05 July 2017

How one student in Crete responds
to the change in temperatures

Blue skies and blue seas in Platanes … what sort of heat is the heatwave producing? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The temperatures are changing and the heatwave seems to have come to an end in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

The weather is changing in Crete after the heatwave I have experienced since arriving last week.

The change in temperatures make it easier to walk around Rethymnon, which is a university town and one of the locations of the dispersed campus of the University of Crete.

Heat and the University of Crete are topics brought together in a story told by the writer and journalist Theodore Pagiavlas, who lives in Chania. In a recent book, The Holy Madness of Modern Greeks, he recalls an answer offered by a student at a mid-term chemistry examination in the University of Crete. He writes:

The question was as follows:

Is Hell exothermic or esothermic?

(In chemistry, exothermic reactions produce heat, while esothermic reactions absorb it.)

The responses of most students were based on evidence procured by applying Boyle’s Law (gases cool down when expanded and heat up when compressed) or some other variant.

One student, however, wrote the following answer:

First, we need to find out whether the mass of \hell changes in time. Therefore, we need to discover the rate at which souls are entering Hell as well as the rate at which they are leaving.

I believe we can safely say that once a soul arrives in Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls ever escape. As for the number of souls that are entering Hell, we should start by examining all the different religions that exist in the world today. Most of these religions dictate that if a person does not abide by their specific dogma, they will most certainly end up in Hell. Since there are numerous religions, and people do not believe in more than one religious dogma, we can easily draw the conclusion that all souls will eventually go to Hell. Moreover, judging by the birth and death rates, we should expect the number of souls in hell to increase exponentially.

The reason why we had to analyse the rate at which the volume of Hell changes in time was because Boyle’s Law states that, in order for temperature and pressure in Hell to remain stable, its volume has to expand in proportion to the souls added. Therefore, two different possibilities arise:

1. If Hell expands at a slower rate than the rate at which souls are being added, the temperature and pressure will keep increasing until all Hell breaks loose.

2. If Hell expands at a rate faster than the rate at which souls are being added, the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.

The question is which possibility is actually true.

If we accept the postulate that Teresa announced to me during my Freshman year that ‘It will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you’ and take into consideration the fact that last night she did in fact sleep with me, the second case must be true. Hell is therefore exothermic and it has already frozen over.

The corollary of this theory is that, since Hell is frozen, it cannot accept any more souls and is extinct … leaving only Heaven open …

Theodore Pagiavlas adds: ‘This student received the only A.’

The Greeks have a word
for it (8): theology

‘If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian’ … inside the cathedral in Rethymnon at the weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

The word theology comes into English from the Greek θεολογία (theología), which is derived in turn from Τheos (Θεός), meaning God, and -λογία (-logia), meaning utterances, sayings, or rational, logical, or scientific discourse.

But the word in Greek even predates Christian theology. The word θεολογία (theología) is used with the meaning ‘discourse on god’ in the fourth century BC by Plato in The Republic, Book ii, Chapter 18. Aristotle divided theoretical philosophy into mathematics, physics and theology, which, for Aristotle, included discourse on the nature of the divine.

The closely-related word θεολόγος ( theológos), appears once in the Bible, in the heading to the Book of Revelation: Αποκάλυψις Ιωάννου του Θεολόγου (Apokálypsis Ioánnou tou Theológou), ‘the Revelation of John the Theologian.’

To this day, Saint John the Evangelist, or Saint John the Divine, is known to Greeks as Saint John the Theologian.

The Patristic Greek writers often use the word theologia to refer narrowly to devout and inspired knowledge of, and teaching about, the essential nature of God.

The word passed from Greek into Latin as theologia, and Saint Augustine of Hippo uses the Latin word theologia to mean ‘reasoning or discussion concerning the Deity.’

In the early sixth century, the Latin writer Boethius used theologia to denote a subdivision of philosophy, dealing with the motionless, incorporeal reality – as opposed to physica, dealing with corporeal, moving realities. In scholastic Latin writing, the term came to denote the rational study of the doctrines of Christianity.

The word passed into French as théologie, and the English equivalent, ‘theology’ (theologie, teologye), had evolved by 1362.

Richard Hooker, who defines classical Anglican theology, defined ‘theology’ in English as ‘the science of things divine.’

Indeed, until recently, theologians were often referred to as divines, religious teaching in English schools and university was referred to as divinity, and higher degrees in theology often use the description divinity, as in the degrees BD and DD.

‘Divvers’ was an examination in biblical literature and history required of every Oxford undergraduate up to 1932, and the poet John Betjeman, despite his later love of English churches, famously failed ‘divvers’ at Oxford twice, and he blamed his tutor CS Lewis for the fact that he left Oxford without a degree.

There is a dictum in The Philokalia, ascribed to the Desert Father Evagrios the Solitary (Evagrios Pontikos), that says: ‘If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian’ [Treatise on Prayer, 61].

For this theologian, this holiday in Crete is also a time for prayer and reflection.

Saint Gregory the Theologian … an icon in the parish church in Piskopianó (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)