Can a Christian Be a Stoic? Short Answer: Yes

Can a Christian be a Stoic?

Stoic philosophy is going through something of a revival in the current day. Many people are recognizing how hedonic the world in which they live is, and they are looking for something which can restore standards and virtuous living.

So they look for an antidote to the poison of hedonism, and they often find stoicism, or, at least, people who claim to speak on its behalf.

And some fo these people who find stoicism are at least nominally Christian. So they begin to wonder if a Christian can be a stoic.

A Christian can definitely be a Stoic. The name for a Christian Stoic is an ascetic, and the name for Christian Stoicism is asceticism. Ascetics are a type of monk. Christianity does not reject Stoicism. Instead, it accepts Stoic ideas and develops them so that one may live a sanctified life.

Now, the collapse of religious knowledge that has occurred in the modern world had caused a great many people to forget, or never to learn in the first place, the close relationship between Stoicism and Christianity.

We’ll explore their relationship below.

How the Stoics Came to Be – (Can a Christian be a Stoic?)

Most people are controlled entirely by their feelings. This is the “default” worldview for humans. When people lack knowledge, virtues, or morals, they simply say and do whatever they feel like.

Now, people who are enslaved by their feelings often behave in self-destructive ways. This behavior also tends to destroy the world around themselves as well.

And sometimes a person will look at the humans around himself, observe their hedonic actions, and begin to feel disgust over their degenerate behavior. So he tells himself that people should not do those hedonic things which had disgusted him.

So the man who has been disgusted by the hedonism of others creates a moral system so that others will control their passions.

The name of this moral system is Stoicism. And it was one fo the first philosophies to arise in the history of Western thought. This is because it was a reaction to the hedonism that people adhered to before coherent moral systems became widespread.

Marcus Aurelius on Christians

Marcus Aurelius was not the deepest of the Stoic thinkers. That distinction belongs to Seneca. However, Aurelius is the most widely known figure associated with the philosophy.

Now Marcus Aurelius knew about the Christians. They were a minor faction during his time as emperor, and he briefly wrote about them in the eleventh book of his Meditations.

Here’s what he had to say:

What a soul that is which is ready, if at any moment it must be separated from the body, and ready either to be extinguished or dispersed or continue to exist; but so that this readiness comes from a man’s own judgement, not from mere obstinacy, as with the Christians, but considerately and with dignity and in a way to persuade another, without tragic show.

So, Aurelius writes that the Christians would face death because of their stubbornness. He also asserts and that it would have been better for them to avoid this.

How the Christians Came to Be

Jesus was real, he was both God and the Son of God, he came from the line of Judah, and he was crucified and then rose from the dead.

He had followers, and they named themselves after Him. Then they began to spread his teachings throughout the Roman World and beyond.

Now, among the chief of these teachings was Christ’s point that man should overcome his worldly passions so that he may acquire treasures in Heave. The manner by which these treasures are gathered is by living virtuously according to the precepts given to man by God.

Moreover, Christ had publicly declared that John the Baptist was the greatest of all men born of women. So Christians sought to emulate St. John’s example.

Now St. John lived a stoic life. He ate simply, he lived in poverty, he dressed in poor clothing, and he desired very little. So when Christ exalted him, he clearly affirmed the value of a virtuous life devoid of creature comforts.

Can a Christian Be a Stoic? – The Overlap

Many teachings arose from the Stoic philosophers. One of the most pronounced was the value of detaching oneself from material possessions. The Stoics also taught that the aim of life was to develop virtues which would align oneself with nature. Although they did not clearly state what was meant when they used this word. Christians later came to equate this nature with God.

And one could only achieve the ideal stoic life by allowing one’s discipline to overcome their passions.

Now, all of these ideas are espoused by Christianity. The point of a Christian life is to bring oneself closer to God. This is done by defeating one’s carnal desires. Moreover, a Christian is expected to develop certain virtues in order to achieve their reunification with the Almighty. And Christians also admit the value of discipline. So they work to improve it within themselves by adopting fasting rules which allow them to practice self-denial.

So, Christianity contains the same precepts as stoicism. However, it develops them to a much greater extent than the stoics did. This is because Judaism, the source religion for Christianity, was far older and more mature than stoicism, so the Christians drew from a much larger breadth of knowledge.

Moreover, the fact that the Christians organized into a church allowed them to develop a coherent philosophy that could be built upon over centuries. This is a stark contrast with the Stoics, for they lacked a central authority to maintain the philosophy’s existence and development.

The Slaves

Slaves do not live a high quality of life. They own little, their lives tend to be of a poor quality, and slaves have much to resent about their lot in life.

It is for this reason that Stoicism, which stresses the value of virtuous living and detachment from material goods and the passions, was popular among the slave class within the Roman Empire.

Meanwhile, Christianity was growing quickly out of the Hebrew nation, and the Hebrews had been enslaved by all of their neighbors for many centuries by the time Christ had been born. During His lifetime, they were subjugated by the Romans.

So both Christianity and Stoicism were common within the slave classes of the Roman Empire. Therefore, when the Stoic slaves heard of Christianity, which included the same precepts as Stoicism and promised paradise for those who followed it, they eagerly adopted the new religion.

So in this way, the Stoics prepared the slaves of the Roman Empire to receive the Christian faith.

The Growth of Christianity

Now, after the Ascension of Christ, His followers spread the religion throughout the Roman Empire. Many of these men and women were slaves and other destitute peoples from the Hebrew nation. So they mostly spread the religion among the other slaves of the Roman world.

As they did so, the Christian religion came to be known as the faith of the slaves. Meanwhile, the upper classes of the Roman world retained their pagan gods, and the Roman soldiers later came to adopt the Cult of Mithras.

Now, the slaves far outnumbered the citizenry and soldiers. So Christianity was able to grow to great size relative to its competitors.

Moreover, the fact that Christ had been crucified and that the apostles had also suffered grisly fates meant that these slaves could not be scared into leaving the faith via threats of violence. These threats, of course, were the only recourse that the other factions had for responding to the Christians.

So the Christian population of the Roman World grew and grew and grew. Finally, it presented an unstoppable force within the empire. So the Eastern Emperor Constantine saw that conversion to the religion was the most prudent act to take.

Monks as a Counter to Hedonism – (Can a Christian be a Stoic?)

“And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.” -Matthew 3:4

Now, it was during this period of Christian expansion that monks began to appear. These people followed the example set for themselves by st. John the Forerunner and Christ’s teachings. They would often retreat into the desert and live a life of poverty so that they could follow the example the greatest men had set.

And from the acts of the Desert Fathers, Stoic Christianity began to adopt formal standards and practices. These were then enshrined in the form of monasticism. This is one of the reasons why the collapse of monasticism which has occurred within the Protestant world has led to a rise in hedonism.

So Christian Stoics suppressed the rise of hedonism within Christian populations, and when monks were discarded, so too was the institution which countered the hedonism.

So hedonism began to thrive within the Protestant world, and this has led to a rediscovery of stoicism as a counter to it.

And this return of stoicism is a wondrous event because it will lead to a return of monks and a restoration of ancient Christianity.

Thanks for reading,
Gene

Gene Botkin

Gene is the director of the Theosis Christian Project. He studied physics and military science before founding the Project. Gene is currently pursuing his doctorate in systems engineering at an engineering college in the Ozarks. The Theosis Christian Project is his attempt to expand Holy Orthodoxy in America.

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