Fun divergence: Four theologians meme


There’s a trend going around social media, that so far I’ve seen restricted only to Christian posters, that seemed like a fun divergence.  The premise of the meme is to post pictures of four theologians who have shaped your worldview.  I thought I’d try my hand at it.  Stoicism is at its core, like most ancient philosophies a religious philosophy.  It is not possible in my opinion to discuss it properly if you’ve excised that component.  That doesn’t mean that you must adopt the view of the ancients wholesale, but if you do, you will be missing an integral piece.

That being said, I tried to narrow down which of the classical Stoics and modern philosophers most informed my outlook.  I did not include Musonius, for his bent (or what we have of it) is more practical.  He does touch of some cosmological points, but not to the extent of his student, Epictetus, who decidedly made my list.

Heraclitus is the foundation of Stoic theology in my opinion.  The Fragments of his work speak to me in a less analytical and more emotional way that is a needed component for me.  The Weeping Philosopher then, also makes my list.

Skipping ahead a few thousand years, I’ve included Pierre Hadot, who more than any other modern writer reframed ancient philosophy for me, and made it much less foreign to my way of thinking.  I also included Thomas Merton, whose quiet, devotional work dovetails nicely with my own inclination of philosophical practice, even if outside my immediate belief system.

If I had another spot in this meme, I’d include Alfred North Whitehead.  I’m more and more inclined to the ideas of panpsychism which I think is an excellent way of parsing the axiom that “the cosmos is both rational and providential.”

Please share your list of four theologians who have shaped your worldview, and why.  I’m interested in seeing what sorts of things help build this big tent of ours.

CERP: Day 48 – Heraclitus Ep. 9.


IX. To the Same (p. 211)
This one seems more to our interests:

“But, in fact, no one will transgress if he will not go unnoticed when he has transgressed.”

Indeed, the idea of Cynic shamelessness, which even Stoics like Cato and Zeno practiced, is an attempt to show that what is commonly viewed as shameful is not, but what is truly shameful is vice.

Early on in my “from the outside” study of Cynicism, I found the practice of shamelessness distasteful.  I think some of it is maybe a bit grander than it needs to be, but the way Cato did it but where dark when light purple was fashionable, or going barefoot instead of being shod.

Seneca said in his letters:

“Live among men as if God beheld you; speak with God as if men were listening.”

— Letter 10.

This seems like a good lens to view shamelessness.


This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.

CERP: Day 46 – Heraclitus Ep. 7, part 2.


VII. To Hermodorus Part 2 (p. 205-207)
This epistle seems to touch upon some Cynic themes.  Everything in human civilization is contrary to nature.  At all times injustice is the rule and inspiration for all manner of human action.  Heraclitus cannot help but weep in the face of such an atrocity.

Generally, I’m surprised to find these Heraclitus letters in the volume, they seem to be an outlier.  But this one seems more firmly in the vein of “City of Pera.”


This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.

CERP: Day 45 – Heraclitus Ep. 7.


VII. To Hermodorus Part 1 (p. 201-203)
Interesting that in Heraclitus’ time, they had activist judges as well!  The Ps-Heraclitus sets up the Ephesians as a vicious people, whose city is rife with all manner of disgrace.

He lists a series of them: gluttony, rapine, promiscuity, faithlessness, and more besides.

The hallmark being that while city itself is steeped in evil, the purpose of the judge is to banish the one who shows it for what it is.  But the Ps-Heraclitus is not himself a judge:  he’s a mirror.  His dour countenance is not born of ill will, but is formed by the quality of the people.  He’s a mirror, not a scale.


This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.

CERP: Day 44 – Heraclitus Ep. 6.


VI. To the Same (p. 197)
I wonder if Heraclitus would be an anti-vaccine kind of guy today?  In all seriousness, the thing this Epistle brings to mind is the danger of what is being called (despite my distaste for the word) “scientism.”  Science, and from this we may also say bio-medicine, is a very good tool for a certain jobs.  But, like any tool, it has a proper use, a proper application, a proper context, and a proper time.  You won’t find a screw driver too much use if you need to remove a bolt, for instance.

Science is a very good way for understanding the mechanics of the world.  There’s a position called “scientific pessimism” which is explained by this:  if you piled up all the things we now know to be wrong which science once believed to be true, it would tower over the things we know to be so.  What might we have to move from the small pile to the big one tomorrow?

This should not be used to discount current findings, but it should be a humbling reminder of how falsification works.  Science doesn’t tell us true things, it remove the false.  It tells us the how, not the why.

Epictetus makes an argument about faculties, that only reason observes itself.  Music tells you about harmony, how to make chords, tones and steps, etc.  But it doesn’t tell you if you should play, only how.  Grammar tells you the proper syntax, conjugations and declensions.  But not whether you ought to speak or write.

Science, then, is similar.  There are things beyond its purview:  and thence comes philosophy.  The folks who have neglected its proper place, and think it can simply be used as an ethic or mode of life are mistaken.  To their detriment.


This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.

CERP: Day 43 – Heraclitus Ep. 5.


V. Heraclitus to Amphidamas (p. 195)
Heraclitus was sometimes called The Weeping Philosopher, or The Obscure.  The thing I take from this letter is humankind’s kinship to the gods, the soul we share with the rational and diving universal logos.

Again, Heraclitus dismisses the charge of impiety, and dismisses (in Cynic parlance) the νόμος of the society in favor of the divine perspective.  He weeps, then, because man is so situated in vice that his very soul is dyed by it.  The Ps-Heraclitus says he would be quick to smile were we to shuffle off a touch of our vice.


This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.

CERP: Day 42 – Heraclitus Ep. 4.


IV. Heraclitus to Hermodorus (p. 191)
The Ps-Heraclitus makes a passionate defense of the charge of impiety.  His argument is based in several claims:
– How can you know impiety if you do not know the gods?
— He then shows the many ways in which his subject is ignorant of God.
– If Heracles can be made god-like through goodness, cannot also others?
— And Heraclitus states he is good, that his labors are against vice and suffering.

Heraclitus ends with an inflammatory statement that he and his goodness will last basically forever, while his subject will be lost to time even five-hundred years out.

The deist, or natural theological perspective in this letter are interesting, but seem to me more of a Stoic stripe.  There is a Cynic message, however, in pointing to a natural religion of goodness and virtue than the man-made temples and dogma found therein.

This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.

CERP: Day 40 – Heraclitus Eps. 1 and 2.


I. King Darius greets Heraclitus of Ephesus, a wise man (p. 187)
Darius of Persia writes to convince Heraclitus to come to him and explain his teachings, since they seem to fly in the face of the common understanding but still bear the stamp of a reasoned position.  Not only does he make the request, but he offers what he suspects will be enticing benefits.

II. Heraclitus to King Darius, Son of father Hystaspes, greetings (p. 189)
Heraclitus replies:  “Nah.”


This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.