Offering the Peplos at the Panathenaea Festival,
east frieze of the Parthenon,
at the British Museum, London.
O V E R V I E W
The Greco-Roman Theology
The Greco-Roman theology was
first mystically and symbolically promulgated by Orpheus, afterwards disseminated
enigmatically through images by Pythagoras, and in the last place scientifically
unfolded by Plato and his genuine disciples.
The peculiarity indeed, of this theology
is, that it is no less scientific than sublime; and that by a geometrical
series of reasoning originating from the most self-evident truths, it develops
all the deified progressions from the ineffable principle of things, and
accurately exhibits to our view all the links of that golden chain of which
deity is the one extreme, and body the other.
That also which is most admirable
and laudable in this theology is, that it produces in the mind properly
prepared for its reception the most pure, holy, venerable, and exalted
conceptions of the great cause of all.
For it celebrates this immense principle
as something superior even to being itself; as exempt from the whole of
things, of which it is nevertheless ineffably the source, and does not
therefore think fit to connumerate it with any triad, or order of beings.
Indeed, it even apologises for attempting
to give an appropriate name to this principle, which is in reality ineffable,
and ascribes the attempt to the imbecility of human nature, which striving
intently to behold it, gives the appellation of the most simple of its
conceptions to that which is beyond all knowledge and all conception.
Hence it denominates it The One,
and The Good; by the former of these names indicating its transcendent
simplicity, and by the latter its subsistence as the object of desire to
all beings. For all things desire good.
At the same time however, it asserts
that these appellations are in reality nothing more than the parturitions
of the soul which standing as it were in the vestibules of the adytum of
deity, announce nothing pertaining to the ineffable, but only indicate
her spontaneous tendencies towards it, and belong rather to the immediate
offspring of the first God, than to the first itself.
Hence, as the result of this most
venerable conception of the supreme, when it ventures not only to denominate
the ineffable, but also to assert something of its relation to other things,
it considers this as pre-eminently its peculiarity, that it is the principle
of principles; it being necessary that the characteristic property of principle,
after the same manner as other things, should not begin from multitude,
but should be collected into one monad as a summit, and which is the principle
of all principles.
Conformably to this, Proclus, in
the second book of The Theology of Plato says, with matchless magnificence
Let us as it were celebrate the first God, not as establishing
the earth and the heavens, nor as giving subsistence to souls, and the
generation of all animals; for he produced these indeed, but among the
last of things; but prior to these, let us celebrate him as unfolding into
light the whole intelligible and intellectual genus of Gods, together with
all the supermundane and mundane divinities - as the God of all Gods, the
unity of all unities, and beyond the first adyta [the highest order of
intelligibles], - as more ineffable than all silence, and more unknown
than all essence, - as holy among the holies, and concealed in the intelligible
The scientific reasoning from
which this dogma is deduced is the following: As the principle of all things
is The One, it is necessary that the progression of beings should be continued,
and that no vacuum should intervene either in incorporeal or corporeal
It is also necessary that every thing
which has a natural progression should proceed through similitude.
In consequence of this, it is likewise
necessary that every producing principle should generate a number of the
same order with itself, viz. nature, a natural number; soul, one that is
psychical (i.e. belonging to soul); and intellect, an intellectual number.
For if whatever possesses a power
of generating, generates similars prior to dissimilars, every cause must
deliver its own form and characteristic peculiarity to its progeny; and
before it generates that which gives subsistence to progressions far distant
and separate from its nature, it must constitute things proximate to itself
according to essence, and conjoined with it through similitude.
It is therefore necessary from these
premises, since there is one unity the principle of the universe, that
this unity should produce from itself, prior to every thing else, a multitude
of natures characterised by unity, and a number the most of all things
allied to its cause; and these natures are no other than the Gods.
According to this theology therefore,
from the immense principle of principles, in which all things causally
subsist, absorbed in superessential light, and involved in unfathomable
depths, a beauteous progeny of principles proceed, all largely partaking
of the ineffable, all stamped with the occult characters of deity, all
possessing an overflowing fullness of good.
From these dazzling summits, these
ineffable blossoms, these divine propagations, being, life, intellect,
soul, nature and body depend; monads suspended from unities, deified natures
proceeding from deities.
Each of these monads too, is the
leader of a series which extends from itself to the last of things, and
which while it proceeds from, at the same time abides in, and returns to
And all these principles and all
their progeny are finally centred and rooted by their summits in the first
great all-comprehending one.
Thus all beings proceed from, and
are comprehended in the first being; all intellects emanate from one first
intellect; all souls from one first soul; all natures blossom from one
first nature; and all bodies proceed from the vital and luminous body of
And lastly, all these great monads
are comprehended in the first one, from which both they and all their depending
series are unfolded into light.
Hence this first one is truly the
unity of unities, the monad of monads, the principle of principles, the
God of Gods, one and all things, and yet one prior to all.
No objections of any weight, no arguments
but such as are sophistical, can be urged against this most sublime theory
which is so congenial to the unperverted conceptions of the human mind,
that it can only be treated with ridicule and contempt in degraded, barren,
and barbarous ages.
Ignorance and priestcraft, however,
have hitherto conspired to defame those
inestimable works, in which this and many other grand and important
dogmas can alone be found; and the theology of the Greeks has been attacked
with all the insane fury of ecclesiastical zeal, and all the imbecil flashes
of mistaken wit, by men whose conceptions on the subject, like those of
a man between sleeping and waking, have been turbid and wild, phantastic
and confused, preposterous and vain.
From Thomas Taylor's Introduction
to The Theology of Plato by Proclus
isbn 1 898910 07 3