Meekness - Trench's New Testament Synonyms
Meeknesspraotes (G4236) Meekness
epieikeia (G1932) Gentleness
Tapeinophrosyne (G5012) and epieikeia, though related by Clement of Rome, are too distinct to be synonyms. Praotes, however, is a middle term that is related to both words. In the previous section we dealt with its relation to tapeinophrosyne, and in this section we will consider its relation to epieikeia.
The existence of a word like epieikeia shows a high degree of ethical development among the Greeks. Epieikeia refers to the sort of moderation that recognizes that it is impossible for formal laws to anticipate and provide for all possible cases and that asserting legal rights can be dangerous since these rights can be pushed into moral wrongs, so that the highest right (summum jus) can in practice prove to be the greatest injustice (summa iniuria). By not claiming its own rights to the fullest, epieikeia rectifies and redresses the injustices of justice. Thus epieikeia is more truly just than strict justice would have been; it is "just and superior to the just," as Aristotle said. According to Brandis, "it namely is not what is legally just but what rectifies it." In Aristotle's words, epieikeia is "a correction of law where law falls short on account of generalities," and he contrasted the man who stands up for the last tittle of his legal rights with the epieikes (G1933). Plato defined epieikeia as "a lessening of legalities and advantages." In a fragment of Sophocles, epieikeia is opposed to "pure justice." Grotius defined epieikeia as "a correction when law fails on account of generality." Eugnomosyne is similar to epieikeia but not as closely related to the language of ethics. Epieikeia always refers to drawing back from the letter of the law to preserve its spirit. Seneca emphasized this aspect of epieikeia:"It does not effect less than the just, as it were, but as it really is the most just." Aquinas asserted: "It is the lessening of punishment when it is proper, of course, and in what respect it is fitting." Göschel, who often wrote on the relation between theology and jurisprudence, has some excellent material on this subject.
The archetype and pattern of epieikeia is found in God. God does not strictly assert his rights against men. He gives their imperfect righteousness a value it would not have if rigorously judged. He refuses to exact extreme penalties. He remembers our natures and deals with us accordingly. All of these attitudes exemplify God's epieikeia and require, in turn, epieikeia in our dealings with one another. After being restored, Peter had to strengthen his brethren (Luke 22:32). In the parable, the servant who was forgiven much (Matt. 18:23), who experienced the epieikeia of his lord and king, is justly expected to show the same epieikeia to his fellow servant. Epieikeia is often used with philanthropia, hemerotes, makrothymia, anexikakia, and praotes.Some have sought to degrade epieikeia by calling it anandria, the name of the vice that is its caricature.
The distinction between praotes and epieikeia is partially explained by Estius: "Praotes pertains more to the mind, epieikeia however more to outward conduct." Bengel remarked: ''Praotes is rather an unrestricted virtue, epieikeia is applied more to others." Aquinas also has an excellent discussion on the similarities and differences of these words. Among other distinctions, Aquinas emphasized two. First, epieikeia always refers to the condescension of a superior to an inferior, something not necessarily implied by praotes. Second, praotes is more passive, and epieikeia is more active; or at least the seat of the praotes is the inner spirit, and the epieikeia necessarily embodies itself in outward acts. According to Aquinas: "They differ from each other inasmuch as epieikeia is a moderation of outward punishment; praotes strictly speaking diminishes the passion of anger."
Translators from Wycliffe onward have used a variety of words to reproduce epieikeia and epieikes for English readers. Epieikeia occurs on two or three occasions (Acts 24:4; 2 Cor. 10:1; Phil. 4:5). It has been translated "meekness," "courtesy," "clemency," "softness," "modesty," "gentleness," "patience," "patient mind," and "moderation." Epieikes occurs five times in the New Testament (2 Cor. 10:1; 1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 3:2; James 3:17; 1 Pet. 2:18) and appears in the several versions of the Hexapla as "temperate," "soft," "gentle," "modest," "patient," "mild," and "courteous." Although "gentle" and "gentleness" are probably the best translations of epieikeia, there is no English equivalent that completely captures epieikeia's meaning. This accounts for the diversity of translations, in which the sense of equity and fairness that is so strong in the Greek is more or less absent.