Platonists on the Gods

Category: Theology > Philosophers on the Gods

1 Introduction

Other philosophical schools, like the Epicureans and Stoics, could refer to systematic monographs On the Gods by their founders and and main authorities (Epicurus and Chrysippus, respectively, in their case). Although the followers of Plato often claimed to have an especially exalted understanding of the gods, they had nothing on this order from their master. As a result, Platonic theology is much less consistent – or, to put it more positively, the Platonists could develop the impulses given in the Platonic dialogues with comparatively much more freedom than their rivals had in interpreting their schools’ doctrines.

The proper attitude for a historian of philosophy to take in this situation, I think, is to treat Plato as the opening of an ongoing discussion. While we can often be quite sure what he means in a given passage, the implications of an idea, and how it connects to Plato’s statements elsewhere, are rarely self-evident; they are matters of exegesis, of bringing different parts of his oeuvre into conversation with each other. In other words, when we study the system building of the so-called Middle and Neo-Platonists, we must only measure them against Plato’s words, not against an imagined original Platonism of already systematic character. (Of course, different standards apply for those working within the Platonic tradition.)

2 Aëtius

Plato (says The God) is the One, the Single (monophués), the monadic, real Being (tò óntōs òn), the Good: but all such names refer to the Mind (noûn). Now Mind is The God, a separate form.

And let the separate be understood as what is not mixed with any matter, and (which is) entangled with none of the corporeal things, and which has no share in the passivity of nature.¹

The other divine things are intelligible (noētà) offspring of this father and maker. They are the so-called intelligible cosmos <and the ideas>, and they are the models (paradeígmata) of the visible cosmos. In addition to these, there are certain powers (called gods) in the ether (enaithérioi) – but lógoi are incorporeal² – and³ in the air (enaérioi) and in the water (énydroi). And the visible (gods) are Sun, Moon, Stars, Earth, and the cosmos which contains all things.

1: “In the passive part of nature”?
2: An aside to draw a distinction between this part of Plato’s tenets and the lógoi of Stoicism?
3: Wachsmuth adds “and in the fire” (émpyroi) in analogy to Alcinous 15.