Enchiridion XXXI


Be assured that the essence of piety toward the gods lies in this—to form right opinions concerning them, as existing and as governing the universe justly and well. And fix yourself in this resolution, to obey them, and yield to them, and willingly follow them amidst all events, as being ruled by the most perfect wisdom. For thus you will never find fault with the gods, nor accuse them of neglecting you. And it is not possible for this to be affected in any other way than by withdrawing yourself from things which are not within our own power, and by making good or evil to consist only in those which are. For if you suppose any other things to be either good or evil, it is inevitable that, when you are disappointed of what you wish or incur what you would avoid, you should reproach and blame their authors. For every creature is naturally formed to flee and abhor things that appear hurtful and that which causes them; and to pursue and admire those which appear beneficial and that which causes them. It is impracticable, then, that one who supposes himself to be hurt should rejoice in the person who, as he thinks, hurts him, just as it is impossible to rejoice in the hurt itself. Hence, also, a father is reviled by his son when he does not impart the things which seem to be good; and this made Polynices and Eteocles mutually enemies—that empire seemed good to both. On this account the husbandman reviles the gods; [and so do] the sailor, the merchant, or those who have lost wife or child. For where our interest is, there, too, is piety directed. So that whoever is careful to regulate his desires and aversions as he ought is thus made careful of piety likewise. But it also becomes incumbent on everyone to offer libations and sacrifices and first fruits, according to the customs of his country, purely, and not heedlessly nor negligently; not avariciously, nor yet extravagantly.

I think the bolded word is more properly "effected." The Perseus Project translation agrees with me.

I have italicized what I think is the hinge of this chapter. Confer with Aristotle's dictum that 'The Good is what all things desire.' This becomes important, in a different way, for Aquinas. For Aristotle, it is obvious that all things desire to continue to exist, to perfect their existence, and to extend it (as through reproduction). The good of a thing, say a dog, is that which allows that thing to flourish: food, shelter, a relationship with a kind master, a chance to breed. 

The good per se is thus, as Aquinas notes, existence; but not, he warns, the kind of existence that we things have. It is existence in the divine sense, which is everlasting and eternal and incapable of eradication: a kind of good to which our souls aspire, but which we cannot have without yielding up our own natural good. Yet in coming to know the divine, as much as we can, we realize that God is truly good in a way that no earthly thing is. The nature of his existence proves that his goodness is truer than ours: Good itself.

In Epictetus dictum is complicated by the possibility of error: beings desire (and thus pursue and admire) that which causes them to flourish, or appears to; and they "flee and abhor" those things that harm them, or that appear to do. Yet, he says, we can fall into error if we mistake good and evil: if we take it to be human existence, as he notes, the man who loses a wife or a child may come to flee and abhor the gods who are presumably in charge of fateful events such as that. The danger of falling into impiety, of hating the gods instead of loving them, lies in failing to see the philosophical truth about what is truly good and, therefore, evil.

Now re-read Enchiridion XXVII. Aquinas' view is not Epictetus', who is centuries too early. His view of what the true good for humans is, and is not, is laid out there. The gods built the good for us into the world, and we should never doubt it -- nor should we doubt them and their goodness, either, because they built us a world in which the human good is both available and attainable. Mistaking the random acts of fate for evil is an error; just as, for Aquinas, it will prove to be an error to mistake human survival for the true good, the latter being a kind of existence that we do not have naturally but might obtain through divine grace. For Aquinas too the good is available and attainable, and via a divine action that made it so: but it is a different conception of the good.

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