As summarized in NT Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God , Seneca can sound like Emerson in his awed response to the haunts of nature: “If ever you have come upon a grove that is full of ancient trees which have grown to an unusual height, shutting out a view of the sky by a veil of pleached and intertwining branches, then the loftiness of the forest, the seclusion of the spot, and your marvel at the thick unbroken shade in the midst of the open spaces, will prove to you the presence of deity. If a cave, made by the deep crumbling of the rocks, holds up a mountain on its arch, a place not built with hands but hollowed out into such spaciousness by natural causes, your soul will be deeply moved by a certain intimation of the existence of God.”

On the other hand, being a Stoic, he also believes in the god within, and echoes the gnosticism that Harold Bloom thinks characterizes American religion: “The gods are not disdainful or envious; they open the door to you; they lend a hand as you climb. Do you marvel that man goes to the gods? God comes to men; nay, he comes nearer, – he comes into men. No mind that has not God, is good. Divine seeds ( semina divina ) are scattered throughout our mortal bodies; if a good husbandman receives them, they spring up in the likeness of their source and of a parity with those from which they came. If, however, the husbandman be bad, like a barren or marshy soil, he kills the seeds, and causes tares to grow up instead of wheat.”

Seneca wasn’t an ancient Stoic. He was an American. Or, perhaps America is a Senecan republic.

 

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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