The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Friday, June 10, 2022

The Name of the Month

 It is the sixth month of the year.   The common name for this month is June, a name derived from Juno, the Queen of the Olympians in Roman mythology corresponding to the Greek Hera.   While occasionally one encounters a Christian who has a problem with the month’s name on the basis of this pagan origin, most of us are sensible enough to recognize that words take on new meanings, that “June” now simply means “the sixth month of the year”, and that one is in no way evoking the pagan goddess by calling the month after its common name.   The more educated among us will also recognize that the kind of reasoning used to condemn those who call the month by its common name would also condemn the writers of the New Testament who employ the word “Hades” to refer to the place the Old Testament calls “Sheol” because of the similar concept – a dark, shadowy, underworld, inhabited by the spirits of the dead – even though “Hades” as a name for the underworld is borrowed from that of the god who ruled it in Greek mythology, the god the Romans called Pluto.   A good rule to follow when trying to determine whether you are taking a principled stand for Christ or just being a nut is that if you are doing something that the Puritans, Jacobins, Bolsheviks, and Maoists liked doing, such as renaming everything, then you are probably just being a nut.


At any rate, June is certainly a better name than the alternative name that so many now use for this month.   The sort of people who identify themselves by one of the letters in the alphabet soup – LGBTTQAEIOUandsometimesY – and others, businesses and politicians mostly, who wish to be seen as supportive of the alphabet soup gang, refer to it as Pride month.   It was not that long ago that it was Pride Week.   Now it has grown into a whole month.   Originally there was a Gay before the Pride but at some point this was dropped presumably because the other letters in the alphabet soup had grown jealous of the G.   


The irony of this, for orthodox Christians, of course, is that of the two terms, Pride is by far the most objectionable.   Gay, which in this context does not have its older and, until well into the twentieth-century primary, meaning of light-hearted, cheerful, and happy, but rather its more recent and as of late sole sense of homosexual, denotes something that violates the standards of orthodox moral theology on the basis of both explicit Scriptural passages against it (Genesis 19, Leviticus 20, Romans 1, and Jude being the most obvious examples) and its deviation from the exemplary pattern of a man leaving his father and mother, being joined to his wife, and the two being one flesh.   Pride, however, is the name of the worst of all sins.


While the ancient Greeks did not have the same view of Pride as orthodox Christianity they did, in a way, anticipate the Christian point of view in their concept of hubris, which was a form of Pride.    It had various connotations depending upon context.   In early Greek literature it frequently designated words and acts by which men insulted and offended the gods with arrogant boasting.   Cassiopeia, queen of Ethiopia, boasted that she and her daughter Andromeda were more beautiful than the sea nymphs the Nereids, which brought upon her and her kingdom the wrath of Poseidon.   This was an example of this sense of hubris.   Numerous similar examples could be given, in each of which the person who offended the gods with his or her arrogance met with swift punishment, sometimes fatal, sometimes non-fatal but permanent, often involving a transformation.   The myth of Arachne whom Athena transformed into a spider for boasting that she was a superior weaver is an example of the latter sort.  So, for that matter, is basically every example of hubris related by Ovid in his Metamorphoses.  Occasionally the punishment was thwarted, at least in part, by another agent.   In the aforementioned example of Cassiopeia, Andromeda was as much an object of Neptune’s wrath as her mother and to spare Ethiopia, Cassiopeia was told she would have to sacrifice Andromeda to a sea-monster.  The hero Perseus intervened and rescued the princess whom he then married.   In Greek mythology, both hubris and the divine wrath that punished it, like most abstract concepts were personified as divinities, Hubris and Nemesis.   A more general version of this same basic concept, that arrogance brings about one’s downfall, also appears in Greek mythology and literature of equal vintage.   Think of the myth of Icarus, the son of Daedelus, architect of the Labyrinth.   Daedelus, having offended his king, Minos of Crete, was imprisoned and escaped the prison with his son, on wings he constructed of wax and feathers.  Icarus, ignoring his father’s warnings, flew too high, the sun melted the wax, and he plummeted to his death.    It can also be found illustrated, along with other themes, in “The Tortoise and the Hare”, from Aesop’s Fables.   Aesop lived the century after Homer and Hesiod – he is believed to have been born only a few decades after the latter died – and this particular of his fables is of unquestionable antiquity, having been famously referenced, albeit with the details altered and with an entirely different point, by Zeno of Elea in one of those delightful paradoxes “proving” motion to be impossible.   


The Greek poets and storytellers who related the above myths stressed the offensiveness of mortal hubris to those above men, the gods.   One of the most well-known definitions of hubris to come down to us from ancient times is that of Aristotle.   It comes from the second book of his Rhetoric, a work that both defines the principles and rules and instructs in the art of persuasive speech.      This is the section in which Aristotle is exploring the usefulness of pathos – emotion – both on the part of the speaker and the audience, in making an argument.   His definition of hubris – which is generally rendered “insult” in English translation of Rhetoric – emphasizes its offensiveness in the opposite direction to that stressed by the ancient myths, i.e., to its human victims.   As translated by J. H. Freese it says that hubris “consists in causing injury or annoyance whereby the sufferer is disgraced, not to obtain any other advantage for oneself besides the performance of the act, but for one’s own pleasure”.   At first glance, it seems almost as if Aristotle were discussing something completely different from the hubris of Greek mythology and, indeed, he obviously had the laws of his city-state Athens in mind here.   In Greek law in general, hubris denoted a wide category of crimes.   The Athenian lawmakers had put more effort into defining the category than most and in Athenian law hubris consisted of crimes that deliberately inflicted shame upon their victims.   Some recent classical scholars have argued on the basis of this definition that our entire traditional understanding of the Greek concept of hubris is mistaken, an anachronistic reading of English usage and Christian concepts back into ancient thought.    This, however, reads too much into this one passage of Aristotle.   It is understandable that the legal connotations of hubris, in which its effects on human victims would be stressed, would be foremost in Aristotle’s mind in Rhetoric – consult Plato’s dialogues that feature Socrates interacting with the Sophists, or for that matter Aristophanes’ lampooning of Socrates himself in the Clouds, and it will quickly become obvious, as in fact, it is self-evident, that the main reason rhetoric teachers were in demand was because people wanted to win lawsuits in court.   


Aristotle was also the author of Poetics, the work that established the framework in which theoretical discussion of drama, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with Aristotle – and everything he wrote, from the basic unities to catharsis has been subjected to rigorous debate - has been conducted ever since.   While other forms of poetry such as Epic, and of drama such as Comedy, are discussed, the bulk of Poetics, which is not a long work, pertains to tragedy.    Aristotle, remember, lived in the period immediately after tragedy had come to dominate the Greek theatre.   Two of the great Athenian tragedians, Sophocles and Euripides, had been contemporaries of Plato, Aristotle’s teacher, and of Socrates, Plato’s teacher, while Aeschylus, the father of tragedy, had lived into Socrates’ youth.   Tragedy, according to Aristotle, was a form of dramatic poetry that like Epic but in contrast with Comedy, involved an imitation (Gk. Mimesis) of the higher sort of character in serious events or actions, the purpose of which was to achieve a cleansing or purging (Gk. Catharsis) of the emotions, particularly of the fear and pity that the play was supposed to produce in the audience through empathy with the characters.   It had six parts – Plot, Character, Diction, Thought, Spectacle, and Song – and of these, the Plot, the most important of the six parts, had to involve a Reversal (Gk. Peripeteia) of fortune and circumstance from good to bad, brought about not by vice or depravity, but by a great error, weakness or failing (Gk. Hamartia) of the hero.    Hubris was the most common example of this Hamartia.  Hubris, as an Aristotelean tragic hero’s “fatal flaw”, is more recognizable as the hubris of Greek mythology than the legal hubris of the Rhetoric.   The tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were, for the most part, retellings – in the case of Euripides often radical re-interpretations – of the older Greek myths.  


The Greek view, as I pointed out at the beginning of this discussion, anticipated the Christian view but was not identical to it.   This is evident in Aristotle.   By contrasting Hamartia, the general category to which hubris belonged, with vice and depravity, he spoke of it in terms that had a less harsh moral tone to them, although, interestingly, about a century after Aristotle, the Jewish scribes who translated the LXX for Ptolemy II Philadelphus would use it to render Chata, the basic Hebrew word for “sin” in the Old Testament, which led to it becoming the main word for “sin” in the New Testament.     Hamartiology is the designation of the study of the doctrine of sin in Christian theology.  It was the natural translation choice – both Chata and Hamartia have the same root meaning of an archer missing the mark he is aiming for – but when it comes to usage, Chata in the Old Testament has the same general connotations and tone that “sin” does in English, which is not true of Hamartia in Greek literature prior to the LXX and New Testament.   Thus Aristotle, using Hamartia, “missing the mark”, to mean the “mistake” “error” or “flaw” that brings about the Peripetia of his tragic hero – someone, whom he says, should be depicted as neither exceptionally virtuous or villainous – contrasts it with moral depravity and vice, whereas St. Paul, also alluding to the basic meaning of the word when he writes that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), does so after making the point with a series of Old Testament quotations that emphasize the depravity of the sinner (“their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth if full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood:” etc.).


Neither Aristotle nor the ancient Greeks in general thought of Pride in general in the same terms in which they thought of Hubris.   The former they thought of as a good thing, the latter as Pride taken to excess.   Excess, of course, was fundamental to Aristotle’s entire concept of Vice, just as moderation was to his view of Virtue.   A Virtue was the middle path of moderation between two Vices of excess.   Indeed, in Book IV of his Nicomachean Ethics, he speaks of Pride as the Virtue (Gk. Arete) that falls between a false humility and excessive Pride.   Spoken of in these terms, it means the acknowledgement of one’s own strengths, accomplishments, etc. as they actually are, as opposed to speaking of them as if they were less than they are in reality (false humility) or laying claim to greater strengths and accomplishments than one actually possesses (excessive Pride).   From this perspective, since people’s strengths etc. can be ranked in terms of best, various degrees of better, good, bad, various degrees of worse, and worst, for the person who actually belongs to the top rank of best to acknowledge such is ordinary Pride and not Hubris.

The Holy Scriptures, by contrast, never speak of Pride positively, in either Testament.   Nor do they ever speak negatively of humility.   To be fair to Aristotle, it should be noted that they never use these words with precisely the same sense that he gave them either and that the Scriptures do indeed place a high premium on speaking of things as they are.   The closest thing to even a neutral use of the word “Pride” in the Bible that I could find is Job 41:15, which describes the scales of Leviathan as his pride, although, since the sea-serpent discussed in that chapter almost certainly represents Satan, this may not be as neutral a usage as it seems.   Pride is the sin that brought about the devil’s fall.   This is explicitly stated by St. Paul in the New Testament (I Tim. 3:6), and if the traditional interpretation of Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:12-19 as God speaking to the devil through the human representatives of the kings of Babylon and Tyre and describing his fall is accurate (1), it is found in the Old Testament as well.   The Isaiah passage does not use the word Pride, but it is clearly the motive of the actions described.   The expression “thine heart was lifted up” in Ezekiel 28:17 essentially means “you became proud”.   Just as Pride led to Satan’s own downfall, it was the means he used to bring about the Fall of Man as well.  He tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit by telling her that the only reason God had forbidden it to her and Adam was because it would open their eyes, giving them the God-like knowledge of good and evil, leading her to distrust God and to desire the forbidden God-like knowledge.   The Temptation worked by stoking and appealing to Pride.  When later, Satan unsuccessfully tempted Jesus, each of the three Temptations was an enticement to act based on Pride in one form or another.  

The Bible uses the word Pride to characterize the wicked (Job. 35:12, Ps. 10:2) and the foolish (Prov. 14:13).   It leads, like hubris in Greek thought, to a fall and to destruction (Prov. 16:8) and brings God’s judgement both upon Israel (Is. 9:8-12, Jer. 13:9)and the nations around her, (Ez. 30:6, Zech. 9:6) including or perhaps especially the powerful ones that she relies upon instead of God and which He uses as a scourge against her (Zech. 10:11).  It deceives (Obad. 1:3) and prevents the wicked from seeking God (Ps. 10:4).   To fear the Lord is to hate Pride (Prov. 8:13).   Interestingly, it is said to lead to shame and being brought low in contrast with humility and (voluntary) lowliness leading to wisdom and honour (Prov. 11:2, 29:23), which may be where Greek and Biblical thought on the subject were the furthest removed from each other.   Very interestingly, considering the occasion of this essay, is that Ezekiel gave it as the first example in his list of the iniquities that brought judgement upon Sodom (Ez. 16:49).   Jesus spoke of Pride as one of the things that comes from out of the heart and defiles a man (Mk. 7:22).   The cognate adjective proud is used less frequently and no differently.  


It is only when it comes to the conceptually related verbs “boast” and “glory” that we find references that are positive and these generally speak of a “boasting” or “glorying” that is fundamentally the opposite of the kind that would be associated with Pride.   Here are a few examples:


My soul shall make her boast in the LORD: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. (Ps.  34:2)


In God we boast all the day long, and praise thy name forever. Selah. (Ps. 44:8)


God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world. (Gal. 6:14)


While Greek thought with regards to hubris approached Biblical thought regarding Pride, it fell short.   The Greeks worshipped gods whom they thought of as being superior to mortal men in terms of strength and power but generally not in terms of righteousness and justice.   Indeed, it could be argued that Greek mythology generally presented the gods as men’s moral inferiors.   There are some exceptions to this among the ancient writers, but it was noticeable enough to attract attention, comment, and attempts at reform from Plato and Euripides among others.   Something like hubris that offended such deities, therefore, simply could not be thought of in the same terms as that which offends the True and Living God of the Bible, Who is man’s superior in every way, in the superlative and not just the comparative degree.   Since the Scriptures tell us that men were created Innocent by the True and Living God, but fell into sin which offends against Him Who is Supremely Perfect in His Holiness, Righteousness, and Justice, it can hardly be surprising that the same Scriptures universally condemn human Pride, and counsel sinful men to adopt an attitude of brokenness, contrition, and humility, warning them that if they lift themselves up in Pride He will bring them low, but promising that if they humble themselves in the sight of the LORD, He will lift them up (Jas. 4:10).    The Church’s traditional identification of Superbia – Pride – as the source of all other sin, the worst and deadliest of the Seven Deadly Sins, represents Scriptural thought faithfully.   In this as in many other areas, ancient Greek thought demonstrates how far human philosophy can go relying upon General Revelation, but also how far it falls short of the Special Revelation of the Scriptures and the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.  This is the Hamartia of human philosophy.


When it comes to the Pride that is contemporarily celebrated on the sixth month of the year, however, ancient Greek thought would condemn it as much as Christian thought.   This might seem paradoxical, in that the ancient Greeks were famously tolerant of some of the sexual conduct associated with Pride month, but as noted earlier the modifier which once qualified Pride was dropped years ago, the reference to the lesser sin which the Greeks tolerated being eliminated leaving only the name of the worst of all sins.   The arrogance of the current demands of the intolerant Left that everybody pay homage to the celebration or face “cancellation” is such than any of the ancient Greeks would have recognized it as hubris.  


It is best that we stick to using the name of Jupiter’s wife for this month.   Pagan in origin, thought it undoubtedly be, it is far less objectionable than the other alternative.


(1))   In my opinion the traditional interpretation is correct.   Although the early Reformers rejected it, it has strong Patristic support, going back at least as far as Tertullian and Origin in the second century.   That this interpretation may have dated back to the intertestamental period cannot be ruled out – there is insufficient evidence from the period itself.    The Church Fathers, however, relied upon a handful of New Testament passages that speak of the fall of Satan using language that suggests allusion to the Isaiah passage. The two passages in question use language that obviously does not apply literally to the kings of Babylon and Tyre and which it would be rather a stretch to apply to them in any metaphorical sense.