Epictetus’s god is pantheistic
Because his teachings can be interpreted in different ways, Epictetus’s view of god is unclear. It is unclear whether Epictetus’s god is a pantheistic god who is one with the universe or whether his god is a personal god that answers prayers and watches over his people like the god of monotheism. While there is little doubt that Epictetus views god as all powerful and all good, I will argue that his texts also indicate that Epictetus views god as a pantheistic god possessing none of the defining characteristics of a personal god.
There is a significant difference between what Epictetus means by being all good and what monotheism defines as all good. What monotheism defines as all good is perfect morals while Epictetus defines the true nature of good as intelligence, knowledge, and right reason (Discourses 8:2). According to Epictetus, the true nature of good cannot be found in irrational creatures such as animals and plants. Rather, it can only be found in what is rational (Discourses 8:3). Only what possesses rationality can have the true nature of good and since the true nature of god is where the true nature of good is, one can only conclude that the true nature of god is rationality (Discourses 8:1). Epictetus’s god does not merely possess these qualities, but he is goodness, he is rationality itself. That is the defining difference between the good of Epictetus’s god and that of a personal god.
The texts make it clear that Epictetus sees god as all powerful. He describes god as being the artificer of the universe and that no one could possibly possess power equal to god (Discourses 6:10, 14:11). This could be interpreted as a personification of god because being an “artificer” and the ability to possess anything are qualities of a person. One could argue that this shows that Epictetus’s god is a personal god. However, Epictetus also depicts his god as the universe. He describes the sun as being just a small part of god himself. The sun is a small part of the universe, and since the sun is also a small part of god, it stands to reason that god is the universe (Discourses 14:10). What’s more, it has already been established that the true nature of god is rationality. Therefore, god is the rationality of the universe, of himself and it is thus that he is all powerful. He is all powerful because he is the universe and only he has the rationality, the reasoning to organize everything within himself, the universe. Therefore one cannot possess power equal to god because he is the universe and the ultimate rationality and we are not. This is also what Epictetus means when he described god as an artificer. It is the rationality that organizes and unites the universe that he is describing as the artificer, not a person-like god.
Something else that distinctly sets Epictetus’s god apart from a personal god is that all people are a part of god. It has already been established that Epictetus views god as the...