– Some Christian thinkers have regarded Stoicism as a kind of delusion; others –Simone Weil, for instance – see it as expressing a deep piety which makes it the closest of all philosophies to Christianity. Who’s right?
It depends on which aspects of Stoicism you’re concentrating on. There’s definitely a very profound piety in traditional Stoicism, and to a large degree Stoicism and Christianity are very sympatico. Both seek to situate the human person within a larger, divinely ordained context. Both promote the cultivation of virtue — and identify a lot of the same behaviours as virtuous or vicious. Both seek to free the person from enslavement to appetites and passions. And there does seem to have been a certain amount of mutual respect between Christians and Stoics, at least for a while. Epictetus, for example, speaks with great admiration for the “Galilean” martyrs, and uses them as an example of how it’s possible to have interior freedom even in the face of death. And of course the notion of apatheia was very important in a lot of the writings of the Church Fathers, especially in the East.
But then, there were significant persecutions of Christians under the Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius — basically because Stoicism sees the social order in this world as the higher good towards which individual human life is ordered, whereas Christianity looks towards the eschatological transformation of society in the Communion of Saints. Also, God in Stoicism is imminent, whereas God in Christianity is a transcendent Being who becomes immanent through the Incarnation. And Stoicism posits human perfection through moral effort and self-discipline, whereas Christianity promises salvation through grace. So there are these very fundamental differences as well.
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