instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Permission to speak freely

I first came across the word "parrhesia" when reading Thomas Merton's The New Man. Parrhesia (pah-ray-SEE-ah) means speech that is free, candid, even bold.

Strong's Greek dictionary tells me variations on "parrhesia" appear throughout the New Testament. In Acts 9:27-28, for example, the newly-converted Saul came to Jerusalem "and spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord." There are also examples that aren't as obvious in English, such as Acts 4:13's "the boldness of Peter and John." It may even be subtler in 1 John 2:28:
And now, children, remain in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not be put to shame by him at his coming.
Here "confidence" isn't just an inward disposition, it's "free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance" that takes the initiative to express itself in word and in deed.

St. Mark's Gospel uses the word once, when Jesus "spoke... openly" about His coming passion and death. Peter rebuked him, which might be the least consequential blowback from parrhesia on record, and some sort of blowback is par for the course. To speak openly, freely, boldly -- especially about the things of God -- is to invite attack and persecution. St. John writes that "no one spoke openly about [Jesus] because they were afraid of the Jews." St. Paul's parrhesia got him violently ejected from every respectable synagogue on the Mediterranean.

Sometimes, as in John 7:26 and John 18:20, Jesus' open speech confounded His opponents; rather than answer Him directly, with words or rocks, they went off and plotted against Him in secret -- the opposite of speaking openly, and no less deadly a response for being delayed.

We're a week away from celebrating Pentecost, commemorating the Holy Spirit lighting the hearts of Jesus' disciples on fire and sending them out into Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria, and eventually to the ends of the earth, to speak freely, candidly, and even boldly about the good news of salvation. While the words we need to speak to a world that thinks it's heard the Gospel aren't identical to the words of those first evangelists, we still need to speak with the freedom, candor, boldness, and confidence of those whose hearts are on fire with the Holy Spirit.