No longer talk about the kind of man a good man ought to be, but be one.
Such a line sounds like the wise and direct counsel of St. Josemaria Escriva in his little gem The Way but, in fact, these are the words of the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius; and such ancient gems are packed into Kevin Vost’s latest book The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom For Modern Christian Living from Angelico Press.
In the companion volume to The Porch and the Cross, author Shane Kapler shows how the New Testament’s Epistle To The Hebrews prepared the way for Jewish converts to grasp and comprehend the New Covenant of God. In The Porch and the Cross, Dr. Vost shows how the ancient Stoic philosophers paved the way for the Gentiles to grasp and comprehend the New Covenant of God.
I’m a big fan of Vost’s work. He is one of the major authorities in the Church on memorization techniques (something he touches on in this book on the Stoics) and has thus been effectively providing ancient methods in new wrapping in order to assist today’s Catholics in training their minds (see Vost’s books on memorization here). As sense precedes the intellect, and intellect precedes the will, Vost shows in this book and his others how the proper formation of our imagination and intellect leads to the proper formation of our way of life.
The Porch and the Cross is packed with wisdom, both from the ancients and from the author himself. What especially excites me about this book is that it has been written in a way that could appeal to Christian and “Gentile” alike in today’s world. The Stoics were not Jewish; they were not Christian; yet they understood the natural law and moral order inherent in creation.
Dr. Vost draws from four major Stoic philosophers: Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius. All four of these men have unique perspectives to offer. Such obstacles as exile, slavery, poor health, and the death of a parent marked the lives of these men, and because suffering ultimately produces character – and often good character in time – they write from a place of wisdom both learned and intuited.
The teachings of the Stoics on topics like how to dress, the relationship of food and philosophy, how to foster mental well-being, how to live a life of moral excellence, and how to die well, are applicable to any person at any stage in life. This book (particularly when married with the divine wisdom revealed in the Scriptures) is a recipe for human excellence of the highest type: the moral or interior type.
Another thing I love about Kevin Vost’s work is the rich Thomistic flavour found within them, both implicitly and often explicitly as he quotes the work of St. Thomas Aquinas (and even St. Thomas’s mentor, St. Albert the Great). The Porch and the Cross is no exception. Dr. Vost has skillfully amalgamated the commonsense teachings of St. Thomas – the man who reconciled religion with reason in the Middle Ages – with the teachings of the Stoics in this book. Wisdom is wisdom, objectively speaking, regardless of who is communicating it; and Vost shows with erudition that the teachings of the Stoics, like those of Aristotle, were in many ways a preparation for the Gospel.
Once again without hesitation I recommend this book to Christians and non-Christians alike. In it is a rich store of truth from a teacher who no doubt loves wisdom as wisdom ought to be loved, and is interested in truth even when it comes from outside of the faith; even when it comes from the pagans (who, by the way, loved truth enough that they often found it!). Dr. Vost’s newest book is the result of open-mindedness properly understood.
Anyone who is interested in finding answers to the question, “What is the best way to live?” ought to own, read, and re-read The Porch and the Cross.