Sunday, November 8, 2009
Creation - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.75
Meditation VII.75 - Creation - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
The nature of the All moved to make the universe.1 But now either everything that takes place comes by way of consequence or continuity; or even the chief things towards which the ruling power of the universe directs its own movement are governed by no rational principle.2 If this is remembered it will make you more tranquil in many things.3
(1) The Judeo-Christian version of creation is equally oblique. Genesis 1.1 reads simply: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Neither account explains why, other that to imply an artistic act which as such is a reflection of the beauty inherent in the divine nature. Stoicism is clear however that the "nature of the All" is immutable and perfect but not transcendent. Stoic divinity is in nature not outside of nature - as is the case for the divinities in most religious traditions. Because Stoic divinity is nature herself, the creative movement Marcus refers to here is in a real sense unavoidable. The movement Marcus refers to is not a willed movement. It is not therefore something around which nature has a choice or, as religions might assert, an act of divine love. The move to creation is in Stoicism a consequence of the property of natural Law.
(2) The dichotomy Marcus offers - a rationally determined series of events regulated by a series of causes and effects, or a non-rationally determined series of causes and effects, implies that what happens in the world - and by implication in our lives - is either predetermined, or governed by chance. This dichotomy does not negate divinity. It simply declares that the unfolding of events is either under the direct governance of reason, or it is not.
(3) It is interesting that the Stoics are not dogmatic on whether the divine agency at the helm of creation plays a hands-on role, or leaves the unfolding to the action of physical laws. Whichever is so does not change the basic tenets of Stoicism. We are free to accept (live according to nature), or reject (live contrary to nature) the unfolding of events in our lives as governed by the Law of Nature - whether that Law is rationally directed, or not rationally directed. If we choose to accept the Law, we will be tranquil. If we choose to rebel, or to denounce the Law (of which we are undeniably also a part), we will become alienated or detached from those forces over which we have no control, whatever their nature.
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.