The God of the Philosophers

These are quotes and paraphrases of the statements various Greek philosophers made about the nature of God. They were actually collected together in the class notes of F. Kent Nielson's "Science and Religion" class at BYU, and professor Nielson said he got them mostly from Hugh Nibley. Thanks to Kerry Shirts for providing this e-copy of the notes.

Thales (546 B.C.) said that God is mind (nous). The universe is alive and full of divine power. "Everything is full of Gods." He even noted that a stone had a soul.

Anaximander (532 B.C.) - the beginning and the fundamental substance (stoicheion) of things is an infinite something - "The Boundless" as he designates it. He also says the "apeiron", the absolute is the source of all things.Other elements are constantly being exchanged, but the Boundless cannot partake of this changeableness, or else it would pass away. The Boundless is not like the other elements.

This Boundless is uncreated and indestructible, being itself primary. It has no cause, but causes all other things.

Heracleitus (500 B.C.) - God is wisest of all. When we die our souls mount up and live. The deathless are dead, the dead are deathless.

Pythagoras (532 B.C.) - The ruler and cause (arche) of all things is one eternal God, unique, unmoving, wholly like himself and different from all else. Being is one and there can be none else.

Xenophanes (536 B.C.) - God is one and incorporeal. Neither in appearance nor in mind does he resemble mortals. God is without parts (homoion pantei) defined spherical and perceptive in all parts. The Unmoving, the effective cause, but most simply the existing one. There can only be one (sounds like a movie!). He is neither boundless nor bound, neither the center, nor moving, nor motionless, etc. He is everywhere the same.

Melissus (440 B.C.) - If nothing exists there is nothing to talk about. If something exists it is either created or timeless. If created it must come out of something else. It cannot come out of what does not exist, yet neither can it come out of what does exist, therefore what exists has always existed. It is unperishable and uncreated, therefore it is boundless, and hence one, hence unmoving, since the infinite has nowhere to go. There is no empty space or the one would fill it.

Anaxagoras (428 B.C.) - no creation and no passing away, just an eternal mixing and reshuffling of elements. Nous came and gave structure to chaos. Nous is independent of all things. Only mind is unlimited and self-existent. It is the great mover, itself unmoved and invulnerable. Mind gives meaning, and hence being, to all things.

Empedocles (444 B.C.) - God has no human body parts, but he is sacred, ineffable, indescribable, Mind (Phren), filling the whole vast universe with his thoughts. He is not known through the senses, but with the intellect, right reasoning, dikaios logos.

Protagoras (440 B.C.) - He doesn't know whether the Gods exist or not.

Socrates (399 B.C.) - the divinity in us is invisible.

Antisthenes (444 B.C.) - No one can ever know God because there is nothing to compare Him with (no eikon)

Euclid (440 B.C.) - Some call God intellect (phronesis), some god, some mind (nous). Only the Good exists. its opposite is nonexistence. This one Good is uniform and always the same.

Plato (347 B.C.) - The boundless, the limit or definition (number, measure), the mixture of these both = our universe, the creator and cause of it all, God.

God is simple, eternal, pure mind.

The operation of the mind is obvious by looking at the motion of the celestial bodies.

God is good and causes all good.

Mind, not just necessity created all things.

This cosmos is a living organism with a mind (nous), truly created by the providence (pronoia) of God.

Aristotle (347 B.C.) - Only philosophy contemplates the immobile, immaterial, self-existent substratum. The most basic of all first principles is that nothing can be and not be at the same time. It cannot have parts, as these are limiting, and the infinite is not limited. Hence God is infinite and unlimited. The great primal body, moving on its own axis, is uncreated, indestructible and not subject to increase of diminution.

Epicurus (306 B.C.) - God is an immortal, imperishable - "aphtharton".

Philo (39 A.D.) - God is simple, absolutely one, and unmixed. He has no parts, no body, which would diminish him, therefore God is not compound. While he is older than the cosmos, he is the creator of the cosmos. He is a monad, One. Impossible to view God, all we can comprehend is His existence, everything else is beyond us.

Appollonius (1st century A.D.) - God is one and apart from all things, He is utterly unlike anything corporeal (bodily in nature). God needs nothing, he is mind and has no organs.

Plutarch (120 A.D.) - God is not like man or anything on earth. has no body, great or small, but is unutterable, indefinable, incomparable, to anything else.

Plotinus (242 A.D.) - God embraces all, all nous, all God, all soul. Being all good, why should he change? Having all things present with him, where would he go? Being perfect, what more can he seek? Mind is all, embracing itself all in itself, it is one and eternal, having no past, present and future. Mind supports being and being is the substance of mind. For to know is to be, each the cause of the other, but though they are two, they are one. To seek is the act of an unsatisfied mind, nous and being are the same, the idea is inseparable from the Nous that has it; the substance of thought is thought. All matter is evil, there is nothing true and good in it, since it is the opposite of perfect being.