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.

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

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