Friday, April 14, 2006

What's 'Good' about Good Friday?

Wings: St. Anthony & Sebastian and Predella
Matthias Grunewald (1470-1530)
(Image Hosted at Australian National University)

I thought that this issue had been long settled and that everybody who is anybody knew that "Good Friday" derives from "God's Friday" rather than some theologically inspired use of "good," for no crucifixion can really be 'good' (as Grunewald's painting demonstrates), despite its soteriological necessity in the economy of salvation. Thus, I was surprised to see that the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on "Good Friday" expresses uncertainty:

The origin of the term Good is not clear. Some say it is from "God's Friday" (Gottes Freitag); others maintain that it is from the German Gute Freitag, and not specially English. (T. P. Gilmartin, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 6 (Robert Appleton Company, 1909)
Yeah, I know, Mr. Gilmartin was expressing his uncertainty in 1909, nearly one-hundred years ago! That's why I said "long settled."

Wikipedia, always up-to-date if not always correct, states ... nothing. Nothing! Nada! Zilch!

That's zilch as of 5:40 a.m. on (Good) Friday, April 14, 2006 in Seoul, South Korea.

The online Free Dictionary (Farlex), by contrast, has some surprising information:

Good Friday n. The Friday before Easter, observed by Christians in commemoration of the crucifixion of Jesus. [From good, pious, holy (obsolete).]
I didn't know that. Now, I'm the the one not settled, but the information appears to be correct, for in agreement with the Free Dictionary is the Online Etymology Dictionary:

Good Friday c.1290, from good in sense of "holy" (e.g. the good book "the Bible," 1896), also, esp. of holy days or seasons observed by the church (c.1420); it was also applied to Christmas and Shrove Tuesday.
Well, let's look at the etymology of "good":

good (adj.) O.E. god (with a long "o") "having the right or desirable quality," from P.Gmc. *gothaz (cf. O.N. goðr, Du. goed, Ger. gut, Goth. goþs), originally "fit, adequate, belonging together," from PIE base *ghedh- "to unite, be associated, suitable" (cf. O.C.S. godu "pleasing time," Rus. godnyi "fit, suitable," O.E. gædrian "to gather, to take up together").
The 1290 date given for the first recorded use of "Good Friday" cites "good" in the sense of "holy," but that may be an acquired meaning in Middle English because the Old English etymology for "good" doesn't specify this meaning.

By the way, while "good" and "God" may be theologically linked, no etymological connection exists. In other words, God is good, but "God" is not "good":

god O.E. god "supreme being, deity," from P.Gmc. *guthan (cf. Du. god, Ger. Gott, O.N. guð, Goth. guþ), from PIE *ghut- "that which is invoked" (cf. Skt. huta- "invoked," an epithet of Indra), from root *gheu(e)- "to call, invoke." But some trace it to PIE *ghu-to- "poured," from root *gheu- "to pour, pour a libation" (source of Gk. khein "to pour," khoane "funnel" and khymos "juice;" also in the phrase khute gaia "poured earth," referring to a burial mound). "Given the Greek facts, the Germanic form may have referred in the first instance to the spirit immanent in a burial mound" [Watkins]. Not related to good. Originally neut. in Gmc., the gender shifted to masc. after the coming of Christianity. O.E. god was probably closer in sense to L. numen. A better word to translate deus might have been P.Gmc. *ansuz, but this was only used of the highest deities in the Gmc. religion, and not of foreign gods, and it was never used of the Christian God. It survives in Eng. mainly in the personal names beginning in Os-.
Interesting point about names beginning with "Os-." Those would be names like "Oswald" or "Oscar." Who ever would have suspected the exalted origins of such names? Names with "God" as a prefix are similarly elevated:

Godfrey male proper name, from O.Fr. Godefrei, from O.H.G. Godafrid (Ger. Gottfried), lit. "the peace of God," from O.H.G. got "God" + fridu "peace."
I had also thought that my own name "Jeffery," which derives from "Jeffrey" and is the same name as "Geoffrey" (as in Mr. Chaucer), was related to "Godfrey," for a friend once told me that the French "Geoffroi" meant "heavenly peace." However:

Geoffrey male personal name, from O.Fr. Geoffroi, from M.L. Galfridus, from O.H.G. gewi "district" + fridu "peace."
Alas, my name implies not divine elevation but earthly geography. Perhaps this explains my shared earthiness with Mr. Chaucer. At least we're peaceful people.

Which is good.

4 Comments:

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

As someone with the same name, I agree --and Beowulf probably would too--that god-frith is certainly better than un-frith...

 
At 1:13 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hmmm ... un-frith. That would be the slayer of kinsmen who ridicules Beowulf and gets taken down a notch, if I recall. In the Beowulf translation that I have, it's "Unferth."

I've just checked Benjamin Slade's online Beowulf site, and found this in the note to line 499:

"[499] Unferth could mean something like 'discord' -- un 'not' + friđ 'peace'. However, this would involve metathesis of r+ vowel in friđ. It would seem an appropriate name for the character though, considering his taunting of Beowulf and his proported kin-slaying. However, the name is also written four times as Hunferđ."

However, perhaps it's not "peace," for I see from the online Bosworth-Toller that "ferth" can have an interesting meaning:

"ferþ, ferþþ; gen. -es; dat. -e; m. n. I. the soul, spirit, mind; animus, mens ... II. life; vita."

Perhaps "Unferth" means something like "non-soul" or "non-life."

Maybe I should blog on this...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:35 AM, Anonymous LisaSmall said...

You sound like JUST the right man to create a Wikipedia entry on the topic.

 
At 3:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Lisa, if I did write a Wikipedia entry, somebody else would just change it anyway.

Jeffery Hodges

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