On the Supremacy of Reason

The original title of 4Maccabees was the more appropriate title “On the Supremacy of Reason.”

In my last blog (on this site) I wrote about King Solomon on the Four Virtues. In this blog, I want to explore the teachings of 4th Maccabees on this very important subject. While the Aramaic version of the Wisdom of Solomon (8:7) says that Wisdom teaches the other three virtues, the Greek version of the Wisdom of Solomon Wisdom teaches four virtues (Self-control, Prudence, Justice and Courage). Of course Wisdom and Prudence are near synonyms, and not easily distinguished in Hebrew (or Aramaic). However it is likely that 4th Maccabees was written in Greek and maybe referencing the Greek reading of Wisdom of Solomon 8:7.

Just as Wisdom of Solomon teaches that Wisdom teaches the four virtues, 4th Maccabees teaches that the four virtues are “forms of Wisdom” and that “Prudence” is unique as the “supreme” virtue, because by means of it, Logic/Reason rules over the emotions (1:18-19) which hinder the virtues (1:4).

1 The subject that I am about to discuss is most philosophical, that is, whether devout reason is sovereign over the emotions. So it is right for me to advise you to pay earnest attention to philosophy.
2 For the subject is essential to everyone who is seeking knowledge, and in addition it includes the praise of the highest virtue — I mean, of course, prudence.
3 If, then, it is evident that reason rules over those emotions that hinder self-control, namely, gluttony and lust,
4 it is also clear that it masters the emotions that hinder one from justice, such as malice, and those that stand in the way of courage, namely anger, fear, and pain.
(4Maccabees 1:1-4)

18 Now the kinds of wisdom are prudence, justice, courage, and self-control.
19 Prudence is supreme over all of these, since by means of it reason rules over the emotions.
(4Maccabees 1:18-19)

Immediately prior to this 4Maccabees defines “Reason” and “Wisdom” as deriving from “education in the Torah”:

15 Now reason is the mind that with sound logic prefers the life of wisdom.
16 Wisdom, next, is the knowledge of divine and human matters and the causes of these.
17 This, in turn, is education in the Torah, by which we learn divine matters reverently and human affairs to our advantage.
(4Maccabees 1:18-19)

Later 4Maccabees goes on to say that the Torah is the tool by which the mind rules the inclinations and emotions. producing the four virtues:

21 Now when Elohim fashioned man, he planted in him emotions and inclinations,
22 but at the same time he enthroned the mind among the senses as a sacred governor over them all.
23 To the mind he gave the Torah; and one who lives subject to this will rule a kingdom that is temperate, just, good, and courageous.
(4Macc. 2:21-23)

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