The Stoics are not greatly concerned with theology, nor religious, but they assert there is a god (often not capitalized). God’s existence is proven both ontologically according to Zeno and cosmologically according to Cleanthes. They believe the likelihood of god’s existence is further supported by the near universal belief of humans that god exists.
The god of Stoicism is more impersonal than in traditional religions. It is often referred to as logos, the creative fire, Nature, and “the Soul of the World.” God is a ‘craftsman,’ but not anthropomorphic. God is the source of rational, formless principles that are ungenerated and indestructible as against passive matter and form which are both generated and destructible. God is also called the “Lawgiver, Mind, Order, and even Destiny. God sustains the universe, is immortal, rational, perfect in happiness, immune to all bad, and divine. In a single word, the Stoic god is Providence (pronia).
The metaphysics of the Stoics follows directly from this impersonal theology. Stoics believe in a natural determinism originating from god wherein attention to the smallest details in the whole design leads to certain ends by natural means, especially in reference to those ends connected with human purpose. These final ends are considered good and the order of the cosmos includes a benevolent care of mankind.4
Within this framework, the Stoics position human freedom as actions not driven by natural determinism. Still fate is instantiated in human experience and choice as factors of ‘co-fate’ (naturally occurring events) influence outcomes of all human action. Human freedom is a key element in Stoic philosophy as when collated with god’s perfect design and natural determinism, the “fundamental injunction” of Stoicism is to live in harmony with Nature, which is the virtual definition of virtue for them.5 In addition, as rational beings, humans have a spark of divinity and recognizing the divinity (reason) in oneself is the means to happiness.
In summary, ultimate reality for the Stoics, includes Truth, the infinitely cycling material world, Providence, Fate, and the shared divinity of all rational creatures. This description seems to correlate well with the experience of being human, and is thus psychologically comforting. As the universe is ultimately good, the Stoic picture is incontrovertibly optimistic despite the usually negative connotation attributed to the word fate. Virtue and happiness involve conducting one’s life in harmony with Nature and recognizing the divinity in oneself. It is no surprise that the emerging Christianity of the late Roman period incorporates Stoicism and its philosophy remains with us today. Moreover Stoic doctrines transcend culture, for example Providence echoes the Tao and ‘grasp’ mirrors the means to knowledge in Zen.
Next time we look at Neoplatinism, especially as presented by Plotinus.
4 Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972. Volume 8, page 21.
5Ibid., page 19.