previous next

What is the nature ( οὐσία) of the Good

1 GOD is beneficial. But the Good also is beneficial.2 It is consistent then that where the nature of God is, there also the nature of the good should be. What then is the nature of God?3 Flesh? Certainly not. An estate in land? By no means. Fame? No. Is it intelligence, knowledge, right reason? Yes. Herein then simply seek the nature of the good; for I suppose that you do not seek it in a plant. No. Do you seek it in an irrational animal? No. If then you seek it in a rational animal, why do you still seek it any where except in the supe- riority of rational over irrational animals?4 Now plants have not even the power of using appearances, and for this reason you do not apply the term good to them. The good then requires the use of appearances. Does it re- quire this use only? For if you say that it requires this use only, say that the good, and that happiness and unhap- piness are in irrational animals also. But you do not say this, and you do right; for if they possess even in the highest degree the use of appearances, yet they have not the faculty of understanding the use of appearances; and there is good reason for this, for they exist for the purpose of serving others, and they exercise no superiority. For the ass, I suppose, does not exist for any superiority over others. No; but because we had need of a back which is able to bear something; and in truth we had need also of his being able to walk, and for this reason he received also the faculty of making use of appearances, for other wise he would not have been able to walk. And here then the matter stopped. For if he had also received the faculty of comprehending the use of appearances, it is plain that consistently with reason he would not then have beer subjected to us, nor would he have done us these services, but he would have been equal to us and like to us.

Will you not then seek the nature of good in the rational animal? for if it is not there, you will not choose to say that it exists in any other thing (plant or animal). What then? are not plants and animals also the works of God? They are; but they are not superior things, nor yet parts of the Gods. But you are a superior thing; you are a portion separated from the deity; you have in yourself a certain portion of him. Why then are you ignorant of your own noble descent?5 Why do you not know whence you came? will you not remember when you are eating, who you are who eat and whom you feed? When you are in conjunction with a woman, will you not remember who you are who do this thing? When you are in social intercourse, when you are exercising yourself, when you are engaged in discussion, know you not that you are nourishing a god, that you are exercising a god? Wretch, you are carrying about a god with you, and you know it not.6 Do you think that I mean some God of silver or of gold, and external? You carry him within yourself, and you perceive not that you are polluting him by impure thoughts and dirty deeds. And if an image of God were present, you would not dare to do any of the things which you are doing: but when God himself is present within and sees all and hears all, you are not ashamed of thinking such things and doing such things, ignorant as you are of your own nature and subject to the anger of God. Then why do we fear when we are sending a young man from the school into active life, lest he should do anything improperly, eat improperly, have improper intercourse with women; and lest the rags in which he is wrapped should debase him, lest fine garments should make him proud? This youth (if he acts thus) does not know his own God: he knows not with whom he sets out (into the world). But can we endure when he says' I wish I had you (God) with me.' Have you not God with you? and do you seek for any other, when you have him? or will God tell you any thing else than this? If you were a statue of Phidias, either Athena or Zeus, you would think both of yourself and of the artist, an if you had any understanding (power of perception) you would try to do nothing unworthy of him who made you or of yourself, and try not to appear in an unbecoming dress (attitude) to those who look on you. But now because Zeus has made you, for this reason do you care not how you shall appear? And yet is the artist (in the one case) like the artist in the other? or the work in the one case like the other? And what work of an artist, for instance, has in itself the faculties, which the artist shows in making it? Is it not marble or bronze, or gold or ivory? and the Athena of Phidias when she has once extended the hand and received in it the figure of Victory7 stands in that attitude for ever. But the works of God have power of motion, they breathe, they have the faculty of using the appearances of things, and the power of examining them. Being the work of such an artist do you dishonour him? And what shall I say, not only that he made you, but also entrusted you to yourself and made you a deposit to your- self? Will you not think of this too, but do you also dis- honour your guardianship? But if God had entrusted an orphan to you, would you thus neglect him? He has delivered yourself to your own care, and says, I had no one fitter to intrust him to than yourself: keep him for me such as he is by nature, modest, faithful, erect, unterri- fled, free from passion and perturbation. And then you do not keep him such. But some will say, whence has this fellow got the arrogance which he displays and these supercilious looks?—I have not yet so much gravity as befits a philosopher; for I do not yet feel confidence in what I have learned and in what I have assented to: I still fear my own weakness. Let me get confidence and then you shall see a countenance such as I ought to have and an attitude such as I ought to have: then I will show to you the statue, when it is perfected, when it is polished. What do you expect? a supercilious coun- tenance? Does the Zeus at Olympia8 lift up his brow? No, his look is fixed as becomes him who is ready to say

Irrevocable is my word and shall not fail.—Iliad, i. 526.
Such will I show myself to you, faithful, modest, noble, free from perturbation—What, and immortal too, exempt from old age, and from sickness? No, but dying as becomes a god, sickening as becomes a god. This power I possess; this I can do. But the rest I do not possess, nor can I do. I will show the nerves (strength) of a philosopher. What Lerves9 are these? A desire never disappointed, an aversion10 which never falls on that which it would avoid, a proper pursuit (ὁρμήν), a diligent purpose, an assent which is not rash. These you shall see.

1 Schweighaeuser observes that the title of this chapter would more correctly be Τεὸς ἐν ὑμῖν, God in man. There is no better chapter in the book.

2 Socrates (Xenophon, Mem. iv. 6, 8) concludes 'that the useful is good to him to whom it is useful.'

3 I do not remember that Epictetus has attempted any other descrip- tion of the nature of God. He has done more wisely than some who have attempted to answer a question which cannot be answered. But see ii. 14, 11–13.

4 Compare Cicero, de Office. i. 27.

5 Noble descent. See i. c. 9. The doctrine that God is in man is an old doctrine. Euripides said. (Apud Theon. Soph. Progym.):—

'Ο νοῦς γὰρ ἡμῖν ἐστιν ἐν ἑκάστῳ Τεός.

The doctrine became a common place of the poets (Ovid, Fast. vi.),'Est deus in nobis, agitante calescimus illo;'” and Horace, Sat. ii. 6, 79,'Atque affigit humo divinae particulam aurae.'” See i. 14, note 4.

6 Mrs. Carter has a note here. 'See 1 Cor. vi. 19, 2 Cor. vi. 16, 2 Tim. i. 14, 1 John iii. 24, iv. 12, 13. But though the simple expression of carrying God about with us may seem to have some nearly parallel to it in the New Testament, yet those represent the Almighty in a more venerable manner, as taking the hearts of good men for a temple to dwell in. But the other expressions here of feeding and exercising God, and the whole of the paragraph, and indeed of the Stoic system, show the real sense of even its more decent phrases to be vastly different from that of Scripture.' The passage in 1 Cor. vi. 19 is, 'What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God and ye are not your own'? This follows v. 18, which is an exhortation to 'flee fornication. The passage in 2 Cor. vi. 16 is 'And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them and walk in them,' etc. Mrs. Carter has not correctly stated the sense of these two passages.

It is certain that Epictetus knew nothing of the writers of the Epistles in the New Testament; but whence did these writers learn such forms of expression as we find in the passages cited by Mrs. Carter? I believe that they drew them from the Stoic philosophers who wrote before Epictetus and that they applied them to the new religion which they were teaching. The teaching of Paul and of Epictetus does not differ: the spirit of God is in man.

Swedenborg says, 'In these two faculties (rationality and liberty) the Lord resides with every man, whether he be good or evil, they being the Lord's mansions in the human race. But the mansion of the Lord is nearer with a man, in proportion as the man opens the superior degrees by these faculties; for by the opening thereof he comes into superior degrees of love and wisdom, and consequently nearer to the Lord. Hence it may appear that as these degrees are opened, so a man is in the Lord and the Lord in him.' Swedeuborg, Angelic Wisdom, 240. Again, 'the faculty of thinking rationally, viewed in itself, is not man's, but God's in man.'

I am not quite sure in what sense the administration of the Eucharist ought to be understood in the church of England service. Some English divines formerly understood, and perhaps some now understand, the ceremony as a commemoration of the blood of Christ shed for us and of his body which was broken; as we see in T. Burnet's Posthumous work (de Fide et Officiis Christianorum, p. 80). It was a commemoration of the last supper of Jesus and the Apostles. But this does not appear to be the sense in which the ceremony is now understood by some priests and by some members of the church of England, whose notions approach near to the doctrine of the Catholic mass. Nor does it appear to be the sense of the prayer made before delivering the bread and wine to the Communicants, for the prayer is 'Grant us, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear son Jesus Christ and to drink his blood that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body and our souls washed through his most precious blood and that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us.' This is a different thing from Epictetus' notion of God being in man, and also different, as I understand it, from the notion contained in the two passages of Paul; for it is there said generally that the Holy Ghost is in man or God in man, not that God is in man by virtue of a particular ceremony. It should not be omitted that there is after the end of the Communion service an admonition that the sacramental bread and wine remain what they were, 'and that the natural body and blood of our Saviour Christ are in heaven and not here; it being against the truth of Christ's natural body to be at one time in more places than one.' It was affirmed by the Reformers and the best writers of the English church that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a spiritual presence, and in this opinion they followed Calvin and the Swiss divines: and yet in the Prayer book we have the language that I have quoted; and even Calvin, who only maintained a spiritual presence, said, 'that the verity is nevertheless joined to the signs, and that in the sacrament we have “true Communion in Christ's body and blood'” (Contemporary Review, p. 464, August 1874). What would Epictetus have thought of the subtleties of our days?

7 The Athena of Phidias was in the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis, a colossal chryselephantine statue, that is, a frame work of wood, covered with ivory and gold (Pausanias, i. 24). The figure of Victory stood on the hand of the goddess, as we frequently see in coins. See. i. 6, 23, and the note in Schweig.'s edition. Cicero, de Natura Deorum, iii. 34.

8 The great statue at Olympia was the work of Phidias (Pausanias, v. 11). It was a seated colossal chryselephantine statue, and held a Victory in the right Land.

9 An allusion to the combatants in the public exercises, who used to show their shoulders, muscles and sinews as a proof of their strength. See i. 4, ii. 18, iii. 22 (Mrs. Carter).

10 ἔκκλισιν. See Book iii. c. 2.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Greek (1916)
load focus English (Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1890)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
August, 1874 AD (1)
hide References (3 total)
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (3):
    • Xenophon, Memorabilia, 4.6.8
    • Horace, Satires, 2.6.79
    • Ovid, Fasti, 6
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: