De Moor V:2: Trinitarian Terminology, Part 2

Theater Masks

Persona/Person is a Latin term, the Etymology of which now has us a little concerned. “What,” says VOSSIUS,[1] in his Etymologico Linguæ Latinæ, “if we should say that Personam/Person is from προσώπη/ prosope/person/appearance, with the προ/pro changed into per, as elsewhere περ/per is changed into pro. But what is persona/person to the Latins, that to the Greeks is πρόσωπον/face/person, προσωπεῖον/mask, προσώπη/person/appearance.” According to SCALIGER[2] in VOSSIUS, that is called a Persona/Person, which is περὶ σῶμα, peri soma, round about the body; or περιζώνη/perizone, a girdle worn around, παρὰ τὸ περιζῶσθαι, para to perizosthai, to be girded around, as the Ancient Greeks made use of ζῶσθαι for to dress oneself. Because formerly they, anointed on their foreheads with the dregs of sacrifice, and covered with the skins of she-goats, and girded about with other things, and changed with the interposition of fronds, at first were keeping the Lupercalia.[3] GABIUS BASSUS, in AULUS GELLIUS’ Noctibus Atticis,[4] book V, chapter VII, derives Personam/Person from personando, causing to resound, with a reason added, “That the head and mouth, covered on all sides with the covering of a personæ/mask, is only accessible by way of the emitting of the voice; now, that covering of the mouth was causing the voice to resonate and to resound:” indeed, the letter “o” according to him was made longer because of the form of the vocalization. But SCALIGER disapproves of this, because the small masks, through the aperture of which the voice would escape, were certainly a new invention. We do not make this quarrel our own: see also MARTINIUS’[5] Lexicon philologicum on the word Persona.

The term is taken from the theater, says our AUTHOR; as the use of the term is known from the mask of actors:

Perhaps the fox had seen the tragic Personam/Mask,

is in PHÆDRUS,[6] book I, fable VII, verse 1, on which place see RIGAULT.[7]

…Æschylus,[8] the inventor of the Personæ/Mask and decorous theatrical robe,

has HORACE,[9] de Arte poetica, verse 278. Hence the character, which the actor was representing, is indicated by this term. TERENCE, in his prologue to “The Eunuch”, verses 25, 26,

It was “Colax”, an old fable of Nævius[10] and Plautus:[11]

The personam/character of the Parasite and of the Soldier were thence taken.


Moreover, of the manner of speaking taken from actors, in the writings of CICERO and others, to take up, to lay aside, to uphold, to keep, to sustain, to act, to assign a personam/character, see NIZOLIUS[12] in his Apparatu Latinæ Locutionis on the word Persona. But also with the same signification, with which we are wont to make use of this term, it occurs among Latin authors for an intelligent subsistence: thus CICERO, in his Philippics XII, chapter VII, after naming Cæsar, Calenus,[13] Piso,[14] and Pansa,[15] subjoins: The friends of Antony are annoyed at my inclusion among these personas/persons. The same in book II de Oratore, chapter XXXI, “They constitute…two sorts of cases: one they call, that in which a question is asked about a general proposition without reference to personis/persons and times; the other that which is confined to certain personis/persons and times…the personæ/persons of Opimius and Decius have nothing to do with the common arguments of the orator…. Finally, there is no case in which the point that falls under dispute is considered with reference to the personis/persons of the suit, and not with reference to universal disputation of those sorts.” Chapter XXXII, “Those that in a general definition describe this sort of cases as relating to personis/persons and times are to be reprehended. For, even if times and persons are incident to them, yet it is to be understood that the cases depend, not upon them, but upon the general question…. If it is referred to personis/persons, there will be as many cases as men.” And in the place of that which is in chapter XXXIII, since men are innumerable, you read in chapter XXXIV, “Not with reference to the innumerable personis/persons of men, nor with reference to the infinite variety of times, but in general considerations and the nature of things, are situated all things that are called into question.” Nevertheless, I would not deny that together with Personality in this language of Person is here and there indicated in this manner the quality, with which such a Subsistence is clothed. Now, TERTULLIAN is believed to have been the first to transfer this term from common use to Theology, when in adversus Praxeam he quite frequently makes use of that in the sense to which we have regard here: for example, in chapter VI, “And so listen also to Wisdom herself, constituted as a second person…. Now, daily I was delighting in His person.[16]” In chapter VII, “He takes pleasure evermore in Him, who reciprocally rejoices in His person, Thou art my Son, etc. Thus also the Son, from His own person, under the name of Wisdom, acknowledges the Father, etc. …Whatever, then, was the substance of the Word, that I designate a person, and I claim for that the name of Son; and since I acknowledge a Son, I maintain a second to the Father.” In chapter IX, “Well does the Lord employ this language in the person of the Paraclete, so as to signify, not a division, but a disposition: For I will ask the Father, says He, and He shall send to you another advocate, the Spirit of truth.[17]

[1] Gerhard Johann Vossius (1577-1649) was a Dutch classical scholar and theologian. In 1619, his Historia Pelagiana brought him into suspicion of Arminianism.

[2] Joseph Scaliger (1540-1609) was a skilled linguist and developed into one of the most learned men of his age. During the course of his studies and travels, he became a Protestant and suffered exile with the Huguenots. He was offered a professorship at Leiden (1593), a position which he eventually accepted and in which he remained until his death.

[3] Lupercalia was an ancient annual festival, perhaps even pre-dating the founding of Rome. Its rites were observed at the Lupercal (a cave at the foot of the Palatine Hill, where it is said that Romulus and Remus were suckled by the she-wolf, Lupa), the Palatine Hill, and the Forum. A he-goat and a dog were sacrificed by the Luperci (priests of the Lupercalia), and the blood of the sacrifices was used to anoint their foreheads. Then, with minimal girding, they ran through the streets with thongs, whipping women desiring children. This festival has both purgative and fertility elements.

[4] Gabius Bassus was a Latin grammarian; his Commentarii and Origine verborum et vocabulorum were cited by Aulus Gellius. Aulus Gellius (c. 125-c. 180) wrote Attic Nights, a collection of diverse notes on grammar, philosophy, history, etc., in twenty books. This work finds its principal value in their preservation of quotations of earlier writers, which sayings would be otherwise lost.

[5] Matthias Martinius (1572-1630) was a German Reformed Theologian and educator. He was instrumental in the founding of the Gymnasium at Bremen, and taught Johannes Cocceius.

[6] Gaius Julius Phædrus (first century AD) was a fabulist, and the first to bring a versified collection of Aesop’s Fables into Latin.

[7] Nicolas Rigault (1577-1654) was a French classicist. He produced annotated ediction of Phædrus, Martial, Juvenal, Tertullian, Cyprian, and others.

[8] Æschylus (525-456 BC) was perhaps the earliest of the Greek tragedians.

[9] Horace (65 BC-8 AD) was a Roman poet, perhaps the greatest of his day.

[10] Gnæus Nævius (third century BC) was a Roman epic poet and playwright.

[11] Titus Maccius Plautus (254-184 BC) was a Roman playwright. Only twenty-one of his nearly one hundred and thirty comedies survive.

[12] Marius Nizolius (1498-1576) was an Italian humanist, and proponent of Ciceronian rhetoric.

[13] Quintus Fufius Calenus (died 40 BC) was a Roman general and consul (47 BC).

[14] Lucius Calpurnius Piso Cæsoninus (c. 100 BC-c. 43 BC) was a Roman senator, consul (58 BC), and father-in-law to Julius Cæsar.

[15] Gaius Vibius Panso Cætronianus (died 22 BC) was a Roman consul (43 BC).

[16] Proverbs 8:30.

[17] John 14:16, 17.

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