Then go unto the great personage boldly and remember these things. You will see what a youth is who has studied philosophy when he is among men who have not studied. I, indeed, imagine that you will have such thoughts as these, "Why do we make so great and so many preparations for nothing? Is this the thing which men name power? Is this the antechamber? Are these his men of the bedchamber? Are these the armed guards? Is it for this that I listened to so many discourses? All this is nothing. But I have been preparing myself for something great."
We expend exceptional time and efforts worrying about the material world. These efforts are pointless because the material world is nothing when compared to the spiritual. Rather than toiling with protocol and worldly matters, would we not be better off simply learning the few tenets of Stoicism and leaving it at that?
The basics of Stoicism are very simple. Just as we can boil Christianity down to a few ideas ("Love thy neighbor as thyself". "Faith in God"...), we can boil Stoicism down to a few precepts. Nevertheless, Epictetus spent thousands of words to explain them. Ultimately, three books would be written based on his lectures, and innumerable other works have been put together since, simply to explain his explanations. Is this merely making the simple complex? In a way, yes.
Yet implementing a simple philosophy (or religion) is "easier said than done". How easy it is to say, "It is our mission to follow Thee". All those extra hours of study are required not to learn what the will of God is. They are required to understand how to follow "Thee".
In Chapter 2 of Ephesians Paul tells us how we may achieve salvation. He begins by saying (Verse 8), "It is by God's grace that you have been saved, through faith." But he quickly follows this in verse 10 with, "He has created us for a life of good deeds." It is in this zone, somewhere between Faith and Action, where study comes in. It is the same in all philosophy. This is why we have bible study. This is why we embarked upon a study of Epictetus. His words on Stoicism give us an insight in how to think and how to act as good Christians.
Intriguingly, the discourses could easily have been written by a Christian who took a bump on the head and got amnesia. Our amnesiac forgot only one thing, Jesus Christ. Of course, this is a big omission from a theological perspective. But it is amazing that Epictetus could propound a full-blown philosophy that was morally, if not spiritually equivalent to Christianity.
It is a fact that Stoicism predated Christianity, which begs the possibility that Christianity and Christ were infused with moral ideas which had been postulated by the Stoics several hundred years before Christ came to Earth. Yet we can also conjecture that the laws of morality are immutable laws of God that could be derived from nature in a way similar to the laws of Physics, Mathematics or Chemistry.
If there is a theme that runs through this course, it is that Epictetus and the Stoics did, indeed, derive their philosophy as a practical code based on objective reality. That the tenets of Christianity bear so many similarities and yet were inspired by divine revelation shows that God's law is indeed a part of human nature. This leaves little room for concepts of moral relativism, gnosticism or atheism. Faith (understanding), coupled with "works", intelligently applied, are what both Christianity and Stoicism are all about. It is sincerely hoped that the 30 discourses of this book have helped you to see the practical nature of Christianity and Stoicism and to apply their tenets to your daily life.
Stoicism and Christianity Index
- What to Do in Difficult Circumstances
- Conclusion - Stoicism and Christianity (30a)