Thursday, April 22, 2010

the highest compensation...

One of my favorite books is "The Creed of Epictetus" by Ulysses G.B. Pierce.  I came across it a few years ago almost by accident after reading James Freeman Clarke's sermon, "The Two Handles" which is an exposition of an idea expressed by Epictetus.  In looking for other Unitarian connections to Stoicism, I found Pierce's book.  Ulysses G.B. Pierce was the minister of All Souls Church in Washington D.C. from 1901-1943 and was one of only two Unitarian Chaplains for the United States Senate.  More on Pierce and a few excerpts over the next few days.  This from the introductory chapter, "The Faith of a Stoic."

"In brief, then, to live according to nature is, in the words of Epictetus himself: " To perform the duties of a citizen, to fill the usual offices, to marry and to rear children. ... To use according to nature the appearances that encounter thee, not missing what thou pursuest, nor falling into what thou wouldst avoid, never failing of good fortune, nor overtaken of ill fortune, free, unhindered, uncompelled, agreeing with the administration of Zeus, obedient unto the same, and well pleased therein; blaming none, charging none, able of thy whole soul to say:

" Lead me, O Zeus, and Thou, O Destiny."

The life according to nature is its own justification and its own reward. It seeks not to have, but to be. Fidelity, modesty,' piety, magnanimity, these justify themselves by every approach toward them; while every lapse from virtue carries within it its own punishment. The  teaching of Cleanthes that virtue should be sought for its own sake, without being influenced by fear or hope by any external influence, was adopted by Epictetus and embellished with all his rhetorical power. This is the Stoic doctrine of equivalents, antedating by centuries Emerson's " Compensation." Thus the Ruling Faculty is at every step complete in itself, the balance being struck with every moral transaction. The mind gets all it pays for: pays for all it gets. " For wherever you have deviated from any of these rules, there is damage immediately, not from anything external, but from the action itself." Contrariwise, the highest compensation for the life according to nature is that "of being conscious that you are obeying God, that not in word, but in deed you are performing the acts of a wise and good man."


No comments: