Question: With respect the the three degrees of glory, what does the word "telestial" mean?


Question: With respect the the three degrees of glory, what does the word "telestial" mean?

Telestial is a neologism (a "new word") that was coined as part of the revelation of D&C 76

What does the word "telestial" mean, as used in Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon's vision (see DC 76:) of the post-mortal worlds?

Telestial is a neologism (a "new word") that was coined as part of the revelation of D&C 76. English allows and even encourages creation of neologisms richly all the time (see for instance Shakespeare). That's just the way the language works, and is one of the reasons English has become a lingua franca in our modern world.

Celestial and terrestrial are both derived from Latin. The word caelum means "sky, heaven"; turned into an adjective, that form becomes caelestis "heavenly"; and apparently that ending was extended with another Latin adjectival ending, -(i)alis, to get the form caelestialus. The Latin ending -us was dropped when the word was anglicized (and the ae diphthong was reduced), giving us "celestial."

Terrestrial underwent a similar evolution. Terra means "earth"; terrestris is the adjectival form, "of or relating to the earth"; and terrestrialus would be an extended adjectival form, with the -us ending being dropped in English, for terrestrial.

Telestial appears to have been formed by analogy to celestial. Working backwards, the hypothetical forms would be telestialus, then telestis. The -stial is thus an adjectival formation. The question then becomes what the root tele signifies.

There is of course no answer book we can open to find out for sure what was intended.

  1. One option is that that the root was taken from Greek. One possibility would be telos, which means "end, purpose"; the cognate verb telein means "to bring to an end; to complete." [1]
  2. Another possibility is that the root comes from the Greek adverb tele, which means "far away, distant." This root is commonly seen in English formations, such as telephone, telescope and television. As an adverb, normally it is a combining form with other words, but it may convey the basic idea of something far away or distant (from God?), or it may have been coined backwards from English telescope, reflecting the basic idea that the stars (which are used as a symbol for telestial beings--see DC 76:) are far away (i.e., much further than the sun or moon).
  3. A third possibility suggests that it may be helpful to think about what we ought to expect based on the progression of terms from celestial to terrestrial to telestial. The analogy used in the revelation talks about sun, moon and stars, so certainly any connection we can find to the stars would be worth considering. But the terms themselves reflect a different progression: caelum is heaven/sky, terra is earth, so to me the natural progression would be something designating a nether or underworld, something like Sheol or Hades. We see this progression in Phillippians 2:10 which talks about things “in heaven” (GR epouranios), things “on earth” (GR epigeios), and things “under the earth” (GR katachthonos). The latter term is formed from the preposition kata (in this usage, “under”) and chthon (“earth”) and is the Greek equivalent of such words as subterranean, infernus. When used in the plural, that Greek term refers to those who dwell there, the departed souls who dwell in the world below, the netherworld.

    With that background, this option suggests that perhaps the root to telestial is the Latin tellus, which means “earth, ground” and from there “land, district, country, region, territory.” (In Hebrew literature, words for the “earth” often do double duty and also can represent the netherworld.) If that were the case, the word was imperfectly formed, dropping an l from the root of the word. It might be odd to have two kingdom names both grounded in terms for “earth,” but recall that this earth is considered to be in a telestial state, its terrestrial state being a higher existence from which it fell. [2]

All we have at this point is guesswork to go by, but it is an interesting linguistic question.


Notes

  1. See related discussion of the Greek in Russell M. Nelson, "Perfection Pending," Ensign (November 1995), 86. off-site
  2. See Kevin Barney, "The Etymology of “Telestial”," bycommonconsent blog (27 January 2010). off-site