The Greeks had a word for it. They called it pempte ousia. To the Romans, it was quinta essentia. In ancient times, these names were given to a concept that attempted to explain what was otherwise unexplainable.
The Greeks and Romans, and their counterparts in other civilizations, believed everything in the world was made up of four basic elements: air, earth, fire and water. That theory seemed to work, except with humans. Man was obviously something more, something that set him apart from the rest of creation.
Therefore, the logic went, there had to be a fifth element, a quinta essentia, that gave man the power to think and talk, and that caused him to seek after God. Of all the species that have ever inhabited the earth, homo sapiens alone builds altars. No matter how primitive or how advanced the culture, mankind worships someone or something, driven by this innate element, this quinta essentia.
Over the centuries, the word “quintessence” (from the Latin) has taken on broader meanings. Its definitions include: the consummate instance; the most perfect manifestation of a quality or thing; the purest form of anything; and the transcendent specimen of a given class.