Stoicism and Christianity


"He is most powerful who has power over himself."


Stoicism was regarded by some of the Church Fathers as a "pagan philosophy", however some of the central philosophical concepts of Stoicism were employed by the early Christian writers, such as "logos". But the parallels go beyond  borrowing of terminology. Both Stoicism and Christianity assert an inner freedom in the face of the external world, a belief in human kinship with the Divine, and a sense of the futility of worldly possessions and attachments.

In his Introduction to the 1964 Penguin Classics edition of  Meditations, Maxwell Staniforth discussed the impact Stoicism had on Christianity. He claimed that the author of the Fourth Gospel declared Christ to be the Logos, which "had long been one of the leading terms of Stoicism, chosen originally for the purpose of explaining how deity came into relation with the universe."  In St. Ambrose of Milan's Duties, "The voice is the voice of a Christian bishop, but the precepts are those of  Aeno."


 Regarding what he called "the Divine Spirit", Stanisforth wrote:

Cleanthes, wishing to give more explicit meaning to Zeno's  'creative fire', had been the first to hit upon the term pneuma, or 'spirit', to describe it. Like fire, this intelligent 'spirit' was imagined as a tenuous substance akin to a current of air or breath, but essentially possessing the quality of warmth; it was immanent in the universe as God, and in man as the soul and life-giving principle. Clearly it is not a long step from this to the 'Holy Spirit' of Christian theology, the 'Lord and Giver of life', visibly manifested as tongues of fire at Pentecost and ever since associated—in the Christian as in the Stoic mind—with the ideas of vital fire and beneficient warmth

Regarding theTrinity, Staniforth wrote:

Again in the doctrine of the Trinity, the ecclesiastical conception of Father, Word, and Spirit finds its germ in the different Stoic names of the Divine Unity. Thus Seneca, writing of the supreme Power which shapes the universe, states, 'This Power we sometimes call the All-ruling God, sometimes the incorporeal Wisdom, sometimes the holy Spirit, sometimes Destiny.' The Church had only to reject the last of these terms to arrive at its own acceptable definition of the Divine Nature; while the further assertion 'these three are One', which the modern mind finds paradoxical, was no more than commonplace to those familiar with Stoic notions.

Although the apostle Paul rejected Stoicism, he met with Stoics during his stay in Athens, reported in Acts 17:16-18. In his letters, he reflected  from his knowledge of Stoic philosophy, using Stoic terms and metaphors to assist his new converts in their understanding of Christianity.


In Stoicism's pantheism, God is never fully transcendent but always immanent. God as the world-creating entity is personalized in Christian thought, but Stoicism equates God with the totality of the universe, which was deeply contrary to Christianity. The only incarnation in Stoicism is that each person has part of the logos within.


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