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   Chapter 3 WHAT IS GOD

Complete Works of Plutarch — Volume 3: Essays and Miscellanies By Plutarch Characters: 6989

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Some of the philosophers, such as Diagoras the Melian, Theodorus the Cyrenean, and Euemerus the Tegeatan, did deny unanimously that there were any gods; and Callimachus the Cyrenean discovered his mind concerning Euemerus in these Iambic verses, thus writing:-

To th' ante-mural temple flock apace,

Where he that long ago composed of brass

Great Jupiter, Thrasonic old bald pate,

Now scribbles impious books,-a boastful ass!

meaning books which prove there are no gods. Euripides the tragedian durst not openly declare his sentiment; the court of Areopagus terrified him. Yet he sufficiently manifested his thoughts by this method. He presented in his tragedy Sisyphus, the first and great patron of this opinion, and introduced himself as one agreeing with him:-

Disorder in those days did domineer,

And brutal power kept the world in fear.

Afterwards by the sanction of laws wickedness was suppressed; but by reason that laws could prohibit only public villanies, yet could not hinder many persons from acting secret impieties, some wise persons gave this advice, that we ought to blind truth with lying disguises, and persuade men that there is a God:-

There's an eternal God does hear and see

And understand every impiety;

Though it in dark recess or thought committed be.

But this poetical fable ought to be rejected, he thought, along with Callimachus, who thus saith:-

If you believe a God, it must be meant

That you conceive this God omnipotent.

But God cannot do everything; for, if it were so, then a God could make snow black, and the fire cold, and him that is in a posture of sitting to be upright, and so on the contrary. The brave-speaking Plato pronounceth that God formed the world after his own image; but this smells rank of the old dotages, old comic writers would say; for how did God, casting his eye upon himself, frame this universe? Or how can God be spherical, and be inferior to man?

Anaxagoras avers that bodies did consist from all eternity, but the divine intellect did reduce them into their proper orders, and effected the origination of all beings. But Plato did not suppose that the primary bodies had their consistence and repose, but that they were moved confusedly and in disorder; but God, knowing that order was better than confusion, did digest them into the best methods. Both these were equally peccant; for both suppose God to be the great moderator of human affairs and for that cause to have formed this present world; when it is apparent that an immortal and blessed being, replenished with all his glorious excellencies, and not at all obnoxious to any sort of evil, but being wholly occupied with his own felicity and immortality, would not employ himself with the concerns of men; for certainly miserable is the being which, like a laborer or artificer, is molested by the troubles and cares which the forming and governing of this world must give him. Add to this, that the God whom these men profess was either not at all existing before this present world (when bodies were either reposed or in a disordered motion), or that at that time God did either sleep, or else was in a constant watchfulness, or that he did neither of these. Now neither the first nor the second can be entertained, because they suppose God to be eternal; if God from eternity was in a continual sleep, he was in an eternal death,-and what is death but an eternal sleep?-but no sleep can affect a deity, for the immortal

ity of God and alliance to death are vastly different. But if God was in a continual vigilance, either there was something wanting to make him happy, or else his beatitude was perfectly complete; but according to neither of these can God be said to be blessed; not according to the first, for if there be any deficiency there is no perfect bliss; not according to the second, for, if there be nothing wanting to the felicity of God, it must be a needless enterprise for him to busy himself in human affairs. And how can it be supposed that God administers by his own providence human concerns, when to vain and trifling persons prosperous things happen, to great and high adverse? Agamemnon was both

A virtuous prince, for warlike acts renowned,

("Iliad," iii. 179.)

and by an adulterer and adulteress was vanquished and perfidiously slain. Hercules, after he had freed the life of man from many things that were pernicious to it, perished by the witchcraft and poison of Deianira.

Thales said that the intelligence of the world was God.

Anaximander concluded that the stars were heavenly deities.

Democritus said that God, being a globe of fire, is the intelligence and the soul of the world.

Pythagoras says that, of his principles, unity is God; and the good, which is indeed the nature of a unity, is mind itself; but the binary number, which is infinite, is a daemon, and evil,-about which the multitude of material beings and this visible world are related.

Socrates and Plato agree that God is that which is one, hath its original from its own self, is of a singular subsistence, is one only being perfectly good; all these various names signifying goodness do all centre in mind; hence God is to be understood as that mind and intellect, which is a separate idea, that is to say, pure and unmixed of all matter, and not mingled with anything subject to passions.

Aristotle's sentiment is, that God hath his residence in superior regions, and hath placed his throne in the sphere of the universe, and is a separate idea; which sphere is an ethereal body, which is by him styled the fifth essence or quintessence. For there is a division of the universe into spheres, which are contiguous by their nature but appear to reason to be separated; and he concludes that each of the spheres is an animal, composed of a body and soul; the body of them is ethereal, moved orbicularly, the soul is the rational form, which is unmoved, and yet is the cause that the sphere is in motion.

The Stoics affirm that God is a thing more common and obvious, and is a mechanic fire which every way spreads itself to produce the world; it contains in itself all seminal virtues, and by this means all things by a fatal necessity were produced. This spirit, passing through the whole world, received different names from the mutations in the matter through which it ran in its journey. God therefore is the world, the stars, the earth, and (highest of all) the mind in the heavens. In the judgment of Epicurus all the gods are anthropomorphites, or have the shape of men; but they are perceptible only by reason, for their nature admits of no other manner of being apprehended, their parts being so small and fine that they give no corporeal representations. The same Epicurus asserts that there are four other natural beings which are immortal: of this sort are atoms, the vacuum, the infinite, and the similar parts; and these last are called Homoeomeries and likewise elements.

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