Monday, June 4, 2007

(11) A Common Climate

"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 trans-
posed into Christian thought by the Fathers of the Church
and have become important aspects of modern civilization
and thought. "
[New Catholic Encyclopedia, "Stoicism," p. 719.]
(Also,see the "Assimilation" post in this website)

Comment: Considering that these seemingly "modern" ideas
were around more than twenty centuries ago, one surely has to
count Stoicism as a real breakthrough in human consciousness!
This "new outlook" cropped forth in the midst of elitism, when
only the aristocracy might vote, where slavery seemed a
cultural necessity, and gender persecution of women had
been the norm for generations infinitum.

True, too, that Stoicism provided a receptive climate for Early
Christianity. This particular religion put a *personal face* on
the pantheism--or as some now think, panentheism--of the
Stoa. The ancient Gentiles of the Greco-Roman world were at
least vaguely familiar with these philosophical currents that made
it easier to convert them to the new religion of Christianity.
Scholars oft speculate that St. Paul of Tarsus may have been
familiar with the tenets of Stoicism. A major Stoa was located
in his city. And when one reads a good portion of his Epistles,
there's a universality there and even themes that suggest he was
borrowing from Stoic thought. It makes sense, considering the
Gentile audience he was aiming to convert.

Additionally, this process that moves from the Ancient Stoa to
Early Christianity can be viewed from another perspective. It's
about a CONTINUUM of Thought (or Information), if you will.
It's not only about the considerations of Deity, about the Logos
and the Pneuma, unto Christ as the "Incarnation of the Logos,"
about the Holy Spirit, but it is also about consolidating and
working towards a world order: i.e., the Body of Christ, in which
all served its purpose, employing their respective talents and
abilities. The Stoa's "City of Zeus" became Early Christianity's
"City of God."

Alas, peering out into the world of our own day, it would seem
that much of the hopeful thought of both the Ancient Stoa and
Early Christianity has evaporated. Christianity slipped into a
medieval mode, becoming more and more authoritarian, later
more and more fragmented as various groups grasped for
reform. As for the Stoa, well it graduated for a long time into one
of those lost philosophies where only a few scholars here and
there took interest. As majestic as Stoicism was as a philosophy,
it never made it down to the grass-roots of Humanity. And
Christianity lost its high horizons and fell to earth, now swaddled
in the parochialism of the grass-roots, oft swayed by those
authoritarians who play their own power politics in this once
hopeful religion.

Still, there's a common climate that exists between the Stoa and
what may eventually become a future, universally-oriented
Spirituality that seems to be arising here and there, in the world,
in our own time. The central themes of Stoicism can hold true
morally and even in terms of the idea of a Universal Ground of
Being, based not only on contemporary theological concepts but
also on some aspects of modern science theory.