A Sober Mind – Joseph W.
January 21, 2021
A Sober Mind
I write today of a peculiar verse in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. St. Paul, having already twice visited the people of Corinth, writes to them a defense of his past actions. It seems that the skeptics still within that community had accused Paul and his associates of false humility and self-righteousness. He responds that, though he may have appeared to be out of his mind, it was purely from the ecstasy one feels when proclaiming the Word of God: “For if we are out of our minds, it is for God; if we are rational, it is for you.” (2 Cor. 5:13)
The particular word I focus on here is the word he uses for “rational”: sōphronoumen (Gr. σωφρονοῦμεν). This word has roots in sōphrosynē, which was considered a great virtue by thinkers such as Aristotle: “the temperate man craves for the things be ought, as he ought, as when he ought; and when he ought; and this is what rational principle directs.” (N.E., iii.xii, see Aquinas, Summa II-II, q. 141, a. 2) As St. Paul had been rebuked by Festus in Acts 26 for appearing too eccentric, he now had to take time to exclaim (paraphrasing immensely) “Really, people? I’m not speaking with great emotion because I want to put on a show, but because the Spirit fills me with an indescribable joy that I’d never dare to subdue! And when I quietly but confidently speak of the logic of faith, I don’t do so to appear wise but to appear rational, that many more of you may come to Christ.” What can we learn from this? Should we stay docile when speaking of our faith?
No. Though we should never approach a skeptic with condescending taunts or threats of fire and brimstone, we should never be afraid to let the Holy Spirit take control of our tongues and our intentions. If people tell you to subdue your faith, remember Lactantius’ words: “We must not, they say, rejoice with excessive joy, but moderately and temperately. [They might as well say] that we must not run swiftly, but walk quietly. But it is possible that he who walks may err, and that he who runs may keep the right path.” (Divine Institutes, vi.xvi) Keep the right path, my friends.