Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Greatest Stoic Commandment - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.39

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Meditation VII.39 - The Greatest Stoic Commandment - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

To the Intelligence that governs all and to all humanity give joy.(1)


(1) Marcus pays homage to the active principle of nature, the universal "intelligence that governs all." We revere this feminine principle (please see Meditation X.14 in the Introduction of the book, p. xxiii) because she is enduring, she is the mother of all creation, we are embedded in her, and each of us is descended from her. A non-Stoic might regard this sentiment as Nature worship, but a Stoic would recognize this injunction as a statement of human worth. We do not worship nature; we embrace the nature of which we form a part. We do not worship the divine because we are divine.

In Matthew 22:34-40 a lawyer asked Jesus a question:
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?" Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. A second likewise is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."
The key phrase in this stunning New Testament claim is that we must love our neighbors "as ourselves." This Christian example - like its Stoic counterpart above - is also not a commandment to worship, it is a commandment to love, and love is central to Stoicism and Christianity alike. The Stoic reading of this commandment understands that loving our neighbors follows logically from self love because the universal intelligence or Logos is in us, and in our neighbors as well. For the Stoic this recognition draws us inexorably toward the divine, because the divine is beautiful and what is beautiful gives joy. The principle of reciprocity (see Meditation X.36) requires us in return to "give joy" back to that which gives us joy.

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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.

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