Marcus Aurelius for Today

The Meditations of the Stoic Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, although founded on a pagan worldview and the way of life consequent to it, offers much benefit to our time for those seeking a more thoughtful way of life in accordance with man’s nature.

Given our current economic and geo-political uncertainty, these words provide some context for us, if not comfort.

Consider the past; such great changes of political supremacies. Thou mayest foresee also the things which will be. For they will certainly be of like form, and it is not possible that they should deviate from the order of the things which take place now: accordingly to have contemplated human life for forty years is the same as to have contemplated  it for ten thousand years. For what more wilt thou see? vii.49

As Solomon said three millennia ago, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Unless human nature has changed, we can expect more of what has been. Modern man caught of in the notion of progress (towards what end? we do well to ask) tends to think that man’s nature has changed, has evolved, and so that what we face now is new and unprecedented.  The increase in the sophistication of man’s tools and the comfort of his life does provide support to an argument that man’s nature has changed, and one asks for evidence of a ‘new man.’ We saw the Soviet attempt to create a “new Soviet man” founder on the rock of the same old fallen human nature.

Christians believe the Christ has come to restore to man fullness of human nature, to heal it, so that man does not remain caught in an endless cycle of repetition, but it is far from evident that the bulk of the human race is entering the fullness of  life in Christ. Man has an escape, but refuses to use it.

It is encouraging to think that given the length of human history and the multitude of books documenting it, that one could contemplate human life for forty  years and get a grasp on the whole. One need not read all that has been written to gain wisdom.

This is also why an elder who has lived forty years or more in a monastery has much deeper insight into man and the world than those who live in the world: the elder has keenly observed and experienced the depths of human thought and motivation and seen how thought translates into action. Although observing life in a limited theatre, what he learns readily illumines action in the world at large, even though he is not reading the newspaper or the most recent scholarly study.

I shall not venture any predictions for the future, but I will venture to say that we should not assume we are exempt from the hardships of the past.

Published in: on Friday, 20 February, 2009 at 11:03  Leave a Comment  

The Creator as Child

To hold one’s recently-born babe in one’s arms and consider his new life and his dependence on his parents is deeply moving, especially with one’s first child. One looks and marvels at this new life, so much of it yet only potential and so little kinetically realized, but real nonetheless, beautiful, and brimming with possibilities. What sort of person does this body and soul contain? Who will emerge as he grows and develops? After one has two or three children, one realizes that though infants look much the same (despite the crowd who are ready to declare that he looks just like uncle Joe), entirely different persons quickly emerge. It will take eighteen full years to present this infant to the world as an adult capable of living on his own (at least it should take but eighteen years; we seem to think taking twice that is normal now).

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the temple, when Joseph and Jesus’s mother Mary bring him into the temple on the fortieth day after his birth to offer the sacrifices required by the Law on His behalf. The righeous elder Simeon, full of the Holy Spirit and waiting for a glimpse of God’s promised salvation, sees them and discerns that this is the One. He takes the infant Jesus in his arms and contemplates Him: here, contained in this helpless infant forty days old is the uncontainable God and Creator of all made man; the One who holds the universe in His hand is held in the hands of the elder. It must have been a profound moment for Simeon to see God made man in such a humble form. Seeing it, he declared himself ready to depart this life in peace, having seen with his own eyes God’s salvation.

While I may not be able to hold the infant God-man in my arms and contemplate His face knowing what His frail frame contains, every year at the Feast the Church offers us this opportunity as we hear the hymns and gaze on the icon of Simeon holding Christ in his arms while His mother and Joseph watch. O glorious wonder to see the eternal God made a helpless child out of His deep love for us!

The Theotokos Mary carried in her arms
Him who is borne aloft upon the chariot of the cherubim
and praised in song by the seraphim,
who was made flesh of her without her knowing wedlock,
the Giver of the Law who fulfilleth the commandment of the Law.
She gave Him into the arms of the priest and Elder;
and holding the Life, he asked to be released from life,
saying: “Now, O Master, let me depart to declare to Adam
that I have seen the pre-eternal God and the Savior of the world
made a babe without undergoing change. Vespers of the Feast of the Presentation

Published in: on Monday, 2 February, 2009 at 14:31  Leave a Comment  
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