“Why are you ignorant, then, of your high birth? Why is it that you don’t know where you came from? – Epictetus
I will begin the New Year with an old favorite, The Discourses of Epictetus, the Greek Stoic who lived and taught at the height of the Roman Empire (c. 50 – c. 135). The following excerpts from Book II, Chapter 8, are worth quoting at length:
God brings benefit, but the good also brings benefit. It would seem, therefore, that where the true nature of God is to be found, there too will be that of the good.
Is the nature of God to be found in physical things? The ancient philosopher denies this, saying instead that “He is intelligence, knowledge, right reason.” All creatures have a role to play in creation, from plants to animals, to human beings. But what sets men and women apart is that they are “portions of the divine…. a fragment of God.” Epicetus’ injunctions remind us of St. Paul’s teaching that our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit” (Cor. 6:19). Our souls are engaged in every activity we perform, whether good or bad.
You carry God around with you… and yet have no knowledge of it…. It is within yourself that you carry him, and you fail to realize that you’re defiling him through your impure thoughts and unclean actions. Yet in front of a divine image, you wouldn’t dare to do any of the things that you do, but when God himself is present within you, and he sees and hears everything, aren’t you ashamed to think and act as you do….?
For related commentary, see my previous post on Epictetus.