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The essence of religion according to Epictetus



Ulysses G. B. Pierce's The Creed of Epictetus consisted of selected passages from the Discourses and Handbook systematically presented (See Richard Lewis). The passages, below, were organized under the heading: "The Essence of Religion."


Epictetus on Piety - Grant Sterling


"In piety towards the gods, I would have you know, the chief element is this, to have right opinions about them—as existing and as administering the universe well and justly—and to have set yourself to obey them and to submit to everything that happens, and to follow it voluntarily, in the belief that it is being fulfilled by the highest intelligence. For if you act in this way, you will never blame the gods, nor find fault with them for neglecting you.

"But this result cannot be secured in any other way than by withdrawing your idea of the good and the evil from the things which are not under our control, and placing it in those which are under our control, and in those alone. Because, if you think any of those former things to be good or evil, then, when you fail to get what you want and fall into what you do not want, it is altogether inevitable that you will blame and hate those who are responsible for these results.

"For this is the nature of every living creature, to flee from and to turn aside from the things that appear harmful, and all that produces them, and to pursue after and to admire the things that are helpful, and all that produces them. Therefore, it is impossible for a man who thinks that he is being hurt to take pleasure in that which he thinks is hurting him, just as it is also impossible for him to take pleasure in the hurt itself.

"Hence it follows that even a father is reviled by a son when he does not give his child some share in the things that seem to be good" (Handbook 31.1-4, trans. Oldfather). "It is a general rule—be not deceived—that every living thing is to nothing so devoted as to its own interest. Whatever, then, appears to it to stand in the way of this interest, be it a brother, or father, or child, or loved one, or lover, the being hates, accuses, and curses it. For its nature is to love nothing so much as its own interest; this to it is father and brother and kinsmen and God. When, for instance, we think that the gods stand in the way of our attainment of this, we revile even them, cast their statues to the ground, and burn their temples, as Alexander ordered the temples of Asclepius to be burned when his loved one died.

"For this reason, if a man puts together in one scale his interest and righteousness and what is honourable and country and parents and friends, they are all safe; but if he puts his interest in one scale, and in the other friends and country and kinsmen and justice itself, all these latter are lost because they are outweighed by his interest" (Discourses 2.22.15-18 , trans. Oldfather).

"For where a man's interest lies, there is also his piety.

"Wherefore, whoever is careful to exercise desire and aversion as he should, is at the same time careful also about piety. But it is always appropriate to make libations, and sacrifices, and to give of the firstfruits after the manner of our fathers, and to do all this with purity, and not in a slovenly or careless fashion, nor, indeed, in a niggardly way, nor yet beyond our means" (Handbook 31.1-4, trans. Oldfather).


Pierce, Ulysses G.B. (1916). The Creed of Epictetus (Part 1): The Indwelling God
http://www.geocities.com/stoicvoice/journal/0700/up0700b1.htm



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