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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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xxiv. πλεονεξία, φιλαργυρία.

Between these words the same distinction exists as between our ‘covetousness’ and ‘avarice,’ as between the German ‘Habsucht’ and ‘Geiz.’ Πλεονεξία, primarily the having more, and then in a secondary and more usual sense, the desire after the having more, is the more active sin, φιλαργυρία the more passive: the first, the ‘amor sceleratus habendi,’ seeks rather to grasp what it has not; the second, to retain, and, by accumulating, to multiply that which it already has. The first, in its methods of acquiring, will be often bold and aggressive; even as it may, and often will, be as free in scattering and squandering, as it was eager and unscrupulous in getting: the πλεονέκτης will be often ‘rapti largitor,’ as was Catiline; characterizing whom Cicero demands (Pro Coel. 6): ‘Quis in rapacitate avarior? quis in largitione effusior?’ even as the same idea is very boldly conceived in the Sir Giles Overreach of Massinger. Consistently with this, we find πλεονέκτης joined with ἅρπαξ (1 Cor. 5:10); πλεονεξία with βαρύτης (Plutarch, Arist. 3); πλεονεξίαι with κλοπαί (Mark 7:22); with ἀδικίαι (Strabo, vii. 4. 6); with φιλονεικίαι (Plato, Legg. iii. 677 b); and the sin defined by Theodoret (in Ep. ad Rom. i. 30): ἡ τοῦ πλείονος ἒφεσις, καὶ τῶν οὐ προσηκόντων ἡ ἁρπαγή: with which compare the definition, whosesoever it may be, of ‘avaritia’ as ‘injuriosa appetitio alienorum’ (ad Herenn. iv. 25); and compare further Bengel’s note (on Mark 7:22): ‘πλεονεξία, comparativum involvens, denotat medium quiddam inter furtum et rapinam; ubi per varias artes id agitur ut alter per se, sed cum laesione sui, inscius vel invitus, offerat, concedat et tribuat, quod indigne accipias.’ It is therefore fitly joined with αἰσχροκερδεία (Polybius, vi. 46. 3). But, while it is thus with πλεονεξία, φιλαργυρία, on the other hand, the miser’s sin (it is joined with μικρολογία, Plutarch, Quom. Am. ab Adul. 36) will be often cautious and timid, and will not necessarily have cast off the outward shows of uprightness. The Pharisees, for example, were φιλάργυροι (Luke 16:14): this was not irreconcilable with the maintenance of a religious profession, which the πλεονεξία would have manifestly been.

Cowley, in the delightful prose which he has interspersed with his verse, draws this distinction strongly and well (Essay 7, Of Avarice), though Chaucer had done the same before him (see his Persones Tale; and his description severally of Covetise and Avarice in The Romaunt of the Rose, 183–246). ‘There are,’ Cowley says, ‘two sorts of avarice; the one is but of a bastard kind, and that is the rapacious appetite for gain; not for its own sake, but for the pleasure of refunding it immediately through all the channels of pride and luxury; the other is the true kind, and properly so called, which is a restless and unsatiable desire of riches, not for any further end or use, but only to hoard and preserve, and perpetually increase them. The covetous man of the first kind is like a greedy ostrich, which devours any metal, but it is with an intent to feed upon it, and, in effect, it makes a shift to digest and excern it. The second is like the foolish chough, which loves to steal money only to hide it.’

There is another point of view in which πλεονεξία may be regarded as the larger term, the genus, of which φιλαργυρία is the species; this last being the love of money, while πλεονεξία is the drawing and snatching by the sinner to himself of the creature in every form and kind, as it lies out of and beyond himself; the ‘indigentia’ of Cicero (‘indigentia est libido inexplebilis:’ Tusc. iv. 9. 21); compare Dio Chrysostom, De Avarit. Orat. 17; Augustine, Enarr. in Ps. cxviii. 35, 36; and Bengel’s profound explanation of the fact, that, in the enumeration of sins, St. Paul so often associates πλεονεξία with sins of the flesh; as at 1 Cor. 5:11; Ephes. 5:3, 5; Col. 3:5: ‘Solet autem jungere cum impuritate πλεονεξίαν, nam homo extra Deum quaerit pabulum in creaturâ materiali, vel per voluptatem, vel per avaritiam: bonum alienum ad se redigit.’ But, expressing much, Bengel has not expressed all. The connection between these two provinces of sin is deeper and more intimate still; and this is witnessed in the fact, that not merely is πλεονεξία, as signifying covetousness, joined to sins of impurity, but the word is sometimes used, as at Ephes. 5:3 (see Jerome, in loc.), and often by the Greek Fathers (see Suicer. Thes. s. v.: and Hammond’s excellent note on Rom. 1:29), to designate these sins themselves; even as the root out of which they alike grow, namely, the fiercer and ever fiercer longing of the creature which has forsaken God, to fill itself with the lower objects of sense, is one and the same. The monsters of lust among the Roman emperors were monsters of covetousness as well (Suetonius, Calig. 38–41). Contemplated under this aspect, πλεονεξία has a much wider and deeper sense than φιλαργυρία. Plato (Gorg. 493), likening the desire of man to the sieve or pierced vessel of the Danaids, which they were ever filling, but might never fill,1 has implicitly a sublime commentary on the word; nor is it too much to say, that in it is summed up that ever defeated longing of the creature, as it has despised the children’s bread, to stay its hunger with the husks of the swine.


1 It is evident that the same comparison had occurred to Shakespeare:

‘The cloyed will,
That satiate yet unsatisfied desire,
That tub both filled and running.’

Cymbeline, Act i. Sc. 7.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G4124,G5365.]

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