Friday, November 20, 2009
We are Sovereign and Divine - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.70
Meditation VII.70 - We are Sovereign and Divine - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
The gods who are immortal are not vexed because during so long a time they must tolerate continually men and women - such as they are - and so many of them bad; and besides this, they also take care of them in all ways. But you, who are destined to end so soon, are you wearied of enduring the bad, and this too when you are one of them?1
(1) As discussed in Meditation XII.28, Marcus Aurelius would be expected to proclaim and protect the official state religion and maintain his allegiance to a polytheistic mix of gods from several cultural traditions. In his capacity as a Stoic philosopher Marcus generally makes reference to a single divine entity, the universal intelligence or Logos. It is Logos that governs the destiny of the universe.
Logos of course never speaks, and is never in Stoicism endowed with anthropomorphic characteristics. The Stoic has no need to be vexed about divine intention. We have no reason to pray to this "God" for divine "mercy." Nor should we expect this "God" to exact divine retribution on us for being "bad." Logos has no reason or need to punish us. These concepts are meaningless in a system in which the divine aspect of nature is self defining. In a very real sense we are the gods because our intelligence is an emanation of Logos. If we are "wearied of enduring the bad" it is only because we have refused to live as a human being. We have ignored our divine nature and choose rather to follow sensation. We seek solace from pain and pursue pleasure, fame, money, and power. While there is nothing inherently wrong with these activities, to do so in ignorance of our divine nature misses the point of our existence - to act mercifully and compassionately toward all human beings. We are alienated from the divine in us when we are vexed or frustrated with our inability to satisfy our animal desires. This vexation is inevitable because our animal nature is self-serving.
Ironically the pursuit of pleasure, and the avoidance of pain, are activities that will always require the cooperation of other self serving actors. The only path to happiness in the Stoic universe is to act in the only ways in which we are completely sovereign. Read through the understanding of the Stoic, the storied creation image by Michaelangelo shown here, reinforces the notion that this sovereign element is in us. Our nature is divine. It is therefore invulnerable because we are one with creation and with the creator. Sovereignty does not require the cooperation or approval of others. When our will coincides with the will of nature we live according to divine law.
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.