Seminary/School of Divinity
Master of Arts in Theology (M.A.)
Type of Paper/Work
Paul C. Vitz
In its modern forms, psychotherapy often plays a secularizing and sometimes even antitheistic role. Yet the Stoic philosophy which inspired the creation of modern Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) had a substantially theological view of human nature and human flourishing. While the idea and practice of creating behavioral and emotional change through cognitive change was appropriated from Stoicism into modern CBT, the idea of morally grounding such practices in a normative conceptualization of human nature was not. By contrast, early Christian spirituality, was also profoundly influenced by the Stoic conceptualizations of achieving emotional and behavioral change through cognitive change, yet the Christian appropriation of these concepts retains and adapts the original Stoic normative conception of human nature. This paper will present the similarities and differences in how Stoicism influenced both early Christian Spirituality and Modern CBT. It will argue that both Christian Spirituality and CBT have much to learn from each other.
Existing published research already compares CBT with its Stoic antecedents, shows the influences of Stoicism on early Christianity, and even compares modern CBT with ancient Christian Ascetic Spirituality. But there does not appear to be any published work that presents the broad similarities and differences in how Stoicism influences CBT and early Christianity. This paper aims to fill that void. It accomplishes this by identifying the Stoic influences in the thought of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck as well as in authoritative Christian sources of spirituality, the Old and New Testaments, St. Anthony of the Desert, Evagrius Ponticus, and St. John Climacus. It then compares and contrasts how Stoic ideas influenced each of these sources in different ways. Because of these differences and their shared pedigree in Stoicism, CBT and Christian Spirituality, are well-positioned to learn from one another in ways that can be mutually beneficial.
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Mueller, Mitchell, "The Stoic Roots of Christian Asceticism and Modern Psychotherapy: Similarities and Differences" (2018). School of Divinity Master’s Theses and Projects. 21.