Many ingenious persons now appear to consider that the incompatibility of pantheism, of materialism and of any doubt about the immortality of the soul, with religion and morality, is to be held as an axiomatic truth. I confess that I have a certain difficulty in accepting this dogma. For the Stoics were notoriously materialists and pantheists of the most extreme character; and while no strict Stoic believed in the eternal duration of the individual soul, some even denied its persistence after death. Yet it is equally certain that of all gentile philosophies, Stoicism exhibits the highest ethical development, is animated by the most religious spirit, and has exerted the profoundest influence upon the moral and religious development not merely of the best men among the Romans, but among the moderns down to our own day.
Seneca was claimed as a Christian and placed among the saints by the fathers of the early Christian Church; and the genuineness of a correspondence between him and the apostle Paul has been hotly maintained in our own time, by orthodox writers. That the letters, as we possess them, are worthless forgeries is obvious; and writers as wide apart as Baur and Lightfoot agree that the whole story is devoid of foundation.
The dissertation of the late Bishop of Durham is particularly worthy of study, apart from this question, on account of the evidence which it supplies of the numerous similarities of thought between Seneca and the writer of the Pauline epistles. When it is remembered that the writer of the Acts puts a quotation from Aratus, or Cleanthes, into the mouth of the apostle; and that Tarsus was a great seat of philosophical and especially stoical learning (Chrysippus himself was a native of the adjacent town of Soli) there is no difficulty in understanding the origin of these resemblances. See, on this subject, Sir Alexander Grant's dissertation in his edition of 'The Ethics of Aristotle' (where there is an interesting reference to the stoical character of Bishop Butler's ethics), the concluding pages of Dr. Weygoldt's instructive little work Die Philosophie der Stoa, and Aubertin's Sénèque et Saint Paul.
It is surprising that a writer of Dr. Lightfoot's stamp should speak of Stoicism as a philosophy of 'despair.' Surely, rather, it
- Lightfoot, Epistle to the Philippians.