The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers

By Werner Jaeger | Go to book overview
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WE shall conclude our historical review of the older Greek philosophers' ideas of God by considering the age of the Sophists; for when we come to Socrates and Plato, we meet a new and very different phase of development, so significant historically and so rich in traditional material that it deserves an altogether separate treatment. In dealing with the Sophistic movement we shall think of it in a sense wide enough to include certain related phenomena and doctrines, as far as they may belong to the same period.

Up to this time the speculations of the pre-Socratics about the Divine displayed a decided singleness of character in their intellectual form, despite their diversity of aspects and the multiplicity of their points of departure. Their immediate goal was the knowledge of nature or of Being. The problem of the origin of all things was so comprehensive and went so far beyond all traditional beliefs and opinions that any answer to it had to involve some new insight into the true nature of those higher powers which the myths revered as 'the gods'. In the all- creative primal ground of becoming, no matter how much this idea was further particularized, philosophical thought had always discovered the very essence of everything that could be called divine. All the individual features and forms of the gods with which the mythological consciousness had occupied itself became dissolved in it, and a new conception of deity began to take shape. This process paralleled the advancing insight into the nature of reality and made new headway at every stage it traversed. Thus we arrive again at the selfsame source of assurance of the Divine by which the Greek faith in the gods had been nurtured from the first: to the Greek spirit, Weltanschauung had again become Gottanschauung-- simply and directly, but on another plane. Even the word 'God' itself, which is used by a number of these thinkers, now takes on the same new ring it had acquired in the Milesian philosophy of nature from the very beginning in the formulation 'the Divine':1 all the perfections (ἀρεταί) ever attributed to any


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