Thursday, April 26, 2007

(5) Assimilation

This encyclopedic item addresses the linkage between ancient
Stoic and Christian thought.
"The assimilation of Stoic elements by the Church Fathers was
generally better understood by the 4th century c.e. Stoic influence
can be seen, for example, in the relation between reason and the
passions in the works of St. Ambrose...and of Marcus Minucius Felix,
a Christian Apologist. Each took a wealth of ideas from Stoic
morality as Cicero had interpreted it in De Officiis. In general,
whereas the emerging Christian morality affirmed its originality,
it also assimilated much of the pagan literature, the more congenial
elements of which were essentially Stoic.

"Earlier, in the 3rd century, Quintus Tertullian, often called the
father of Latin Christian literature, seems to have been versed in
Stoic philosophy; e.g., in his theory of the agreement between the
supernatural and the human soul, in his use of the Stoic tenet that
from a truth there follow truths, and in his employment of the idea of
universal consent...Tertullian showed a fundamental grasp and
appreciation of such themes as the word 'logos' and the relation
of body to soul.

"Also, St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in the 3rd century revealed
the currency of Stoic views: e.g., in his Ad Demetrianum, a
denunciation of an enemy to Christianity, in which Cyprian
castigates the ill treatment of slaves, who no less than their masters,
are formed of the same matter and endowed with the same soul and
live according to the same law. The beliefs in the brotherhood
of man and in the world as a great city, commonly found in early
Christian literature, were current Stoic themes."
[Encyclopedia Britannica, Philosophical Schools and Doctrines, p. 607.]

"Stoicism influenced Christianity in many respects. Christians
converted from Stoicism expressed their ideas in Stoic terms. Thus
the term 'logos' found in the first verse of St. John's Gospel where
it is translated as 'Word'...[And, also,] the Stoics had emphasized the
essential similarity of all men and the moral responsibility of each man
to provide for the basic need of other men. They had insisted on
simplicity and frugality and on the independence of the individual
in the face of evil and hostile society. All these teachings were in
harmony with Christianity. It is not surprising, therefore, to find traces
of Stoic philosophy in Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen,
Lactantius, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and other Christian writers."
[Encyclopedia Americana, Stoicism, p. 736.]

"Much controversy has arrisen as to the origin of the terms 'the Word'
and 'the Holy Spirit' in Christian theology, and here we can only note
that both terms were in familiar use in the Stoic school at the same
epoch. They cannot, however, be claimed as distinctively Stoic.
But the way of thinking according to which God is at the same time
one and many belongs to the very core of Stoicism. Therefore,
whilst the doctrine of the Trinity is somewhat dimly adumbrated by
St. Paul, it has long ago been noted that its principle finds full
expression in the earlier writings of Seneca.

"From the 3rd century onwards Stoicism was rapidly absorbed in
Christianity...[Indeed] Stoic converts brought with them their scientific
methods and even their school text-books; the De Officiis and the
Discourses of Epictetus became for all practical purposes Christian
manuals. It is greatly to be desired that modern theologians should
be equipped with a better knowledge of the philosophy which more
than any other was a nursing-mother to the Church."
[Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stoics, p. 864.]

"Stoicism expounded a new outlook on personal dignity and on
the nature of law, together with a new conception of the state as
reflecting world order and as leading men of all origins and classes
to personal fulfillment. It may be said that this philosophy not only
presented a moral alternative to Christianity, but also that it helped
develop a climate in which Christian teaching could take
hold more firmly. Many of its doctrines were transposed into
Christian thought by the Fathers of the Church...

"Early Patristic Thought. In the patristic era the influence of this
philosophy was pronounced unto about 230 c.e., and became
sporadic thereafter. In bk. 2 of his Paidagogos, Clement of
Alexandria made at least 15 textual borrowings from Musonius.
In the same work he sometimes used the text of Epictetus. Seneca
provided lines for St. Cyprian and Minucius Felix, but the effect of
Stoicism is clearly noticeable in the thesis they elaborated.

"Man. The anthropology of all the Fathers had Stoic elements,
although none omitted the presence of a supernatural reality in man.
Almost all divided the human composite into body and soul in Stoic
fashion, and Tertullian saw in it a 'mixture' of two elements. The soul
itself was considered corporeal by Iranaeus and Tertullian, the latter
supporting his position with the Stoic principle: nihi si non corpus.
The psychology of Clement of Alexandria had a materialistic bent,
especially that in the Excerpta ex Theodoto. Finally Tatian and
Irenaeus noted in the soul an element shared with universal life
and thus reattached man to the cosmos.

"Ethics was frequently related to Stoicism in its terminology and
in certain of its themes: indifference (Justin Martyr, Athenagoras,
Tatian, Minucius Felix, Tertullian, and with some variations, Clement
of Alexandria); apatheia and intellectualism (Justin, Athenagoras,
Irenaeus and especially Clement of Alexandria); conformity to the
'logos,' and to nature (Clement of Alexandria); natural law (Justin,
the Apostolic Constitutions, Clement of Alexandria, and particularly
Tertullian); equality of man and cosmopolitanism (particularly
Tertullian, Cyprian, and Minucius Felix); the model of the wise
man (Tatian and Clement of Alexandria, for whom the wise man
became the gnostic); and all the of the themes of the diatribe.

"There was less Stoic influence on matters relating to God. Some
Fathers emphasized God's rational nature (Athenagoras, Minucius
Felix, and Tertullian), others His material nature (Tertullian). Almost
all, and especially Clement of Alexandria, noted His impassibility.
All proved His existence rationally, taking the order of the universe
as their point of departure. Their theories of the 'logos-pneuma' also
exhibited a Stoic aspect, and this apart from the terminology used:
e.g., God's corporeal nature (Tertullian and the Excerpta ex Theodoto)
and His cyclic unfolding in the Incarnation (the paschal homily
attributed to Hippolytus). One may even detect an animistic concept
of the world in Tatian and Theoplhilus of Antioch, and secondarily
in Tertullian, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Novatian, and Clement of Alexandria,
but for all these thinkers the pneuma of the world, instead of being God,
because of some ill-defined intermediate. Finally, Minucius Felix and
Clement of Alexandria made the 'logos' the law and order of the world.
In all this God was viewed more as present in the universe than as
function in his redemptive work.

"The World. Despite their theses about the initial creation, the Fathers
sometimes saw the world as undergoing a cyclic evolution. They
unanimously praised its beauty, order, and harmony, from Pope
St. Clement I of Rome all the way to Clement of Alexandria, who
was filled with wonder at the cosmos. The imperfection of detail in
the universe contributes to the perfection of the All (Tertullian
and Clement of Alexandria) which perfection results from the
complementarity of opposites (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Novatian,
and Clement of Alexandria).

"For these writers, as for the Stoics, the world was at the disposal
of man and was explained in anthropomorphic terms with a
disconcerting optimism. Finally, the universe itself constituted
a great All (Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Novatian), one 'vast body'
(Tatian and Tertullian)...and the meeting of body and spirit
(in anthropology, the Incarnation, grace,and the matter of the
Sacraments presented no difficulty for any of them.

"Finally, everything was conceived in a spatio-temporal framework,
even man, who was seen as subject to a uniform law of the cosmos.
This law was seen variously as a 'sympathy' among all
spirits (Athenagoras and Clement of Alexandria), an essential
connection (Tertullian and particularly Minucius Felix), and a
combined effort united in harmony (Novatian).

"A brief account does not permit the necessary references or
useful precisions, but the fact is that a Stoic current ran through
Christian thought before 250."
[New Catholic Encyclopedia, Stoicism, pp. 719-720.]

Monday, April 23, 2007

(4) Ancient Voices, Modern Thoughts

"Heraclitus: God, he called the Logos, Reason, Intelligence, a
Whole made up of the sum total of all opposites, constantly in
motion, birthing, living, dying, and being born again. The
Heraclitean universe is a place where all parts are related to
the whole, and its symbol is fire, a rarefied fire that permeates,
consumes, destroys, creates, and lights the cosmos as one
single organism of life His cosmology and ours describe a
universe that is a unified, organic view of the cosmos."
[With permission, from Erik Wiegardt's, THE PATH OF THE
Wordsmith Press, 1996, pp. 11-12.]

"Zeno taught a unified system of philosophy in three parts:
ethics, physics, and logic. He established principles...based
not just on what he said they should be but on an understanding
of man's relation to the universe (physics) that followed from a
careful and accurate method of reasoning and rhetoric (logic) to
confirm the truth of these principles." [p. 15.]

"Posidonius of Rhodes: ...the Stoic doctrine of the interdependence
of all parts of the whole...our intelligence was more closely akin to
the intelligence that ruled nature, and that our reason was our
special link to the Logos." [p. 17.]

"In the Roman Empire: The Stoa...was the only philosophy
addressed to all, regardless of sex, race, or social class." [p. 19.]

"The Roman gods were largely viewed with skepticism, and
religious activities were limited to formal ceremonies carried out
by State officials that held little meaning to an individual's daily life.
The Stoa, on the other hand, showed the right way to live each day,
provided counsel for the hard decisions that had to be made, and
promised a direct and personal identity with the God of all
Creation, of nature and reason." [p. 20.]

"The Stoa and Christianity: Stoic doctrine was gradually
absorbed into Western intellectual history with the help of
Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, St. Jerome, John Cassian,
St. Augustine, Peter Abelard, Roger Bacon, Thomas Aquinas,
and Meister Eckhart, to name a few...Stoicism was permanently
impressed into the traditions laid down by the Christian thinkers
of the early Middle Ages...By the time of the Renaissance,
Stoic philosophy became even more central to Western
thought...And the ethics of the Stoa predominated and inspired
Renaissance philosophies and essayists in their creation of
the new humanism of that era that is still a powerful force in the
world today." [p. 25.]

"Classical Stoic physics, although entirely theoretical, more
closely resembled modern physics than any other early science.
Even so, much of it is dated." [p. 29.]

"Stoic physical theory [is] the first to propose that physical laws
on earth were the same everywhere, even though they didn't have
the experimental proof or the language of modern mathematicians."
[p. 31.]

"The Logos: A force endowed with reason, continuous in space
and time, pervading, defining, and uniting the cosmos. A world soul."

"The first and Ultimate Principle of Stoic physics is that the Logos
and Matter are one of a continuum. The Logos is the active principle
and Matter is passive, not dead, and each is contained in the other.
We see the cosmos as a single, living organism shining in the
emptiness of the void, and that which makes it alive pervades,
defines, and unites each part of the whole. The Logos, God, the
Natural Order is one whole made up of interrelated parts, and such
a One is by our reckoning self-contained and self-sustaining." [p. 33.]

"Question: Did the cosmos, the Logos, have a self-reflective
awareness *before* the development of noetic consciousness
here and elsewhere in the universe; or, is its consciousness only
now awakening to itself?" [p. 44.]

"Stoics believe we are *all* sons and daughters of God. And our
consciousness, our reflective awareness, our reason that we use
is our evidence for this relationship. Is the Logos more than
that, something higher and greater than reason? What we do
know is that we have the kind of consciousness that recognizes
the Natural Order, and from our recognition comes our own
designs and creations, technological manifestations of our
understanding..." [p.47.]

"The sub-atomic world is a web of relations unifying the whole...
we acquire a clearer vision of reality as it is. Knowing our world,
its seasons and cycles and laws, is how we can best determine
our actions and expectations. We are not exempt from natural
laws. We are in it, and it is in us." [p. 54.]

"The Mystical Position: What the whole does, we do. What the
whole is, we are. The fate of all is our fate, and the appearance
of separate individuals is an illusion of the ego, part of the game
nature plays with itself...Actually, the Stoa isn't that far away from
the mystical position. We are the Logos. Remember, our
cosmologist was Heraclitus--the mystical genius..." [p. 60.]

"For you free will enthusiasts, don't despair. There is a solution,
a way of viewing the situation--a solution, a way of viewing the
situation...a solution that can be summed up in a single world, an
idea that was reformulated from the Stoa by the Christian scholar
monk, John Cassian. ATTITUDE!" Cassian...taught that all virtues
and all vices arise from one source: our inner attitude directing
the choices we make. Therefore, all virtues are one and all vices
are one because they all come from one source: ATTITUDE." [p. 60.]

"The Stoa never encourages indifference. a term
the Stoics invented to describe those things preferred but not in
and of themselves a good. Values are neither good or bad
because a Stoic rises above both prosperity and adversity...the
larger view...these external things happen, they come and go,
and that the only certain refuge is inside, in the *attitude* he
has taken to them." [p. 65.]

"Evil: There is no evil in nature; evil only comes from human
vice; vice comes from only one source, the passions; the passions
we identify as pleasure, pain, fear, and desire to avoid becoming
slaves to these passions...if we find we can't regulate it, moderate
it to our own benefit..." [p. 66.]

"Apatheia: Don't forget our motto: live according to nature--which
includes the obvious fact that we have feelings, given to us by
nature, and to deny them is like asking a human being to be a
tree...we have emotions, we feel, but we make a distinction
between the positive and negative among them. It is in a state
of apatheia that one is freed from enslavement to the passions
allowing the Stoic to follow his reason, to focus and cultivate
positive emotions, feelings of benevolence, prudence, friendship,
sympathy, and everyone's favorite, joy..." [p. 68.]

"The Imaginal Realm: Traditionally the Stoa was divided into
three areas of study: physics, logic, and ethics. Today a more
complete understanding must divide it into four: history, physics,
ethics, and metaphysics...The laws of physics, of course, are an
attempt to understand the laws of nature. To know the laws of
nature guides us in our efforts to live well in this world...And,
finally, we can't help but wonder if there isn't something more.
Our pending confrontation with death, our mortality,is one
compelling reason for many of us to search further and deeper
into the cosmos to know what sages know in their serenity."
[pp. 71-72.]

"Where do we go from here, we who are the flowering of noetic
consciousness in the universe, we who are the mirror of cosmic
awareness? Is there another level to which we may aspire and
self-evolve? What is the next level of consciousness and how
do we get there? [Just maybe we need to] come to know the
mystical experience as a routine part of our education." [p. 94.]

Sunday, April 22, 2007

(3) Salient Points

The spiritual outlook of the Ancient Stoa dates back
some 2300 years. Here's an abbreviated encyclopedic
account of such:

•The reason of things--that which accounts for
them--is no longer some external end to which they
are tending; it is something acting within them, "a
spirit deeply infused," germinating and developing as
from a seed in the heart of each separate thing that
exists. By its prompting the thing grows, develops
and decays, while this "germinal reason," the element
of quality in the thing, remains constant through
all its changes.

•God is Fire (divine energy) and Logos (reason)
diffused throughout the cosmos. The Law of Nature
(physical law) is his material presence in the universe.
As Cosmic Reason (logos) he is ipso facto Providence,
ordaining all things, and as Fate, imposing upon man
a physical determinism that allows for freedom merely
as man's inner acceptance of cosmic necessity.

•Fire is like a seed having in itself the reason of all
things and the causes of what was, is, and shall be.
It is the vital principle from which all plants and animals
spring. At any stage of development God remains as
a living force, molding and dominating passive matter
in view of further progress.

•Soul is the inherent property of God, a mode of
life activity.

•The Soul of the world fills and penetrates it; the
soul of man pervades the body, informing and guiding
it, stamping man with his essential natural character.

•Inborn ideas are part of the soul's inheritance from
that Universal Reason of which the soul is a fragment.

•Each human soul is a fragment of the universal divine
force, yet not completely sundered from its parent-stock.

•An immanent active God fills every corner of the
universe and is the cause of everything that happens.
It is man's duty to live harmoniously with the Law of
the Universe and to accept all that comes to him as the
doing of God.

•In the rational creatures--man and the gods--
Pneuma (Spirit) is manifested in a high degree of
purity and intensity as an emanation from the

•What God is for the world that the soul is for man.
The cosmos must be conceived as a single whole,
its variety being referred to as varying stages of
condensation in the Pneuma. So, too, the human
soul must possess absolute simplicity, its varying
functions being conditioned by the degrees or species
of its tension.

•The nature of man is the universal on a small scale,
or a "microcosm." Each human soul is a fragment of
the universal divine force, yet not completely sundered
from the parent-stock. "We are thy offspring." We are
all his family.

•The relation of the Soul of the Universe to God is quite
clear; it is an inherent property,a mode of His activity,
an effluence or emanation. A Stoic might consistently
maintain that World-Soul, Providence, Destiny and
Germinal Reason are not merely synonyms, for they
express different aspects of God, different relations of
God to things.

•There are gradations of soul, by which a hierarchy of
rank is established among living beings. Virtue for man
is to maintain his rank as a son of God; vice is to fall to
the level of the animals or the plants.

•Sooner or later souls (upon death) are merged in the
Soul of the Universe. (Although it was a moot point
whether all souls survive--some Stoics believed that
only the souls of the wise and good alone survived.)

•Virtue is self-knowledge: the quality of a spirit in
perfect harmony with itself.

•A truly wise man was therefore to live as much as
possible in conformity with nature--meaning within
the confines of his natural in-born disposition and
the Laws of the Universe.

•The end of action is therefore a harmonious
consistent life according to nature.

•Cosmopolitan citizenship.

•No longer any difference between Greek and Barbarian,
male and female, bond and free.

•The wise man is free--the unwise are slaves.

•God is best worshipped in the shrine of the heart by
the desire to know and obey Him.

•Concession to popular beliefs: traditional religious
beliefs/practices are a means of communication
between God and Man.

•Traditional Religions: "And it is always appropriate to
make libations and sacrifices and give firstfruits according
to the customs of one's forefathers, in a manner that is
pure and neither slovenly nor careless, nor indeed cheaply
nor beyond one's means." [Epictetus]

•True Religion is the recognition by men of his relation to
deity, and its essential features are not ceremony and
sacrifice, but prayer, self-examination and praise.

•Goal of man is to live in agreement with world design:
the cosmic citizen. As a cosmic citizen, man has a loyalty
and obligation to all things in that city (the world, the
cosmos)--man's essential worth, universal brotherhood.

•Logic is to be used as an instrument--not as an end in
itself. Human happiness is to be treated as a product of
nature. And the wise man serves as a model.

•Usual objects of desire (such as wealth and honors) are
not necessary to a virtuous life--these things are morally
indifferent, possessing relative values.

•Man knows that he is part of the universe. He should
realize that the apparent interests of the part must remain
subordinate to the interests of the whole.

•Every event in the whole universe is necessary,
providential and due to the divine will. Man can choose
what his own nature suggests, and acknowledge that
which Fate will prevent his attaining.

•Actions should be the product of knowledge--not
of guesswork.

•Wickedness is closely associated with mistaken

•Belief in Providence was joined to a belief in
divination and prophetic dreams.

•Moderation induces decent behavior.

•The only thing in our own control is our will; we can
exercise that so as neither to desire nor fear the things
of the world, which are assigned by God.

•The Stoic wise man was independent of the society
in which he lived. Yet a man could become more
virtuous only by exercising his virtue in his relations
with other men, and the exercise of virtue was to be
found in areas demanding responsibility. Thus it was
necessary for him to earn his living and take part
in public life.

•The highest philosophy is to recognize that Reason
and Will are one.

[Gleaned from the following encyclopedias: Britannica,
Americana, Philosophy, New Catholic and others.]

Friday, April 20, 2007

(2) The Living Stoa

"The Stoa is a living philosophy. What that means is
that Stoic philosophy is more than just great thoughts
organized into a complete and coherent vision of reality.
It is first and foremost a philosophy to live by, a practical
application of ancient wisdom, a way of life, and a guide
to the choices one makes in this life.

"It also means something more. The Stoa is alive. The
reason it is alive after nearly 2300 years is because it is
universally adaptable and available to all people, men and
women of every color, class, and culture. And something
else: it evolves. As the human race learns and grows, so
does the Stoa. It evolves because of the strength and
conviction of the Stoics themselves. Stoics have a tradition
of independent thought, and we like it that way. We of the
Stoic school, as Seneca said, do not follow a tyrant. This
is not to say that what we are left with is a hodgepodge of
assorted ideas collected here and there. This is not the
Stoa. It's inner core of orthodoxy moves very slowly,
glacially, expanding and refining with the ages. Its
foundation is secure because it is built upon the
unassailable power of a single idea: Live according
to nature.

"That's the Stoic motto. Zeno of Citium said it first, and
he's the founder and father of our school, but he wasn't
working alone. He was following a path already begun by
two of the greatest thinkers in history, Heraclitus and
Socrates. These two men, one a mystic cosmologist and
the other a moral philosopher who lived and died by his
ideals, may rightly be called the Grandfathers of the Stoa.

"But Stoicism actually began with the teachings of Zeno
at the central market of Athens about 300 BCE. Zeno
regularly met with students on the north side of the
market at a stoa, a covered colonnade, called the
Painted Stoa, renowned for its spectacular murals.
In time, Zeno and his students became known as the
men of the Stoa, or Stoics. Here he taught a moral system
based upon nature: the guide to human happiness, he
said, is clearly evident in the processes and cycles of
nature. Upon these teachings the school was founded,
continuing through the Roman Stoa, the Christian Stoa,
and into the present period."
[ Quoted with permission from Erik Wiegardt's CYBERSTOA.]

Thursday, April 19, 2007

(1) The Stoa

I am going to take the opportunity to talk some
about the Stoa, the ancient school of Stoic philosophy,
which is some 2300 years old. Over the centuries it
changed, progressed, disappeared, came back, and
continues to change into ever new stages. I guess one
could say that the Stoa is a living, evolutionary philosophy.

In the Hellenistic world, in ancient times, the Stoa went
through three stages: Early, Middle, and Later. It had
schools all around, like in Rhodes, Athens, Rome, and
Tarsus (where some speculate St. Paul may have listened in).
Three of its greatest philosophers were Marcus Aurelius
(a Roman emperor), Lucius Seneca, (a member of the
Roman Senate), and Epictetus ( a freed Roman slave).

The philosophy of the Stoa preached equality amongst
classes and gender--which is incredible when it came to
the conditions of the Ancient World. And it's major focus
was on living a virtuous life as a child of God.

Upon the advent of Christianity, a good number of Stoics
became Christians and brought their manuals along with
them. As time went on, some of the Christian Fathers
(who were classically trained) inserted some of the thought
of the Stoa into their own theological thinking. So it's no
surprise that our modern-day encyclopedias oft declare
the Stoa as "the nursing mother of the Early Church."

What about the Stoa today? After being pretty much
ingested by the Church, it would have seemed to have
disappeared. But it's philosophy was re-discovered by
the Renaissance and eventually made its way back to our
times. Eventually we can determine the connections of
the Classical Stoa, the Christian Stoa, and the CyberStoa.

The Christian Stoa has been fairly active from the late
18th century unto our own times. It has included major
Christian thinkers as well as priests from religious orders,
like the Jesuits and the Franciscans. As for the CyberStoa,
well today's Stoa pretty much resides in the NetWorld, amongst
groups devoted to its great philosophy.