Philosophy: Three Theistic Terms

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Technically, the three following terms more correctly fall into the category of the ‘Philosophy of Religion’. Obviously, whether or not an individual ‘believes’ or ‘disbelieves’ in religion is irrelevant to the philosophical exercise of striving to understand the theoretical basis and practice of religions that evolve around a central theistic core element or elements. This is important because theistic religion has served as a primary source for human knowledge and purpose of action for thousands of years, and still continues to exercise that influence over a great many people in the world today. Even if some people describe themselves as ‘atheistic’ (i.e, ‘not’ accepting or believing in a divine concept, or any teachings emanating from such a theistic entity), secular society tends to exhibit religious trends of thought (as morals, ethics and attitudes), although devoid of any obvious or direct religious content or control. In the West, this has been the Judeo-Christian tradition, whilst in modern China, it has been Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism that have set the moral and cultural (national) character. In modem India it has been Brahmanism, whilst in the Middle East it has been Islam, etc. This secular development tends to manifest as a parallel stream of psychological and physical influence alongside the practice of more traditional modes of religion, albeit to varying degrees of intensity, or definitional sociological frameworks. The three Greek terms under discussion in this short essay are:

  1. Theogony
  2. Theurgy
  3. Theology

Theogony literally translates as the ‘origin of the gods’, or more specifically the ‘birth and genealogy of the gods’. It stems from the original Greek word ‘theogonia’ – with ‘theo’ meaning ‘god’, and ‘gonia’ meaning ‘birth’, and by implication, ‘growth’ and ‘development’. ‘Theogony’ is a poem written by the ancient Greek poet Hesiod (8th-7th Centuries BCE), which describes the origins of the ancient Greek gods.This body of knowledge may be considered augmented by the myths and legends as recorded by Homer.

Theurgy literally translates as ‘divine work’, and stems from the original Greek word ‘theourgia’. This term is found in the thinking of ancient and classical Greece, and later in the works of Plotinus. It originally referred to rituals that created the conditions on earth for a ‘divine intervention’ in human affairs. Sometimes referred to as ‘magic’, the practice of ‘theurgy’ is used by Plotinus to refer to the act of ‘contemplation’ or ‘meditation’ designed to ‘unite’ the individual with the ‘divine essence’. In this sense, ‘theurgy’ refers to a set of (disciplined) purification practises, performed with the body and mind, which generate a ‘frequency’ of being here and now, which through its rarefied structure, facilitates the manifestation of a divine presence in the affairs of humanity.

Theology literally translates as the ‘study of god’, or the ‘science of god’, and is a Judeo-Christian term referring specifically to the study of the theory, faith and practice of the monotheistic, Christian tradition in all its various branches, sects, schools and lineages, etc. Theology stems from the original Greek word ‘theologia’, and was used by the early Christian thinkers after Christ, as a means to develop a distinctly ‘Greek’ interpretation of teachings originally delivered in Syriac-Aramaic (the probable language of Jesus Christ), which expressed religious terms as preserved in Hebrew – the language of the ancient Jewish religion. This transition became vital for the early Christians – after that sect of radical Judaism – was ‘expelled’ from the Jewish religion and had to develop an entirely ‘new’ way for interpreting its guiding strictures. The early Christian were Jews who routinely used Hebrew to communicate their non-conformist ideas, and the use of Greek philosophical terms was considered a viable alternative. In this transition, of course, the Greek philosophical terms were ‘changed’ in meaning to suit the strictures of early Christian thought, and to ‘distance’ the emerging Christian Church from the pantheistic and atheistic tendencies found within Greek thought proper. This explains why later Christian leaders ‘banned’ all original Greek thought. As a consequence, and unless otherwise stated, Christian theology ‘rejects’ the notions of ‘theogony’ and ‘theurgy’ as examples of pre-Christian pagan practises and modes of thought.

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