Stoicism and Christianity

Stoicism And Christianity.

The Stoics and Epicureans, who are mentioned together in Ac 17:18, represent the two opposite, schools of practical philosophy which survived the fall of higher speculation in Greece. SEE PHILOSOPHY, GREEK.

1. Biblical Connection. — The principles of these sects require notice under this head only in so far as they are related to the teaching of the apostle, who, we are told, was regarded as "a setter forth of strange gods, because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection." The doctrine of the resurrection of the body, or even of the immortality of the soul, would indeed be fundamentally at variance both with the materialism of the Epicureans and with the pantheism of the Stoics.

The former, considering the soul to be, like other substances, a body composed of atoms, naturally concluded that it was resolved by death into its constituent elements; and even more rapidly than the body, as consisting of finer and more volatile particles (Lucret. 3, 178 sq., 426 sq.; Diog. Laert. 10, 63-67). The doctrine of the dissolution of the soul was even valued by these philosophers on account of its consolatory character, as enabling men to despise the terrors of the invisible world, and to look forward without fear to a release from the evils of life in the annihilation of their personal existence (Lucret. 3, 842, 850-854; comp. 3, 37; Diog. Laert. 10, 124, 125). SEE EPICUREAN PHILOSOPHY.

The Stoics, on the other hand, from very opposite premises, arrived at a similar conclusion. With them the soul of man was regarded as a portion and fragment of the divine principle of the universe (Epictet. Diss. 1, 14, 6: αἱ ψυχαὶ...συναφεῖς τῷ Θεῷ ἃτε αὐτοῦ μόρια ουσαι καὶ ἀποσπάσματα; M. Antonin. De Rebus suis, 9, 8: εἰς τὰ λογικὰ μία νοερὰ ψυχὴ μεμέρισται; ibid. 12, 30: μία νοερὰ ψυχή κ¨ν διακεκρισθαι δοκῇ), subject to that necessity by which the universe is governed, having no independent existence or action of its own, and destined, not indeed to perish with the body, but, when a certain cycle of duration was accomplished, to be absorbed back again into the source from which it came (Seneca, Consol. ad Marciam, c. 26: "Nos quoque, felices animae et aeterna sortitiae, quum Deo visum erit iterum ista moliri, labentibus cunctis, et ipsae parva ruinae ingentis accessio, in antiqua elementa vertemur" [see Zeller, Philos. der Griechen, 3, 105]), It was a maxim of the Stoical philosophy that whatever has a beginning must also have an end (Cicero, Tusc. Disp. 1, 32 Vult enim [Panaetius] quod nemo negat, quidquid natum sit, interire; nasci autem animos). They acknowledged but one real existence, which, regarded from different points of view, was both matter and God; on its passive side an original substance, on its active side an original reason; an unformed material substance, the basis and substructure of all definite phenomena, and a pervading active power by which that substance was supposed to develop itself into every variety of individual form (see Zeller, Philos. der Griechen, 3, 69 sq.). In this doctrine "the one remains, the many change and pass; "the Deity, or active power of the universe, produces all things from himself, and again, after a certain period of time, draws them back into himself, and then produces a new world in another cycle, and so on forever (Laert. 7, 137: Λέγουσι δὲ κόσμον...τὸν θεὸν...ὅς δὴ ἄφθαρτός ἐστι καὶ ἀγέννητος, δημιουργὸς ὤν τῆς διακοσμήσεως, κατὰ χρόνων ποιὰς περίοδους ἀναλίσκων εἰς ἑαυτὸν τὴν ἃπασαν οὐσίαν καὶ πάλιν ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ γεννῶν). The result of this theory, as regards the immortality of the human soul, may be given in the words of Cicero: "Stoici autem usuram nobis largiuntur, tanquam cornicibus; diu mansuros aiunt animos; semper negant" (Tusc., Disp. 1, 31). The utmost duration that could be allotted to any individual soul was till the termination of the current world cycle; and it was a disputed point among the philosophers of this sect whether this extent of existence was conceded to the souls of all men or only to those of the wise (Diog. Laert. 7, 157). SEE STOICS.

Thus the same conclusion which the Epicureans deduced from the assumption of the multiplicity of matter was; deduced by the Stoics from that of its unity both alike recognized no real distinction between matter and spirit, and both alike inferred the impossibility of an immortal existence for any dependent being.

2. Scriptural Analogies. — The ethical system of the Stoics, nevertheless, has commonly been supposed to have a close connection with Christian morality (Gataker, Antoninus Proef.; Meyer, Stoic. Eth. c. Christ. Compar. [1823]) and the outward similarity of isolated precepts is very close and worthy of notice, as may be seen from a few examples Which we here give:

Seneca, De Clem. §, 5, "Peccavimus omnes .... nec deliquimus tantum sed ad extremum aevi delinquemus." Ro 3:23, "Peccaverunt omnes" ...

Ep. 1: "Quem mihi dabis...qui intelligat se quotidie mori?" Ro 15:31, "Quotidie morir."

De Vit. Beata, §12: "Laudant enim [Epicurei] ea quibus erubescebant et vitio gloriantur." Php 3:19,4 Quorum... gloria in confusione oerum."

Ibid. § 15, "In regno nati sumus: Deo parere libertas est." Epict. Diss. 2, 17, 22: ἁπλῶς μηδὲν ἄλλο θέλε ἤ ἃ ὁ θεὸς θέλει Anton. 7, 74: μὴ ουν κάμνε ὠφελούμενος ἐν ῳ ὠφελεῖς.

But the morality of Stoicism is essentially based on pride, that of Christianity on humility; the one upholds individual independence, the other absolute faith in another; the one looks for consolation in the issue of fate, the other in Providence; the one is limited by periods of cosmical ruin, the other is consummated in a personal resurrection (Ac 17:18). But in spite of the fundamental error of Stoicism, which lies in a supreme egotism (Seneca, De Vit. Beata, § 8, Incorruptus vir sit externis et insuperabilis miratorque tantum sui, fidens animo atque in utrumque paratus artifex vitae"), the teaching of this school gave a wide currency to the noble doctrines of the Fatherhood of God (Cleanthes, Hymn. 31-38; comp. Ac 17:28), the common bonds of mankind (Anton. 4, 4), the sovereignty of the soul. Nor is it to be forgotten that the earlier Stoics were very closely connected with the East, from which much of the form, if not of the essence, of their doctrines seems to have been derived. Zeno himself was a native of Citium, one of the oldest Phoenician settlements. SEE CHITTIM. His, successor, Chrysippus, came from Soli or Tarsus; and Tarsus is mentioned as the birthplace of a second Zeno and Antipater. Diogenes came from Seleucia in Babylonia, Posidonius from Apamea in Syria, and Epictetus from the Phrygian Hierapolis (comp. Sir A. Grant, The Ancient Stoics, in Oxford Essays [1858], p. 82).

3. Literature. — The chief ancient authorities for the opinions of the Stoics are, Diog. Laert. 7, Cicero, De Fin.; Plutarch De Stoic. Repugn.; De Plac. Philos. adv. Stoic.; Sextus Empiricus; and the remains of Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. Gataker, in, his edition of the Meditations of M. Aurelius, has traced out with the greatest care the parallels which they offer to Christian doctrine. See also Walch, De Stoicorum cum Paulo Disputatione (Jena, 17, 59); Zeller, The Stoics, Epicureans, and Sceptics. (transl. from the German by Reichel, Lond. 1870). SEE STOIC PHILOSOPHY.

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