First of all, I would like to say thank you for your well thought out and polite response. Discussion like this is lovely.
To your first point, I must concede my view isn’t the only scholastically-evident one. C. Kavin Rowe is a brilliant mind, and I’ll certainly have to read the book you linked (I’ll refrain from forming an opinion until then). However, I’ve found iterations of the same argument unimaginative in the past. St. John even refers to Christ, the pre-existent second Person of the Triune Godhead, as the incarnate Logos, “the Word,” in John 1:1. This idea is also expounded upon in Revelation 19:13 and I John 1, and is believed to have older (including the Old Testament) ideological foundation in Psalm 33:6 (“by the word (logos) of the Lord were the Heavens established…”) and the Aramaic concept of “memra" referenced in the targumim, a sort of professionally-interpreted spoken word translation of the original Hebrew Scriptures. This topic is further discussed in Greek bishop St. Irenaeus of Leon’s (2nd century AD) “Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching.”
Furthermore, in Acts 17, St. Luke records the apostle Paul as having spoken to a crowd of learned Athenians at the Areopagus. Here, Paul makes special symbolic use of an idol dedicated to “the Unnamed God,” whom Paul identifies as the Judeo-Christian God, uncovered by natural theology even though the Athenians were not acutely aware of Him prior. St. Justin Martyr (2nd century AD), in his “First Apology,” thusly makes an argument for the “virtuous pagans,” those, primarily Greek philosophers — including the Stoics, who lead virtuous lives but who were born prior to the time of Christ. Many early Christian authors saw the philosophy of many historical Greeks, including arguably atheistic, pantheistic, and polytheistic ones, as having properly anticipated the coming of Jesus. J.R.R. Tolkien (yes, you read that correctly), believed mythology and non-Christian philosophical assertions to hold inklings (ha, see what I did the- nevermind) of “the Truth,” the fundamental realities of the universe. For more on this, read his poem and essay, “Mythopeia.” Even if you disagree, it’s just a really good poem.
Between the “Enchiridion,” New Testament Scripture, and early Orthodox writings on monasticism, I find disagreement not in essence but only by order of specificity. The highest good, reason, is attributed to the incarnate Creator and Source of reason, Christ of the Godhead, the passions are condemned, and virtue is espoused to tame them. For example, see 2 Peter 1:5-7 and 2:10-12 (RSV),
5 “For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,
6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,
7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”
10 “and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. Bold and wilful, they are not afraid to revile the glorious ones,
11 whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a reviling judgment upon them before the Lord.
12 But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and killed, reviling in matters of which they are ignorant, will be destroyed in the same destruction with them.”
The “Enchiridion” has actually been incredibly popular with Christians throughout the years, as they appropriate it as a guide on how the Christian ought to live. Twentieth century American classical scholar William Abbott Oldfather records that 17th century German monk Matthias Mittner, in compiling a book on mental tranquility for the Catholic Carthusian Order, utilized 35 of Epictetus’s 50 precepts.
Even beyond the similarities of actualized ethical philosophy, the underlying metaphysics on which Christianity and Stoicism are founded are not wholly dissimilar. The ideas of the dual nature of man and pneuma as cause should by no means be considered heretical to the Christian mind.
As a Christian, I see the philosophy of Stoicism as the naturally intuitable ontology that is granted its greatest proof in the witness of the life of Christ.
Secondarily, on the idea of intercessory prayer, I absolutely agree. To understand Biblical prayer in its fulness, intercessory prayer must be considered. However, I feel the term “intercessory" to not be inaccurate but inadequate in explaining what that form of prayer entails, from a Catholic perspective as well, with all due respect to your upbringing. Prayer, from finite man to eternal God Who forevermore hears the cries of Abraham, the reposed saints, and those yet (to our senses) unborn, cannot be understood merely in the sense of linear asking and receiving. It is an act of aligning one’s will with the will of God that what we desire might become that which God desires for us, that through this process we receive what God has already granted to us, for He is granting it to us eternally. It is only through this aligning of wills that we might push back against the darkness of this world, impede the passions, grow in virtue, and act as witness of the very intercession Christ makes for humanity before the Father.
Lastly, in regards to cursing the barren fig tree, I apologize for not explaining this more in depth previously. Frankly, there is a lot of disagreement on this subject, even from a Christian theological perspective, and I argue its true purpose and meaning is buried deep under many layers of symbology.
For centuries, God’s chosen nation of Israel had been referred to as a vineyard or garden. For example, Isaiah 5:7 states,
“For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice,
but behold, bloodshed;
but behold, a cry!”
Jesus, as a rabbi, intimately knowledgeable of the Old Testament (the Scriptures as they were during His early life and ministry), made reference to this fact in many parables and teachings. He gives a parable of the talents where He admonishes those who fail to bear fruit from the opportunity granted them, the parable of the two sons, where He reproaches the Jewish spiritual elite who spurned His message even as prostitutes and tax collectors received Him willingly, and Christ, in John 15 (RSV), even stylizes Himself as the “True Vine,” the incarnate answer to the yearnings of the old prophets and kings.
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.
2 Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
3 You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you.
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”
Prior to actually cursing the fig tree, Christ had actually given a parable of the fig tree, several times, that He then empowered through actualized symbolism.
Like in Matthew 23:27 (RSV) where Christ refers to the scribes and Pharisees as “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones,” He is driving home His point to His followers that God’s chosen kingdom, Israel, in its contemporaneous form has been so eroded by legalism, rote obedience apart from faith, that it appears as beautiful as ever but is in actuality spiritually dead. For this, Israel was being judged; however, Christ, in John 15 makes it clear that His disciples could be susceptible to this same judgment if they were not careful. It is not the purpose of the Christian to be simply covered in the false piety of inaction but to eventually show something from actual, internal striving: spiritual fruit. The message was clear: Israel has become stagnant — do not make the same mistake! The fig tree, from a distance, could be perceived to have the qualities of a fruit-bearing tree, but upon closer inspection, it bore no fruit; anyone who came to a legalistic pharisee for direction would starve spiritually just like a man searching a barren tree for nourishment would go hungry. For further explanation on the fruit of the spirit (virtue) working against the flesh (passions), see Galatians 5:19-24 (RSV).
19 “Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness,
20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit,
21 envy,drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.
24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
As well, in line with the further theological arguments you expressed in the first post, I do accept this was also a demonstration of divine control, a lesson of the efficacy of prayer, and a reminder that current physical life is naught but vapor, here for a moment and gone in an instant.
Why didn’t He do otherwise or demonstrate His point in a different way? I can’t say. Though I suppose that we are talking about it now may very well be why.