Epictetus
Epictetus


Our Mission

Something like this ought to be said by the teacher to ingenuous youths. But now what happens? The teacher is a lifeless body, and you are lifeless bodies. When you have been well filled today, you sit down and lament about the morrow, how you shall get something to eat. Wretch, if you have it, you will have it. If you have it not, you will depart from life. The door is open. Why do you grieve? Where does there remain any room for tears? Where is there occasion for flattery? Why shall one man envy another? Why should a man admire the rich or the powerful? For what will they do to us? We shall not care for that which they can do, and what we do care for they cannot do. How did Socrates behave with respect to these matters? Why, in what other way than a man ought to do who was convinced that he was a kinsman of the gods? "If you say to me now," said Socrates to his judges, "'We will acquit you on the condition that you no longer discourse in the way in which you have hitherto discoursed, nor trouble either our young or our old men,' I shall answer, 'You make yourselves ridiculous by thinking that. If one of our commanders has appointed me to a certain post, it is my duty to keep and maintain it, and to resolve to die a thousand times rather than desert it. But if God has put us in any place and way of life, we ought not to desert it.'" Socrates speaks like a man who is really a kinsman of the gods. But we think about ourselves as if we were only stomachs, and intestines, and shameful parts. We fear. We desire. We flatter those who are able to help us in these matters, and we fear them also.

So, if God does have a mission in mind for us, if he wishes us to live rightly, then we must do so. And we must do so in the face of any opposition from the world.

We see that this idea of a wise, powerful and beneficent God has many facets. It comforts us in times of trouble, and at the same time, gives us a difficult task to perform, though this task may only be living from day to day.

Epictetus uses Socrates as an example. Socrates lived rightly and according to God's will in spite of the tribulations it caused him. Many high ranking Athenians often threatened him for speaking what he saw as the truth. But this did not stop him from living a righteous life. Finally, he was threatened with prosecution. He was arraigned before the Senate at Athens. He was condemned to death because he refused to back down from his principles.

Socrates accepted his fate with equanimity because he had performed God's will and would ultimately meet his reward. This is the only circumstance in which we are justified in choosing death over life, when living means that we sacrifice our righteousness. Had Socrates only thought of his physical comfort, he might have saved his earthly existence by bending himself to the will of the Athenian Senate.

Chapter 7 of Acts relates the story of Stephen, who was also given a chance to renounce a life of righteousness. When he refused, he was stoned to death.

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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