WHAT IS GOD ?
SOME of the philosophers, such as Diagoras the Melian,
Theodorus the Cyrenean, and Euemerus the Tegeatan, did
unanimously deny there were any Gods; and Callimachus
the Cyrenean discovered his mind touching Euemerus in
these Iambic verses, thus writing:
To th' ante-mural temple flock apace,
Where he that long ago composed of brass
Great Jupiter, Thrasonic old bald pate,
Now writes his impious books,—a boastful ass!
meaning books which denote there are no Gods. Euripides the tragedian durst not openly declare his sentiment;
the court of Areopagus terrified him. Yet he sufficiently
manifested his thoughts by this method. He presented in
his tragedy Sisyphus, the first and great patron of this
opinion, and introduced himself as one agreeing with
Disorder in those days did domineer,
And brutal power kept the world in fear.
Afterwards by the sanction of laws wickedness was suppressed; but by reason that laws could prohibit only public villanies, yet could not hinder many persons from acting
secret impieties, some wise persons gave this advice, that
we ought to blind truth with lying disguises, and to persuade men that there is a God:
There's an eternal God does hear and see
And understand every impiety;
Though it in dark recess or thought committed be.
But this poetical fable ought to be rejected, he thought,
together with Callimachus, who thus saith:
If you believe a God, it must be meant
That you conceive this God omnipotent.
But God cannot do every thing; for, if it were so, then
God could make snow black, and the fire cold, and him that
is in a posture of sitting to be upright, and so on the contrary. The brave-speaking Plato pronounceth that God
formed the world after his own image; but this smells rank
of the old dotages, old comic poets would say; for how
did God, casting his eye upon himself, frame this universe ?
Or how can God be spherical, and not be inferior to
Anaxagoras avers that bodies did consist from all eternity, but the divine intellect did reduce them into their
proper orders, and effected the origination of all beings.
Plato did not suppose that the primary bodies had their
consistence and repose, but that they were moved confusedly and in disorder; but God, knowing that order was
better than confusion, did digest them into the best methods. Both these were equally peccant; for both suppose
God to be the great moderator of human affairs, and for
that cause to have formed this present world; when it is
apparent that an immortal and blessed being, replenished
with all his glorious excellencies, and not at all obnoxious
to any sort of evil, but being wholly occupied with his
own felicity and immortality, would not employ himself
with the concerns of men; for certainly miserable is the
being which, like a laborer or artificer, is molested by the
troubles and cares which the forming and governing of
this world must give him. Add to this, that the God
whom these men profess was either not at all existing previous to this present world (when bodies were either
reposed or in a disordered motion), or that then God did
either sleep, or else was in a perpetual watchfulness, or
that he did neither of these. Now neither the first nor
the second can be entertained, because they suppose God
to be eternal; if God from eternity was in a continual
sleep, he was in an eternal death,—and what is death but
an eternal sleep?—but no sleep can affect a Deity, for the
immortality of God and alliance to death are vastly different. But if God was in a continual vigilance, either there
was something wanting to make him happy, or else his
beatitude was perfectly complete; but according to neither
of these can God be said to be blessed; not according to
the first, for if there be any deficiency there is no perfect
bliss; not according to the second, for, if there be nothing
wanting to the felicity of God, it must be a useless enterprise for him to busy himself in human affairs. And how
can it be supposed that God administers by his own providence human concerns, when to vain and trifling persons
prosperous things happen, to great and high adverse?
Agamemnon was both
A virtuous prince, for warlike acts renowned,2
and by an adulterer and adulteress was vanquished and
perfidiously slain. Hercules, after he had freed the life
of man from many things that were pernicious to it, perished by the witchcraft and poison of Deianira.
Thales said that the intelligence of the world was God.
Anaximander concluded that the stars were heavenly
Democritus said that God, being a globe of fire, is intelligence and the soul of the world.
Pythagoras says that, of his principles, unity is God; and
the perfect good, which is indeed the nature of a unity, is
mind itself; but the binary number, which is infinite, is a
devil, and in its own nature evil,—about which the multitude of material beings, and this world which is the object
of our eyes, are conversant.
Socrates and Plato agree that God is that which is one,
hath its original from its own self, is of a singular subsistence, is one only being perfectly good; all these various names signifying goodness do all centre in mind; hence
God is to be understood as that mind and intellect, which
is a separate idea, that is to say, pure and unmixed of all
matter, and not twisted with any thing obnoxious to
Aristotle's sentiment is, that God hath his residence in
superior regions, and hath placed his throne in the sphere
of the universe, and is a separate idea; which sphere is an
ethereal body, which is by him styled the fifth essence or
quintessence. For there is a division of the universe into
spheres, which are contiguous by their nature but appear to
reason to be separated; and he concludes that each of the
spheres is an animal, composed of a body and soul; the
body of them is ethereal, moved orbicularly, the soul is
the rational form, which is unmoved, and yet is the cause
that the sphere is actually in motion.
The Stoics affirm that God is a thing more common and
obvious, and is a mechanic fire which every way spreads
itself to produce the world; it contains in itself all seminal
virtues, and by this means all things by a fatal necessity
were produced. This spirit, passing through the whole
world, received various names from the mutations in the
matter through which it ran in its journey. God therefore
is the world, the stars, the earth, and (highest of all) the
supreme mind in the heavens.
In the judgment of Epicurus all the Gods are anthropomorphites, or have the shape of men; but they are perceptible only by reason, for their nature admits of no other
manner of being apprehended, their parts being so small
and fine that they give no corporeal representations. The
same Epicurus asserts that there are four other natural
beings which are immortal: of this sort are atoms, the
vacuum, the infinite, and the similar parts; and these last
are called Homoeomeries and likewise elements.