I once had a long discussion in the page for Marcus Aurelius in Facebook with a Christian apologist. He claimed that Marcus Aurelius was a ‘midget’ as a thinker compared to Jesus of the Christian fame.
There is one slight problem in this comparison. Marcus Aurelius did write a book that is definitely his own words from the beginning to the end. In this respect, he beats Jesus 1-0. Marcus Aurelius has demonstrably himself written down his ideas. On the other hand, nobody knows who has come up with the ideas that are attributed to Jesus in the "New Testament" of the Christians. This strange collection of writings was written many decades and even century and a half after the death of this Jewish preacher and rebel.
A simple unpleasant fact (for Christians that is) is that Jesus has not written a single word that we would know to be his own work. We have just a book that this full of alleged quotes from him. However, their real sources will probably never be known for sure.
The Greek-speaking writers of the New Testament could well have made up a majority or even all of these quotes and ideas by themselves. Nobody knows what their sources were. Bart D. Ehrman has written some good books about the issue. I have reviewed one of them in this blog at: http://beinghuman.blogs.fi/2010/12/22/for-what-purpose-was-the-bible-written-10240754/
Marcus Aurelius’ only book ‘Meditations' was translated into Latin from Greek. It was the preferred language of Roman intelligentsia of that day. Meditations was originally called in Greek "Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν" or "Ta eis heauton", literally "thoughts/writings addressed to himself".
Marcus Aurelius wrote the 12 books of the Meditations in Koine Greek that was used by the highly educated class of Romans. He wrote the book as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement.
The basic difference between Christianity and Stoicism is that in the heart of Christianity is a group of magical and superstitious beliefs in things like virgin births, sons of gods and resurrections. On the other hand, Stoicism is basically a rather rational system of thought. It is based on practical experience of how the human social relationships and societies do work in practice.
The Stoic concept of "god" is not at all compatible with the Christian idea of heavenly father watching all your moves, punishing, and rewarding you for your actions. The Stoic "god" is just an idea of a pantheistic sameness of all nature, and this "god" does not interfere in human life at all. In fact, the basic nature of Stoicism remains quite unchanged if the idea of a "god" is totally removed from it.
The removal of the idea of "god" from Stoicism is a thing that very many Stoics have done already with good results. Agnostic and atheist Stoics can be even a majority among the Stoics of today, but this is just a guess, nobody has really studied this issue.
Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic, and he was personally a firm opponent of Christianity. He may even have initiated some harsh and violent actions against Christians too, when he tried to defend the Roman traditional toleration of all belief-systems against the harsh and open fanaticism and intolerance of the early Christians.
The later, extremely intolerant Christian rulers of late Roman Empire did not see any kind of compatibility with the Stoic philosophy. They did destroy and eradicate every single source of Stoic teaching and thinking without mercy.
They did eradicate all the older religions and schools of philosophy with brute force during the fourth and fifth centuries. In this process also the Epicurean school of philosophy was destroyed. Sadly also the whole body of writings of Epicurus was lost forever.
The modern Western Lutheran Christianity is of course a completely different religion than the one that did rule unchallenged in the Roman Empire in the fourth and fifth centuries. The rise of humanistic values and thinking has changed this also religious organization during the last century. The change is so big that even some in their ranks are able to accept ideas from the old enemies of Christianity.
There are Christians who think that Stoicism is fully compatible with Christianity. This is naturally a quite strange idea given the very basic differences between Christian faith and Stoic philosophy. Stoicism and Christianity can well live side by side. This is possible as long as Christians do not try to change the central ideas of Stoicism to fit their pet ideology. However, to become Stoics Christians needs to lose much of the Christian religious dogma.
The core message of Christianity simply is not compatible with Stoic way of thinking. Most Stoic Christians seem to end up more Stoic than Christian. A hard-core Christian will never fit in the Stoic way of thinking in the first place.
PS. The fact that belief in Jesus is so widespread today has been decided in the battlefields of the past. If Muslims had won at Poitiers or at Vienna a few hundred years later, Jesus would perhaps be just a footnote in history; a forgotten figure in a forgotten religion. To put it bluntly; the followers of Jesus just have had success and luck in the battlefield and more divisions than followers of his competitors.
The fact that Christians succeeded in stamping out all other religions in the Roman Empire and in most later acquisitions tells how it pays in the long run to be extremely intolerant if you want to create a stable religion.
When you allow no competition and destroy all attempts to doubt your beliefs, your religion is bound to survive, and other religions are bound to disappear.
It is not a question of the quality or teachings of a religion. The main thing is how ruthless the leaders of a religion dare to be. The use of same tactics has also made Islam strong. When you preach universal love in a church and burn heretics at the same time, you have a winning proposition; a religion that makes people think that burning people is an act of love.
My page for Marcus Aurelius is in Facebook at:
(This piece was refurbished on 25th of April, 2013)