Entertain No Notions Unsuitable to Virtue
To Marcus Aurelius, a Roman Emperor and stoic philosopher, living a virtuous life meant living by Nature. The Stoics were pantheists, believing everything comes from God and will eventually be absorbed into him again. So to a Stoic saying, one needs to live by Nature (notice the capital “N”) means to live by God.
Marcus Aurelius was emperor of Rome during the second century and was one of the most respected leaders in Roman history. He was born into a wealthy, politically prominent family and grew up speaking Latin and Greek. But his greatest intellectual interest was Stoicism. Discourses by Epictetus, a formerly enslaved person and Stoic philosopher who had been given his freedom by Marcus Aurelius’ grandfather Antoninus Pius, had great influence over Marcus.
“Look within, for within is the wellspring of virtue, which will not cease flowing, if you cease not from digging.”
— Marcus Aurelius
To Stoics like Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, a virtuous life means living the virtues of:
Justice is doing the right thing even when it is difficult. Marcus Aurelius said justice is “the source of all the other virtues.”
“Live out your life in truth and justice, tolerant of those who are neither true nor just.”
— Marcus Aurelius
Wisdom, to the Stoics, is a combination of knowledge and understanding. Therefore, the goal is to remain open-minded and continue learning. However, the most important knowledge you can acquire is that which will help you live a good life.
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
While it is true that a temperate person will avoid vices like alcohol and other drugs, temperance also means avoiding excess in all areas of life. For example, one can exercise, read, or even meditate too much.
“Stop allowing your mind to be a slave, to be jerked about by selfish impulses, to kick against fate and the present, and to mistrust the future”
Courage is the willingness to face difficult and painful things head-on. This type of courage could manifest itself in many different ways, such as a difficult conversation, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one.
“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”
– Marcus Aurelius
The Stoics summed up virtue under these four principles. Now let’s see what my religion would describe as virtues. Indeed, the LDS teachings would agree with the Stoics but expound on them a bit.
Here are some examples:
“Love of God is the root of all virtue, of all goodness, of all strength of character.”
-Gordon B. Hinkley
In an address to the women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, James E. Faust spoke about virtue:
“Many people do not fully understand the meaning of virtue. One commonly understood meaning is to be chaste or morally clean, but virtue in its fuller sense encompasses all traits of righteousness that help us form our character.”
- President James E. Faust, The Virtues of Righteous Daughters of God, April 2003
In addition to the principles presented by the stoic philosophers, there are a few others that may be worth considering:
Faith is a responsiveness to the basic goods of truth and practical hope — the belief that action according to deliberate choice is not ultimately pointless. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is “the foundation of all righteousness.” (Lectures on Faith (1985), 1) Through faith, we become cheerful and optimistic, charitable and courageous. Faith is the moving cause of all such virtues.
Honesty is a deep and pervasive commitment to truth, a willingness to seek it out, acknowledge it, hold oneself (and others) accountable for living it, and conform one’s conduct to it. The first part of the thirteenth Article of Faith states: “We believe in being honest.” (Articles of Faith 1:13). Honesty is a virtue that encompasses several meanings, such as integrity, sincerity, truth, justness, honor, moral character, and uprightness in mutual dealings.
“An honest man’s the noblest work of God.”
The word chaste comes from the Latin castus, meaning pure. Chastity is a state of moral cleanness in thoughts, words, and actions. It also means complete fidelity to husband or wife during marriage. The virtue of chastity promotes peace and character strength, which helps people avoid pain and heartache.
Humility is a recognition that our talents and abilities are gifts from God. It is not a sign of weakness, timidity, or fear; it indicates that we know where our true strength lies. A person who is humble is teachable.
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
Charity is another principle that seems to underlie almost everything we do. Charity has also been called the “Pure Love of Christ.” But unfortunately, the world has defined charity as “the charitable giving of one’s time and resources to help those in need.” While that definition can be useful, it’s not necessarily a high-definition understanding of the word.
“Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.”
-1 Corinthians 13:8
It is possible to give money and time to charity, and still not possess it. However, my experience trying to do good deeds has shown me that service is a perfect gateway to charity. It is the highest, noblest and strongest kind of love and the most joyful to the soul.
The Greatest of these is Charity
It was November in Utah, the Autumn colors were in the trees with the Rocky Mountains surrounding me, but I did not…
Marcus and the other Stoics teach us that to live a virtuous life, we must live a life of courage and devotion. He believes that the cardinal virtues — wisdom, justice, temperance, and courage — are necessary to live such a life. So, likewise, the LDS Church teaches its members, among other virtues, to strive toward the virtues of faith, honesty, chastity, humility, and charity.
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.”