Sunday, April 25, 2010

no royal road...

To my way of thinking, one of the most important ideas advanced by the Boston Unitarians was that of salvation as a continuous work, a "path of progress."  Ulysses G.B. Pierce reports that Stoicism (via Epictetus) says much the same...

"From the foregoing it must be obvious that such a faith as Epictetus contemplates is not to be attained in a day or without great effort. Nor does the great Stoic so imagine. He indulges no illusions on the subject. The life according to nature must obey the universal law of growth. " Nothing great," he warns us, " is produced suddenly, since not even the grape or the fig is. If you say to me now that you want a fig, I will answer to you that it requires time. Is then the fruit of a fig-tree not perfected suddenly and in an hour, and would you possess the fruit of a man's mind in so short a time and so easily ? " The path of virtue is a path of progress. For virtue not only may be taught, but it must be taught. The moral heights cannot be scaled, but are to be gained only by a long and tortuous ascent. Towards these moral summits the teacher himself leads the way, at once guide and companion; and Epictetus gives his followers certain definite instructions regarding what is at best a long and difficult journey.

At the outset it should be observed that Epictetus holds out no false and alluring hopes to those who seek his instruction. There is no royal road to philosophy. The disciple must come prepared to " scorn delights, and live laborious days." He must be willing to be laughed at and mocked. Like an athlete, he must go into training. He should count the cost ere ever he enter the lists. For Epictetus wishes no halfhearted disciples. " You must watch, you must labor; overcome certain desires; quit your familiar friends, submit to be despised by your servant, to be held in derision by them that meet you, to take the lower place in all things, in office, in positions of authority, in courts of law. Weigh these things fully, and then, if you will, lay to your hand."


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