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By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

4/25/2013 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (

"Let us ask the Lord for this 'parresia,'" said Pope Francis, "this apostolic fervor that impels us to move forward, as brothers, all of us forward!  Forward, bringing the name of Jesus in the bosom of Holy Mother Church, and, as St. Ignatius said, 'hierarchical and Catholic.'  So be it."  The Pope used the word parresia, a word most of us are probably not familiar with.  What exactly does it mean?


By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (

4/25/2013 (2 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: Pope Francis, parresia, Jesus, Church, boldness, Gospel, Andrew M. Greenwell

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - In his short sermon on the Feast of St. George, Pope Francis spoke to the assembled Cardinals about the importance of the Church's mission of evangelization, a mission that includes introducing people to the Catholic Church "because it is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church."

This mission should be one of joy, as the "joy of the evangelizing" should fill those engaged in the mission of spreading the Good News of Jesus, and this irrespective of whether they are being persecuted or whether they see great success. 

To evangelize the world means to reject the "road of worldliness" and the temptation of "negotiating with the world," which provides only a "human consolation," a "superficial consolation."  Such worldliness is to be spurned by those engaged in the Church's mission of evangelization, who preach "between the Cross and the Resurrection," between prosecution and success.  "And this is the path: those who go down this road are not mistaken."

The early Church did not compromise the Gospel by preaching a "rosewater faith, a faith without substance," Pope Francis continued.  And, having rejected worldliness and become the "sheep of Jesus," the Good Shepherd, and being filled with the Holy Spirit, they were unafraid of the scandal that they might cause to the world to whom they preached the Gospel or the ire they might face from the worldly powers who set their aim against the Gospel. 

The early Church had a fervor, a boldness, a compelling need to introduce people to Jesus which Pope Francis said we moderns must recover. 

"Let us ask the Lord for this 'parresia,' this apostolic fervor that impels us to move forward, as brothers, all of us forward!  Forward, bringing the name of Jesus in the bosom of Holy Mother Church, and, as St. Ignatius said, 'hierarchical and Catholic.'  So be it."  Cosě sia

The Pope used the word parresia, a word most of us are probably not familiar with.  The word parresia (sometimes written parrhesia) is Greek word, and it is found in the Greek New Testament, so it might be appropriate word to focus on in our series on the three sacred languages, Tres Linguae Sacrae.

In Greek, the word parrēssía (παρρησία) is composed from two words: pas (πας) which means "all," and rēsis (ρησις) meaning "saying" or "speech."  The word therefore literally means "speech which says it all," and this suggests its ordinary meaning "to speak publicly," "to speak boldly," "to speak frankly," "to speak plainly," "to speak openly."

The word parresia comes from the privilege given the Greeks in their assemblies, courts, and theaters where they could speak boldly and criticize and challenge their opponents openly and frankly without fear of reprise.  The concept was that insulating the speaker from the fear of harm or retribution would encourage plain, honest, and forthright speech.

The word parresia or one of its forms is used in the Gospels (e.g., Mark 8:32, John 7:4, 13, 26; 10:24; 11:14, 54; 16:25, 29; 18:20), in Acts (2:29; 4:28, 31; 28:31), and in the letter to the Hebrews (3:6; 10:19, 35; 4:16), and in the Pauline (2 Cor. 3:12; 7:4, Eph. 3:12; 6:19; Phil. 1:20; Col. 2:15; 1 Tim. 3:13; Phil. 1:8) and Johannine epistles (1 John 2:28; 3:21; 4:17; 5:14).  It therefore has a good biblical pedigree.

A classical biblical use of the term parresia is found in the Book of Acts, where the apostles Peter and John are in Jerusalem during the Feast of Pentecost, when "suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind," and "there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each of them," and they were "filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues."  (Acts 2:1-4)  It was the Holy Spirit that "enabled them to proclaim" the Gospel to the Jews "from every nation under the heaven staying in Jerusalem."  (Acts 2:5)

Peter stood up with the other eleven Apostles and preached his bold sermon to the Jews there assembled proclaiming to them the truth of the Lord Jesus whom they had had a part, directly or indirectly through their leaders, in crucifying, but who had emerged victorious from the grave in the Resurrection. 

By Peter's bold speech, inspired by the Holy Spirit and, as it were, elocuted by a tongue of fire, the Jews were "cut to the heart."  They were told to repent and be baptized "everyone one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  (Acts 2:37-38) 

The Apostles continued in the temple area daily, boldly preaching the Gospel around the very same precincts of power where Jesus had been unjustly arrested and put to death, adding "every day . . . to their number those who were being saved."  (Acts 2:47)

After St. Peter cured the man who had been lame from his mother's womb at the "Beautiful Gate" of the temple (Acts 3:2-10), he used the occasion for yet another proclamation of the Gospel.  (Acts 3:12-26)

This last straw drew the attention of the authorities, the powerful, and the religious establishment threatened by the apostolic preaching: the temple priests, including Annas the high priest, and the high priests Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, the captain of the temple guard, the Sadducees, and the "leaders, elders, and scribes."  (Acts 4:1-6)  These all were enemies of the Gospel.

St. Peter and St. John were apprehended, brought into the presence of the Jewish temple authorities and questioned.  Peter, "filled with the Holy Spirit," (Acts 4:8) boldly preached the Gospel to those who had conspired successfully to put Jesus to death.

The authorities "observing the boldness (parrēsían) of Peter and John," after meeting in counsel, "ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus."  (Acts 4:13, 18)

Not intending to be squelched by the authority of mere men when they had been called and sent by the Son of God himself, Saints Peter and Paul said in reply, "Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges.  It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19-20). 

Someone filled with parresia will find it impossible not to speak about his encounter with the Lord, and his mercy, and his grace.  His joy in boldly communicating the Gospel comes from the fulfillment of this duty which arises out of his love of God and his love of neighbor. 

Those filled with the parresia Pope Francis spoke of can only say: caritas Christi urget nos, the love of Christ, and the Christ eager to find a home with the poor and feed with supersubstantial food those hungry for the Gospel, compels us. (Cf. 2 Cor. 5:14)

In this, the Apostles Peter and John were no different than their Lord who, arrested by the temple guards and brought to the high priest to be questioned, responded to the high priest:  "I have spoken publicly (parrēsía) to the world. I have always taught in a synagogue or in the temple area where all the Jews gather, and in secret (kryptō) I have said nothing.'" (John 18:20)

He who is filled with parresia will proclaim the Gospel from the rooftops (cf. Matt. 10:27); he will not hide the message and place it under a bushel (cf. 5:15). 

He will have no fear of opposition.  He will bear all insults.  He will never lose heart.  This is what will steel him against his critics: In Deo laudavi verbum in Deo speravi non timebo quid faciat caro mihi.  "In God I will praise my words, in God I have put my trust: I will not fear what flesh can do against me." (Ps. 55:5 [56:4])

In his indefatigable efforts to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles, St. Paul followed the boldness of the Lord and Sts. Peter and John.  It was his burden to discharge the "ministry of the Spirit,"and the "ministry of righteousness," (2 Cor. 3:8, 9), a ministry of such good news that--comparatively--the Mosaic Law was the "ministry of death," or the "ministry of condemnation" (2 Cor. 3:7, 9).

Moses, St. Paul says, spoke his words through a veil, cryptically, and so the hearts of those who lived by the Law were also veiled.  But that veil to God's revelation was removed by Christ who preached openly and publicly and without veil, and for those who are touched by the Gospel of freedom and turn to the Lord, "the veil is removed" (2 Cor. 3:16), rent in two by the Cross of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 27:51)

To remove the veil from God's revelation, to remove the veil from hearts, great boldness, vigor, and frankness was required.  So St. Paul tells the Corinthians, he was compelled to preached the Gospel with "great boldness (parrēsía)" in his speech. (2 Cor. 3:12) 

St. Paul himself had been blinded to the truth of the Gospel by the veil of the Mosaic law, and then was blinded from his blindness to Christ by the Christ who gives sight to the blind, and it was the word of the Lord that made him see again when something like scales fell from his eyes.  (Acts 9:18)  For scales to fall from the world's eyes, parresia in the communication of the Gospel is essential.  Otherwise, the blind will continue to lead the blind and the world will continue to fall in the pit and wallow in the sloughs of sin and despond.  (Cf. Matt. 15:13-14; Luke 6:39-40)

In a world which increasingly rejects the Gospel, diffidence is not an option.  Whether we be placed before the high priests of secularized culture, the scribes in the liberal media, the talking heads and commentators and comics who ridicule Christians of being drunk on the heady wine of passé mores, or the moral relativists who, desirous to excuse all manner of sin, uphold the nonsensical doctrine that there is no dogma but the dogma that there is no dogma: the Gospel must be made know with boldness, with parresia.

Yes, Pope Francis, your prayer is sound:  "Let us ask the Lord for this 'parresia,' this apostolic fervor that impels us to move forward, as brothers, all of us forward!  Forward, bringing the name of Jesus in the bosom of Holy Mother Church, and, as St. Ignatius said, 'hierarchical and Catholic.'  So be it."

So be it.  Cosě sia.  In other words, Amen.


Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at


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