chthonically speaking

06 Aug

My word of the week.


I recently read some advice for successful writing and publishing today that boiled it down to this: write your passion, but don’t use words that people have to look up, and don’t. use. long. sentences.

One simple word for that.

definitely not chthonic

definitely not chthonic

Boring. And definitely not chthonic.

Dare to serve more chthonic fare!

When saying, chthonic, in the US we treat the “ch” as silent (“thon-ic”), but it’s much more fun to ever so slightly pronounce the initial “ch” as you would in Greek and thus say, “keh-thon-ic” – just don’t linger over the “keh” too long.

I came across chthonic as I finished up Longenecker’s book, Quest for the Creed (I think I’ve mentioned Longenecker a time or two – I like him; he writes complex sentences and makes me look up words). Here was the section where I met chthonic:

“The conception that fused earth and heaven was accomplished by the power of God that Christians call the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not some weak ghostly figure that floats about like ectoplasm. Instead it is that fiery, chthonic force that rumbles at the heart of creation from the dawn of time. The first words of the book of Genesis hint that the same brooding, gestating and conceiving power was there at the beginning. The Holy Spirit constantly broods over the bent of the world to bring forth new life.”

Ah yes, chthonic force. What a way to refer to the Holy Spirit – a fiery, chthonic force that rumbles at the heart of creation. I also love the picture of the Spirit brooding over a bent world to bring forth new life…


a chthonic slice

Chthonic is from the Ancient Greek χθόνιος (khthonios, “in or under the ground”), from  χθών  (khthōn, “ground”).

I thought it looked familiar.

χθών never actually makes an appearance in the Greek New Testament. It only appears in the compound form καταχθόνιος when Paul affirms the universal sway of Christ in the coming age (“every knee will bow and every tongue confess in heaven and on earth and under the earth” Philippians 2:10).

So we’re talking earthy, subterranean, deep.

Try complimenting the pastor this way next time: “Wow. Very chthonic contemplation today, Pastor.” Or perhaps you could tell him or her, “That was far too chthonic for my taste! (and please stop using words that I have to look up. And speak. In. Shorter. Sentences. Thank. You.”

And of course there are variations on chthonic. There’s chthonian. I suppose a chthonian performance would be the opposite of one that’s stellar.

a very ancient, chthonic discussion...

a very ancient, chthonic discussion…

Or how about we start the Chthonic Church – in fact, the early church in Rome meeting in those catacombs was literally chthonic, wasn’t it? Ultimately we’re all going to be chthonicized, aren’t we?

The Gospel is so chthonic.

Typically we think of God and Gospel as so otherworldly, so out of this world, so not of this earth. We’re back with Plato and Aristotle insisting that we point up while others point down, forgetting the chthonic reality of the incarnation. God spans heaven and earth to its chthonic depths and unites everyone and everything through that fiery, chthonic Spirit pulsing at the center of creation.

We love and serve a chthonic God who has really gotten down to earth.

Perhaps we should follow suit…

Hands Holding Soil --- Image by © L. Clarke/Corbis


Posted by on August 6, 2013 in haverings, musings


Tags: , , ,

5 responses to “chthonically speaking

  1. Jen Metts

    August 6, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Oh, I can’t resist this one. When I studied Greek mythology this term was used in reference to the underworld or gods of the underworld, in addition to earthly deities. In psychological terms, I’ve heard Carl Jung use it regarding our earthly natures, both good and evil, depending on context…and here in lies it’s trickery…contextual reference. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it hellish or just earthy? It’s most literal definition is just simply subterranean and appears to be how Longenecker is using it…the subterranean Spirit at the heart of creation. In this reference, it can be applied easily to psychological terms relating to our deep, inner nature…or true self. However, it is also a favorite word for metal and goth bands who use it in the Greek “underworld” or “hellish” reference, though I think they fail to do their research. The Greek underworld was not just hell, but rather it was comprised of many areas, or chambers, with both good and evil deities. Christians see the word underworld and think only Hades, but not the Greeks. What a great word! (short sentence for your amusement) I love words that can have varies meanings, both positive and negative, and are frequently misused. They are fun to use in conversation, especially when you contextualize them both ways and leave your audience baffled as to what the ‘hell’ you’re trying to say…or is it heaven? I suppose it all goes back to that golden saying, “text without context is pretext”. Bahahahaha. (I’ll leave you to decide if that’s an evil laugh or a happy one.)

  2. wordhaver

    August 6, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    My. Favorite. Comment. EVER.

  3. Jeff Stucker

    August 6, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    So most catatonic Christians are too Valhalla-minded to be any chthonic good! Or maybe just too cosmopolitan for either…?

  4. wordhaver

    August 6, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    Nice! Cosmopolitan…catatonic…chthonic…you have me sailing the C’s…

  5. Jeff Stucker

    August 6, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    I was inspired by καταχθόνιος


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