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The Religious Sentiment of Marcus Aurelius – Episode 47


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Everything suits me that suits your designs, O my universe. Nothing is too early or too late for me that is in your own good time. All is fruit for me that your seasons bring, O nature. All proceeds from you, all subsists in you, and to you all things return. (Meditations 4.23) The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius was a deeply spiritual person, and that fact comes across clearly in his Meditations. The American philosopher and religious scholar Jacob Needleman suggests the combination of “metaphysical vision, poetic genius, and the worldly realism of a ruler” within the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius inspire us and give us “honorable and realistic hope in our embattled lives.”[1] As a result, he argues, [The Meditations] deserves its unique place among the writings of the world’s great spiritual philosophers.[2] Needleman elaborates on the spiritual impact Marcus’ Meditations has on many of its readers, Marcus is seeking to experience from within himself the higher attention of what he calls the logos, or Universal Reason, so too the sensitive reader begins to listen for that same finer life within his own psyche. That is to say, the reader— you and I— is not simply given great ideas which he then feeds into his already formed opinions and rules of logic. The action of many of these meditations is far more serious than that, and far more interesting and spiritually practical. In a word, in such cases, in many of these meditations, we are being guided—without even necessarily knowing what to call it—we are being guided through a brief moment of inner work. We are being given a taste of what it means to step back in ourselves and develop an intentional relationship to our own mind.[3] The practice of Stoicism for Marcus was a means to find his place in the cosmos. He sought congruity with Nature and learned to love what fate had in store for him because he trusted in a providential cosmos. As David Hicks asserts, The Stoicism in which Marcus believed is rooted in an all-encompassing nature. Everything in man and in the universe, everything that is or ought to be, everything fated and everything free, and the logos or rational principle that informs everything and ties everything together and is ultimately identified with the deity – all of this is found in nature, and there is nothing else.[4] Stoicism provided Marcus with more than an abstract, intellectual understanding of human and cosmic Nature. The religious nature of Stoic philosophy differentiated it from other philosophies as well as organized religions. I covered the religious nature of Stoicism previously, so I will not address it fully here. However, it is important to understand that Stoicism was more than an intellectual endeavor for Marcus. Stoicism provided a rational form of spirituality for Marcus, and it offers the same for moderns. Stoicism is an alternative for those who consider themselves spiritual but not religious. If you're uncomfortable with the dogmas of organized religion and the nihilism of atheism, Stoicism offers a middle ground. Stoicism provides a spiritual way of life guided by reason. Stoicism relies on our innate connection with the rationality permeating the cosmos to guide our human reason toward a relationship with the divine that inspires us to develop our moral character and thereby experience true well-being. As Mark Forstater wrote in his insightful book The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius: Until the time of Neoplatonism, Stoicism was the most highly spiritualised form of philosophy in ancient Greece and Rome. It was so spiritualised that it is as accurate to call it a religion as a philosophy.[5] As Henry Sedgewick points out in his biography of Marcus Aurelius, the traditional religions did not provide what he was looking for, Marcus was seeking a religion, as I have said, but there was none at hand that he could accept. The old Roman religion was a mere series of ceremonies,

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