Where’d the Stoics Go?

Source: David Sedley, “Introduction,” The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Philosophy, ed. David Sedley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) 12.

“The pattern of post-classical survival largely represents the intellectual fashions that already prevailed in later antiquity, fashions which led to widespread circulation and study of both Plato and Aristotle, along with their most recent interpreters, while for example the writings of the early Stoics, just as easily reconcilable with Christianity, had largely vanished from view.”

But weren’t the later Stoics also reconcilable with Christianity? In Stoic Religion, I noted similarities between Stoicism and Colossians. Why weren’t they used? And why were Plato and Aristotle preserved, while the early Stoics were not?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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3 Responses to Where’d the Stoics Go?

  1. Looney says:

    I just read Cicero’s On The Nature Of the God’s, which gives some idea of these things. It seems that their views weren’t fully developed, but a few things emerge:

    Their notion of ‘God’ has much in common with Christianity, but they haven’t fully decoupled the Creator from the Creation. Their gods are also enslaved in time, whereas Christianity talks about “before time began”. A gaggle of gods also doesn’t help and they were quite comfortable with the traditional idol worship.

    As far as death goes, it seems that they believed that we gradually fade and are absorbed into some universal entity, perhaps for recycling. Can’t remember the exact quote …

    Marcus Aurelius complains that a Stoic sticks to his commitments no matter what, while the Christian sticks to his commitments until circumstances change.


  2. James Pate says:

    Hi Looney,

    The Stoics were pantheistic, as you say, but did they see God as a personal being?


  3. Looney says:

    From reading the preface to Cicero’s book, it seems that the Stoics were primarily a philosophy of ethics that did not require a particular notion of the gods, although they emphasized tradition and that things should be passed down from ancient times. The Greek Stoics were thus accepting of the more anthropomorphic Greek gods, but the Romans tended to make gods of things like virtue and valor. It would be safest to say that the Stoics didn’t have a single notion of god, and that made it a little easier to simply accept the Christian notions.

    But the simple answer to your question is that God wasn’t a personal being to them. Cicero’s book, On The Nature Of The Gods, is a dialog in which different characters speculate about the nature of the gods, but god is not someone with whom anyone asserted a relationship.

    Relationships between the gods and men only happened in mythological times, but they did seem to take these stories seriously. They also believed firmly in the gods interacting with men through omens and other miraculous means, so it would not be correct to say that there was no relationship between god and men. The emphasis and belief on omens, however, seems to have been lost somewhat in the 1st century.


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