Words from Greek “Theos”

By Maeve Maddox

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Most people are acquainted with the word theology and its offshoots, theologian and theological. The words are formed from Greek theos (god) and logy (knowledge). Theology is the study of the nature of God and religious belief.

Here are some more theos words that may not be as familiar.

theocentric
theos + kentrikos (having a specific center): having God at the center.

For example, Christianity is theocentric because it focuses worship of a Creator God. Buddhism is not theocentric because it focuses on the teachings of Gautama Buddha, who refuted the idea that the universe was created by a self-aware personal deity.

theocracy
theos + kratia (power, rule): a system of government ruled by priests in the name of God.

Theocracies are not as common now as in ancient times, but they’re still around.

theodicy
theos + dike (justice): the vindication of divine justice despite the existence of evil.

The word theodicy originated as the title of a work by Leibniz (1646-1716), Théodicée (1709).

The Google Ngram Viewer shows theodicy climbing steeply in use from the 1920s to the present. Modern thinkers wrestle with the question of why a good God would permit the evils that pervade the daily news. Theists (those who believe in the existence of God) look for theodicies to explain the existence of evil without denying the goodness of God.

Three common theodicies:
1. Human beings possess free will. Human misuse of free will produces evil.
2. Suffering builds character. What seems evil strengthens the soul and is therefore good.
3. God’s purposes are unknowable. What seems evil must have an unknown purpose that is in fact good.

theogony
theos + gonia (a begetting): a genealogy of the gods.

The word theogony began as the title of a poem composed about 700 BCE by the ancient poet Hesiod. The poem describes the origins of the Greek gods and the connections among them.

Now we can talk about the “theogonies” of different cultures, for example, the Hindu theogony, the Norse theogony, and so forth. There’s even a book with the title, The New Theogony: Mythology for the Real World.

theomachy
theos + makhia (fighting): a struggle against God, or a war among or against the gods.

theophagy
theos + phagein (to eat): the sacramental eating of a god, typically in the form of an animal, image, or other symbol as a part of a religious ritual and commonly for the purpose of communion with or the receiving of power from the god.

theophany
theo + phainein (bring to light, cause to appear, reveal): an appearance of God to a human being.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, an ancient festival at Delphi when the statues of Apollo and other gods were displayed to the public, was called the Theophaneia.

A theophany can be the appearance of a divinity as a person, as in Ovid’s story of Baucis and Philemon (the old couple visited by Zeus and Hermes disguised as travelers) or of a miraculous manifestation of the divine, such as the burning bush in the Bible.

A related word is epiphany, epi (above) + phainein (reveal): a manifestation of a divine being, literally, a revelation from above.

In Christianity, the Epiphany celebrates the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. The Magi, representatives of the Gentile world, recognize the divine incarnation.

Lower-case epiphany is a moment of sudden revelation or realization of an important truth.

The girl’s name Tiffany derives from an Old French word for “Epiphany”: Tiphanie. Girls born on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, were often christened Tiffany.

theosis
theosis (divinization): as a Christian term, theosis is the concept that worshippers can become participants in the life of God without sharing in God’s essence.

The Greek word apotheosis (apo, “change” + theos meant “changing into a god,” as when an emperor was deified after death. One of my favorite historical quotations is from the Emperor Vespasian who, as he felt death approaching, remarked, Vae, puto deus fio! “Oh dear, I think I’m becoming a god!”

Theotokos theos + tokos (bringing forth, as in birth): Mother of God.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Theotokos is a title used for the Virgin Mary.

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2 Responses to “Words from Greek “Theos””

  • Madlyn F Springston

    This has not only been a vocabulary lesson for me. It has also opened up a facinating train of thought about different possible ways of viewing the nature of god or good vs. evil. I have also been set straight about the idea that Tiffany is a “made-up” name.

    Thanks for the enlightenment, Maeve:)

  • Lambros

    In Greece we almost never call Virgin Mary with that name but we use ‘Theotokos’ or ‘Panagia’ ( superlative form for saint) instead.
    From Theotokos comes the word Theotokoypolis , which is another word simple people used to call Constantinople with .

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