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Tom Booth

USA
4 Posts

Posted - 06 Dec 2006 :  19:20:26  


I would like to know all there is to know about the Greek words aion and aionian (and any other variations) particularly as related to the New Testament and/or usage in the cultural and historical context in which the NT was written.

To sum up what I think I know at this juncture in time;

Aion corresponds with the Old Testament (Hebrew) word OLAM. (As translated in the Septuagint). The word Aionian, supposed to be the adjective form of Aion is said to have been "coined" or "invented" by Plato (For example, in Timaeus, if elsewhere I don't know).

This word, or these words are, it seems, central, to an ongoing theological debate regarding "hell", as "Hell" has been interpreted as "eternal". an interpretation that apparently rests upon the word "Aionian" often translated "eternal".

The word AION however is thought to mean mearly "age" and, well, the debate goes on, but I do not find this debate particularly interesting or helpful as one side (Historically, the New Testament translators I suppose) feels, or felt aionian meant "eternal" or "everlasting" and some modern Christian sects and / or Bible interpretors / translators feel the word does not, and can not mean "eternal" as there is, they say. no sense of eternal in either aion or the Hebrew OLAM so it is felt "aionian", the adjective "cannot go beyond" the word aion from which it was derived.

And, well anyway, the debate continues.

Let me say, I'm not at all interested in engaging in any such debate. At any rate, from what I've seen, those engaged in this debate, somewhat one sided as it seems, do not appear to be deeply interested in the true or actual meaning of aionios but are rather interested only in proving that it does not mean "everlasting".

I also know the word is closely tied up with many important New Testament words and expressions: The aionian kingdom, aionian life, aionian glory etc.

Alternatively Aion has also been translated "world" and there are many other interpretations placed upon this word in various translations and in various contexts.

In the apocryphal "Bruce Codex", (Books of Jeu), GRS Mead in his "Fragments of a Faith Forgotten" summarizes the second book of "IEAO" in such a way as to imply that Aion refers to "worlds" or "spaces" in the visionary or "out of the body" state.

Unfortunately, although this seems like an important clue, I have not been able to find anywhere any resource which provides these passages, summarized by Mead, in their original language and context, therefore I have no means of verifying the accuracy or validity of his paraphrase of these passages.

I do however find this possibility, suggested by Mead, particularly interesting, as it seems to have some historical validity in terms of Plato's use of the term aionian, as far as I've been able to understand that, as well as some passages from the New Testament. In particular Hebrews 11:3 which some interpret as referring to the "emanation" of the "aions" or "worlds" (plural).

To put it briefly, I seem to have gotten in over my head.

This word, or these words seem fraught with difficulties and controversies and though I have some hope of getting to the bottom of it all eventually, with perhaps another year or two of diligent research and study and examination of documents either too rare and expensive to obtain, or only available as original manuscripts in museums, along with deciphering several hundred years of usage in a language I know but very little etc. etc.

I thought perhaps by posting my dilemma, and current stage of research in this matter, I might find some one or more, who have already tread this path and could provide a word or two of guidance or explanation.

My personal conclusions up till this point, though not etched in stone, by any means, is that if Plato did indeed "invent" the word aionios or aionian, then it could very well have aquired a meaning altogether different than what people suppose it to mean based on its apparent derivation from aion.

New Testament usage of aionios certainly seems to point toward a meaning that goes somewhat beyond aion, if this word aion is taken to mean merely "age" or "time period".

I'm assuming that whatever the word meant in common usage at the time the New Testament was written, it probably meant more or less the same thing in the New Testament itself, though this is by no means absolute, as it may have come to carry some special meaning within that context.

A good place to start, I suppose, would be with Plato.

Perhaps someone more familiar with Plato could fill me in on his usage.

I'm just now beginning to study a bit of Plato, don't really know much Greek at all, though I am beginning to study that in more depth currently.

I'm quite familiar with the New Testament (in English) in various translations and know how to reference the Greek with concordances and dictionaries and Greek-English interlinear translations and so forth and have done quite a bit of that over the years so I am somewhat familiar with Greek and Hebrew but am by no means fluent in speaking or reading either, though, as I said, I am beginning to study Greek, in more earnest.

At this point, I'm somewhat lost in the woods on the subject, though I find myself leaning toward a more "mystical" interpretation of the word(s) at this point.

Something else that would be quite helpful, besides a clearer understanding of Plato's usage, would be, if available, a Greek original of the "Second book of Jeu (or IAEO)" as referenced by Mead. I've had no luck locating anything online.

Any other help or guidance anyone has to offer would be most welcome and greatly appreciated.

Tom


 

George

Greece
615 Posts

Posted - 08 Dec 2006 :  19:45:40  

 

Hi Tom,

Although the Old Testament (not only the Septuagint translation, but even books of it written originally in Greek) is greatly influenced by hellenism, if you study the origin of the Greek aion/aionios, it would be safer to ignore judaism, since ancient Greeks were not influenced to any degree whatever.

Aion in early Greek texts means age, as you rightly say. The meaning of eternity appears so far as I know with Anaximander and is strengthened by Plato (Politeia, Timaeus, Laws), as you also say, in whom, however, there is also used the previous meaning, of the aion as age (see, e.g., Gorgias 448c). However, eternity is present already in Homer and Hesiod, when they speak about Gods’ being.

This ‘double’ meaning of the ages continues in the New Testament (see e.g. Matt. 12.32, Luc. 18.30, etc), and also in the Byzantine period (see e.g. Maximus Confessor, He divided wisely the ages).

The theological debate about the eternity of hell is held in protestant or protestant-catholic context, since Orthodoxy teaches clearly the eternity of hell, without purgatoria and the like. Rare and hesitant individual beliefs to a ‘restoration’ of all things appeared in the early patristic period and were not adopted. There is ample patristic evidence supporting the eternity of hell, and even today, Saints and Fathers of the Orthodox Church testify to its existence.

The crucial problem here is not the origin or original meaning of the words ‘aion’, ‘aionios’, etc. (etymologically related with “aei on”, however, that is: “ever being” [in Greek: “ἀεὶ ὄν”]), but if there is actually, eternal hell. To this question the Orthodox Church follows the testimonies of her saints and the whole experience of salvation and its presuppositions, as is the invincible freedom of mindful creatures, not only of humans, but also of demons and the devil, to deny God forever.

Eternal hell exists, it is not God’s punishment but our choice, and such a knowledge (or the opposite) can not be derived from etymologies and philological learning. Besides this, the New Testament is so clear, that only a preoccupied, totally deaf, person would doubt the existence of eternal damnation as expressed in New Testament books.

According to the Fathers of the Orthodox Church (and even for Plato), this aeon is the image of the eternal age of the next life, so that the Saints, to various degrees, start to live in Paradise already from here, and the rest, to various degrees, are deepening their being in hell already from here.

- - -
Some texts for further reading

Plato, Ways to Hades,
Plato, A moving image of eternity,
St. Basil the Great, A Likeness of Eternity,
St. Gregory of Nyssa, Everything that is free will be united with virtue,
St. Gregory of Nyssa, From the corruptible and earthly to the impassible and eternal,
St. Maximus Confessor, He divided wisely the Ages,
St. Gregory Palamas, Calling Everything near Him,
St. Symeon the New Theologian, When Shall the Day of the Lord come?

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Tom Booth

USA
4 Posts

Posted - 10 Dec 2006 :  18:37:56  

 

George,

First of all I'd like to thank you. You have opened up some new leads for me. In particular the references to St. Basil, St. Gregory, St. Maximus and St. Symeon. I was completely unaware of this later usage as my research was focused primarily on the New Testament and the Classics.

I really need to do much more study and especially need to work on understanding the Greek language in all its nuances, and would very much like to do so before asking more foolish questions but in that case it would be years before you heard back from me again.

In reviewing some of the references you provided, I came across something that seems to address the heart of my dilemma.

In "Maximus Confessor : He divided wisely the Ages" there is a passage where it appears the word "aiones" might be understood in two senses. One as referring to this (physical) life, this (physical) world or this physical existence and secondly in reference to the "future" spiritual life or world(s).

The translation on the page you linked to has this wording:

"...the ages of the flesh, where we now live..." and "the future ages of the Spirit, after the present life,..."

This seems to parallel the way this word "aion" is used many times in the New Testament,

I may be mistaken, but the sense of the word in this sort of context appears to negate the sense often attributed to "aions" (plural) as periods of time following one another in succession all here in our world of experience.

Instead, we are, it seems to me, being presented with a concept of the aions as worlds or orders of existence or modes of being all existing simultaneously.

That is, the world of the spirit "after the present life" existed before this life and continues to exist now. It is only "future" for us in the sense that it is not currently within our limited experience.

Am I barking up the wrong tree here?

This would explain, at least in part, why the word "aion" is sometimes translated "world" or "worlds", though, other than divining the meaning from the general context, I'm at a loss as to how the word should be interpreted in any particular instance.

In other words, when coming across the word in the New Testament in connection with the relationship between "This world(aion)" and"The world(aion) to come" or "this life" and the "future" life. Some interpret this in a temporal sense while others interpret it in what I guess might be called an experiential sense.

To try and make this clear, I haven't been to Switzerland. If I make plans to go there, then Switzerland is in my "future" but that is not to say Switzerland doesn't exist now, or that it never existed in the past. It only exists in the future in terms of my own limited experience not in terms of actual or current reality.

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George

Greece
615 Posts

Posted - 11 Dec 2006 :  12:51:55  

 

As you say, there are many meanings and nuances in the word ages as in so many words. However, your conclusion (or main, or most important, meaning you discover) would not surprise an Orthodox at all. In another text of his, an epistle, Maximus writes:

“There will come indeed, the time will come when a tremendous trumpet will sound in a strange and unheard voice, and all this will be dissolved, the order now being in it will collapse, and the visible world will pass away to the end that befits it, while the world of the spiritual realities, that is now hidden, will rise up, and it will bring to the eyes, to the ears and to the minds totally strange and unknown mysteries.”

(Patrologia Graeca 91.389)

St. Silouan the Athonite, a modern saint and monk, writes:

“Don’t be astounded by this. The whole heaven of the saints lives in the Holy Spirit and nothing is hidden from the Holy Spirit in the whole world. I had not realised before how is it possible for the heavenly-dwelling saints to see our life. But when the holy Mother of God questioned me for my sins, then I understood that in the Holy Spirit the saints see us and know all our life.”

(From Sacharov’s, St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 496)

Glimpses of the other life we catch even in this life (recall the apostle: “now we see through a glass, darkly” 1 Cor 13.12), principal among them being the Appearances of the Trinity and especially of the Christ, whenever He wants to whomever He wants. Some of the saints come to such an intimacy with the other life, that they ask rather than pray, commanding (“do it now”, etc). This is why in popular sayings (proverbs) of modern Greece you encounter sayings as “even God needs threat to make His miracle”, “even the saint needs threat”, etc.

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Tom Booth

USA
4 Posts

Posted - 13 Dec 2006 :  21:37:25  

 

George,

In an earlier post you said"

"According to the Fathers of the Orthodox Church (and even for Plato), this aeon is the image of the eternal age of the next life, so that the Saints, to various degrees, start to live in Paradise already from here..."

I'm wondering if you might be willing to elaborate in more detail in regard to this idea or concept or experience i.e. "this aeon is the image of the eternal age of the next life"

My question: What is meant by "image of"?

What I'm thinking of is Plato's account of the men who are chained in a cave and see only images or shadows on the wall of the cave, mistaking these images for "reality".

Would I be correct in assuming that this illustration presented by Plato in Book VII of the The Republic is representative of this idea as expressed in your post?

This is my assumption. If I'm mistaken please set me straight, but either way I would also like to hear more on this theme.

Also, in the phrase: "this aeon is the image of the eternal age" the word or phrase "eternal age" in Greek would be, as used by Plato: aionios?

I'm not really able to read these passages in the original Greek

One writer, Rev. John Wesley Hanson writes as follows:

"Once more, (Timæus) Plato quotes four instances of aiõn, and three of aiõnios, and one of diaiõnios in a single passage, in contrast with aidios (eternal.) The gods he calls eternal, (aidios) but the soul and the corporeal nature, he says, are aiõnios, belonging to time, and "all these," he says, "are part of time." And he calls Time [Kronos] an aiõnios image of Aiõnos. Exactly what so obscure an author may mean here is not apparent, ..."

(Source: http://www.godstruthfortoday.org/Library/hanson/Aion-Aionios.htm#N_32_ )

This all (The above quote or paraphrase of Plato) seems quite out of context and the author confesses ignorance in regard to what Plato actually meant. Also he does not cite the specific passage from Timaeus which he is supposed to be quoting.

I know I'm asking too much, but if you feel so inclined, I would certainly appreciate any help you could provide. I'm trying to pinpoint the passage being referred to in Timaeus where these words aionios etc. appear and hopefully clarify Plato's usage of these various terms: aiõn, aiõnios, diaiõnios ,aidios, Aiõnos.

I'm also wondering if in this passage Plato does not mean by "Time [Kronos] an aiõnios image of Aiõnos" the same thing as his illustration about the cave dwellers in the Republic. seeing only images or shadows rather than reality.

I'm afraid I may be drawing connections here that may not be justified.

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George

Greece
615 Posts

Posted - 14 Dec 2006 :  12:21:01  

 

The world as an image of eternity is explained in Timaeus. Politeia’s Cave stands for our relation towards the eternal and aidios reality. For your question you need rather Timaeus, although all of Plato can help to an exegesis of this.

The crucial text is in Timaeus 37c-39e, which I have titled as Time, where you can have both the Greek original and the translation. Although you don’t follow the original, maybe you can trace just the use of the words you are interested in, that is aidios and aionios, and I’ll try to help.

Before the metaphor we discuss, Plato thinks about the creation of the world as a living being, “the created image of the eternal [aidioi] gods”. Aidios comes from two words, from aei (ever, always) and idios (same). Aidios means “always same”, immutable, unchanged and thus eternal not only in an ever lasting existence, but also in an ever same existence, that does not change to opposites, today like this, tomorrow like that, etc.

The father of the world perfected this created image of the eternal being (aidion on). Now Plato uses the word aionios as a synonym of aidios: “the nature of the ideal being was everlasting” (aionios), a condition impossible for the created world, to which He bestowed the closest possible condition to eternity, that is “a moving image of eternity” (kineton aionos). This image is time, a moving of the standing eternity, an eternal (aionios) image, however, not standing in an ever-lasting-present, as the eternal (aidios) nature stands always the same, without generations and becoming. Time eternally passes from past to future.

Therefore according to Plato, and also according to Christian (at least Orthodox) theology, time, as the condition of created beings, is our way of making our own the eternal now of the uncreated nature, and in this way time can be considered the “image” of eternity.

To connect this with the Cave parable, the philosophers’ aim (the faithful’s aim, in christianity) would be to know (recognise, feel and unite with) God’s living in the eternal now, in each and every instance of time, that is, living in the time as in a progress and perfection from sameness to a greater sameness, that is, by uniting with God, making the moving eternity of time an ever-same quality of being in time (living the aionios as also aidios), where the future brings again what was already in the past, even greater and more intense: as I loved you yesterday (or the previous moment), the same and even more I love you tomorrow (or the next moment).

This is the way of participating in God’s infinite and ever present love, and no-thing can fulfill for all eternity the soul’s desire, save only Love. Love is always love of something or someone. God is Love because He is a Trinity of Persons loving each other, which is the reason why an impersonal faith can not help us find real meaning. Lack of participation of time to God’s personal eternity of love, is living in the cave, where shadows is not seeing the sameness of the eternity, being unable to unite aionios with aidios, created with uncreated, the eternal now with time... When this age will move from the corruptible to the incorruptible, that is, in the Resurrection or Passover to the other life, or Rising Up of the other life, then this lack of participation in God’s love, will be the eternal hell. Eternal hell is not a different place, but a different condition of our soul and consciousness, as happens already in this life, when our bodies are corruptible.

Our bodies are not eternal in this life, in order for us to have all the chances we need to detach perfectly our soul from anything inferior (shadowy, or dividing) and elevate her to the superior attachment and union with the spiritual ever-now reality of God’s Love. When all the chances are given, then death has no purpose any more, and the dwellers of the cave will be let alone to live the aionios, yet not aidios, life of hell in their incorruptible bodies, since no created thing, however valuable, can satisfy the soul for all Infinity. This is why some saints say that the greatest pain of all is ‘wanting’ to die and not being able to die.

Now here is another passage from St. Maximus Confessor which I found and is related with our conversation on Plato and aionios, - an impressive passage, that describes also the etymology mentioned in a previous message:

“Not only all beings must be in the Everything and the Whole, but also the None of what sometime was not in existence. Because nothing has been added, which was not existing before. Then, this disposition and nature would be called and would indeed be the age [aion]. Because we have named it age [aiona] from the ever-being [aei onta]... Therefore, God is age and creates ages.”

(Maximus Confessor, Comments to Dionysius, Patrologia Graeca 4.313)

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