Epictetus
Epictetus


Reason Coupled with Faith

I go then to the interpreter and sacrificer of animals, and I say, "Inspect the entrails of this animal for me, and tell me what signs they give." The man takes the animal, opens it, and interprets the signs. "Man," he says, "you have a will free by nature from hindrance and compulsion. For can any man hinder you from assenting to the truth? No man can. Can any man compel you to receive what is false? No man can. You see that in this matter you have the faculty of the will free from hindrance, free from compulsion, unimpeded." Well, then, in the matter of desire and pursuit of an object, is it otherwise? And what can overcome pursuit except another pursuit? And what can overcome desire and aversion except another desire and aversion? But, you object: "If you place before me the fear of death, you do compel me." No, it is not what is placed before you that compels, but your opinion that it is better to do so-and-so than to die. In this matter, then, it is your opinion that compels you. Will compels will. For if God had made that part of Himself, which He took from Himself and gave to us, of such a nature as to be hindered or compelled either by Himself or by another, He would not then be God nor would He be taking care of us as He ought. "This," says the diviner, "I find in the victims: these are the things which are signified to you. If you choose, you are free. If you choose, you will blame no one. You will charge no one. All will be at the same time according to your mind and the mind of God." For the sake of this divination I go to this diviner and to the philosopher, not admiring him for this interpretation, but admiring the things which he interprets.

In ancient society sacrifice of animals was used for many things, appeasing gods, delivering prayers and divination. Divination is the art of seeing into the future. Christians do not generally accept that the specific future can be told by sacrifice or any other means. The ultimate sacrifice was made by Jesus for the salvation of mankind and that is an end to it. Yet the view of Epictetus here parallels that idea somewhat; for he has his oracle tell his hypothetical pilgrim that he sees in the sacrifice that man is free. He has the will to do anything he chooses. No one can compel him to deny truth or accept falsehood. For even facing death man can make choices about morality and mortality.

Through this discourse Epictetus weaves his way through several ideas.

1) God gave us reason.

2) This reason gives us the ability to understand.

3) Authorities (such as the Bible) help us to understand the will of God.

4) These authorities coupled with our reason should govern our free will.

But is it not a contradiction that God gave us free will and a mind and then dictates how we must govern it? A passage from Galatians is illuminating. Paul writes (5:13), "As for you, my brothers, you were called to be free. But do not let this freedom become an excuse for letting your physical desires control you." God gave us a mind and free will. With these gifts comes the responsibility to use them wisely.

Chapter 17:

  1. The Logical Art is Necessary
  2. Logic and Philosophy (17a)
  3. The Logical Yardstick (17b)
  4. The Role of Authority (17c)
  5. Reason, Faith, and Understanding (17d)
  6. Reason Coupled with Faith (17e)
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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