The Two Types of Theology

As you know, the term theology was invented by Plato. There was no theology before him; it's a new term. (Every term was new at some time.) Think of how it arose and on what occasion—as we might have it today with our students. These young people are corrupted by all sorts of sophistic nonsense in the environment. You have to explain things to them and you hit on the following problem.

The ideas of all of these young people with whom we talk (in the Republic ; later, in the Laws , the ideas of their elders) can be summarized in a triad of propositions advanced by Sophists—a very comprehensive triad:  1. The gods don't exist;  2. If they exist they do not care what men are doing;  3. If they care what men are doing you can bribe them by sacrifice. (Go ahead—make a few sacrifices out of the profits from your crimes.)

Plato gives these three negative propositions about the gods without mentioning his source. But we have one Sophistic source: a speech once made by Gorgias of which an abstract is preserved. He gives that triad of propositions in its general form—concerning more than gods:  1. Nothing exists;  2. If it exists, it is unknowable;  3. If it is knowable, it is incommunicable. (In this way you get rid of the whole of being!) It is obviously a Sophistic school-technique to formulate such triads which are comprehensively negative.

And now Plato formulated the positive triad: The gods do exist; they do care about man; you cannot make them accomplices in your crimes by pacifying them with offerings out of your profits. On that occasion Plato uses the term theology and calls these two types of triads "the types of theology." Both, please, not only the positive type; the negative gives the occasion to formulate a positive doctrinal sentence in the first place.

The man who formulates the negative propositions (cf. especially book II of the Republic)—"The gods don't exist" etc.—is the man plagued with anoia—with what in the Hebrew and Christian contexts is called foolishness (as in Psalm 13: "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no god.'") The term fool in Hebrew is equal to the Greek anoia or amathes.

That brings in a very important matter, which I found recently in Plato and which I think has never been treated properly in philosophy. We have a tension in human existence: the possibility of positively searching for the ground of one's existence, accepting the Divine ground, understanding it—with the accompanying joy, the eudaimonia—while if we reject it we fall into the state of anxiety.

It is very characteristic of the classic philosophy of Plato and Aristotle that there is no Greek word for anxiety. "Anxiety" is in­troduced after Alexander's conquest (when it becomes a mass phe­nomenon!) and then by the Stoics: the agnoia ptoiodes—instead of the positive formulation. "Scary ignorance" is what anxiety would have been called.

The Drama of Humanity CW Vol 33
Conversations III
"Myth as Environment"
pp 318-319.







TABLE OF CONTENTS

VOEGELIN MAIN PAGE

NEXT QUOTATION