Stoicism & The Rule of St. Benedict: Living a Stoic and Christian Contemplative Life

Stoicism & The Rule of St. Benedict

Angela Gilmour

My very simplistic, grass roots feedback on Stoicism and Christianity is a comparison of my experiences in following the Rule of St Benedict as a member of the Lay Community and my participation in the 2013 Stoic week as part of my personal development.  The resources are from the contemporary paraphrase of the Rule “Always we Begin Again”. St Benedict was born into a world of turbulence and violence in 480CE seventy years after the fall of Rome.  The core values of his rule are Stability, Obedience and Conversion of Life through the practice of openness and transformation.

Overarching Similarities Between Stoicism & Benedictine Spirituality

1. The first aspect of Stoicism, is that each of us has the capacity to make ourselves happy by developing virtues such as wisdom, justice and self control and by broadening our outlook on world.

St Benedict urges his followers to listen with the heart and the mind and to take up the greater weapon of fidelity to a way of living that transcends understanding. The first rule is simply this:

Live this life, and do whatever is done, in a spirit of thanksgiving.

Abandon attempts to achieve security, they are futile.

Give up the search for wealth, it is demeaning.

Quit the search for salvation, It is selfish.

And come to comfortable rest, in the certainty that those who participate in this life, with an attitude of thanksgiving will receive its full promise.

2. The second main aspect of Stoicism that resonates with me is that each human being and animal naturally wants to benefit others by their engagement in life as part of a family, community and as a member of a single brotherhood of like minded people.

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How to Meet the Morning by Matt Van Natta

Restarting the blog after its summer break is, Matt Van Natta, aka the Immoderate Stoic, who considers how Stoicism can help us start the day the best possible way….

How to Meet the Morning

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself, “I have to go to work – as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for – the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?

-Marcus Aurelius

I am a fan of warm blankets. Place a cup of coffee nearby and a good book in my hand and I will stay cozy as long as possible. Of course, I can’t do that 24/7 without my life unraveling. So, like Marcus, I have to get up and face the day. I shouldn’t complain about this, that wouldn’t be very stoic after all. But how am I to prepare my mind for the day ahead? Well, thankfully we Stoics have a means of warming up our mental engines. It’s a form of early morning reflection called premeditation.

The longer form name is the premeditation of evil but I had just mentioned cozy blankets and didn’t want to shock your system. I think premeditation of ills is actually more fitting, but now I’m on a tangent. Premeditation is the act of mentally rehearsing the potential difficulties of the future so that you are better prepared when they actually arrive. We Stoics can take premeditation pretty far. We will mediate on the loss of loved ones, for instance. But let’s start our day a bit less intensly with a general reflection that Aurelius used himself.

Begin each day by telling yourself : Today I will be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness–all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good and what is evil.

This premeditation is a way to orient your mind towards the realities of the day. When you step out into the world, you can simply recognize that no one has the exact same agenda as you. I find it helpful to mentally recite the quote a few times, in the stillness after waking. Premeditation is an exercise, effort is required to adjust your thinking. It’s way too easy to assume you’re going to approach the morning stoically and then get instantly upset at morning traffic (which is never a stoic response).

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Summer Break & Video: Insights from Marcus Aurelius' Meditations

The blog is now going into a short summer break. Posts will resume on August 23rd. Hope you’ve enjoyed the various posts we’ve had throughout the year so far. And please get in touch if you have an idea for a guest post on anything related to how Stoicism can be still be practised today, or on similarities/differences between Stoicism and other philosophies. What makes this blog possible at all is all the people who write in to share their thoughts and reflections on Stoicism – please get in touch if you have something to say.

For now: a repost (from August, 2012) of a short 20 minute talk by Chris Gill for Youtube, which explores the nature of Marcus Aurelius’ philosophical project.

Questions covered include: what is at the core of Marcus philosophical project in writing his meditations? And how ‘Stoic’ was Marcus Aurelius? philosophical method? Includes discussion of key passages for understanding the aims of the Meditations as a whole.