4 Maccabees 1
Common English Bible
The principle of clear thinking
1 I’m about to prove a most important philosophical principle: godly thinking[a] is supreme over emotions and desires. I would be giving you good advice then to pay close attention to philosophy. 2 This principle is essential for knowing what to do in every situation, and it also includes the praise of the highest moral trait—I’m talking about good judgment. 3 Therefore, if clear thinking is shown to control the emotions that prevent self-control, such as the tendency to overeat and rampant desire, 4 then it is clear that it also rules the emotions that prevent us from acting in a just way, such as ill will, and those emotions that prevent us from acting with courage, such as anger, fear, and pain.
5 Perhaps some people would object: “If clear thinking can control emotions, why doesn’t it do away with memory loss and ignorance?” But that’s just ridiculous. 6 The mind doesn’t have control over such things, but it controls the emotions and desires that resist justice, courage, and self-control. And it does this so that we won’t surrender to the emotions, not in order to destroy them.
7 I could show you that clear thinking has power over emotions and desires in any number of ways. 8 However, I can do this best by showing you the heroic courage of those who died to preserve their moral character: Eleazar, the seven brothers, and their mother. 9 By ignoring their pain to the point of death, all of these persons showed that clear thinking had complete control of their emotions. 10 On the anniversary of these events, it is appropriate for me to praise the moral achievements of those who died along with their mother to preserve their virtuous character. I would also call them fortunate because of the honor in which they are held. 11 All people, including the ones who tortured them, were amazed at their courage and patient endurance. What’s more, they caused the defeat of the tyranny that had oppressed their nation. They conquered the tyrant by their endurance. As a result, their homeland was purged of its filth through their actions. 12 I will say more about this shortly. First I will begin with my main point, as is my custom, and then I will return to their story, giving glory to God, who possesses all wisdom.
Definition of terms
13 So we are exploring the question of whether clear thinking has full power over the emotions. 14 We need to define what careful reasoning is, what we mean by emotion, how many different kinds of emotions there are, and whether clear thinking has full power over all these things. 15 Clear thinking then is the mind-set that uses plain logic to choose the life of wisdom. 16 Next, wisdom is the knowledge of divine and human behavior and what causes the behavior. 17 This knowledge in turn comes from the instruction provided by the Law, through which we learn about divine matters reverently and human matters to our advantage. 18 The different kinds of wisdom are good judgment, justice, courage, and self-control. 19 Good judgment is the ruler among these kinds of wisdom, because clear thinking controls the emotions with it. 20 There are two general categories of emotions: pleasure and pain. Each of these shows up in different ways in the body and in the soul.
21 Several other emotions accompany pleasure and pain. 22 Desire comes before pleasure, and joy follows it. 23 Fear comes before pain, and grief follows it. 24 Anger is a mixture of both pleasure and pain, as anyone who thinks about the experience would agree. 25 With pleasure there is a tendency to form bad habits, and this is the most varied of the emotions. 26 In the soul, bad habits show up as pride, love of money, thirst for honor, delight in conflict, and envy. 27 In the body, they show up as eating anything and everything, the tendency to overeat, and indulging in binge eating in private. 28 Just as pleasure and pain are two plants growing from the body and the soul, so there are many branches shooting off from each of these plants. 29 But clear thinking, like an expert gardener, pulls out the weeds, trims, supports, waters, and cares for the plants in every way. So it tames the jungle of habits and emotions. 30 Clear thinking is the guide of moral character, but it has full power over the emotions.
clear thinking and the Law
Consider first the way in which clear thinking shows that it is supreme over the emotions through the exercise of self-control. 31 Self-control means having control over your desires. 32 Some desires come from the inner person, and others come from the body. Clear thinking obviously has control over both. 33 Otherwise, how is it that when we are attracted by foods that we aren’t allowed to eat, we can walk away from the pleasure that we would get from them? Isn’t it because clear thinking is in control over our desires? I think so. 34 We keep our distance when we crave any of the foods that are forbidden to us by the Law, whether it is seafood, birds, animals, or anything else, because of the self-control that comes from clear thinking. 35 The sensible mind curbs the drives of the appetite, keeping them in check, and clear thinking silences the impulses of our bodies.
- 4 Maccabees 1:1 Or pious reason