Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Stoic Precursor of the Natural Law: "Life in Agreement With Nature" in Zeno, Cleanthes, Posidonius, Hecato, Chrysippus

DIOGENES LAERTIUS, IN HIS LIVES OF EMINENT PHILOSOPHERS, Book VII, 87-89a, gives a good synopsis of the Stoic moral teaching that the highest purpose or good of human life was to live in accordance to nature (homologoumenos te physei zen). This was not an individual, idiosyncratic, subjective nature--a law of one--involving the rejection of reason like that of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalists. Though Emerson states that "No law is sacred to me but the law of my nature" (R. W. Emerson, Essays, 1st Series, (Ticknor & Fields: Boston 1863), 44), he does not take nature in the manner of the Stoics. For the Stoics, the referenced nature is universal, common, objective, binding upon all men without exception; it is based upon reason, the distinguishing feature of man relative to the brute creation. That is why the motto of the Stoics was "follow nature," and the motto of the Transcendentalists, though Emerson attributed it to the Stoics but gave it a different twist, was "obey thyself."

The Stoa Poikile, the Painted Porch

Those who walked the Stoa Poikile, the Painted Porch, therefore believed they had a duty to something outside their whim and sentiment. The Stoic believed he had a duty, as Kierkegaard would later put it, to the universal. The Stoics taught the doctrine that the divine or eternal plan was reflected in divine law, and that law would be found in the nature of that being. Thus, life in accordance with nature meant conformity to the divine or eternal law and divine will. Ultimately, this conformity with nature resulted in virtue, which led to happiness, as the person would be directed to his true, authentic, and designed good.

As Michael Bertram Crowe puts it in his The Changing Profile of the Natural Law:

In a word, Stoicism is an eclectic system marked by a stern and practical moral bent. The real business of philosophy is the moral conduct of man . . . . Virtue is the primary object of philosophy; ethics, therefore, is the most important branch. . . . Specifically this knowledge is knowledge of the world-order or of the universal law to which the individual must submit himself--and here is the point of insertion of the natural law in the system. We must know nature in order to follow nature's law; the universal law is the law of nature and the Stock morality is epitomised in the maxim: "Live according to nature" (homologoumenos te physei zen).

To quote Diogenes Laertius on the Stoics and their standard, "life in agreement with nature,":

This is why Zeno was the first (in his treatise On the Nature of Man) to designate as the end "life in agreement with nature" (or living agreeably to nature) [τέλοςεἶπε τὸ ὁμολογουμένως τῇ φύσει ζῆν], which is the same as a virtuous life, virtue being the goal towards which nature guides us. So too Cleanthes in his treatise On Pleasure, as also Posidonius, and Hecato in work On End. Again, living virtuously is equivalent to living in accordance with experience of the actual course of nature, as Chrysippus says in the first book of his De finibus; for our individual natures are parts of the nature of the whole universe. And this is why the end may be defined as life in accordance with nature, or, in other words, in accordance with our own human nature as well as that of the universe, a life in which we refrain from every action forbidden by the law common to all things, that is to say, the right reason which pervades all things, and is identical with this Zeus, lord and ruler of all that is. And this very thing constitutes the virtue of the happy man and the smooth current of life, when all actions promote the harmony of the spirit dwelling in the individual man with the will of him who orders the universe. Diogenes then expressly declares the end to be to act with good reason in the selection of what is natural. Archedemus says the end is to live in the performance of all befitting actions. By the nature with which our life ought to be in accord, Chrysippus understands both universal nature and more particularly the nature of man, whereas Cleanthes takes the nature of the universe alone as that which should be followed, without adding the nature oftheindividual.
(R. D. Hicks translation, from

87 Διόπερ πρῶτος ὁ Ζήνων ἐν τῷ Περὶ ἀνθρώπου φύσεως τέλοςεἶπε τὸ ὁμολογουμένως τῇ φύσει ζῆν, ὅπερ ἐστὶ κατ' ἀρετὴν ζῆν·ἄγει γὰρ πρὸς ταύτην ἡμᾶς ἡ φύσις. ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ Κλεάνθης ἐντῷ Περὶ ἡδονῆς καὶ Ποσειδώνιος καὶ Ἑκάτων ἐν τοῖς Περὶ τελῶν(Gomoll 1). πάλιν δ' ἴσον ἐστὶ τὸ κατ' ἀρετὴν ζῆν τῷ κατ'ἐμπειρίαν τῶν φύσει συμβαινόντων ζῆν, ὥς φησι Χρύσιππος ἐν τῷ 88 πρώτῳ Περὶ τελῶν· μέρη γάρ εἰσιν αἱ ἡμέτεραι φύσεις τῆς τοῦὅλου. διόπερ τέλος γίνεται τὸ ἀκολούθως τῇ φύσει ζῆν, ὅπερἐστὶ κατά τε τὴν αὑτοῦ καὶ κατὰ τὴν τῶν ὅλων, οὐδὲν ἐνεργοῦνταςὧν ἀπαγορεύειν εἴωθεν ὁ νόμος ὁ κοινός, ὅσπερ ἐστὶν ὁ ὀρθὸςλόγος, διὰ πάντων ἐρχόμενος, ὁ αὐτὸς ὢν τῷ Διί, καθηγεμόνιτούτῳ τῆς τῶν ὄντων διοικήσεως ὄντι· εἶναι δ' αὐτὸ τοῦτο τὴν τοῦεὐδαίμονος ἀρετὴν καὶ εὔροιαν βίου, ὅταν πάντα πράττηται κατὰτὴν συμφωνίαν τοῦ παρ' ἑκάστῳ δαίμονος πρὸς τὴν τοῦ τῶν ὅλωνδιοικητοῦ βούλησιν. ὁ μὲν οὖν Διογένης τέλος φησὶ ῥητῶς τὸεὐλογιστεῖν ἐν τῇ τῶν κατὰ φύσιν ἐκλογῇ. Ἀρχέδημος δὲ τὸπάντα τὰ καθήκοντα ἐπιτελοῦντα ζῆν. 89 Φύσιν δὲ Χρύσιππος μὲν ἐξακούει, ᾗ ἀκολούθως δεῖ ζῆν, τήντε κοινὴν καὶ ἰδίως τὴν ἀνθρωπίνην· ὁ δὲ Κλεάνθης τὴν κοινὴνμόνην ἐκδέχεται φύσιν, ᾗ ἀκολουθεῖν δεῖ, οὐκέτι δὲ καὶ τὴν ἐπὶμέρους.

(Greek text from

To be sure, there were problems with the Stoic view both in theory and practice. To name a couple, the Stoic doctrine was pantheistic and advanced some questionable moral values (e.g., suicide, most notably). However, the Stoic concept of the natural law, despite its faults, was not fundamentally unsound, and, much like the Greek to whom St. Paul preached, could be baptized and infused with the spirit of the Gospel. The doctrine of the Stoa Poikile, the Painted Porch, found easy venue in the Ecclesia Christou, the Church of Christ. And so, as Crowe puts it,

The Stoic philosophy, then, has come to articulate the nature law in a new and systematic way, a way that will survive, not only in its phraseology but in a great part of its structure, into the Christian and later formulations of the doctrine. And not alone the explicit teaching on the natural law, but other Stoic moral doctrines, such as that of evident principles, common to all men and prior to experience, principles that include a certain knowledge of good and evil, the elements of the virtues, the recognition of the goodness and eternity of God, will be taken up, corrected and developed by Christians. And so the claim of the Stoics to be the founders of the doctrine of the natural law will be substantiated. This formative influence of Stoicism was transmitted to the Fathers and later to the scholastics by Cicero and by the Roman law.

(Michael Betram Crowe, The Changing Profile of the Natural Law (Martinus Nijhoff: The Hague, 1977), 30-36.

The Ecclesia Christou, the Church of Christ


  1. The universal spiritual ethic discovered outside natural law.

    On the horizon is an approaching religious and cultural furore so contentious, any clash of civilizations may have to wait.

    The first wholly new interpretation for 2000 years of the moral teachings of Christ is on the web, titled The Final Freedoms. Redefining all primary elements including Faith, the Word, Baptism, the Trinity and the Resurrection, this new interpretation questions the validity and origins of all Christian tradition; it overturns all natural law ethics and theory. At stake is the credibility of several thousand years of religious history and moral teaching.

    What first appears a counter intuitive and utterly preposterous challenge to the religious status quo is worth closer examination; it carries within its pages ideas both subtle and sublime, what the theological history of religion either ignored, were unable to imagine or dismissed as impossible. An error of presumption which could now leave 'tradition' staring into the abyss and humble all secular, atheist speculation. This new teaching has nothing whatsoever to do with any existing religious conception known to history. It is unique in every respect. What science and religion have agreed was not possible, has now become all too inevitable.

    Using a synthesis of scriptural material from the Old and New Testaments, the Apocrypha , The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Nag Hammadi Library, and some of the worlds great poetry, it describes and teaches a single moral LAW, a single moral principle, and offers the promise of its own proof; one in which the reality of God responds directly to an act of perfect faith with a individual intervention into the natural world; correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries. Intended to be understood metaphorically, where 'death' is ignorance and 'Life' is knowledge, this experience, personal encounter of transcendent power and moral purpose is the 'Resurrection', and justification for faith.

    This new teaching delivers the first ever religious claim of insight into the human condition, that meets the Enlightenment criteria of verifiable and 'extraordinary' evidence based truth embodied in action. For the first time in history, however unexpected, the world must now measure for itself, the reality of a new moral tenet, not of human intellectual origin, offering access by faith, to absolute proof for its belief.

    This is 'religion' without any of the conventional trappings of tradition. An individual, virtue-ethical conception, independent of all cultural perception in a single moral command, and the single Law finds it's expression of obedience within a new covenant of marriage. It requires no institutional framework or hierarchy, no churches or priest craft, no scholastic theological rational, dogma or doctrine and ‘worship’ requires only conviction, faith and the necessary measure of self discipline to accomplish a new, single, categorical moral imperative and the integrity and fidelity to the new reality.

    If confirmed, this will represent a paradigm change in the moral and intellectual potential of human nature itself; untangling the greatest questions of human existence: consciousness, meaning, suffering, free will and evil. And at the same time addressing the most profound problems of our age.

    Trials of this new teaching are open to all and under way in many countries. For those individuals who can imagine outside the historical cultural box, with the moral courage to learn something new, and test this for themselves, to stand against the stream of fashionable thought and spin, an intellectual and moral revolution is already under way, where the 'impossible' becomes inevitable, with the most potent Non Violent Direct Action any human being can take to advance peace, justice, change and progress.

  2. I'm not sure what this teaching is all about. But I may say a few obvious deficiencies with it.
    To suggest that there is a spiritual ethic "outside the natural law" is like saying that there is a new ethic that is inhuman, and that is anti-God. Since the natural law is nothing other than a participation in the Eternal Law, that is, God, as it pertains to his plan for humanity, to suggest an ethic outside God's plan is preposterous.
    To suggest a "new interpretation" of the moral teachings of Christ is also preposterous since the Church is the institution, founded by Christ, that is the one and only interpreter of Our Lord's moral teaching.
    To suggest that we should shrug off the "trappings" of institutions, "priestcraft", churches, hierarchy (i.e., the Catholic Church) is demonic, as the institutional Church is the bride, the spouse of Christ, whom He loves and to whom He will always be faithful until He come again. Maranatha.