Epictetus
Epictetus


Sustenance

But a man may say, "Whence shall I get bread to eat when I have nothing?" How do slaves and runaways provide for themselves when they leave their masters? Do they rely on their own lands or slaves, or their vessels of silver? They do not have these things so they rely on nothing but themselves, and food does not fail them. And should it be necessary for one among us who is a philosopher to travel into foreign parts, must he trust to and rely on others, and not take care of himself. Shall he be inferior to irrational animals and more cowardly, each of which, being self-sufficient, neither fails to get its proper food, nor to find a suitable way of living, and one conformable to nature?

Christ preached poverty of the purse to gain the riches of heaven. In Matthew (7:25) we hear him say, "Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor ye for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body more than raiment?

Many saints and martyrs practiced, lived, and preached this idea. St. Francis of Assisi was one of these. Born into a rich family in Italy, he gave up all of his wealth to become a poor monk and founded the Franciscan Order. He believed that if he did the work of God, that he would be provisioned sufficiently to sustain his life.

Epictetus indicates that humans, like the animals, can and do take care of themselves even in dire circumstances. Jesus told his disciples to trust in God for their daily bread, so Epictetus tells his followers that they can trust in God for their sustenance.

Of course, this does not mean that we should all give up our jobs and quit producing for the economy. Epictetus refers here to being self-sufficient. Even Paul worked as a tent-maker by trade. What it means is that with hard work and faith, we will ultimately be provided with the food and shelter necessary to life. The greater message is that the food of the spirit is more important than the food of the body.

Chapter 9:

  1. Our Relationship with God Has Consequences
  2. The Power of God Protects (9a)
  3. Sustenance (9b)
  4. The Philosopher's Job (9c)
  5. Our Mission (9d)
  6. Death Not Desired or Feared (9e)
  7. The Worthless Life (9f)
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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