Agape

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There are two homographs in English written agape. They have completely separate origins, meanings and pronunciations.

  • The more common is an adverb derived from an Old North Germanic verb gapa, 'to gape', 'hold the mouth wide open', prefixed by the common Old English a- suggesting position. It means 'with the mouth held [wide] open [in wonder, shock etc]'. This word is pronounced 'er-GAPE' IPA: /ə'geɪp/. If used as an adjective, 'agape' must be placed after the noun it qualifies (i.e., must be used postpositively): before a noun, 'gaping', or 'wide open' might suit, or use the idiom 'with his jaw dropped', or 'jaw-dropping[ly]'. (For other adjectives which, like 'agape', cannot be used before the noun they qualify, see Adjectives not used in the attributive position.)
  • A word more likely to be found in academic English, specifically in Theology, is the noun agape. It is a transliteration of the Greek word ἀγάπη (agape), 'brotherly love'. From this origin come its trisyllabic pronunciation 'A-gerp-i', IPA: /'ægəpɪ/, and the plural form preferred in academic circles agapae or agapai. It is a term used in the Christian religion, where it is a commonplace to distinguish agape ('holy love', first that of Man to God, later extended to that between individuals in a completely non-sexual way) from eros (ἔρως, 'bodily love' or the natural sexual bond). This distinction was later extended by C.S.Lewis, in The Four Loves (1960), a book written in his role as a popular theologian, to agape, eros, storge (στοργή, 'affection') and philia (φιλία, 'friendship').
The current use of ἀγάπη (agape) is translated in the AV as "charity", reflecting the Vulgate Latin caritas.
    • Historically, ἀγάπη in the context of Christianity was first used to mean the 'love-feast' of the early Christians, roughly equivalent to the modern Eucharist.