Word of the Day: CHARACTER
The first imparting of a CHARACTER in Scripture, as I see it, comes in Genesis, after the first murderer and third excuse-maker pleads with God to do something to keep other people from doing to him what he did to his brother. God then most graciously places a mysterious MARK on his forehead, saying, “Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And then Cain becomes an exile to the second power, leaving the general area of Eden and traveling east, to the land of Nod.
The final imparting of a CHARACTER then would be what we find at the consummation of all things: “His servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads.” In the meantime, between Cain and the Apocalypse, we have circumcision; the anointing of prophets and kings; baptism, confirmation, and Holy Orders. The CHARACTER, from Greek KHARAKTER, an engraved mark, a BRANDING, is sealed on the body or the soul, and becomes a tell-tale, like a birthmark. Nathanael Hawthorne had it in mind in his short story, “The Birthmark,” about an ungrateful chemist who tries to play God, essentially poisoning his beautiful and too generous wife to remove a birthmark — in the shape of a small hand — from her face. It is an allegory of all “projectors,” to use Swift’s term; all dreamers of a perfect world here on earth, among such people as we are and as we are ever going to be. The mark is on us, the mark of sin, and all human attempts to expunge it or eradicate it will destroy the patient, because the doctors are afflicted with it too.
We can brand ourselves or one another all day long, and not ever heal our ills or touch the sin-sick soul: that is among the lessons of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Virtue-signaling is a form of branding — branding oneself as virtuous, which is a pleasant little hobby that we all indulge in one way or another, and branding others as vicious, which is even more pleasant. It does not change the heart of man. For THAT, we need the gracious action of God, whose brands do not simply signal THAT something is, but make it into what it is or set it on its way to being what it is going to be. It then is a CHARACTER in the deepest sense of the word: a mark or seal that organizes what is sealed, turning it into itself.
I can’t give any cognates of the Greek word, because we don’t know any. When the Indo Europeans descended upon all the lands they descended upon, from the mouth of the Ganges to farthest Ireland, they encountered people who were already there; sometimes people who were themselves of Indo European stock, whose migrations had come earlier; sometimes people whose languages we have a little knowledge of, such as the Etruscans; and sometimes people whose languages have disappeared entirely. Imagine if Europeans had come to America in 1500 B.C., without written records. Sufferin’ SUCCOTASH! We’d have a slew of words about whose provenance we could only guess: “Pre-European.”