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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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xiv. σκληρός, αὐστηρός.

In the parable of the Talents (Matt. 25), the slothful servant charges his master with being σκληρός, “an hard man” (ver. 24); while in the corresponding parable of St. Luke it is αὐστηρός, “an austere man” (19:21), which he accuses him of being. It follows that the words must be nearly allied in meaning; but not that they are identical in this.

’ Σκληρός, derived from σκέλλω, σκλῆναι (==‘arefacio’), is properly an epithet applied to that which through lack of moisture is hard and dry, and thus rough and disagreeable to the touch; or more than this, warped and intractable, the ‘asper’ and ‘durus’ in one. It is then transferred to the region of ethics, in which it chiefly moves, expressing there roughness, harshness, and intractability in the moral nature of a man. Thus Nabal (1 Sam. 25:3) is σκληρός, and no epithet could better express the evil conditions of the churl. For other company which the word keeps, we find it associated with αὐχμηρός (Plato, Syrup. 195 d); ἀντίτυπος (Theoet. 155 a; Plutarch, De Pyth. Orac. 26); ἀμετάστροφος (Plato, Crat. 407 d); ἄγριος (Aristotle, Ethic. iv. 8; Plutarch, Cons. ad Apoll. 3); ἀνήδυντος (Proec. Ger. Reip. 3); ἀπηνής (De Vit. Pud.); ἀνέραστος (De Adul. et Am. 19); τραχύς (De Lib. Ed. 18); ἀπαίδευτος (Alex. Virt. seu Fort. Or. i. 5); ἄτρεπτος (Diogenes Laërtius, vii. 1. 64, 117); ἀφηνιαστής (Philo, De Septen. 1); αὐθάδης (Gen. 49:3); πονηρός (1 Sam. 25:3); πικρός. It is set over against εὐηθικός (Plato, Charm. 175 d); μαλακός (Protag. 331 d); μαλθακός (Symp. 195 d; Sophocles, Oedip. Col. 771).

Αὐστηρός, which in the N. T. appears but once (Luke 19:21), and never in the Septuagint, is in its primary meaning applied to such things as draw together and contract the tongue, are harsh and stringent to the palate, as new wine not yet mellowed by age, unripe fruit, and the like. Thus Cowper, describing himself, when a boy, as gathering from the hedgerows ‘sloes austere,’Etym. Note. 10 uses ‘austere’ with exactest propriety. But just as we have transferred ‘strict’ (from ‘stringo’) to the region of ethics, so the Greeks transferred αὐστηρός, with an image borrowed from the taste, as in σκληρός from the touch. Neither does this word set out anything amiable or attractive in him to whom it is applied. It keeps company with ἀηδής (Plato, Rep. iii. 398 a); ἄκρατος and ἀνήδυντος (Plutarch, Proec. Conj. 29); ἀνήδυστος (Phoc. 5); αὐθέκαστος1 (De Adul. et Am. 14); πικρός (ibid. 2); ἀγέλαστος and ἀνέντευκτος (De Cup. Div. 7); αὐχμηρός (Philo, De Proem. et Poen. 5); while Eudemus (Ethic. Eudem. vii. 5) contrasts the αὐστηρός with the εὐτράπελος, using the latter word in a good sense.

At the same time none of the epithets with which αὐστηρός is associated imply that deep moral perversity which lies in many with which σκληρός is linked; and, moreover, it is met not seldom in more honorable company; thus it is joined with σώφρων continually (Plutarch, Proec. Conj. 7, 29; Quoest. Gr. 40); with μουσικός (Symp. v. 2); with σωφρονικός (Clement of Alexandria, Poedag. ii. 4); one, otherwise γενναῖος καὶ μέγας, is αὐστηρός as not sacrificing to the Graces (Plutarch, Amat. 23); while the Stoics affirmed all good men to be austere (Diogenes Laërtius, vii. 1. 64, 117): καὶ αὐστηροὺς δέ φασιν εἶναι πάντας τοὺς σπουδαίους, τῷ μήτε αὐτοὺς πρὸς ἡδονὴν ὁμιλεῖν, μήτε παρ᾽ ἄλλων τὰ πρὸς ἡδονὴν προσδέχεσθαι: cf. Plutarch, Proec. Conj. 27. In Latin, ‘austerus’ is predominantly an epithet of honour (Döderlein, Lat. Synon. vol. iii. p. 232); he to whom it is applied is earnest and severe, opposed to all levity; needing, it may very well be, to watch against harshness, rigour, or moroseness, into which he might easily lapse—(‘non austeritas ejus tristis, non dissoluta sit comitas,’ Quintilian, ii. 2. 5)—but as yet not chargeable with these.

We may distinguish, then, between them thus: σκληρός conveys always a reproach and a grove one, indicates a character harsh, inhuman, and (in the earlier use of that word) uncivil; in the words of Hesiod, ἀδάμαντος ἔχων κρατερόφρονα θυμόν. It is not so with αὐστηρός. This epithet does not of necessity convey a reproach at all, any more than the German ‘streng,’ which is very different from ‘hart;’ and even where it does, yet conveys one of far less opprobrious a kind; rather the exaggeration of a virtue pushed too far, than an absolute vice.


1 In Plutarch this word is used in an ill sense, as self-willed, joined by him to ἄτεγκτος, that is, not to be moulded and fashioned like moist clay, in the hands of another, ‘eigensinnig;’ being one of the many which, in all languages, beginning with a good sense (Aristotle, Ethic. Nic. iv. 7), have ended with a bad.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G4642,G840.]

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