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Short description: Latin for "god" or "deity"

Deus (la-x-classic, la-x-church) is the Latin word for "god" or "deity". Latin deus and dīvus ("divine") are in turn descended from Proto-Indo-European *deiwos, "celestial" or "shining", from the same root as *Dyēus, the reconstructed chief god of the Proto-Indo-European pantheon.

In Classical Latin, deus (feminine dea) was a general noun[1] referring to a deity, while in technical usage a divus or diva was a figure who had become divine, such as a divinized emperor. In Late Latin, Deus came to be used mostly for the Christian God. It was inherited by the Romance languages in Galician and Portuguese Deus, Catalan and Sardinian Déu, French and Occitan Dieu, Friulian and Sicilian Diu, Italian Dio, Spanish Dios and (for the Jewish God) Ladino דייו/דיו Dio/Dyo, etc., and by the Celtic languages in Welsh Duw and Irish Dia.


While Latin deus can be translated as and bears superficial similarity to Greek θεός theós, meaning "god", these are false cognates. A true cognate is Ancient Greek Zeus, king of the Olympian gods in Greek mythology (Template:Lang-grc-att, grc-x-attic or grc; Template:Lang-grc-dor, grc-x-doric). In the archaic period, the initial Zeta would have been pronounced such that Attic Ζεύς would phonetically transliterate as Zdeús or Dzeús, from Proto-Hellenic *dzéus.

By combining a form of deus with the Ancient Roman word for "father" (Latin: pater, la), one derives the name of the mythical Roman equivalent of Zeus: the sky god Diespiter (la), later called Iuppiter or Jūpiter, from Proto-Italic *djous patēr, descended from Proto-Indo-European root *Dyḗws*Pahtḗr literally meaning 'Sky Father'. From the same root is derived the Greek vocative "O father Zeus" (Template:Lang-grc-att), and whence is also derived the name of the Hindu sky god Dyáuṣ Pitṛ́ (Vedic Sanskrit: Dyáuṣpitṛ́, द्यौष्पितृ), and Proto-Germanic *Tīwaz or Tius hence Old Norse Týr. [2][3][4][5][6][7][8]

Latin Bible

Latin Deus consistently translates Greek Θεός Theós in both the Vetus Latina and Jerome's Vulgate. In the Septuagint, Greek Theós in turn renders Hebrew Elohim (אֱלוֹהִים, אלהים), as in Genesis 1:1:

  • Masoretic Text Biblical Hebrew: בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.‎, romanized: B'reshít bará Elohím et hashamáyim w'et haʾáretz.
  • Septuagint Koinē Greek: Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ Θεὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν., romanized: En archê epoíēsen ho Theòs tòn ouranòn kaì tḕn gên.
  • Vulgate Latin: In principio creavit Deus cælum et terram.

In theological terminology

The word de-us is the root of deity, and thereby of deism, pandeism, and polydeism, all of which are theories in which any divine figure is absent from intervening in human affairs. This curious circumstance originates from the use of the word "deism" in the 17th and 18th centuries as a contrast to the prevailing "theism", belief in an actively intervening God:

The new religion of reason would be known as Deism. It had no time for the imaginative disciplines of mysticism and mythology. It turned its back on the myth of revelation and on such traditional "mysteries" as the Trinity, which had for so long held people in the thrall of superstition. Instead it declared allegiance to the impersonal "Deus".[9]

By 1888, it was written in the Encyclopaedia Britannica: "Although deus and theos are equivalent, deism has come to be distinguished from theism. The former word first appeared in the 16th century, when it was used to designate antitrinitarian opinions. In the 17th century it came to be applied to the view that the light of nature is the only light in which man can know God, no special revelation having been given to the human race."[10] Followers of these theories, and occasionally followers of pantheism, may sometimes refer to God as "Deus" or "the Deus" to make clear that the entity being discussed is not a theistic "God". Arthur C. Clarke picks up this usage in his novel 3001: The Final Odyssey. William Blake said of the Deists that they worship "the Deus of the Heathen, The God of This World, & the Goddess Nature, Mystery, Babylon the Great, The Druid Dragon & hidden Harlot".[11]

In Cartesian philosophy, the phrase deus deceptor is sometimes used to discuss the possibility of an evil God that seeks to deceive us. This character is related to a skeptical argument as to how much we can really know if an evil demon were attempting to thwart our knowledge. Another is the deus otiosus ("idle god"), which is a creator god who largely retires from the world and is no longer involved in its daily operation. A similar concept is that of the deus absconditus ("hidden god") of Thomas Aquinas. Both refer to a deity whose existence is not readily knowable by humans through either contemplation or examination of divine actions. The concept of deus otiosus often suggests a god who has grown weary from involvement in this world and who has been replaced by younger, more active gods, whereas deus absconditus suggests a god who has consciously left this world to hide elsewhere.

Latin phrases with "deus"

Statue of Archangel Michael slaying Satan represented as a dragon. Quis ut Deus? ("Who is like God?") is inscribed on his shield.

Nobiscum deus ("God with us") was a battle cry of the late Roman Empire and of the Byzantine Empire. The name Amadeus translates to "for love of God". The genitive/dative dei occurs in such phrases as Roman Catholic organization Opus Dei (work of God), Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) and Dei Gratia (By the Grace of God).

See also


  1. Generale nomen: Servius, note to Aeneid 12.139.
  2. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short (1879). A Latin Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 
  3. Charlton T. Lewis (1891). An Elementary Latin Dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers. 
  4. Liddell & Scott (1889). An Intermediate Greek–English Lexicon. New York: Harper & Brothers. 
  5. Liddell & Scott (1940). A Greek–English Lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 
  6. Winter, Werner (2003). Language in Time and Space. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 134–135. ISBN 978-3-11-017648-3. 
  7. Bopp, F.; Wilson, H. H. (1851). Edinburgh Review, or Critical Journal. XCIII–XCIV. A & C Black. p. 171. 
  8. Müller, Friedrich Max (1902). The life and letters of the right Honourable Friedrich Max Müller. Longmans, Green, and co.. pp. 506–507. 
  9. Karen Armstrong, A History of God (1993), page 310.
  10. Thomas Spencer Baynes, ed., The Encyclopaedia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and General Literature, Ninth Edition, Volume 23, 1888, p. 234.
  11. Samuel Foster Damon, Morris Eaves, A Blake dictionary: the ideas and symbols of William Blake, 1988, page 103.