Recently at a program at St. David’s of DeWitt church, I viewed a video series by poet and author, Kathleen Norris, where she and others discuss the role of religion (in this case, Christianity) in their lives. The first discussion is titled, “The Importance of Belief,” which only lightly touched on the origins of the word “believe.” I must needs to pursue this further, I thought, as you who know me would guess.
I discovered with pleasure that “belief” and “believe” are derived from the same roots as the word “love.” Tracing back through early English to the Germanic origins of “believe” leads to “ge-lauben.” Since the German for “to love” is “lieben,” we come very close to seeing the phonetic relationship between loving and believing. In Old English the word for love was “lufu,” and in ancient times, similar and related words for “love” extended throughout German, Dutch, Scandinavian, Slavonic, Latin and Sanskrit (from India) languages: “leubh,” “lof,” “lubet,” “lubu,” and “lubhyati.”
If “to love” and “to believe” are related phonetically, how are the meanings connected? It turns out “to be-lieve” is an emphatic statement of “to love with your whole heart.” At one time, “faith” applied only to people, while “belief” referred only to the divine; to believe was a commitment “with your whole heart.” Similarly today, a “theory” is reserved for an observation or explanation based on facts, it can be proven or disproven, while a “belief” is an expression of the heart, of intuitive truth.
This exploration led me to another relevation: the alto soloist in our choir at St. David’s of DeWitt, who grew up in Russia, has the name Luba Lesser. “Luba,” I asked, “does your name mean Love?” “Yes!” she replied with a smile.