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  • Writer's picture Brian E Pearson

Marcus Aurelius ("Meditations")

Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor (161 to 180, CE)


The soul of a man harms itself, first and foremost, when it becomes (as far as it can) a separate growth, a sort of tumour on the universe: because to resent anything that happens is to separate oneself in revolt from Nature, which holds in collective embrace the particular nature of all things ... The end for rational creatures is to follow the reason and the rule of that most venerable archetype of a governing state--the Universe. Book 2


If, when you finally come close to your exit, you have left behind and value only your directing mind and the divinity within you, if your fear is not that you will cease to live, but that you never started a life in accordance with nature, then you will be a man worthy of the universe that gave you birth. You will no longer be a stranger in your own country, no longer meet the day's events as if bemused by the unexpected, no longer hang on to this or that. Book 12


What a noble thing is the soul ready for its release from the body, if now must be the time, and prepared for whatever follows--extinction, dispersal, or survival! But this readiness must come from a specific decision: not in mere revolt, like the Christians, but thoughtful, dignified, and--if others are to believe it--undramatic. Book 11


No more roundabout discussion of what makes a good man. Be one! Book 10

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Jun 16, 2021

Marcus Aurelius makes me nervous, for all his wisdom. To me, it is deeply disconcerting to ponder living "according to nature," mostly because 1) nature is (at least) a (partial) social construct, and people with power usually get to determine what that is; and 2) many people who use this language penalize queer people like me by it. For me, there is also an important distinction between the "divinity within me"--which I take to be the Triune God--and the universe. Not everything that happens is in accordance with the Love that burns at the heart of things. I respectfully do not believe that Christian are in any kind of "mere revolt" from death--and still less do most of us wait for the…

 Brian E Pearson
Brian E Pearson
Jun 16, 2021
Replying to

Thanks, Robbie. I always appreciate your critical reading of these things.

In this case, I include Marcus Aurelius not because he reflects Christian belief, but precisely because he doesn't. In fact, his experience of the Christian martyrs was not that they were reconciled to their deaths, but that they weren't, who only used the occasion for drama and histrionics. As a Stoic thinker, he was not impressed.

Similarly, he wouldn't have had patience with a theology as complex as Christianity's. Instead, he looked to the self-evident laws of Nature which, as you suggest, is never as self-evident as some would want to believe. There is an inevitability in the way things fall, in that view, and our job is accept…

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