English 233: Introduction to Western Humanities - Baroque & Enlightenment

Glossary of Terms:

"Advent" vs "Event"

Both "advent" and "event" are words that have come to be attached to a number of different senses through the ages.  Here, however, we are interested only in a specific sense attaching to each term by which they carry complementary meanings.  In each case, however, the metaphor at work in the original Latin terms from which they derive is helpful to see what is at stake.

In Latin, ventus is the past participle of the verb venire ("to come").  In his account of his conquest of Gaul (the area of Europe now comprising Spain, France, Belgium, and the western part of Switzerland), Caesar famously said "Veni, vedi, vici":  "I came, I saw, I conquered."  We can imagine one of his assistants announcing the general's arrival to the members of a defeated tribe, who are expected to express their homage to him:  "Ventus est"  -- "He has come."  Latin past participles, stripped of their suffix (here, -us, signifying a grammatically masculine element used as the subject of a sentence) , are what English prefers to take as raw material for forming the words it derives from Latin verbs.  "Vent-" thus shows up in a number of words based on the Latin verb venire: "prevent," "subvention," "convention" (and "convene" and "convent"), "intervene," "adventure," "advent," "event," "eventually," etc. 

Ad is a preposition meaning (depending on the context) "at" or "to" or "towards"; it can be used as a prefix (ad-) to form verbs, nouns, and adjectives in Latin.  Ex is also a proposition -- meaning "out" or "out of" -- that Latin also turn into a prefix (ex-) for similar purposes.  Before certain consonants (one is "v"), ex- becomes e-.

Advenire thus means "to come to," "to arrive," "to show up at," and evenire means "to come out of."  "Event," thus carries the general sense of "outcome" -- the result of some prior condition or cause.  But in medieval philosophical practice its sense came to be restricted to "outcome, in the course of time, of a cause that is in turn the outcome, in the course of time, of a previous cause."  "Advent" came to be used, in contrast, to refer to an act in which a supernatural agent (and in Christianity there is only one, God) affects something that happens in the world of nature or human affairs, by coming down (i.e., from outside of time, from eternity, a "higher" realm) to the temporal realm and performing some action in it.

This amounts to an interruption (a "breaking into") a process of cause and effect that would otherwise proceed on the basis of temporal agents (humans) and the natural dispositions of other natural beings (animals, plants, elements, heavenly bodies). 

We can illustrate this with an analogy. 

Suppose you set up an aquarium, and put in it some gravel, and a few goldfish, turtles, snails, and aquatic plants (edible and non-edible, from the standpoint of the fish).  Suppose you place this aquarium inside a sealed room and leave it alone.  A process will ensue within the aquarium, the particular course of which will depend on how big the aquarium and surrounding room are, how many (and what species) of animals and plants you have populated the aquarium with.  This process, which unfolds strictly on basis of the initial conditions (which includes the metabolic needs and the standard behavior of the various organisms), would consist of a series of events.  We can predict that, eventually, the animals will suffocate, the plants will rot, and eventually the bacteria will die.  Exactly how this will all work out depends on the initial state of affairs -- how many fish, of which sorys[s], etc.  But insofar as the room is left to itself, each change that happens (on whatever level of chemistry and beyond) is of the category of event

But suppose that periodically you change the situation by opeinng up the sealed room (so that its atmosphere mingles with that outside), or by coveying electric power to a light in the room that radiates light-waves in the frequencies that support photosynthesis, or by sprinkling fishfood upon the surface, or (perhaps) by introducing an additional fish to the tank, or removing one that is already there, or by doing all these things.  Thenceforth the particular course of events will transpire differently than they would if you had stayed remote, and will continue on that course unless and until you intervene again.  What happens will depend on a combination of what you did (i.e., what is analogous to advent) and what the conditions were that you did not affect and what the standing operating procedures are for each of the elements in the situation.  Thenceforth -- unless, by a subsequent "advent" you change the trajectory of development your intervention has helped to bring about -- that trajectory will proceed as a sequence of events.

Your intervention is analogous to an advent in the sense we are using the term here -- but not strictly an example of an advent -- because you yourself exist within time, whereas God (in the monotheistic theologies, of which Christianity is an example) is postulated to be "outside of" time, i.e., eternal.  That is:  he is altogether beyond the process of history into which he intervenes.

  For an informative comprehensive discussion of the role of advent within the traditional Christian picture of history, see the student paper by Jennifer Stohrs

Note that Advent (with a capital "A") denotes a specific instance of "advent" in the sense we have been describing.  "Advent" is the designation, in the Christian calendar, of the period begining December 1 and culminating in the Nativity (Christmas), the ceremonially established anniversary of the birth of Christ.  This is the period in which Christ (considered as the Second Person of the Trinity) is "on the way" to Mankind, as God's gift to make possible the redemption of mankind from sin, original and individual.

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      Contents copyright 1999 by Lyman A. Baker

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      This page last updated 25 August 1999.