ὑπομονή: patient endurance

ὑπομονή (hypomonē) is the virtue of “endurance” or “patient endurance.” It is the subject of this insightful post by Ian Paul, which I found through Alan Jacobs. Paul declares hypomonē the “word for the year,” and compares it with a similar word of greater currency in the present moment—the word resilience.

Resilience has become a very popular word in contemporary reflection. An internet search for the term shows that its use online has rocketed in just the last year or two. This might be a response to the stresses of the Covid-19 pandemic, the lockdown response, and the way both these threats have made us realise the importance of withstanding unexpected pressures. I also wonder whether the interest in resilience is a response to a contrary narrative—that life ought to be fair and predictable—which creates something of a shock when we find that it isn’t.

Paul also notes the “physical metaphor” implicit in the word resilience—”the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity”—which comes from its Latin etymon, the verb resilire, which means “to leap or spring back,” “to recoil or rebound.” In both contemporary psychology and discussions of business and management, the ability to “bounce back” (resilire) has taken on new importance and relevance for our present circumstances.

In view of this growing popularity of “resilience” in contemporary thought, Paul reflects on the New Testament virtue of hypomonē citing its definition in BDAG:

1. the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty, patience, endurance, fortitude, steadfastness, perseverance.

2. the act or state of patient waiting for someone or something; expectation.

He also cites BDAG on the related verb ὑπομένω (hypomenō):

1. to stay in a place beyond an expected point of time, remain/stay (behind), while others go away.

2. to maintain a belief or course of action in the face of opposition, stand one’s ground, hold out, endure, remain instead of fleeing.

3. to wait for with persistence, wait for someone.

According to Paul, “the two terms together occur 49 times in the New Testament, in 46 different verses, which suggests their importance.” One of those occurrences is in 1 Corinthians 13:7, in St. Paul’s famous discourse on love or charity: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things [πάντα ὑπομένει, panta hypomenei].” Paul (Ian Paul) wonders if Paul’s listing hypomenei last here suggests that “patient endurance” is the supreme virtue. To illustrate its importance in the life of faith, he refers to its only occurrence in the Gospels, Luke 8:15, the description in the Parable of the Sower of the seed that falls on good soil: “And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience [καρποφοροῦσιν ἐν ὑπομένῇ, karpophorousin en hypomenēi].”

Both Ian Paul and St. Paul connect the virtue of “patient endurance” not just with love but with suffering and the virtue of hope. Ian Paul cites St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans (5:3–5):

we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces patient endurance [hypomenē], and patient endurance [hypomenē] produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

The word St. Paul uses for suffering in this passage is θλῖψις (thlipsis), which is literally a “pressure” or “crushing.” The noun thlipsis comes from the verb thlibō, which means “to squeeze” or “compress.” The passage thus contains a vivid metaphor, one also present in verses such as John 16:33, “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” The word translated “tribulation” in this verse is, again, the word thlipsis, literally “pressure” or “crushing.” All the sufferings, tribulations, hardships, and distress which the world imposes upon us are imagined as the crushing pressure of a tremendous weight. Hypomonē, in turn, is the patient endurance of such crushing or squeezing.

With Ian Paul’s discussion of patient endurance in mind, we can better discern an ambiguity in the word suffering itself. The word suffer now means “to feel pain or distress,” as well as “to undergo or be subjected to (a negative experience or development)”—but suffer also means “to put up with” or “tolerate.” That last sense of suffer is typically found in statements such as, “She does not suffer fools easily.” I.e., she doesn’t have any patience for fools. In these definitions, we can detect both a passive and an active sense of suffering. Passive suffering happens whenever something is done to or happens to us. We ourselves are not acting, but rather being acted upon. But active suffering involves action on our part—the active endurance of a hardship. This active quality in suffering becomes clearer if we consider the original Latin verb, suffero, which literally means “to carry a thing from underneath,” or “to take upon one’s self, undergo, bear, endure.”

Ian Paul concludes his reflection by noting that the verb hypomenō is a compound of the more common verb menō, which simply means “to remain” or “to abide” somewhere. The simple verb is found, for example, in John 15:4, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”

On this Ian Paul comments,

This patient endurance, being willing to remain in Christ, even when there are pressures to move on, is a lesson of discipleship that we perhaps need to recover. And it might be that, in a strange way, the pressures and challenges of the last year could become God’s gift to us in teaching us the importance of such patient endurance for all of life.

Socratic Patriotism

Socrates: Then we ought neither to requite wrong with wrong nor to do evil to anyone, no matter what he may have done to us. And be careful, Crito, that you do not, in agreeing to this, agree to something you do not believe; for I know that there are few who believe or ever will believe this. Now those who believe this, and those who do not, have no common ground of discussion, but they must necessarily, in view of their opinions, despise one another. Do you therefore consider very carefully whether you agree and share in this opinion, and let us take as the starting point of our discussion the assumption that it is never right to do wrong or to requite wrong with wrong, or when we suffer evil to defend ourselves by doing evil in return.

Plato’s Crito, trans. Harold North Fowler

The above is an excerpt from Plato’s dialogue Crito (49 c–d). Socrates’s friend Crito has visited him in prison as he awaits his execution by hemlock, to which punishment he was sentenced by a jury of fellow Athenians. The passage marks a revolution in the history of moral philosophy or ethics, for Socrates here rejects a fundamental tenet of traditional Greek morality—what is often called, by its Latin name, the lex talionis, “the law of retaliation in kind.” The idea is that when a person is wronged by another, he or she has a right to exact retribution like in kind to the original injustice. The word retaliation itself well conveys the traditional moral principle: re– means “back” or “in return”; tali– derives from Latin talis, which means “of such a kind.” Retaliation is thus, literally, the returning of harm of the same kind as one has suffered. Such thinking is consonant with precepts of the Old Testament found in Exodus 21:22–25 and Leviticus 24:19–21—precepts commonly known as “an eye for an eye.” The passage in Leviticus reads:

When a man causes a disfigurement in his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has disfigured a man, he shall be disfigured. He who kills a beast shall make it good; and he who kills a man shall be put to death.

The roots of such moral reasoning reach back even further to the ancient Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (18th century B.C.), which reads at one point, “If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out” (196).

In the passage from the Crito, Socrates anticipates, by some 430 years, the revision of the ancient precept made by Jesus Christ, who famously taught in his Sermon on the Mount,

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.

(Matthew 5:38–42)

Socrates’s position was thus extraordinarily “unorthodox” by the standards of his day.

When Socrates utters the remarks quoted above, Crito is in the midst of pleading with Socrates to accept his plan to break Socrates out of prison so he may escape the death sentence passed upon him by Athens. Crito—although he may not be fully aware of it—has adopted the retaliatory mode of thinking Socrates rejects. At least this is how Socrates sees it. For by urging Socrates to escape from prison without the city’s permission, Crito has asked Socrates to break a just agreement he has made with Athens because of the injustice he now suffers from the city. To illustrate the point, Socrates assumes the persona of the Laws of Athens and says,

Tell me, Socrates, what have you in mind to do? Are you not intending by this thing you are trying to do, to destroy us, the laws, and the entire state, so far as in you lies? Or do you think that state can exist and not be overturned, in which the decisions reached by the courts have no force but are made invalid and annulled by private persons? (50 a–b)

Socrates then asks Crito, “What shall we say, Crito, in reply to this question and others of the same kind? . . . shall we say to them, ‘The state wronged me and did not judge the case rightly?’” (50 b–c) Crito responds, “That is what we shall say, by Zeus, Socrates.” To which Socrates responds, again in the persona of the Laws of Athens, “Socrates, is this the agreement you made with us, or did you agree to abide by the verdicts pronounced by the state?”

The Laws now give an extended account of the many benefits Socrates has received from them during his entire life. These benefits include the laws that sanctioned the marriage of Socrates’s parents and which thus superintended Socrates’s birth; as well as the laws that prescribed Socrates’s education. Having recounted all such benefits, the Laws conclude,

and do you think that it will be proper for you to act so toward your country and the laws, so that if we undertake to destroy you, thinking it is right, you will undertake in return to destroy us laws and your country, so far as you are able, and will say that in doing this you are doing right, you who really care for virtue? Or is your wisdom such that you do not see that your country is more precious and more to be revered and is holier and in higher esteem among the gods and among men of understanding than your mother and your father and all your ancestors, and that you ought to show to her more reverence and obedience and humility when she is angry than to your father, and ought either to convince her by persuasion or to do whatever she commands, and to suffer, if she commands you to suffer, in silence, and if she orders you to be scourged or imprisoned or if she leads you to war to be wounded or slain, her will is to be done, and this is right, and you must not give way or draw back or leave your post, but in war and in court and everywhere, you must do whatever the state, your country, commands, or must show her by persuasion what is really right, but that it is impious to use violence against either your father or your mother, and much more impious to use it against your country? (51 a–c)

We may balk at the extreme claims here made by the Laws of Athens for their absolute authority. But their identification of violence against one’s country and grievous impiety should be ever borne in mind by all true patriots and lovers of wisdom.

An Epiphany Hymn

From Prudentius’s Cathemerinon XII

The following hymn is used for Lauds, or Morning Prayer, on the Feast of the Epiphany. The hymn consists of six stanzas (1, 2, 7, 9, 10, and 11) of a longer hymn by the poet Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (born A.D. 348). The final stanza is a traditional closing doxology, not written by Prudentius. I have quoted both the Latin text and translation from R. Martin Pope’s The Hymns of Prudentius, where you can read the entire hymn, and all the rest in the collection, carefully annotated by Pope.

Quicumque Christum quaeritis,
oculos in altum tollite,
illic licebit visere
signum perennis gloriae.

Haec stella, quae solis rotam
vincit decore ac lumine,
venisse terris nuntiat
cum carne terrestri Deum.

En Persici ex orbis sinu,
sol unde sumit ianuam,
cernunt periti interpretes
regale vexillum Magi.

Quis iste tantus, inquiunt,
regnator astris inperans,
quem sic tremunt caelestia,
cui lux et aethra inserviunt.

Inlustre quiddam cernimus,
quod nesciat finem pati,
sublime, celsum, interminum,
antiquius caelo et chao.

Hic ille rex est gentium
populique rex Iudaici,
promissus Abrahae patri
eiusque in aevum semini.

Iesu, tibi sit gloria,
qui te revelas gentibus,
cum Patre et almo Spiritu
in sempiterna saecula. Amen.

Lift up your eyes, whoe’er ye be
That fare the new-born Christ to see:
For yonder is the shining sign
Of grace perennial and divine.

What means this star, whose piercing rays
Outshine the sun’s resplendent blaze?
‘Tis token sure that God is come
In mortal flesh to make His home.

Lo! from the regions of the morn
Wherein the radiant sun is born,
The Persian sages see on high
God’s ensign shining in the sky.

Who is this sovereign (they enquire)
That lords it o’er the ethereal choir?
‘Fore whom the heavens bow down afraid,
Of all the worlds of light obeyed?

Sure ’tis the sign most reverend
Of Being that doth know no end:
Of One in state sublime arrayed
Ere sky and chaos yet were made.

This is the King of Israel,
Of all in Gentile lands that dwell:
The King to Abram and his seed
Throughout all ages erst decreed.

O Jesus, glory be to thee,
This day revealed that all may see,
With the Father and the Spirit Gracious
Unto the everlasting ages. Amen.

a prayer for beginnings and completion

Deus, qui bona cuncta ínchoas benígnus et pérficis,
da nobis, de sollemnitáte sanctæ Dei Genetrícis lætántibus,
sicut de inítiis tuæ grátiæ gloriámur,
ita de perfectióne gaudére.
Per Christum Dóminum nostrum. Amen.

O God, who in your kindness begin all good things
and bring them to fulfilment,
grant to us, who find joy in the Solemnity of the holy Mother of God,
that, just as we glory in the beginnings of your grace,
so one day we may rejoice in its completion.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(The prayer over the offerings from today’s Mass)

Retractions and Re-considerations

The meaning of the word retraction is well known. It is the withdrawing of a statement now recognized as false. The latest issue of the Atlantic (January/February 2021) provides an example. Noting that the magazine has retracted a previously published article, the editor explains: “We cannot attest to the trustworthiness and credibility of the author, and therefore we cannot attest to the veracity of the piece in its entirety.” Out of respect for veracity and the trust of its readers, the journal retracts what it can no longer vouch for. It formally withdraws that which it previously put forth as true, but which has since been shown, or at least suspected, to be false.

But this common use of retraction in English has become a source of confusion, whenever it is used to translate the title of a work by St. Augustine of Hippo. Writing near the end of his life, Augustine called that work, in Latin, Retractationes. In English the work goes by different names: Retractions, Retractations, and Reconsiderations. Well, which is best?

First, we should consider what Augustine himself says of his purpose for the work.

iam diu est ut facere cogito atque dispono, quod nunc adiuvante domino adgredior, quia differendum esse non arbitror, ut opuscula mea, sive in libris sive in epistulis sive in tractatibus, cum quadam iudiciaria severitate recenseam, et quod me offendit velut censorio stilo denotem. neque enim quisquam nisi imprudens ideo quia mea errata reprehendo, me reprehendere audebit. sed si dicit non ea debuisse a me dici, quae postea mihi etiam displicerent, verum dicit et mecum facit. Eorum quippe reprehensor est, quorum et ego sum. neque enim ea reprehendere deberem, si dicere debuissem.

I have long been considering and arranging how to do that which now, with the Lord’s help, I undertake, because I judge that it must not be postponed—namely, to re-examine my little works, whether in books or in letters or in treatises, with a certain courtroom severity, and to mark out as with the censor’s stylus what offends me. For no one unless a fool will dare to criticize me only because I criticize my own mistakes. But if he says those things ought not to have been said by me which afterwards might also displease me, he speaks and deals with me truly. For he criticizes the very things I myself also criticize. For I would not be obliged to critize them, had it been right to say them.

Retractationes, prol. 1.1

It may appear from this that Augustine’s work will be a series of retractions in the same sense as indicated above. But we should note that Augustine’s retractationes occur in two distinct steps: Augustine will first re-examine (recenseam) his works, and then he will mark out (denotem) whatever offends him now because he sees it was written in error (mea errata). It is the verb recenseam—“re-examine”—that indicates the truest sense of the title Augustine gives the work, Retractationes. Each retractatio is not so much a retraction, in the sense of a withdrawal or drawing back, but rather a re-consideration—a considering again of what was previously considered, written, and recorded. This is the true meaning of the Latin word retractatio. It is formed from the prefix re– —which means “again”—and the noun tractatio, which is literally a “taking in hand” or “handling” and so a “treatment” or “dicsussion” of a subject.

Thus, in his Retractationes—in his Re-considerations—Augustine returns again to all those subjects he considered throughout his long life, not to withdraw what he thought and wrote before, but to give it fresh consideration from a perspective of greater experience and wisdom.

Retractions are obviously right and necessary whenever we recognize a previous assertion to be false. The example of Augustine suggests we shouldn’t neglect the value of re-considerations.

Prooimion, or Exordium

Prooimion (προοίμιον): “opening, introduction; in epic poems, proëm, preamble; in speeches, exordium; metaphorically used of any prelude or beginnig” (Liddell, Scott, and Jones).

The title of this blog is Etymologies. It is named after a work by St. Isidore of Seville, in Latin Etymologiae. You can read about St. Isidore and his Etymologiae here. You can read Isidore’s work itself here. For more on the significance of St. Isidore and his Etymologiae, see this beautiful essay by Robert Louis Wilken.

Here is an excerpt from Etymologiae: book II, de rhetorica et dialectica, section 7, de quattuor partibus orationis:

Partes orationis in Rhetorica arte quattuor sunt: exordium, narratio, argumentatio, conclusio. Harum prima auditoris animum provocat, secunda res gestas explicat, tertia fidem adser­tionibus facit, quarta finem totius orationis conplectitur. 2 Inchoandum est itaque taliter, ut benivolum, docilem, vel adtentum auditorem faciamus: benivolum precando, docilem instruendo, adtentum excitando. Narrandum est ita, ut breviter atque aperte loquamur; argumentandum est ita, ut primum nostra firmemus, dehinc adversa confringamus; concludendum ita, ut concitemus animos audientis inplere quae dicimus.

The parts of a speech in the art of Rhetoric are four: introduction, narration, argumentation, conclusion. The first of these appeals to the listener’s mind, the second unfolds what happened, the third creates credibility in the assertions, the fourth embraces the end of the entire speech. 2 And so we must begin in such a way, that we make the listener favorable, docile, or attentive: favorable by beseeching, docile by instructing, attentive by arousing. We must state the case in such a way, that we speak briefly and plainly; we must argue in such a way, that we first fortify our own position, then shatter the opposition’s; we must conclude in such a way, that we move the will of our listener to carry out what we say.

The title of this inaugural post, prooimion, is the Greek name for the first of the four parts of a rhetorical speech. Isidore gives it its Latin name, exordium, which is the term typically used by Latin writers on the art of rhetoric. The Greek original, however, survives in English as our word proem, which now means simply any “introduction” or “preface”. But something has been lost in the gradual assimilation of a foreign word—we’ve lost the concrete vividness of the original. The Greek word prooimion is a compound of the prefix pro-, which means “before” or “in front of” and the word oimion, a diminutive form of oimos, which means “way, road, path”.

A prooimion is thus a little path that lies before and leads up to something—an introduction in the etymological sense of that word: a leading into or within. As the OED defines “introduction”, a prooimion is likewise “a preliminary explanation prefixed to or included in a book or other writing; the part of a book which leads up to the subject treated, or explains the author’s design or purpose. Also, the corresponding part of a speech, lecture, etc.”

Isidore’s term exordium, however, contains a different metaphor: an exordium was literally “the warp of a web”. The rhetorical term is thus a metaphor from weaving. Where a Greek orator would lead us along the little path into his subject matter, Roman rhetors laid down the warp of the speech they would proceed to weave.