Thursday, February 24, 2011

The deity of Charis

In this study of charis you can’t get to the heart of the matter until you understand how the ancient Greeks viewed the fundamental nature of charis.  The best way to uncover this is to look at their perceptions on a “theological” basis.  Yet everyone knows that the Greeks, as well as every other ancient civilization, had many deities that they worshiped and it makes some people squeamish when you start speaking about deities.  I don’t know if it’s because their own faith is weak or they fear that the “bogey man” is going to overtake them.  My personal take on the matter is quite simple: I know my God and there isn’t anyone higher or more worthy of praise and worship, so anything else is a piker not deserving any attention.

Why Deify Charis?

In the book of Acts we encounter an instance when the Apostle Paul is in Athens preparing to address the thinkers of the day at Mars Hill.  Paul notes that in his wanderings throughout the city he noticed many of the statues that had been erected for the various gods that they all worshiped, including one for whom they recognized as the “unknown god.”  This was the God that Paul subsequently referred to in his preaching of the gospel.  While Paul did not make a specific reference to seeing any statue to Charis it is most certain that it was present and it has some rather interesting aspects to it.
The god of charis first off was not a single god.  It was always depicted as three young females called the Charites. In most of the writings the three graces, Euphrosyne, Aglaia, and Thaleia are most frequently named but there appears to have been many more depending upon the occasion as well as the location of where you were in Greece.  Primary they were the personification of charm, grace and beauty and their realm was in social discourse, manners and culture.  Even today we often speak about someone’s social graces and ability to project an air of grace and beauty.  Yet there were other areas in life that they presided over including mirth, festivity, joy and favor, dance and song, praise and glory, play, amusement, banqueting, floral decoration, happiness, rest and relaxation.
“They are mostly described as being in the service or attendance of other divinities, as real joy exists only in circles where the individual gives up his own self and makes it his main object to afford pleasure to others. The less beauty is ambitious to rule, the greater is its victory; and the less homage it demands, the more freely is it paid. These seen to be the ideas embodied in the Charites. They lend their grace and beauty to everything that delights and elevates gods and men.”
One of the first areas of influence that the Charites shared was as goddesses of fertility and life.  Since this area of life was concerned with joyous celebration about matters that mankind could not explain it seems natural that the Greeks would create a deity to pay homage too.  They became patrons of youth, marriage and healing as their sphere of influence developed.  Their youth was an important characteristic because they eventually presided over the social gathering whereby, “good deeds, ever recalled and renewed, never grow old.
In the Charites we see a joyful, robust, exuberance to life that the Greeks not only recognized but practiced with their entire being as a tribute to the goddesses.  This is the influence that charis had on their lives.  To speak of charis to the Greeks meant that you were drawing on a vital component which was the very essence that defines humanity.  To a Greek, charis is life.  That is what Paul, Luke and the other gospel writers recognized and how the gospel message was the ultimate charis event for all humanity – an event that only God could supply.

Charis and Shalom to you

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