This is the only blog where you will get a comprehensive and integrated perspective on how Biblical revelation and Greek thought came together to form the Catholic Church and thus Western Civilization.
Let’s continue our journey from Heraclitus’ idea of Logos to St. John’s application of the Logos to the Son of God.
In post 35, I discussed how the Stoics took Heraclitus’ idea of the logos and expanded it to include the idea of eternal recurrence – the continual destruction and rebirth of the entire universe.1 The logos, a physical entity, was the ordering principle that guided this process.
So much did logos order the universe, that the Stoics saw a strong determinism woven into its fabric.2 In summary, the Stoics handed down a logos that was reformulated from what they received from Heraclitus. Their logos was a strongly rational principle that guided the entire universe in a deterministic manner.
The Nature of the Universe
The Stoics believed in the eternality of the universe and the logos was a part of that universe. Since, as Parmenides said, something cannot come from nothing, that left no other option than the universe had always existed, albeit in continual cycles of destruction and rebirth (i.e., eternal recurrence).
What unifies a universe made up of individual and diverse things?
As I previously stated, the main philosophical problem to be solved – throughout history but especially in ancient Greek philosophy – is that of universals also known as the problem of the one and the many.1 (Please read the preceding posts if you haven’t already, starting with post 32, as background to this post.) Because Heraclitus took elements of Eastern or Persian thinking and combined them with Western Greek thinking in developing his concept of logos,2 Western Civilization became one step closer to solving this problem. Eastern thinking tends to emphasize the one, and Western, the many.
After Heraclitus, other Presocratic philosophers would continue to make important contributions to philosophy. But eventually, Presocratic philosophy went into the doldrums, hamstrung by its failure to find the unifying principle of the universe in a material cause. Sound thinking was replaced by the rise of sophistry and the superstitious worship of the Greek pantheon of gods…that was, until Socrates.
In post 32, I said that I would cover Heraclitus in two posts, but I could not do it. In fact, I don’t think three posts are enough, but we will see. Truth be told, I could probably write at least a dozen more posts on Heraclitus. If any of you feel that I have left out something important or have a question on what I’ve discussed so far, leave it in the comment section below. Please read post 32 and post 33 as background to this post if you haven’t already.
The Meaning of Logos
Heraclitus took a common word, logos, which originally meant “word” or “speech,” and revolutionized the philosophical world.1 In fact, after Heraclitus, ancient philosophers (and more recent ones, too) would fill pages and pages with discussion on the meaning of logos.
From its original meaning, it evolved into what speech represented – rationality or reason. And from there, it blossomed like a tree to take on a whole host of meanings. It is where we get the suffix -logy where we get words like biology, anthropology, and zoology. From logos we also get words like logical, logistics, eulogy, prologue, and catalog.
The meaning of logos could be described in many ways, including the order of the cosmos, as wisdom or universal consciousness, a logos of nature, and something boundless within the soul to be found by oneself.
As portrayed above, Heraclitus is an aged and weary man as compared with the resolute and determined Heraclitus in the previous post. His hands are clasped and his head is bowed as if in prayer. He seems to be either meditating as he awaits some profound insight or resigning himself to the pessimistic fate of humanity.
In the book of Acts,St. Paul was humbled by a divine voice and a bright light on the road to Damascus.1 But Heraclitus encountered divinity through a glass, darkly, as he heard the voice of the logos speak to him from within.
Heraclitus is, for me, the most difficult of the Presocratic thinkers to write about. This heavyweight of Greek philosophy had gravitas – he was a deep, complex, enigmatic figure, and a brooding thinker.
Heraclitus’ Logos – A Redefinition in Greek Philosophy
One of Heraclitus’ main accomplishments was that he redefined the concept of logos which had, prior to him, been an amorphous concept in Greek philosophy. Heraclitus’ logos would reverberate throughout Western civilization. And all of this came from a man who engaged his audience from a distance due to his critical eye toward humanity in general.1
Because of his complexity, I will devote two posts to him: the first discussing his life and ideas in general, and the second discussing his development of the concept of logos.
He was, yet again, a son of the Ionian Enlightenment, having come from the famous city of Ephesus in Ionia.2 Ephesus was close to Miletus, the home of other Presocratic thinkers, namely Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes. He was born around 535 BC and lived at the time of Persian domination of Ionia, yet he did not flee to the West like other Greeks in Ionia.
Heraclitus the Hermit
The Ionians gave Heraclitus the honorary title of “King of the Ionians” but he pawned that off on his brother and went to live the life of a recluse.3 He only returned to the city just before he died at the age of 60. Just as I view Pythagoras as the founder of the first proto-monastery, so I consider Heraclitus the first hermit.
Xenophanes could be considered the roving vagabond of the Presocratic philosophers. Like the others discussed earlier, he came from Ionia.1 He was from the Ionian city of Colophon which was near Miletus, home of the Milesian Presocratic philosophers Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes. There was something about Ionia that lent itself to producing great thinkers and Xenophanes was no exception. Thales would have said that whatever it was, it was probably in the water.
He left his homeland abruptly at the age of 25 after Cyrus, king of the Persians, invaded Ionia in 550 BC. King Cyrus had the Jews, the people of faith, under his dominion at this time, and now he had the philosophers as well – a prefiguration that one day faith and reason would be united under one head, Jesus Christ. King Cyrus is a prefiguration and a type of Christ, even being called the “messiah” in the Old Testament book of Isaiah.
After leaving Ionia, along with other Greek compatriots, he made his way through the Greek colonies in Sicily. He did not settle in any one place for long, but spent his life moving from town to town.2
Due to our present circumstances, I am taking a small detour from writing on the Presocratic philosophers in order to write an article about about the nature of truth.
I remember that, as children playing in the pool, we liked to see who could hold a beach ball under water the longest. It was not an easy task. We tried to push the beach ball further down thinking that it would be less likely to pop back up. Of course, we discovered that the more we tried to keep the ball under water, the more difficult it became to hold it there. It always popped back up after only a few seconds.
Pythagoras was a demigod who went around performing miracles. He talked to the animals and they listened to him.1 Once, he convinced a bear to stop harassing the townspeople and the bear gave its word that it would. He also was renowned for having a “golden thigh.”
These are just some of the legends that surround this historical figure.2 In addition to all of that, he did not invent the Pythagorean theorem. Consequently, when we deal with Pythagoras, we are dealing with an enigmatic figure who is partly mythical and partly real. Like Socrates, he did not leave any writings, but also like Socrates, his followers attributed their ideas to him.3 Pythagoras and his followers lived in a highly secretive community.