Wednesday, July 18, 2007

De Senectute: Cicero, Part One


It struck me, as I was reading Cicero’s De Senectute [On Old Age], that the pagans of old sometimes had a better understanding of growing old than modern American Christians. In the passage that follows, Cicero’s paganism shines through unashamed, and yet his words put many of us to shame.
I follow Nature as the best of guides and obey her as a god; and since she has fitly planned the other acts of life’s drama, it is not likely that she has neglected the final act as if she were a careless playwright. And yet there had to be something final, and—as in the case of orchard fruits and crops of grain in the process of ripening which come with time—something shriveled, as it were, and prone to fall. But this state the wise man should endure with resignation. For what is warring against the gods, as the giants did, other than fighting against Nature.
There are a few things that strike me about this short passage. First, as Christians we acknowledge the nature’s God has done all things well and that we should not question the script of our lives. He is not a careless playwright but a wise artist who is making all things work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes.

Even so, we also acknowledge that this world has been cursed from the beginning by God because of rebellion of the play’s first character. This curse is no light thing, but deepens all the time and makes much of life unbearable. We groan inwardly as our bodies waste away. We fight the effects of the curse often. Yet we are not without hope, for we know that God has redeemed the world through the blood of his son and we go to another place that will be free from this curse.

Yes the final act is still a part of the well written play. Yes, its pains and terrors are more than we could ever wish to bear, but no, this is not all there is. God uses the hardships of old age as his climax in making his people holy. Those who endure to the end will be saved.

More on Cicero later, it’s good stuff.

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