2.20.2009

For Comparison & Consideration

1. From Parmenides' fragmentary poem (5th Century B.C.)

How could what is (being; to eon) perish? How could it come to be (be born)? For if it came to be, it is (was) not, nor if it is ever about to come to be. In this way coming to be has been extinguished and destruction is not heard of. Neither is it divisible, since it is all alike (like);(OR:..., since all is alike (like);) Nor is it in any way more in any one place, which would keep it from holding itself together; Nor is it in any way less; but all is full of what is (being; eontos). Therefore all is continuous; for what is (being; eon) comes near to what is (being; eonti).(OR:Therefore it is all continuous; for...)
2. From Plato's dialogue, Parmenides (~370 B.C.):

If the one were greater or less than the others, or the others greater or less than the one, they would not be greater or less than each other in virtue of their being the one and the others; but, if in addition to their being what they are they had equality, they would be equal to one another, or if the one had smallness and the others greatness, or the one had greatness and the others smallness-whichever kind had greatness would be greater, and whichever had smallness would be smaller?
3. From Plotinus' Enneads, number 1 (~250 B.C.):

And how do we possess the Divinity? In that the Divinity is contained in the Intellectual-Principle and Authentic-Existence; and We come third in order after these two, for the We is constituted by a union of the supreme, the undivided Soul-we read- and that Soul which is divided among [living] bodies. For, note, we inevitably think of the Soul, though one undivided in the All, as being present to bodies in division: in so far as any bodies are Animates, the Soul has given itself to each of the separate material masses; or rather it appears to be present in the bodies by the fact that it shines into them: it makes them living beings not by merging into body but by giving forth, without any change in itself, images or likenesses of itself like one face caught by many mirrors.
4. From St. Basil's On the Holy Spirit (~360 A.D.)

For the Son is in the Father and the Father in the Son; since such as is the latter, such is the former, and such as is the former, such is the latter; and herein is the Unity. So that according to the distinction of Persons, both are one and one, and according to the community of Nature, one. How, then, if one and one, are there not two Gods? Because we speak of a king, and of the king's image, and not of two kings. The majesty is not cloven in two, nor the glory divided. The sovereignty and authority over us is one, and so the doxology ascribed by us is not plural but one; because the honour paid to the image passes on to the prototype. Now what in the one case the image is by reason of imitation, that in the other case the Son is by nature; and as in works of art the likeness is dependent on the form, so in the case or the divine and uncompounded nature the union consists in the communion of the Godhead. One, moreover, is the Holy Spirit, and we speak of Him singly, conjoined as He is to the one Father through the one Son, and through Himself completing the adorable and blessed Trinity. Of Him the intimate relationship to the Father and the Son is sufficiently declared by the fact of His not being ranked in the plurality of the creation, but being spoken of singly; for he is not one of many, but One. For as there is one Father and one Son, so is there one Holy Ghost.
If you've made it this far, you'll expect some commentary. My comment is simply this: a close reading of these four representative texts--texts that span almost a thousand years--reveals very clearly that distinctions that we currently take for granted (especially the distinction between Philosophy, which we imagine to be objective, "scientific," rational, etc., and Religion, which we conceive to be subjective, emotive, irrational, etc.) were no distinction at all for those who lived during the ancient era.

I think even some of the best educated intellectuals, clinging to the order enforced by linguistic categories, make the mistake of projecting their own divisions where no divisions (or different divisions) may have existed. So here are four intellectuals: 1) Parmenides, whose only surviving written work is a fragmentary poem, and who is sometimes understood to be the father of Reason; 2) Plato, whose name is perhaps more firmly associated with "Philosophy" than any other individual's; 3) The great "Neoplatonist" (!?), Plotinus, who is said to have been influenced by Christianity; 4) St. Basil of Caesarea, a saint in the Catholic church, an early Christian.

So how shall we divide our subject matter? -- Philosophy students shall take Parmenides and Plato; Theology students take Plotinus and Basil? Or perhaps Plotinus may be studied in Philosophy classes?

What about Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, whose famous philosophical tract, The Monadology, begins:
The Monad, of which we shall here speak, is nothing but a simple substance, which enters into compounds. By 'simple' is meant 'without parts.'
Who will study them all? Who will release themselves from pre-established categories to make a study of what is consistent in these thinkers? Are you able to see, to really understand, that the words Truth (alatheia), God, One, Intellectual-Principle, the Monad, may be referring to only one thing? Are you able to see that the dialectic may be a manifestation of dualism?--that Hegelian synthesis may be the third leg in a latter-day trinity? That some of us have never not been talking about this (one!) thing? That it doesn't matter what you call it? That language subserves it (Wrangler)?

Can you understand that the author of Federalist #10, "Publius" ( James Madison) was thinking of all of this when he wrote, to begin that letter:
Among the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.
Should it be surprising through all of this that it was not only ("spiritual") Jesus who claimed to be divine, but also ("philosophical") Parmenides' near-contemporary, Empedocles? And should it be surprising if ("political") Emperor Halie Selassie I "specifically declined to refute" that he was divine in 1966?--that Bob Marley's "One Love" is one of our favorite songs?

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