Ass and Name
Zola and Zoilus
A few Neos
What's in a Nem?
Pleo III-Two More Pleons
Achron.. and Acroam..
Per IV--Perpotation et al.
Per and Pre--Prevenient
Perpense and Perpend
Epi I--Epiplexis, et al.
The Doric Column
Epi III--Episemon et al.
Playing with "Pleo" and "Plero" (I)
Of Heavenly and Earthly Terms/Beginning with PLEROPHORY
Since the Greek word "pleion" means "more" and the Latin "plen" suggests fullness, you probably expect that our play today will not exhaust the interesting words connected with "pleo" and "plero." Let's begin our consideration with four, two related to theology or things heavenly, and two related to earthly realities. The former are plerophory and pleroma, while the latter are pleonasm(us) and pleonexia. Each of them suggests a series of rich associations to those in the field which uses the word. Thus, if you love Puritan theology of the 17th century, you will resonate with pleorophory; Gnostics of late antiquity waxed eloquent over the pleroma. On the other hand, if you committed the vice of pleonasm, rhetoricians ancient and modern would get on your case (though not for good reason, I think). Finally, if you practiced pleonexia, you are just downright greedy, but you will be especially critized by Plato because he puts that term in the mouth of Thrasymachus in Book I of the Republic-- and Thrasymachus is the one who articulates an approach to justice that Plato takes pains to try to refute.
The Greek word "plerophoria," derived from the verb "plerophoreo," stands behind this word. It appears rarely in Classical Greek, but is prevalent in early Christian literature and can be translated "full assurance" or "certainty." When Paul writes to the Thessalonians or Colossians, for example, he can refer to the "full assurance" of faith that is theirs through the Gospel of Christ. Its first attested use in English is in the early 17th century, and it almost always appears in Puritan sermons or other writings. I think it was probably invented by the Puritan divines in order to stress the absolute certainty of the truth of the Gospel, the utter reliability of God, and the confidence that should exude from the life of the person convinced of this truth.
Though it has theological rootage, I think the social conditions of early 17th century England helped fuel plerophory's growth. During the rule of Elizabeth I (1559-1603), England came of age. It was spared the religious wars which engulfed the continent (though it would face its own Civil War in the 1640s and 1650s); its navy displaced the Spanish fleet as the most feared fleet in the world; it experienced an efflorescence in literature (Shakespeare and Milton readily come to mind) and economic aspirations as it had never previously seen. A sense of fullness and aspiration for fullness of all sorts therefore began to permeate the realm.The term plerophory was perfectly attuned to reflect this new confidence and growth. Rather than simply focusing on the traditional Reformed "doctrine of assurance," in which one both trusted God for one's salvation and "worked it out" through holy living, Puritan divines could speak about the "full assurance" of faith, the overflowing confidence possessed by the Christian with respect to ultimate security. It was therefore not simply assurance or even certainty that they preached, but the plerophory of faith or the plerophory of full assurance. This theology then fueled the great Puritan devotional classics, such as John Bunyan's Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners or William Ames' The Marrow of Puritan Divinity.*
[*I found a "secular" use of the term coming from the early 17th century. When Francis Bacon, then King James' Attorney General, warned the King about proceeding in King's Bench because of Edward Coke's known opposition to him, he said, "The Lord Coke's plerophoria or overconfidence doth always subject things to a great deal of chance."]
If there is one word which characterized this Puritan faith, then, I would say it was plerophory. No one uses the term anymore, however. My theory for this is twofold. The word is too hard for Americans to pronounce but, even more, I think another economic reality has so taken over American life that plerophory will not return. The "new words" in our vocabulary now, coming out of the economic abundance in America relate not to "fullness" but to "supersizing." We supersize fries, hamburgers, drinks, stores, cars, and even people. Rather than a fullness of faithful assurance, we want a fullness of the wallet and the stomach. Perhaps this is the truest measure of the secularization of our society, despite the loud and seemingly dominant voices of Evangelical Christians in our world. Instead of speaking about fulness of faith, which would allow for plerophory, we are obsessed with other kinds of fullness. That is why I, rather cynically, invested in Costco stock in the early 1980s--I figured that Americans were now going to stuff themselves when abundance was available cheaply. Though spirituality isn't always my strong suit, I wouldn't mind a return to a more spiritual concept like plerophory, which reminds us that the ultimate certainties in life, the things from which we derive most confidence, are unseen and possibly unquantifiable. Give me an internal sense of fullness, my own plerophory, in love, in knowledge, in connectedness to people, and I will never again be tempted to supersize anything.
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long