Was Epicureanism a cult? Or perhaps we should ask, was Epicureanism like a philosophical fraternity? One prominent scholar, AA Long, suggests that Epicurus’ school of philosophy was more a philosophical community centering on personal friendship than it was a formal school of philosophy. Many ancient philosophers wrote about the virtues of friendship, but the virtues of friendship are core to the Epicurean experience, and the Epicureans sought pleasure through their friendships. This community was egalitarian, it was one of the few in ancient world that admitted women and slaves, and in his letters, Epicurus expresses deep affection for his friends and followers. AA Long says this, “those who committed themselves to Epicurus we not so much students ‘reading for a course’ as men and women dedicated to a certain style of life.” […]
Once Hillel’s wife had finished preparing a meal for Hillel and a guest, when a “poor man came by, stood at Hillel’s doorway, and said, ‘I am scheduled to marry today and have no provisions whatsoever.’ Hearing that, Hillel’s wife took the entire mean and gave it to the poor man. Then she kneaded fresh dough, cooked another pot of stew, and when it was ready, placed it before Hillel and his guest. Hillel asked, ‘My dear, why did you not bring it out sooner?’ She told him what happened. He said, ‘My dear, in asking about the delay, I meant to judge you not on the scale of guilt but on the scale of merit, because I was certain that everything you did, you did for the sake of Heaven.’” […]
We should always search our heart for upright and humble motives. St Mark the Ascetic warns that “some, without keeping the commandments, think they are keeping the faith, while others, keeping the commandments, expect to receive the kingdom as a reward owed to them. Both are deprived of the kingdom.” Our reward lies in our humble obedience, our salvation is our striving to live a more godly life.
Salvation is not a transaction, salvation is not bartering, salvation is a gift by grace, unearned. St Mark the Ascetic teaches us, “when the Scriptures say, ‘God will reward each person according to his works,’ the Scriptures are not saying that works deserve hell or the kingdom, but rather that works are done out of faith or lack of faith in Him. Christ repays each person not as a businessman fulfilling his contracts but as God, our Creator and Redeemer,” out of love for us, not out of bartered obligations. […]
You cannot cherry-pick which commandments you should follow and which ones you should ignore. Little sins vs whoppers, scrupulously avoiding small penny sins to save up for the whoppers you need to be forgiven for when you hide thousands of dollars of defects when selling your house or when you need to ruin someone financially to steal their business. St Mark the Ascetic teaches us, “Those who do not consider themselves under obligation to perform all of Christ’s commandments study the law of God in a literal manner, ‘understanding neither what they say nor what they affirm.’ (1 Tim 1:7) Therefore the think they can fulfill the law by their own works.”(34)
“Do not seek the perfection of the law in human virtues. . . Perfection is hidden in the Cross of Christ.(31) The law of freedom by true knowledge, and is understood through the practice of the commandments, and is fulfilled through the mercy of Christ.”(32)
“Fulfilling a commandment is one thing, and virtue is another, although each promotes the other.(193) Fulfilling a commandment means doing what we are enjoined to do; but virtue to do it in a manner that conforms to the truth.”(194) […]
Justin compares Jesus to Socrates, who was accused of the same crimes as the Christians, being accused of atheism and impiety, and of corrupting the youth. The Greeks accused Socrates “of introducing new divinities, and did not consider those to be gods that the state recognized. In the Republic he cast out from the state both Homer and the rest of the poets, and taught men to reject the wicked demons and those who did the things which the poet related.” The early Church Fathers, including Justin, did not deny the existence of the pagan gods, rather they saw them as demons active in the world. But Jesus was mightier than Socrates, whereas “no one trusted in Socrates so as to die for his doctrine,” many willingly believes and are martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ. […]
We can benefit from pondering Rabbi Telushkin’s discussion on the differences between Hillel and Jesus in his book on Hillel, which are really his views on the differences between Christianity and Judaism. IMHO these differences are more cultural than spiritual, spiritually these are differences in emphasis.
One major difference is while Jesus places a great emphasis on prayer, Hillel emphasizes studying the Torah. “For Hillel, study is essential for knowing and fulfilling your religious obligations, because virtue is not achieved through good intentions alone.” […]
There was an incident involving a Gentile who came before Shammai and requested:
“Convert me to Judaism on condition that you will teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot.”
Shammai pushed the man away with the building rod he was holding.
Undeterred, the man then came before Hillel with the same request.
Hillel said to him, “That which is hateful unto you, do not do unto your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Now, go and study.” […]
Epicurus would have been horrified by the sex, drugs, and rock and roll culture of the sixties. Baird and Kaufmann describe his beliefs thus: “Epicurus declares that pleasure is the highest good, though some pleasures are unnatural and unnecessary. In contrast to modern understanding of the word epicurean, Epicurus opposed exotic meals and profuse consumption. Such indulgences never bring permanent pleasure and frequently lead to its opposite: pain. Instead Epicurus advocates enjoying only the ‘natural’ pleasures – those most likely to lead to contentment and repose.” […]