Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Stoic Soul in Relation to the Gods - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XII.14

Meditation XII.14 - The Stoic Soul in Relation to the Gods- Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

Either there is a fatal necessity and invincible order, or a kind Providence, or a confusion without a purpose and without a director.1 If then there is an invincible necessity, why do you resist?2 But if there is a Providence which allows itself to be appeased, make yourself worthy of the help of the divinity.3 But if there is a confusion without governor, be content that in such a tempest you have in yourself a certain ruling intelligence. And even if the tempest carry you away, let it carry away the poor flesh, the poor breath, everything else; for the intelligence at least it will not carry away.4


(1) Marcus's philosophical musings here have a thoroughly modern ring. We are presented with three options with regard to the governance of the universe: we are governed by destiny, by Providence, or by anarchy (no governance at all). The first two options presume that a God (or the gods) have some control over the universe. The fatal necessity option would presume a God (or gods) with little interest in humankind. The Providential option presumes a God (or gods) which operate with some form of benign intent or plan for humankind. The third option (confusion without a governor) suggests an atheistic model in which human destiny might appear to be strictly random.

(2) In other words it makes no sense to resist.

(3) Reason would tell us that in this case resistance would make no sense either, because the God (or gods) must be appeased.

(4) If there is confusion, resistance would be equally futile. This final statement implies that whatever transcendent forces might be at play in the universe (or not at play as in the third case) there is, in nature, an intelligence that is perfect and divine in its own right, and it is this intelligence, Logos, that rules what is most human in us, the Stoic soul. This is the element that really matters. This is the element over which we have complete control. This is the element that defines us as human, provides us our freedom and invincibility, even from the gods, and allows us to experience serenity and joy, whatever the God or gods may be, or intend for us.

Russell McNeil, PhD, is the author of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: Selections Annotated and Explained by Skylight Paths Publishing. The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book. The published selections are referenced in this Blog by page number and section.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can see why Aurelius wrote these meditations in private and never thought of publishing them. If word got out that the emperor of a state that professes belief in certain gods himself was an agnostic, it would probably not sit will.