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.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Stoics and Virtue: Introduction

THE STOICS ARE THE NEXT group of philosophical thought that might profitably be looked at in terms of the development of virtue theory.  The Stoics looked not towards Plato or Aristotle for inspiration, but rather turned to Socrates, from whom, like their philosophical adversaries the Skeptics and the Epicureans, they sought answers to the question of "how should we then live?" as a title to a famous book once put it.

Skeptics took their inspiration from the Socratic aporia, the puzzlement, the "the only thing I know is that I do not know" tradition of Socrates.  This deconstruction by Socrates, of course, was a sort of intellectual unraveling of conventional knowledge so as to be put in a place where real thinking could begin.  However, what Socrates intended as a new beginning, the Skeptics apparently saw as an end.  All knowledge, the Skeptics held, is unknowable.  We are condemned not to know.  Translated into the moral life, this leads to a vicious relativism.

The Epicureans also sought inspiration from Socrates.  The Epicureans here focused on the elitism which was implicit in the Socratic manner.  It was not the many, the hoi polloi, that could be counted to provide us enlightenment as to how we should live.  The rabble is not the source of the good.  Rather, the Epicureans "found in Socrates' preference for the views of 'the few' inspiration for preferring the cultured pleasure brought by wisdom over the baser pleasures of 'the many.'"

When Christian thinkers came on the scene, they found both the Skeptic and the Epicurean schools unpalatable and not consistent or synthesizeable with the truth of the Gospel and the moral teachings of Jesus.  At root, a Christian cannot be a skeptic, for he believes in the sure footing of faith and reason.  Nor can a Christian be an epicurean or hedonist, for he would never adopt a pleasure principle as his moral pole star.

It was the last Socratically-inspired school--the Stoics--which Christians thought sufficiently aligned with their  teachings to make it an attractive complement to the teachings of Christ.

Stoicism, of course, takes its name from "painted porch," stoa poikile, the place alongside the marketplace of Athens where Socrates had spent so much time as philosophical gadfly to the consternation of the Athenian leaders who eventually found the need to condemn him to death for impiety and supposed corruption of youth.  When Plato and Aristotle founded their own schools (the Academy and the Lyceum, respectively), they abandoned to Stoa.  By re-appropriating the original teaching locus of Socrates, the Stoic philosophers manifest an intent to go back to the sources: a Socratic ressourcement.

Zeno of Citium, founder of the Stoic School

Unfortunately, much of the material of the early Stoic founders and thinkers has been lost to us.  Zeno of Citium (ca. 334-262 B.C.) has been generally honored as the founder of the Stoic school.  He authored a new Republic as a short of challenge-piece to the Platonic original.  Chrysyppus (ca. 280-226 B.C.), Zeno's disciple, carried this tradition on, authoring his own critique of Plato's Republic in his On the Republic.

One of the teachings of the Stoics that the Christians ultimately found attractive as analogous to the moral teachings of Jesus to which they were heir was the notion of Socrates's personal impetus--his daimon--a sort of spirit of universal reason that inspired Socrates, which warned him, which urged him on.  This Socratic daimon was identified by the Stoic philosopher Cleanthes (died 232 B.C.) with the universal reason (logos) which was further tied to Zeus (God), the author of nature.  One can see in Cleanthes' interpretation of the Socratic daimon a compatibility with the Christian notion of a God who creates a world through the Word (Logos) and which therefore displays in some manner in that world a truth about how we should then live.  Here, a notion of created order and the notion of an inspiration that acts in accord with that created order (reason, conscience, Holy Spirit).

It was the Stoic doctrine of the Logos that drew the early Christian thinkers toward Stoicism as a possible philosophical source with which to buttress the teachings they had received from Jesus and his apostles.  After all, it would have seemed as if the Apostle John had already given them the directive.  In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.  It was this Logos that became flesh, and had dwelt in the world, full of grace and truth.

What was the relationship between the Logos of the Stoic and the Logos-made-Flesh of the Gospel of John?

To answer that question, of course, we have to understand what the Stoics thought about the Logos, and we shall spend the next few postings on just this issue.

No comments:

Post a Comment