Saturday, July 16, 2005

Monasticism and Stoicism

In our Latin course, we are presently reading Seneca. Seneca, a pagan, has a number of interesting things in common with Christians. For one, he was a victim of the Emperor Nero (he was not crucified, but rather strongly advised to administer poison to himself). But beyond that, he was an admirer of Stoic philosophy. Stoicism has long been misunderstood, even reviled, amongst American and European thinkers, but has been making a comeback in recent decades. It is now something of a commonplace among scholars of St. Paul to note that his epistles draw heavily on Stoic morality (for a fascinating read along these lines, see Stanley Stowers' A Rereading of Romans; more directly relevant is Paul and the Stoics byTroels Engberg-Pedersen).

As we read Seneca's De Otio (On Leisure) this past week, I was struck by the relevance of his argument for monasticism. A classmate of mine remarked that the book was even an apologia for monastic retirement and contemplation. Over the next few days, I hope to write more about these parallels and muse upon the possible indebtedness of Western monasticism to Stoicism. This I find interesting, inasmuch as it is far more common to look to Platonism (a rival school of philosophy) when speaking about monastic spirituality. St. Antony the Great, for example, sounds like a Platonist to most scholars. Yet his insistence in his letters that the goal of the Christian is life according to nature sounds awfully Stoic.

No comments:


This blog is published with ecclesiastical approval.

If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
Locations of visitors to this page