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Vol I No. 1
Theology & Liturgy

Reasoned Existence

by William J. Martin

The Ancient Greeks became convinced that the balanced life was essential to the mind’s discovery of Divine truth since it conditioned the body and soul to the service of God. Of significant importance was the virtue of temperance or moderation- sophrosone, sometimes translated as self-control. We think of that virtue specifically in relation to food, wine, and sex but the Greeks meant something more all-encompassing than that. They taught of a moderate disposition in relation to all things, which is to say that they were thinking of a broader harmony achieved when the body, spirit, and soul related rightly to everyone and everything.

The harmony which the Greeks pursued was a means to an end in which every part of the human nature was doing its job well. The soul’s role was the highest, and so its function was meant to govern both the body and the spirit. The body then was to be tamed and acclimated through the spirit’s willful desire, which in turn was moved by the soul’s vision and understanding of the Divine. So what the soul would come to know of God would then be willed in spirit for the body.

Of course, the Greeks had no conception of the radical meaning of life which Christians would later discover through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. What I mean to say is that they could not conceive of a kind of life that would be moved by the kind of love that Jesus revealed. No doubt, the Greeks did come to know God and many of his necessary attributes. They learned that he was uniquely Almighty, Everlasting, Unopposed, Impassible, Infinite, Pure, and Perfect. They would even discover his Wisdom, Reason, or Logos -also called his Word, as the principle that rules and governs the universe. They would then attempt to translate what they learned of his Wisdom into a practical prudence and utility that could establish Justice and harmony in the human community . Thus what they gleaned from the Divine Maker’s rule and governance of the universe, they taught should be applied to individual life and then to the common life of the polis or the city. Both the self and the community were called to temperance and moderation that enabled man to imitate the Divine life both individually and collectively.

We did say that the Greeks did not discover through human reason the radical nature of Divine love as it was revealed to man by Jesus. This is not to say that they did not discover that God is love. Aristotle says that God, or the First Mover, is the love that moves the sun and the stars. He and other ancient pagans did discover God’s love and passion as what moves all things, enlivens and quickens them, and leads them to their appointed ends and destinies. So it would be unfair to say that the Greeks did not see and even thankfully appreciate God as Love.

The point is that the love of God which the Greeks found was, as it were, limited. This was not their fault- they were after all only human. And human reason is confined to its own created limitations. They employed human reason to find out as much as was humanly possible about God. That they found as much as they did is testimony to the capacity of fallen man to pursue and discover God. Remember, the Greeks believed that all of human life was moved by Divine power and inspiration and that the human mind could not find and discover truth without God. What they could not find was a way to God forever. Having come to know God from a distance –as it were, they could not bridge the gap between the God they knew and the men that they were. They could not save themselves. This the best of them knew. This the most humble of them endured. This, perhaps, the most loving of them used as a reason to hope to obtain from God what their own reason could never produce.

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