Don’t Retreat. Stay, and Help with the Shouting
There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of blog posts and articles about the various ‘options’ that we Christians in America have for living in a world that repeatedly shows disdain for our values. If we are followers of Christ, we’ll admit our sin, and perhaps even, we’ll take some advice from an unbeliever. Seneca, writing at the same time as the birth of Christianity, has this advice for us (see here, pp. 227-231)
Athenodoros seems to have surrendered too quickly to the times, to have retreated too quickly. I myself would not deny that sometimes one must retire, but it should be a gradual retreat without surrendering the standards, without surrendering the honour of a soldier; those are more respected by their enemies and safer who come to terms with their arms in their hands.
What does Seneca think we should do then if our arms become useless against the might of the enemy and we have no choice left but to retreat?
If Fortune shall get the upper hand and shall cut off the opportunity of action, let a man not straightway turn his back and flee, throwing away his arms and seeking some hiding-place, as if there were anywhere a place where Fortune could not reach him, but let him devote himself to his duties more sparingly, and, after making choice, let him find something in which he may be useful to the state. Is he not permitted to be a soldier? Let him seek public office. Must he live in a private station? Let him be a pleader. Is he condemned to silence? Let him help his countrymen by his silent support. Is it dangerous even to enter the forum? In private houses, at the public spectacles, at feasts let him show himself a good comrade, a faithful friend, a temperate feaster. Has he lost the duties of a citizen? Let him exercise those of a man.
If we desire to be “great in soul” (a.k.a., magnanimous), Seneca explains, then a complete retreat is never an option:
The very reason for our magnanimity in not shutting ourselves up within the walls of one city, in going forth into intercourse with the whole earth, and in claiming the world as our country, was that we might have a wider field for our virtue […] If Fortune has removed you from the foremost position in the state, you should, nevertheless, stand your ground and help with the shouting, and if someone stops your throat, you should, nevertheless, stand your ground and help in silence. The service of a good citizen is never useless; by being heard and seen, by his expression, by his gesture, by his silent stubborness, and by his very walk he helps. As there are certain salutary things that without our tasting and touching them benefit us by their mere odour, so virtue sheds her advantage even from a distance, and in hiding.
One is reminded of St. Paul’s “you are the aroma of Christ.” If we have any concern for God’s Kingdom, any humility, then let’s be humbled by Seneca’s wisdom. Don’t retreat too quickly, and if retreat is necessary, do not be silent without being seen, without stubborn resistance. The whole world is our country, for Christ has given it to the meek.