Seneca on the difference between philosophy and theology

Regular readers of Per Crucem ad Lucem will probably have observed that I’ve been meandering my way (in a somewhat slow version of what Ben Myers once called ‘binge reading‘) through Seneca’s works. (My other current binge, by the way, is Iris Murdoch’s work.) It’s been a real treat so far, and has even made me contemplate doing some serious study in classics. I can’t understand how anyone who has ever read Letters from a Stoic, or Dialogues and Essays, or Seneca’s wee essay On the Shortness of Life (an experience somewhat akin to reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment for the first time – you’re left completely naked!) could not be entirely mesmerised with the guy. And in an age of ‘friending’, for example, his Selected Letters are simply must reading (alongside, say, Jacques Ellul’s The Technological Society). Anyway, because I suspect that most readers of this blog are both theo-blog readers and Seneca virgins, and because I’m desperate to ‘shout from the housetops what I’ve heard whispered in the darkness’ (Matt 10.27) of my own reading time, I thought I’d try and offer to you dear reader an apple or apricot or whatever fruit it is that snakes like to advertise around goodies so close to the tree of life, and that by way of some words from Seneca on the difference between philosophy and theology:

‘In my opinion, Lucilius, excellent man, the difference between philosophy and other areas of study is as great as the difference, within philosophy itself, between the branch concerned with humans and the one concerned with the gods. The latter is more elevated and more noble; it allows itself immense scope; it is not satisfied with the eyes; it suspects that there is something greater and more beautiful that nature has placed beyond its sight. (2) In brief, the difference between the two is as great as the difference between god and human beings: the one branch teaches what should be done on earth; the other what is done in the heavens; the one dispels our wrongdoings and brings a light up close to us so that the uncertainties of life can be clearly discerned; the other rises far above the darkness in which we stumble around, whisks us away from the shadows, and leads us to the source of light’.

– Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Natural Questions (trans. Harry M. Hine; The Complete Works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca; Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010), 136.


  1. Seneca, that old Roman Stoic is always a fun read (Moral Letters) Sad, his forced suicide, but therein was his Stoicism! My “binge” reading was about 20 years ago now, but that too was fun. Btw, reading the Western Philosophers, or the Academy of Athens, both the old and new is also fun!


  2. I don’t ‘know’ Seneca’s work so I’ll check if our local library has anything. Thanks for pointing out the difference between philosophy and theology – looks like theology wins by a short half-head? :)
    I did like Iris Murdoch’s ‘The Sea, The Sea’ very much.


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