There be dragons!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Alexander Wilder and the Greek Gods

This excerpt from Alexander Wilder struck me as quite significant:

The worship of these subordinate beings constituted the idolatry charged upon the ancients, an imputation not deserved by the philosophers who recognized but one Supreme Being, and professed to understand the hyponia or under-meaning, by which angels, demons and heroes were to be regarded. Epicuras said, "The gods exist, but they are not what the [[hoi polloi]], or common multitude, supposed them to be. He is not an infidel or atheist who denies the existence of the gods whom the multitude worship, but he is such who fastens on these gods the opinions of the multitude."

Aristotle declares: "The divine essence pervades the whole world of nature; what are styled the gods are only the first principles. The myths and stories were devised to make the religious systems intelligible and attractive to the people, who otherwise would not give them any regard or veneration." Thus the stories of Jupiter, the siege of Troy, the wanderings of Ulysses, the adventures of Hercules, were but tales and fables, which had a deep under-meaning. "All men yearn after the gods," says Homer. All the old worships indicate the existence of a single theosophy anterior to them. "The key that is to open one must open all; otherwise it cannot be the right key."

~Alexander Wilder


What Aristotle seems to touch on is a fundamental reality of human existence; we perceive metaphysical realities first and foremost through artwork, images, forms. Philosophy and theology express metaphysical truth and make it intelligible, but myths and stories make metaphysical truth intelligible and attractive. Thus we find ourselves "relating" to a song or movie or story, though not to the doctrine of three persons in one god. The "gods", then, are these powers or manifestations of the One God that occur in our world and through us. We still today make heroes of our celebrities. Emulating them and admiring their enviable success, we tacitly wish that we too could be famous and svelt and successful. We still conjure the pagan gods as well each time we covet the luxuries of the shopping mall, or make a deity of alcohol and drugs, or over-romanticize sexual love through porn or adultery. The pagan gods and heroes are still very much with us b/c they are part of a fundamental longing in the human heart. By worshiping them we run the risk of becoming again their slaves and making them, as Augustine said, into demons. But by studying them and pondering what they really embodied, we not only come to understand the unique greatness of Christianity, we also come to know the metaphysical world and ourselves as well.

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