The Problem of Religion:
The Development of Greek Philosophy (Part 4)
The Problem of Religion
In Part 3 of this series of discussions about the development of Greek philosophy, I have presented the development of Greek philosophy from the Stoics to the Skeptics, with emphasis on the problem of freedom. In this concluding part, I will discuss briefly the last problem of ancient Greek philosophy, namely: the problem of religion.
As we have seen, the means of the Stoics, the Epicureans, and the Skeptics in attaining freedom from the world seemed to have failed. It is for this reason that the problem of the world, that is, the evil it contains, requires a deeper solution: religion.
It is important to note, therefore, that after the Stoics, the Epicureans, and the Skeptics, the desire for freedom from the world took another direction, and this is now religious in nature. It is now viewed as the desire for salvation. Grecian philosophy soon met with Christianity, which broke through the limits of Judaism. For this reason, the desire for freedom now seeks union with God. Here, God must be conceived in such a way that the human person can say that if she were with Him, she would be happy―that in God’s presence, there is nothing that disturbs and oppresses. For this reason, it is only through God that salvation is possible.
The idea of salvation in late ancient Greek philosophy was introduced by the Ascetics, the Neo-Platonists, and Jewish Philosophy.
The Ascetics, such as the monks, want to attain divine illumination through a continued renunciation of the world and control of their natural desires, even to the extremist abstinence. Thus, the Ascetics normally withdraw from the world and voluntarily renounced worldly pleasures in the pursuit of spiritual goals. According to The Basics on Philosophy, http://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_asceticism.html, “The justification behind Asceticism is usually that spiritual and religious goals are impeded by indulgence in pleasures of the flesh, although it does not necessarily hold that the enjoyment of life is bad in itself. Thus, ascetic practices are not usually regarded as virtuous as such, but merely a means towards a mind-body transformation, or a purification of the body which enables connection with the Divine and the cultivation of inner peace. It aims to achieve freedom from compulsions and temptations, bringing about peacefulness of mind and an increase in clarity and power of thought.”
The Neo-Platonists, such as Ammonius Saccas (175 CE – 242 CE) and Plotinus (204 CE – 270 CE) believed that the doctrine of the order of the world can be conceived as thoughts of God. For one, Plotinus believes that the rational soul participates in the divine eternal world; thus, the rational soul directly originates from the divine essence. Plotinus believes that the rational soul is in constant communion with the One, and for this reason, the rational soul continually receives from the One. Thus, for Plotinus, salvation is possible only if the rational soul is connected to the One (or God). For more on the life and works of Plotinus, see “Plotinus,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plotinus/.
Jewish philosophy has a spiritual kinship with Neo-Platonism. This is because its chief problem was the salvation of the world. The fundamental thought in which its solution is sought is that of a world-saving principle, that is, the Logos. The Logos, which was regarded by the ancient Greek philosophers as the principle of world-order, is now viewed as the Mediator between God and the human person. Indeed, the Logos was viewed by the Jewish thinkers as the creative word of God.
Indeed, when Jewish philosophy met Grecian philosophy, the idea of the Logos of the latter, which was understood as the principle of world-order, was now understood by the Jews as Messiah. Thus, the Logos-Messiah becomes the Mediator and Savior of the world.
Now, the problem of salvation demands a personal solution. This solution is possible only if a man appears who can actually overcome the world in himself, and who is truly free from the world. This man should then be the Savior of the world. Thus, the Logos has to become a flesh, that is, God the Savior has to become a man. And only though faith in this man can the person’s desire for salvation be satisfied. Thus, Jesus Christ has come into the fore. Indeed, it is precisely in this late period of Greek philosophy that Jesus Christ emerged.
What comes after this late stage of Greek philosophy was the development of philosophy in the Medieval period. But I will not discuss this part because this is no longer our main concern here. It is enough that we now know the origin and development of Western philosophy, particularly Greek philosophy.
In the next post, I will briefly discuss the different approaches to doing philosophy the proper way.
Below is the front cover of our book in philosophy of the human person, a core subject in senior high schools in the Philippines. Chapter 1 of this book discusses the problem of religion. If you are interested to purchase the book, you may contact the publisher at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the basic information of this book, please visit this link: http://philonotes.com/index.php/2017/11/24/textbook-iphp-k-12/
DR. JEFFRY OCAY
Professor of Philosophy