From Fr George W. Rutler’s ‘Weekly Column’
Every writer is familiar with the word “obelism,” which refers to an editor’s abbreviations in the margins indicating corrections to be made. An author in a passive-aggressive mood may counter by writing the Latin “stet,” which means to let the text remain as is. When the Temple authorities were scandalized that Pontius Pilate had ordered a placard for the Cross to read “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” they asked him to edit it to read that Jesus only claimed to be King of the Jews. As his own stet, the governor said “Quod scripsi, scripsi—What I have written, I have written.”
Who knows if he was being cruelly sarcastic, or perhaps was haunted, as was his wife? Either way, he showed some courage, albeit with the might of Rome behind him and an army around him, because his job was to keep order among a volatile demographic.
On page proofs of one of my books, an editor marked in red ink, “Do you really mean this?” What surprised me was that he thought it was possible that I had written something I did not really mean—not as a grammatical error but as ill-advised audacity. Prudence is a virtue to be used in expressing thoughts, but it is overused as timidity when it thwarts courage.
Courage, or fortitude, is one of the four cardinal virtues. Citing the Aristotelian philosophers, Cicero wrote: “Each man should so conduct himself that fortitude appear in labors and dangers: temperance in foregoing pleasures: prudence in the choice between good and evil: justice in giving every man his due.” Cicero quite literally was a man of his word, and was dismembered for speaking out against Mark Antony. When his head and hands were displayed in the Roman Forum, Anthony’s wife Fulvia tried to take revenge on Cicero’s eloquent outspokenness by piercing his tongue with a hairpin. But today, that unlovely couple are historical curiosities, while Cicero’s speeches still animate civilized consciences.
After the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit filled the Apostles with heroic courage. This was a marked change from when they fled from the sight of the Cross, proving the adage ascribed to the Duke of Wellington: “All soldiers run away. The good ones come back.” Hauled before the High Priest and Sanhedrin, and at risk to their own lives, Peter and the apostles said: “‘Obedience to God comes before obedience to men; it was the God of our ancestors who raised up Jesus, but it was you who had Him executed by hanging on a tree. By His own right hand God has now raised Him up to be leader and saviour, to give repentance and forgiveness of sins through Him to Israel. We are witnesses to all this, we and the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” STET.