What a Silly Lash!
My husband, whose conversion to Catholicism was greatly eased by his discovery of the Traditional Latin Mass, is a bit of a Latinist, so he fussed and spluttered when he came across this amusing passage in an interview with His Grace the Archbishop of Chicago:
“In regard to my own pastoral work with people I’ve always tried to understand them. We use that word ‘reconciliation’ all the time. It doesn’t mean giving people forgiveness. It comes from an anatomical root, namely the eyelashes, the cilia, so you begin to see eye to eye with people.”
My first thought, upon hearing this, was Jonathan Swift’s very wicked poem “The Lady’s Dressing Room”, which describes the horror of a silly young man who steals into his adored Celia’s rather messy chamber and discovers that she is, you know, a human being: sweaty, hairy, excretory. It puts the silly young man quite off women.
But my husband was not to be distracted by scatological 18th century poetry. As much as he wanted to believe His Grace was, as doubtless were Archbishops of Chicago before him, an expert Latinist, he didn’t. So he summoned up Wiktionary on his computer, looking up first reconciliation and then reconcilio, and so on.
Verb – reconcilio – first-person singular present indicative form of reconciliar
Latin Etymology: From re- (“back; again”) + conciliō (“unite, connect”).
It turns out that this purported anatomical root of “reconciliation”, cilia (plural of cilium) are eyelids, not eyelashes, and the word is derived from the Proto-Indo-European word for “to cover.” Is reconciliation, then, a cover-up?
Perhaps to his Grace, and to Luther, who famously thought God’s grace was akin to snow that covered up that stuff so associated with Swift’s Celia.
To Latinists, however, the roots of reconciliation can be found in concilium and re- (again) and con- (with) and–especially–cieo (to put in motion). Cieo goes back to the Proto-Indo-European key-, and is found in Ancient Greek as κινέω (kineo)–“I move, I set in motion.”
There are no eyelashes involved in reconciliation. No eyelids. No covering. No cover-up. The root of reconciliation is not cilium but cieo, and Wiktionary is positively Old Testament in its discussion of what that means.
Indeed, it means what Catholics mean when we talk about our aching consciences responding to Christ’s invitation to be reconciled with Him and His Father:cieō (present infinitive ciēre, perfect active cīvī, supine citum); second conjugation
- I put in motion; act
- I move, stir, shake.
- I summon, call.
- I call upon (by name) for help, invoke, appeal to.
- I rouse, stimulate, excite; disturb; produce, cause, begin, provoke.
Thus, we see that His Grace the Archbishop of Chicago is not such a great Latinist and therefore may not understand what reconciliation really entails. It does not mean seeing eye-to-eye with the sinner when he or she explains to you why he or she is not really a sinner after all, but moving, stirring, summoning, calling, rousing, stimulating, exciting, disturbing and provoking them into reconciliation with our Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and that strangely overlooked Person, God the Father.