Was Parmenides a mystic?
This is one of the questions about Parmenides that I will seek to answer in this post as we return to the Presocratic philosophers. As I study the Presocratics, I am discovering things I never anticipated. Because of my modern perspective, I started this blog viewing philosophy as a purely rational endeavor.
What has surprised me is how many philosophical mystics I am running into. Among them include not only Parmenides, but ancients like Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Epimenides, Socrates, and Plato, not to mention Chinese thinkers such as Lao Tzu. And this tradition continues strongly into the Catholic faith with intellectual mystics such as St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Hildegard of Bingen, and others.
The other thing that I am learning is how in touch with the divine the Presocratics were. For them, having a naturalistic explanation for things did not at all preclude the involvement of God; in fact, it enhanced it. Where they made advancements in thinking was in moving away from superstitious mythology. They were against superstition, not spirituality. One could say that by opposing superstition, they deepened not only our understanding of the physical universe, but of God as well.
Modern thought teaches that these thinkers viewed anything spiritual as “superstitious” and that they sought their explanations for things entirely in the physical. By abandoning “myth” – that is, all religion – they became “enlightened.” Thus we recreate the Presocratics in the image of our modern, rationalistic, materialistic gods. The reviews of books written by modern authors about the mysticism of the ancients are often qualified with phrases such as “an intriguing book, although the author’s perspective is at odds with numerous modern critics.”
As such, we virtually ignore the ancient philosophers’ mystical experiences and discourses on divinity. They make us uncomfortable and don’t fit into the mold of what we would like them to be. This is especially true in regard to their mysticism. Not all ancient philosophers were mystics, but all were spiritual. And in the lives of philosophers like Parmenides, mysticism played a large part.
Why do we have such a difficult time in the West holding the intellectual and the spiritual together? And where did this false dichotomy originate? The purpose of this blog is to explore such questions.
In this post, we are going to take a look at a fascinating poem by Parmenides, the only extant work of his that survives.Continue reading “42. Parmenides the Mystic”