthur and all his court, for ye have sent him more worshipful knights this twelvemonth than six the best of the Round Table have done, except Sir Launcelot.” — Vol. 1, Chapt. 33

And in the Church of England’s 1928 Book of Common Prayer, in the wedding service the groom says to the bride, “With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.” The groom later promises “to love, cherish, and worship” his bride.

Author: Father Silouan Thompson

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