The horrors connected with it are a matter of imagination. They vanish when the mask is taken from the image of death. It is our uncontrolled desires that create masks and put them over men and things. Freud’s theory of the libido is anticipated by Seneca but in a larger context. He distinguishes between natural desires which are limited and those which spring from false opinions and are unlimited. Desire as such is not unlimited. In undistorted nature it is limited by objective needs and is therefore capable of satisfaction. But man’s distorted imagination transcends the objective needs (“When astray—your wanderings are limitless”) and with them any possible satisfaction. And this, not the desire as such, produces an “unwise (inconsulta) tendency toward death.” The affirmation of one’s essential being in spite of desires and anxieties creates joy. Lucillus is exhorted by Seneca to make it his business “to learn how to feel joy.” It is not the joy of fulfilled desires to which he refers, for real joy is a “severe matter”; it is the happiness of a soul which is “lifted above every circumstance.” Joy accompanies the self-affirmation of our essential being in spite of the inhibitions coming from the accidental elements in us. Joy is the emotional expression of the courageous Yes to one’s own true being. This combination of courage and joy shows the ontological character of courage most clearly. If courage is interpreted in ethical terms alone, its relation to the joy of self-fulfillment remains hidden. In the ontological act of the self- affirmation of one’s essential being courage and joy coincide. Stoic courage is neither atheistic nor theistic in the technical sense of these words.

The problem of how courage is related to the idea of God is asked and answered by the Stoics. But it is answered in such a way that the answer creates more questions than it answers, a fact which shows the existential seriousness of the Stoic doctrine of courage. Seneca makes three statements about the relationship of the courage of wisdom to religion. The first statement is: “Undisturbed by fears and unspoiled by pleasures, we shall be afraid neither of death nor of the gods.” In this sentence the gods stands for fate. They are the powers that determine fate and represent the threat of fate. The courage that conquers the anxiety of fate also conquers anxiety about the gods. The wise man by affirming his participation in universal reason transcends the realm of the gods. The courage to be transcends the polytheistic power of fate. The second assertion is that the soul of the wise man is similar to God. The God who is indicated here is the divine Logos in unity with whom the courage of wisdom conquers fate and transcends the gods. It is the “God above god.”

The third statement illustrates the difference of the idea of cosmic resignation from the idea of cosmic salvation in theistic terms. Seneca says that while God is beyond suffering the true Stoic is above it. Suffering, this implies, contradicts the nature of God. It is impossible for him to suffer, he is beyond it. The Stoic as a human being is able to suffer. But he need not let suffering conquer the center of his rational being. He can keep himself above it because it is a consequence of that which is not his essential being but is accidental in him. The distinction between “beyond” and “above” implies a value judgment. The wise man who courageously conquers desire, suffering, and anxiety “surpasses God himself.” He is above the God who by his natural perfection and blessedness is beyond all this. On the basis of such a valuation the courage of wisdom and resignation could be replaced by the courage of faith in salvation, that is by faith in a God who paradoxically participates in human suffering. But Stoicism itself can never make this step. Stoicism reaches its limits wherever the question is asked: How is the courage of wisdom possible?