Is It Just Semantics? by Jack Reagan

In 08 Musings by Jack Reagan on 2015/02/13 at 12:00 AM

In the field of language, Latin is classified as a dead language while English is classified as a living language. A dead language is one which is no longer spoken by any recognized group, and, therefore, its grammar and vocabulary will not change. (Latin has been dropped from most schools because “dead” was interpreted as “useless” which it is anything but.)

Since language is arbitrary to begin with, and is designed by those who use it, a living language changes all the time by adding new words, new meanings for old words, words dropped, etc. Words can pick up positive or negative meanings. For example, “pretty” used to mean “sneaky”.  Think of all the new words added to English in the past 30 years.

If you eliminate the English words with Latin or Greek roots, you are left with a very monosyllabic tribal language based on the uneducated Germanic tribes of Anglos and Saxons who settled in England.  Thus, English may be widespread in the world because of American power and wealth (as Latin once was for the same reasons), but it is not a very sophisticated language. For example, the Greek language, much older than English, has about 7-8 words that mean “love” depending on the object of the love. If a Greek uses a form of “agape,” we know he is referring to religious love. If he uses “eros,” we know he means physical love.  If he uses “philos,” he is thinking of friendship.

In English, we use only one word, “love” to cover everything.  Thus we love God; God loves us; we love our spouse, our child, our parents and the country. But we also “love” our team, pizza, ice cream, that movie, a TV program, and we’d love to visit Europe. We even love the dog.

Thus the word love covers so much that it really doesn’t mean much or at least not what it’s supposed to mean.  We have extended the meaning of love to encompass the ideas of like, prefer, hope, desire  etc.

The ability to love is one of those gifts of God that comes with our rational nature.

No other creature can love…not even the dog.  It is like language, law, conversation, fine arts, etc…a peculiarly human gift in that only humans can engage in it.

Love must be rational.  This is why we tend to look askance at infatuation whose root is “silly”.  Love can only apply to rational beings. You simply cannot love ice cream or any other food.  I suggest that these egregious uses of the word “love” may be part of the reason that love doesn’t mean what it used to mean; we have made it a vague and amorphous word.

We need to find a synonym that conveys the idea of love accurately.  We are always hearing that God loves us. Is it a quasi romantic, cutesy, mushy love that cannot even be really imagined, let alone grasped by the mind?  It is because of this false idea of divine love that the error of universal salvation has arisen. “God loves us so much, He would never send anyone to hell.” “God is good that He could never send anyone to hell.”

I suggest we think of love in  terms of “commitment”. Whenever we hear “love”, we think “commitment.” John 3:5 might be more meaningful if we said, “God was so committed to the world that he gave His only-begotten Son…”   “Commitment” suggests a much stronger reality.

All human love should involve commitment to another person. If there is no commitment, the “love” may be based merely on physical attraction (“He’s a hunk.”) or selfish utility  (marrying the boss’s daughter). The highest love involves a dedication/commitment to the spiritual and/or temporal well-being of another person.

There is another aspect of real love that contemporary society has rejected. The best love relationship has a divine component. If you do not have a commitment to God and the things of God, whatever love you offer will be diminished because God is the source of love. A true love song can be used as a prayer, too. Think of “Be My Love”. Then try making a prayer out of modern “love” songs!

When we think of love, think of commitment to someone. That is a strong word…and a bit scary, too. It does give us a sense of what is expected in a love relationship whether it is with God or another person. When we want to have a model of commitment, we need look no further than the Bible and Christ. God didn’t just say he was committed to man, he proved it on at least three major occasions.

The first was Christmas when a divine Being allowed himself to take on human form.

The second was at the Crucifixion when Christ committed Himself to rescue mankind potentially from hell.

The third is a commitment that we don’t usually think of in that way…the Resurrection. This was a commitment to the peace of mind of the faithful who, because of the Resurrection, need never doubt that the Gospels are true history and, therefore, reliable in all that they teach.

As Catholics, rejoice and be glad that our God has shown His commitment to us.

Have we reciprocated that commitment?


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