Epictetus
Epictetus


Evidence of Progress

Do you then show me your improvement in these things? If I were talking to an athlete, I should say, "Show me your shoulders." Then he might say, "Here are my weights." I should reply, "I wish to see the effect of the weights." So, when you say, "Take the treatise on the active powers, and see how I have studied it." I reply, "Slave, I am not inquiring about this, but how you exercise pursuit and avoidance, desire and aversion, how your design and purpose prepare you, whether conformably to nature or not. If conformably, give me evidence of it, and I will say that you are making progress. But if your actions are not conformable to your studies, be gone! Do not only expound your books, but write such books yourself! And what will you gain by that? Do you not know that the whole book costs only five denarii? Does then the expounder seem to be worth more than five denarii? Never, then, look for the matter itself in one place, and progress toward it in another."

Here we can easily see the parallel with Christian thought. Jesus himself told us that ostentatious prayer was not going to get a person to heaven. A good Christian is not necessarily a person with a stack of bibles under one arm and a Cross suspended from a chain around his or her neck. These are not bad things; proclaiming our Christianity is good. However, they are not the vital essence of being a Christian.

Now, study, thought and the forms of worship are nearly always necessary to understanding, but it is, ultimately, what we do with this understanding that is important. Much of Paul's letter to the Ephesians discusses Mosaic Law and reminds us that the Law is not as important as is the fundamental duty we have to have faith in God and to love one another.

Practical knowledge, philosophy, or religion are fine, but their real test is in the practical world. How we apply our beliefs and make them manifest in ourselves and in our society.

Chapter 4:

  1. On Progress or Improvement
  2. Chrysippus (4a)
  3. Evidence of Progress (4b)
  4. Withdrawing from Externals (4c)
  5. Where Tranquility Arises (4d)
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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