Snippet // Dio Chrysostom on the human condition, law, ethics, and depravity

I’m reading this first century orator named Dio Chrysostom (who, amongst other things, wrote a letter to Corinth complaining that they’d removed a statue of him). Here’s a fun quote from a thing he wrote called On Virtue.

“In fact, these men do not even believe in the existence of a knowledge in accordance with which they will know what they ought to do or what they ought not to do and how they will live correctly; nay, they believe that the laws are sufficient for them for that purpose, the laws on the statute books; but how they are to obey the laws and voluntarily do p147what those laws prescribe is a matter to which they give no serious thought. And yet how is he any less a thief who refrains from thieving out of fear, if he approves but does not loath and condemn the business, than those who actually commit theft — unless also he who does not do his thieving by day, not only after nightfall, is to be called no thief in daytime, but rather a man of probity? Besides, such persons require the presence of many to threaten and restrain them, since they are not able of themselves to refrain from their misdeeds, but even when at home are men of thievish disposition. However, though they are of such character, they choose the law-givers and punish the lawless, just as if persons who are unmusical were to choose the musicians, or as if those who know nothing of surveying were to choose the surveyors

And here is an indication of the depravity of mankind. If men were to do away with the laws and licence were to be granted to strike one another, to commit murder, to steal the property of one’s neighbours, to commit adultery, to be a footpad, then who must we suppose would be the persons who will refrain from these deeds and not, without the slightest scruple or hesitation, be willing to commit all manner of crimes? For even under present conditions we none the less are living unwittingly with thieves and kidnappers and adulterers and joining with them in the activities of citizenship, and in this respect we are no better than the wild beasts; for they too, if they take fright at men or dogs set to guard against them, refrain from thieving.”

I wonder if our current philosophers are able to look at the way humans behave, at our nature, and also come to the conclusion that human nature left to its own devices would produce vice, not virtue.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.