Sunday, December 23, 2007

In Principio Erat Verbum...

Since the Feast of the Incarnation is nearly upon us, here's another bit of material drawn from a paper I'd written for a philosophy class that explores how one pre-Socratic philosopher knew who Christ was before Christ ever existed in time.

The pre-Socratic philosophers had to deal with the problem of “the One and the Many,” or “what is the one which explains the many?” That is, what is the one thing that is the origin or underlying nature of all things? Each philosopher attempted to deal with it in different ways, often building on (or criticizing) the ideas of one another.

Heraclitus is one of these pre-Socratics, perhaps best remembered for his maxim “one can never step in the same river twice.” He believed that everything was changing, and tended toward order. According to him, an immortal “logos,” or word, ordered the world (this was his answer to the problem of the One and the Many—the One was the logos, an immortal, divine, reason); the world was ordered how the logos thought it best, and since the logos is divine, this way of ordering the world must be the best. Heraclitus, then, extends this to say that in order to attain happiness, we must conform to the way things are ordered—in other words, we must follow the logos.

The Christian will find much wisdom in what Heraclitus wrote—several centuries later, St. John the Evangelist began his Gospel with the words:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

The Word, to Christians, is Jesus Christ. This passage of John’s Gospel goes on to describe how Christ made all things, indeed “All things were made by him; and without him was made nothing that was made.” He is already identified as divine (the Word was God). It seems almost, then, as if Heraclitus was writing of Christ many centuries before Christ’s incarnation![1]

Augustine would find no fault with reading Logos in Heraclitus’ philosophy as Christ, even more so when one takes the rather striking conclusion Heraclitus reached and applies it to Christ—in order to attain happiness, we must follow the Logos. This is in perfect harmony with what Augustine taught in his prolific work City of God. In this book, Augustine posits that there are two cities: the earthly one, and the heavenly one, and furthermore that life is a journey toward our true home—the heavenly city, the city of God. We are not residents of this world, Augustine says, our true home is heaven. In order to attain the everlasting happiness of heaven, then, we must follow Christ.

[1] In this way, he finds himself concurring with other early philosophers, as Archbishop Fulton Sheen points out in his prolific “Life of Christ.” In the opening chapter of the work, Msgr. Sheen says that Christ is the only man in history whose coming was pre-announced. He cites the Greeks, quoting Aeschylus’ Prometheus (written six centuries before Christ’s birth): “Look not for any end, moreover, to this curse until God appears, to accept upon His Head the pangs of thy own sins vicarious.” He goes on to quote Cicero speaking of a “King whom we must recognize to be saved,” and then asking “To what man and to what period of time do these predictions point?” The answer was found in the Fourth Ecologue of Virgil when he spoke of “a chaste woman, smiling on her infant boy, with whom the Iron Age would pass away.”

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