Monday, January 23, 2023

Polymeros kai Polytropos

God, having by many steps and many twists spoken of old to the fathers through the prophets, in these last days has spoken to us through the Son whom he has appointed inheritor of everything, and through whom he has made the eons; who, being reflection of glory and imprint of His substance, and carrying everything by the utterance of the power from himself, having made purification of sins, sat at the right hand of the Greatness on high, having become nobler than the messengers by as much as he has inherited a name surpassing theirs.

For to which of the messengers did he ever say, You are my Son; I have begotten you today? And again: I will be a Father to him, and he will be a Son to me?

Again, when he brings the Firstborn into the empire, he says: May all the messengers of God prostrate before him. And indeed, as to the messengers, he says: Who is making his messengers spirits, and his functionaries a flame of fire. But to the Son: Your throne, O God, unto the eonmost eon, and the scepter of rectitude, the scepter of your realm. You were devoted to justice and have detested lawlessness; thus God, your God, has anointed you with oil of exultation above your associates. And: In the beginnings, Lord, you founded the earth and the heavens are the works of your hands. They will be annihilated, but you will remain; and everything like a tunic and like a cloak will wear out. You will fold them like a tunic and they will be altered. But you are the same and your years will not fail.

But to which of the angels did he ever say, Be enthroned at my right hand until I place your enemies as a footstool for your feet? Are they not all functionary spirits sent out for service for those intended to inherit salvation?

[Hebrews 1:1-14, my very rough translation, at Cat's suggestion. The opening of this describing the ordinary course of divine revelation, polymeros kai polytropos, is great. Polymeros means 'by many parts'; the parts can be spatial or, as here, temporal. Polytropos, literally 'by many turns', is the word used by Homer to describe the cunning of Odysseus, the twisty-turny man whose plans are never what you think. The contrast made is that God had revealed in a stepwise and twisty fashion what now is revealed at once in his Son, the blaze of God's glory and the copy of God's substance. The right hand, of course, designates the highest place of honor, and the name inherited has to be, by the Father-Son logic of the passage, the divine name. 'Messengers' could always be translated as 'angels'; it's always worthwhile to remember, though, that 'angel' is just the Greek for 'messenger'. (Given the structure of the argument, I actually wonder as well if the generic meaning may not be at least partly in play here, anyway; that is, it's possible that human prophets of revelation are included along with heavenly ministers as 'messengers' here.) The messengers are also said to be leitourgoi, from the word that gives us 'liturgy'; leitourgia in Greek is the name for public works and ceremonies ('work of the people' is the literal meaning), so leitourgoi are public servants, people put in charge of the city's events and projects. But for the Greeks religious events and projects were all public civil events and projects, so the word already had religious applications and could arguably also be translated as 'priests' -- all priests and religious administrators in ancient Greece, as in the modern Church of England or Church of Norway, being functionaries of the state. In any case, I went neutral, and just used 'functionary', which seems like a word you would use if you were trying to contrast someone's position with someone else's more important position, as in 'He is a mere functionary.']

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