Saturday, June 28, 2008

Word of the Day: Prosopon

It was to my amazement that I saw someone write that prosopon was a technical term in some aspects of literature and theology. The reason for this was that I first came across the word in my New Testament Greek days, a word that was translated from Koiné as 'face' or 'countenance'. I didn't know that it was in any normal English vocabulary. (Ah, yes, normal. Hmm.)

At that time, my research led me to capture the gist of prosopon as 'that which presents itself to the eye'; i.e. the surface manifestation of a person, the outward being or exterior humanity of someone. Then someone else introduced me to the idea of hypostasis, the 'underlying state' or 'fundamentally unchangeable state' as the complementary or oppositional concept to prosopon. Ai! All this from a culture only too productive of theologians, philosophers and philosophical theologians (and yes, these terms also are Greek).

So what is prosopon? Well, it is what is, in the sense of what appears to be there when you look at it. We would probably say, 'taking things at face value' is to apprehend and accept the prosopon. It is the countenance of things, regardless of what lies beneath. It is not the underlying reality, and indeed, sometimes it need not be. But mostly, it is; it is the undivided and proper surface manifestation, extendable by clothing and implements and creative prowess, of a specific person.

But as with much of Greek philosophy, it can lead you into error through considerations that modern Anglophile speakers would not necessarily think about. Was Jesus Christ one person (prosopon) with two natures (hypostases) or with a single hypostasis? The answer must be considered carefully, lest ye be charged with heresy. Heh, those early Church philosophers...

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