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Thursday 7 December 2023

Look Within?


Sometimes I like to read the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and think through the wisdom, or lack thereof, in his ponderings.

He is a great example from today,

“Remember that your directing mind becomes invincible when it withdraws into its own self-sufficiency, not doing anything it does not wish to do, even if its position is unreasonable. How much more, then, when the judgement it forms is reasoned and deliberate? That is why a mind free of passions is a fortress: people have no stronger place of retreat, and someone taking refuge here is then impregnable. Anyone who has not seen this is short of wisdom: anyone who has seen it and does not take refuge is short of fortune.”[i]

This passage is probably a good reason why Rome lost to the Church, because, as Martin Luther notes, A mighty fortress is our God. There is a greater fortress for a Christian to rest in than our own mind and that is within trust in the Lord himself. This is a firmer foundation than our own self-sufficiency. And as Isaiah says, “3 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. 4 Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock” (Isa. 26:3-4).

However, what Aurelius says here is not without wisdom. A person that is sufficient in who they are and what they have or do not have, is going to be far less prone to being bought off or corrupted, or swayed by bad ideas or fear, than a person who is given to all or any passions. Think of the fictional character Reacher and his desire to be content within himself and how it makes him an impossible person to buy off. If you don't know anything about Reacher, think of the incorruptible hero stereotypes that stair down the corrupt offerings of their enemies and pursue justice no matter the cost. A man content in what he is and has is like a rock in a surging sea. 

If a person is given over to luxuries or sexual passion, or gluttony, or any of these things, then he is going to be far more prone to being dominated by others, because every decision he makes will be to keep these things and even increase them. If he is not willing to rely on the strength he has within himself to say no, then he will not be able to say no. And for the believer we know that the strength we have within ourselves does not come from our own self-sufficiency, it comes from the indwelling presence of the Holy Ghost himself that enables us to tap into a much larger pool of strength and stand behind a far greater refuge that we can ever offer for ourselves.

Of course when we do this we are not looking inwards, really, we are looking heavenwards. This is the kind of strength with which the early Church was able to stand against Rome. An impossible thing for many other forces in both religion and nations to do. Anyone who does not seek to turn towards our true refuge, God, lacks wisdom and will lack the strength to oppose those things which we must oppose, and will lack the ability to advance those things we must advance.

A cursory glance at much of the church today shows that most Christians are overcome by their passions and that they do not know how to get beyond this. Many do not even know that they should. What is incredible is that an ancient pagan like Aurelius would get closer to learning the victory over sins and passions than many of those who today profess Christ. He got close, but was not quite there. A part of the key is not being given over to passions, but the larger part is having the right refuge, Jesus Christ himself to rely on. As the apostle Paul said,

“9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

Praise God that we do not have to rely on our own self-sufficiency. And praise God that he offers to us an internal strength beyond which even some of the greatest of emperors had to draw draw upon.  

List of References

[i] Meditations, Marcus Aurelius, pp111-112, Penguin Classics Edition.

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