Epictetus
Epictetus


CHAPTER 3: God Is Father of All

If a person agrees that we all spring from God and that God is the father of mankind, this person should never have an ignoble or mean thought about himself. Yet he often does have such thoughts. But if Caesar should adopt this same person, no one could endure the man's arrogance. If, then, this person knows that he is the son of Zeus shouldn't he be even more elated?

Yet we do not think this way. Since we mingle in ourselves the body of an animal and godlike reason, we often incline to the miserable portion of our make-up that is mortal. Very few incline to that which is divine within us. Every man makes use of things according to the opinion which he has about these things. Those few who think that they are formed for fidelity and modesty and a sure use of appearances have no mean or ignoble thoughts about themselves. But with the many it is quite the contrary. For they say, "What am I but a poor, miserable man, with my wretched bit of flesh?" Wretched they are indeed. But you as an individual possess something better than a "bit of flesh". Why then do you neglect that which is better? Why do you attach yourself to the physical?

We pray using the phrase "Our Father". God is the father, the creator of all, and like a father he has concern and love for his children. Jesus, in Matthew 23:9 reminds us, "Call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven." Without the benefit of Christian Theology, Epictetus has hit upon the absolute truth regarding our relationship with God. Since we are children of God we should be buoyed by the fact. Being a child of God is better than being the child of the most powerful person in the world. In the time of Epictetus this was the Roman Emperor.

We often forget that God is our father. We act as though we do not have the benefit of God's guidance and blessing. In times of trouble we despair when, in fact, we have the most powerful force in the universe to help guide our actions. We have God. This does not mean that we will inevitably succeed in every endeavor. God will occasionally allow us to fail in order that we learn from our mistakes. But we should be confident that He will help us in our times of crisis.

The idea of "God the Father" for Christians also implies a personal and close relationship. Epictetus does not touch on this aspect. To Epictetus God seemed a bit more impersonal than he does to most Christians. But by the same token, the father of Roman times was a bit of a distant figure as well. He ruled his family with a firm, if generally beneficent, hand.

As Christians we know that we can pray and bring our concerns to God. As our Father he will answer our prayer. He may not answer it in the way we would wish, but at least He will have the compassion of a father.

Epictetus carries the idea of "God the Father" one step further. He says that from God we have inherited (or at least been given) a special attribute, our minds. It is on this aspect of our being that we must be focused. It is the flesh that is weak and that prompts us to do harmful things to ourselves and others. It is with our minds, our souls that we overcome these tendencies.

Chapter 3:

  1. God Is Father of All
  2. Faithless Wolves (3a)
Stoicism and Christianity Index

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This is a translation and explanation of the first book of the Discourses of Epictetus. His words are in regular text, comments are in bold.

Biographical Information on Epictetus


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