Stoic Physics 2: God

Updated: Jan 21

In the last post we discussed the Stoic view of the universe. The ancients believed that the Cosmos (all that is) is contained within an infinite void. This Cosmos exists until the great conflagration, when the it is consumed by fire and begins again. God is the source of and the soul of the Cosmos. The Cosmos therefore is a living, intelligent being and is the source of all other intelligence. The other gods of the pantheon are extensions of this singular intelligence or a means of personifying various attributes of nature. Each of our human souls are fragments of this universal God and from this source our human intelligence arises.

147: The deity, say they, is a living being, immortal, rational, perfect or intelligent in happiness, admitting nothing evil [65], taking providential care of the world and all that therein is, but he is not of human shape. He is, however, the artificer of the universe and, as it were, the father of all, both in general and in that particular part of him which is all-pervading, and which is called many names according to its various powers. They give the name Dia (Δία) because all things are due to (διά) him; Zeus (Ζῆνα) in so far as he is the cause of life (ζῆν) or pervades all life; the name Athena is given, because the ruling part of the divinity extends to the aether; the name Hera marks its extension to the air; he is called Hephaestus since it spreads to the creative fire; Poseidon, since it stretches to the sea; Demeter, since it reaches to the earth. Similarly men have given the deity his other titles, fastening, as best they can, on some one or other of his peculiar attributes. D.L.

148. The substance of God is declared by Zeno to be the whole world and the heaven, as well as by Chrysippus in his first book Of the Gods, and by Posidonius in his first book with the same title. Again, Antipater in the seventh book of his work On the Cosmos says that the substance of God is akin to air, while Boethus in his work On Nature speaks of the sphere of the fixed stars as the substance of God. Now the term Nature is used by them to mean sometimes that which holds the world together, sometimes that which causes terrestrial things to spring up. D.L.

God and Nature are synonyms in this Stoic view of the Cosmos, and while the Stoics did pray, it was often to ask for the strength to follow the will of Nature rather than to have the laws of nature suspended for human benefit.

Lead me, Zeus, and you too, Destiny,

To wherever your decrees have assigned me.

I follow readily, but if I choose not,

Wretched though I am, I must follow still.

Fate guides the willing, but drags the unwilling.

Cleanthes quoted in the Enchiridion

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