Aug 5, 2012

Carpe Diem

Carpe diem may perhaps be the best known of all Latin clichés. The phrase has been featured in movies, has had wide use in literature and so forth. Its popularity is probably due to the way in which it conveys the urgency of the moment. All of us have probably missed opportunities at some point in our lives, perhaps opportunities we later regretted having let pass us by. Carpe diem is a nice, pithy expression that reminds us we can never relive any moment.

The phrase means, "enjoy the moment," or "enjoy the present," or "seize today’s opportunities." Most literally, however, it means, "seize the day." The "carpe" part of the term comes from "carpo" meaning "to pluck" or "to pluck off." It’s related to the Greek "karpos," which means fruit (Karpos is the New Testament word used for fruit, particularly for spiritual fruit when combined with "tou pneumatos," that is "karpos tou pneumatos" = "fruit of the spirit" (cf. Galatians 5:5). It’s also the NT equivalent of the OT Hebrew "peri").  "Carpo" conveys the idea of plucking, as one would pluck off a piece of fruit from a fruit tree or pluck a flower, etc. That is, the phrase tells us that we are to take hold of the moment as one would take hold of a piece of fruit and pluck it.

The diem part of the phrase means "day." Perhaps when you’ve gone a business trip you were concerned with per diem, which referred to the allowance granted to you per day for your daily expenditures. Diem is related to the Latin "deus" meaning "god," from which came Zeus, who in Greek mythology was the supreme deity and ruler of the celestial realm. Therefore, the god who controlled the cycle of days became known as Zeus, a name that probably ultimately derived from the Latin word for "day."

The idea of being concerned with time and living every moment to the fullest is a biblical concept as well. The Scriptures teach us to "number our days" (Psalm 90:12). Of course, the biblical admonition refers to living in a wise, godly fashion, not to seizing the day for selfish purposes. We all need a reminder that life is fleeting and passes us by like vapor (James 4:14). If we fail to carpe diem, we may live to regret not having lived each moment to the fullest, particularly for God’s honor and glory. One day we’ll all give an accounting for how we lived our lives, so let’s be sure that we never fail to carpe diem.

Note: As an aside, a similar expression to carpe diem is in diem vivere, or "to live for the day." The latter phrase can be found used in the Latin works of Cicero.