Anamnesis

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Jonathan Lundell writes about a passage in yesterday's Matthew Shepard memorial:

It was lovely and moving, especially Bishop Gene Robinson's homily, but I couldn't help remarking his folk-seminarian (I assume) etymology for "anamnesis". He explained it as "an-", against, and "amnesia", forgetting. Seminarians would learn it in the context of holy communion. I can see the appeal of that explanation. It leads to the right sense of the word, or close enough, and is more poetic, less clinical somehow, than ana-mnsesis would be.

As the OED explains, the etymology of anamnesis is indeed

 < Greek ἀνάμνησις remembrance, n. of action < ἀναμνα- stem of ἀναμιμνήσκειν to remember, < ἀνά back + μνα- call to mind, < μένος mind.

That's the ana- of anaphor (= back + carry), analogy (= back + speech), anaphylaxis (= back + protection), anapest (= back + strike). Not the an- of anarchy (= no + rule), anechoic (= no + echo), etc.

But as Jonathan says, maybe "no + forgetting" is a better label for (what the OED calls) "That part of the Eucharistic canon in which the sacrifice of Christ is recalled and pleaded" than "back + thinking".

It's worth noting that Wiktionary and Merriam Webster both omit the liturgical sense.



14 Comments

  1. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 27, 2018 @ 1:04 pm

    No, the wrong etymology leads to a wrong theology. If you think when you walk into church on a given day that you're such a good Christian you haven't forgotten anything important about Jesus since you were last there, you are highly likely to be mistaken. The anamnetic function of the Eucharist/Mass/Divine Liturgy is to call back from memory the events of almost two millennia ago and make them so intensely experientially present that you come to realize that you had not quite remembered them quite that fully since you'd last been at church and taken the sacrament. If Bishop Robinson doesn't have that experience himself at least a few Sundays out of the year, it's a shame.

    That said: a) it's been several generations since the Episcopal clergy were primarily drawn from the social strata in which boys would have had a good education in both Latin and Greek before even going to seminary; and b) dubious etymology from the pulpit is a venerable ecclesiastical tradition dating well back into the centuries when you'd think they ought to have known better.

  2. Viseguy said,

    October 27, 2018 @ 10:26 pm

    @J.W. Brewer: "The anamnetic function of the Eucharist/Mass/Divine Liturgy is to call back from memory the events of almost two millennia ago and make them so intensely experientially present that you come to realize that you had not quite remembered them quite that fully since you'd last been at church and taken the sacrament."

    "Experientially" being the key concept if one believes in transubstantiation, in which case the "calling back" becomes a re-enactment in actuality — a replication, without the blood and suffering — of the redemptive sacrifice in the most intimate possible terms, wherein the participants in the remembrance literally consume the sacrificial host. It strikes me that there is an orgasmic quality to this repeated act of consuming/consummation that may shed light on a possibly unconscious conflation, in homiletics, of ana + mnensis (recalling) with an + mnensis (forgetting), the latter in the sense of a blissful, if temporary, oblivion. In other words, there may be a grain of truth in the "wrong" theology.

  3. Brett said,

    October 27, 2018 @ 10:34 pm

    @J.W. Brewer: Dubious etymologies in religious sermonizing go back at least as far as the Priestly Source, which was responsible for Genesis 17, in which the names of Abraham and Sarah are supposed changed to be more edifying.

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 4:19 am

    It seems to me that "dubious etymologies" are entirely consistent with organised religion, which seeks to present as fact things which are in reality matters of faith (= belief).

  5. Sean Richardson said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 6:24 am

    The hazards of heavy borrowing of words into languages with different stress patterns!

    If amNESia were not naturalized in English and if MN- started any syllables in English words, there might be any chance of the word being pronounced any way other than anamNESia, but as it is the chances of seeing the ana+ rather than an+ are dismally low even for someone well aware of the etymology of words like anaLOGy.

  6. AG said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 7:28 am

    @ brett – surprised that you went so far as Genesis 17 – isn't the whole creation story based around groaningly bad puns from nearly the first verse? Adam means "earth" and he was made from earth etc.?

  7. Philip Taylor said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 7:31 am

    Would this suggest that Wikipedia might be wrong in its putative etymology for the wall-covering Anaglypta. WP says "Anaglypta (from the Greek words Ana (raised) and Glypta [Cameo])" — should this in fact read "Anaglypta (from the Greek words Ana (Back) and Glypta [Cameo])" or does Greek ανα in fact mean both "raised" and "back" ?

  8. AG said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 7:51 am

    well not to side-track things, but I don't think "glypta" means "cameo" either, to be honest

  9. Rodger C said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 11:46 am

    does Greek ανα in fact mean both "raised" and "back" ?

    I think the basic meaning of ανα is "up."

  10. Timo said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 1:42 pm

    Also, what would -ti mean if anti was actually NEG-ti?

  11. philip said,

    October 29, 2018 @ 7:06 am

    C'mon, JW Brewer, give us some enlightening examples, please. And funny ones too.

    " … and b) dubious etymology from the pulpit is a venerable ecclesiastical tradition dating well back into the centuries when you'd think they ought to have known better."

  12. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 29, 2018 @ 11:03 am

    If you leave OT authors out of it, a worthy predecessor is Isidore of Seville, patron saint of unreliable information found on the internet, whose masterwork Eymologiae is as its title indicates chock-full of bogus etymologies. I'm not sure if there are any reliable etymologies, from the POV of 21st century linguistic science, found in it at all, although I am not an Isidorian scholar so I defer to those who are.

  13. BZ said,

    October 29, 2018 @ 12:15 pm

    @Viseguy, etc,
    Surely you see the difference between the two kinds of "dubious" etymologies in question, one explicitly stated by Scripture or other religious source that's believed to be wrong, and the other, misinterpreting a term defined by such a religious source. I don't see what the point of bringing up the former is, other than attacking religion.

  14. Viseguy said,

    October 29, 2018 @ 10:15 pm

    @BZ: My comment was not meant to be ironic, figurative, or sacrilegious (not sure which you're implying); it was simply an observation — one based, in large part, on first-hand experience.

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