Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Wednesday with Words - Plutarch

We've been reading through Plutarch's life of Quintus Fabius Maximus, learning some things about his character and drawing lessons from his life.
Fabius was slow and steady, a plodder, a characteristic that was not appreciated by his next in command, the impulsive and arrogant Lucius Minucius (love that name!).

So, basically, Fabius was called to Rome and in his absence Minucius took matters into his own hands and attacked Hannibal. Instead of being punished, Minucius was elevated by those opposed to the rule of Fabius to a position of equal authority with Fabius and continued in his rash behaviour, despising the advice of the older man. Hannibal took advantage of the rift and cunningly lured Minucius into a battle:

When, therefore, (Fabius) saw the army of Minucius encompassed by the enemy, and that by their countenance and shifting their ground, they appeared more disposed to flight than to resistance, with a great sigh, striking his hand upon his thigh, he said to those about him, "O Hercules! how much sooner than I expected, though later than he seemed to desire, hath Minucius destroyed himself!"


Fabius's response to the younger man's rashness and flouting of authority was:

"We must make haste to rescue Minucius, who is a valiant man, and a lover of his country; and if he hath been too forward to engage the enemy, at another time we will tell him of it."

Magnanimous, I'd call that.

Hannibal, seeing so sudden a change of affairs, and Fabius, beyond the force of his age, opening his way through the ranks up the hill-side, that he might join Minucius, warily forbore, sounded a retreat, and drew off his men into their camp...

Fabius, after his men had picked up the spoils of the field, retired to his own camp, without saying any harsh or reproachful thing to his colleague...

The man who has understanding holds his tongue.
Proverbs 11:12

Minucius learnt a valuable lesson that day. He came to an understanding of authority and submission and that the race isn't always to the swift. Gathering his army around him he said these words to his men:

"To conduct great matters and never commit a fault is above the force of human nature; but to learn and improve by the faults we have committed, is that which becomes a good and sensible man. Some reasons I may have to accuse fortune, but I have many more to thank her; for in a few hours she hath cured a long mistake, and taught me that I am not the man who should command others, but have need of another to command me; and that we are not to contend for victory over those to whom it is our advantage to yield."

When pride comes then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. 
Proverbs 11:2

Minucius's words got me thinking about churches and the problems that result when we get this authority and yielding wrong. I've seen lots of people just drift away or go off and do their own thing because they couldn't have others 'command' them - I'm not talking about bad or abusive leadership, but a general unwillingness to yield to anyone but themselves.
Just as Minucius disregarded and despised the leadership of a man he thought was too slow, mistaking circumspection for cowardice, we can chafe under the leadership of someone who isn't doing things the way we think they should be done or in the time frame we'd prefer.

For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew 23:12

 Until we learn how to be under authority, we're not going to be able to handle being in authority.




2 comments:

  1. And that is why Plutarch is deeply, deeply valuable. This kind of thing learning never ends. We finished Brutus today.

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