Mantic, Sophic, and Sophistic
I. The Mantic Substratum
In his recent study of the gods of the Greeks, Professor
Kerényi compares the classical scholar thumbing through his notes and handbooks
in search of an outworn creed with Sir George Gray, who long ago had joined in
the feasts and dances of the Maoris and learned their language and legends in
order to pluck the heart out of their mystery.1 The comparison is too
sanguine. As long ago as the fourth century, Synesius could report as a quaint
oddity the presence in the Aegean islands of peasants who still believed in the
Cyclops2—but they have long since passed away. No living informant can
satisfy the modern scholar’s craving for a firsthand introduction to the gods
of Greece, and if the investigator goes to the written sources he will soon
find that they were all put down by schoolmen (mostly Christians) who believe
the myths and legends as little as he does.3 How then can they or he presume
to criticize a religion in which they do not believe—is that not akin to
the folly of criticizing a painting which one has not seen or music which one
has not heard? The insider and the outsider do not experience the same thing at
all. Students of Greek religion, however they may yearn for a whiff of incense
or asphodel, can smell today nothing but the musk and floorwax of the stacks,
the last labyrinthine retreat of the ancient mysteries.
What justifies these remarks is the conviction that there is
something in Greek religion which even at this vast remove of time and in spite
of the officious and bookish handling of evidence can still reach us and move
us. To become aware of this thing the modern analytic mind must be subjected to
a gentle softening process, first by placing it over the low flame of a
For many years the regular reading of the Old Norse sagas
was part of a self-inflicted curriculum to which I faithfully adhered. Then one
day in the midst of a typical tale of family feuds and mayhem I suddenly
admitted to myself a proposition I had known all along, but out of loyalty to
my own cultural heritage had refused to acknowledge: "Let’s face it,"
I said aloud, "these people are not interesting." From that day to
this I have not read a word of Icelandic. But I have wondered why my forebears are
so uninteresting—after all, their passion and their intelligence were
both of a high order, their deeds are nowhere surpassed for nobility,
depravity, violence, or magnanimity. Why is it that the Greeks and Arabs, as
savage and villainous and tricky as any people anywhere, continue to be so
fascinating, while Scandinavians, Slavs, Armenians, and Byzantines leave us
cold? I have the answer: the Greeks and Arabs always seem to be expecting
something, while the others are expecting nothing. E. V. Gordon is right: the
heroic stamp of the Norse epic is its mood of utter hopelessness. "A good
resistance against overpowering odds was made the characteristic situation. . .
. The gods themselves knew that they would in the end be overwhelmed by the
evil powers. . . . Every religious-minded man of the heathen age believed that
he existed for the sake of that hopeless cause."4 The Greeks and Arabs
yield to none in their depreciation of the hopes of this life; they expect no
more of this world than our Norse forebears. The difference is their constant
awareness, more often implied than expressed, of something beyond this world. "God
is the Knower," says the Arab at the end of every discourse, leaving the
door open for any possible subsequent developments.
Socrates ended his life with a speech that emphasized two
points: (1) that he had not found in this life what he was looking for, and
knew of no one else who had;5 and (2) that failure had not in the least abated
his conviction that what he was looking for was to be found.6 He never claimed
to have found his treasure, but he never gave up looking. This attitude is most
dramatically embodied in the Egyptian culture. "Never on this earth,"
wrote Eduard Meyer, "have men sought with such energy and persistence to
make the impossible possible in spite of everything, . . . believing on its
possibility with a bitter tenacity."7 "The impression made on the
modern mind," writes I.E.S. Edwards, "is that of a people searching
in the dark for a key to truth and, having found not one but many keys
resembling the pattern of the lock, retaining all lest perchance the
appropriate one should be discarded."8 It is an awesome thing to
contemplate the greatest nation of antiquity, often described by Egyptologists
as the most hard-headed, down-to-earth, shrewdly practical, unimaginative,
critical, and observant, level-headed people on earth, as pouring out their
vast energies and treasure for centuries on end in a wild gamble on the chances
But even in their most ancient writings "we constantly
come upon signs of indecision and doubt," writes Louis Speelers of the
Coffin Texts. "Confusion reigns . . . both in literary expression and
especially in their cerebral realm."9 The builder of the Great Pyramid,
we are told, "spent all his time seeking for himself the secret chambers,"10 searching in the ancient books for the secrets of life, as many another
Pharaoh did after him. They had their doubts, to put it mildly, but the point
is that they always kept searching and expecting. And so they have never ceased
to fascinate the rest of us, while the scholars who take them to task for their
foolishness today interest nobody. The Egyptians, so to speak, never stopped
looking behind the door (and in their case the expression is more than a
figurative one), and so they appeal to us and excite us strangely. And so the
Jews, too—intelligent, critical, skeptical, and sarcastic—can
never, try as they will, entirely free themselves from the whisperings of the
Kabbalah and a haunting sense of wonderful things to come (2 Nephi 6:12-14);
while the early Christians define their faith as pure expectation: "the
substance of things hoped for" (Hebrews 11:1; emphasis added). The wonder
of the Bible for Alfred North Whitehead is that it "excels in its
suggestion of infinitude. . . . Possibilities are infinite, and even though we
may not apprehend them, those infinite possibilities are actualities."11
He ends his essay on science and religion with the words, "The death of
religion comes with the repression of the high hope of adventure."
In all these cases the important thing is not what is
expected—Whitehead realizes that he knows no more than Socrates just what
it is. What could be more vague and illdefined than "infinite
possibilities"? The important thing is that something is expected, but if
that expectation is not real, it is nothing. To be a believer you must be a
literalist with a mind open to "infinite possibilities." But
traditional Christianity loathes and disowns literalism—a crime of which
Catholics and Protestants have been accusing each other over the centuries.
The theme of these talks is that the Greeks (like the
Christian church that later followed in their footsteps), passed from a
primoridal "Mantic" order of things to the "Sophic," and
lost their original mood of expectation, putting something else in its place.
It passed from the Mantic to the Sophic, and thence in its attempts to combine
the two, arrived at the Sophistic. The Greeks passed through the same three
stages before the Christians did, and it was their particular brand of Sophic
and Sophistic that the Church accepted. It is time to define these terms,
Sophic and Mantic.
Josephus, citing Manetho, describes an Egyptian king who was
obsessed with a yearning to possess the prophetic gifts and enjoy the heavenly
visions of his ancestors as a sophos kai mantikos aner—" a Sophic
and a Mantic man";12 and Theophrastus observes this significant dualism
when he points out that the Egyptians are the most rational people alive (logiotaton
genos), inheriting and inhabiting the most religious of environments
(hierotaten . . . choran).13 These are the two basic human attitudes, the
rational and the religious. It was the age-old struggle between hardheaded
realism and holy tradition that produced the bedizzening subtleties and endless
elaborations of Egyptian theology from Heliopolis and Thebes to Alexandria. And
it was at that last and latest center of holy thought—a city built,
literally, with funds contributed in hot competition by rival priestly schools
and factions14—that the basic theological concepts of the Jewish,
Christian, and Moslem doctors with all their sublime, incomprehensible, and
insoluble contradictions took their life.
Dio Chrysostom, in his Discourse on the Knowledge of God,
describes his own skill and training—the degenerate education of his own
day—as being "neither mantic, nor sophistic, nor even rhetorical"15—(those being the three natural levels of education). The Greek word
Mantic simply means prophetic or inspired, oracular, coming from the other
world and not from the resources of the human mind. Instead of Dio’s Sophistic
to describe the operations of the unaided human mind, we use the much rarer
Sophic here, because, as is well known, in time Sophistic came to be identical
with Rhetorical, that is, a pseudothought form which merely imitated the other
two in an attempt to impress the public. The Mantic is the equivalent of what
Professor Goodenough designates as "vertical" Judaism, i.e., the
belief in the real and present operation of divine gifts by which one receives
constant guidance from the other world, a faith expressed in varying degrees
among such ancient sectaries as the Hasidim, Karaites, Kabbalists, and the
people of Qumran.16 The Mantic accepts the other world, or better, other
worlds, as part of our whole experience without which any true understanding of
this life is out of the question. "It is the Mantic," says Synesius, "which
supplies the element of hope in our lives by assuring us of the reality of
things beyond."17 Mantic, hope, and reality are the key words. What is
expected is not as important as the act of expectation, and so those who share
the Mantic conviction are a community of believers, regardless of what it is
The Sophic, on the other hand, is the tradition which
boasted its cool, critical, objective, naturalistic, and scientific attitude;
its Jewish equivalent is what Goodenough calls the "horizontal"
Judaism—scholarly, bookish, halachic, intellectual, rabbinical. All
religions, as Goodenough observes, seem to make some such distinction.18 It is
when one seeks to combine or reconcile the Sophic and the Mantic that trouble
"True reason," according to Empedocles, "is
either divine or human; the former is not for discussion, the latter is
discussion";19 and recently Charles Kahn has argued that Empedocles
himself is two distinct thinkers, a Sophic and a Mantic, "a split
personality whose two sections are not united by any essential link."20
Since Empedocles’ career is a unique and impressive attempt to combine Sophic
and Mantic, his case illustrates the important fact that the two are totally
incompatible. Whoever accepts the Sophic attitude must abandon the Mantic, and
vice versa. It is the famous doctrine of Two Ways found among the Orientals,
Greeks, and early Christians—if you try to compromise between them you
get nowhere, because as one of the Apostolic Fathers points out, they lead in
opposite directions. Those who share the Mantic hope of things beyond, whatever
those things may be, are in a very real sense a community of believers, just as
Christians, Jews, and Moslems form a fellowship of "the People of the
Book," because of their belief in inspired books—even though they
may not agree as to which books are the inspired ones.21 On the other hand,
the Sophic society unitedly rejects the Mantic proposition, and it too forms a
single community, as is strikingly and amusingly demonstrated in a 1954 study
of Professor Enslin, who, while branding the teachings of Clement of Alexandria
as "rubbish, . . . pathetic nonsense, . . . triple-A nonsense,"22 at
the same time hails Clement as a true gentlemen and a scholar after his own
heart, because, even though his method produces nothing but balderdash, it is
at least not contaminated by any supernaturalism—here was "a man who
prized brain and insight, who preferred the voice of reasoned conviction to the
braying of Balaam’s ass."23 Better false teaching from a true
intellectual than the truth from a prophet. So fiercely loyal and
uncompromising are the Sophic and Mantic to their own.
It behooves us to consider the Mantic at this time because
in our day its influence (under the name of eschatology) is being strangely and
wonderfully expanded as the steady continuance of new manuscript discoveries
calls for radical reevaluation of ancient religion in general. If Christianity
and Judaism are being basically reappraised at the moment, a reassessment of
the pagan religions cannot be far behind. Indeed, today, bridges are being
thrown out in every direction over what were once unbridgeable and yawning
gulfs between cultures and religions. Philological cables grow to ideological
spans between early Jewish and Christian sectarians; Kostas Papaioannou is
bridging the gulf between the Prophets of Israel and the Greek poets;24 while
F. J. H. Letters, in describing the religion of Sophocles, describes something
which approaches the Gospel nearer than we have supposed.25 New bridges are
springing up between the Old Testament and the New, and between both of them
and the Apocrypha, between various ancient mysteries and Christian rites, in a
complicated network of interrelationships between Egypt and Mesopotamia,
Canaan, Mycenae, Israel, the Hittites, and all the Europeans. "Patternism"
now proposes to trace such ties back to prehistoric times. No ancient religious
rites can be considered as spontaneous and independent in origin, as not long
ago virtually all were thought to be.26 We now learn that the cult of the dead
was "as meaningful and urgent for humanist Athens as for hieratic Egypt,"27 and are assured by Catholic scholars that "the wine miracle at Cana was
the same as the miracle in the temple of Dionysus"28 and that "on
the Damascus Chalice, Christ is enthroned among vine tendrils like Dionysus
himself."29 The Dead Sea Scrolls are teaching us as Christians to sit
down to dinner with strange cousins from all over the East—Essenes,
Ebionites, Gnostics, Therapeutae, even Moslems—whom a few years ago we
turned out of doors as tramps and aliens: Catholics and Protestants are now
falling over themselves to get to the door to be the first to hail the forlorn
strangers of Qumran as long-lost brothers.
The common element that now makes it possible to establish
all these ties is a universal Mantic substratum. This can readily be seen in
the enthusiastic acceptance by pagans, Christians, and Jews alike of the
ancient inspired utterances of the Sibyll. In the Mantic world of the
apocrypha, as of ritual and liturgy, the boundaries between "Vertical
Judaism" and primitive Christianity become very tenuous indeed, as do
those between even the Christian and pagan worlds: it was on Mantic grounds
that the early Christians hailed Socrates as one of their own,30 that medieval
Christianity made a saint of Vergil, that the early Apologists praised and
quoted the Greek poets as men of true religious insight or inspiration, and the
Apostolic Fathers before them mingled Classical and Scriptural texts and
histories into one.31 The idea of a common "Mantic" heritage,
meaningless a few years ago, may now be seriously considered.
It is high time we realized that there must have been a
solid body of fact behind the strange unwillingness of Greeks, Jews, and
Egyptians to give up their Mantic addictions. The whole Mantic tradition is,
from hoary antiquity, disciplined, organized, institutionalized, and
established over the world. The importance of Delphi and Eleusis, Olympia, and
Delos in the political, social, religious, and artistic life of Greece testify
to the vitality of the ancient Mantic tradition. It reminds one of the common
denominator of all ancient civilization which has been consistently overlooked,
namely the image that each great civilization thought of itself as having been
carefully planned in the beginning, all its rites and patterns handed down from
above, a complete, perfect structure, planned in detail from the beginning as
the faithful reflection of a heavenly prototype32 present in sacred books of
great antiquity. Over against this, the Sophic presented a theory of the
evolution of man from his primitive beginnings, following "natural laws,"
a theory which armies of dedicated researchers have failed to make even
momentarily watertight to this day; not that it might not be true, but if the
old forgotten doctrine of the divine plan, conveyed to men in a primordial
revelation and since confirmed from time to time by heavenly messengers, were
to be given equal time or even one percent of equal time, the opposition would
be hard-pressed indeed. The "hierocentric" concept that all good
things have been conveyed to mankind from above through divinely appointed
operations of holy shrines and persons is immensely appealing, even in the
abstract. But transcending all theory is the fact, obvious enough to the
ancients if not to us, that all the basic institutions of
civilization—political, economic, artistic, literary, military, and
scientific—did take their rise at the Temple.
If their legends were not enough to remind them of that, all
the great societies of antiquity were required to meet at regular intervals in
vast popular assemblies of the ritual renewal of the corporate life and the
dramatic rehearsal of the stories of how it all came about. The great panegyris
or universal assembly of the entire race for games, contests, feasts, and
liturgy of great splendor never let the people individually or collectively
forget the other world and their ties to it.33 The highest expression of this
national eschatology was the Mysteries: only one who had been initiated into
them, says Pindar, knows the beginning of life.34 Their "substance,"
according to Walter Wili, was the preexistence, the present existence, and the
future existence of things—the full and complete plot, that is, of the
drama of the universe.35 Without that story, Greek life lost its meaning. "When
Christianity put an end to the Mysteries of Eleusis," writes Walter Otto, "Greek
life itself seemed to have sunk into the grave with them."36 There was "no
deeper meaning" to the mysteries, Rohde concluded, than the doctrine hen
andron hen theon genos, the coexistence of the human race with the divine race;
what more could one ask for than the single divine complex into which the
Mysteries and great panegyrises brought the two together. These national
disciplines never let the people forget the other world and their ties to it,
and out of them came all the great creative works of the Greeks. The moral of
the mysteries, says the shrewd Christian Synesius, is simply that everything is
divinely administered, and that every man takes from the mysteries what he
individually is able to; and he quotes the famous saying, "Many are
bearers of the narthex, but few are Bacchae," or, as we may put it freely,
"Many join the parade but few are really carried away." As might be
expected, there were many in the parade who got things wrong, and many quacks
and pretenders. P. Schmitt points out that the word mysterion can signify,
depending on its context, "night ramblers, magicians, bacchants, maenads,
mystics, cough medicine, the secret plan of a king, a secret hidden cult."
All have one element in common (if we assume that the cough medicine is a
secret recipe), namely, contact with a higher, hidden source. The Latin
equivalent mysterium, Schmitt notes, has the basic meaning of to "inspire"
or "initiate," that is, to introduce someone to something he could
never discover for himself. But the matter dealt with, or what Walter Wili
calls "the substance of the Orphic mysteries," is threefold: (1) the
Creation and preexistence, "the genesis of gods, the cosmos, and men,"
(2) the fall of man and its necessary retribution, and (3) his ultimate destiny
and goal, expressed in the Pythagorean and Orphic traditions in the doctrine of
transmigration of souls. These will be readily recognized as the three great
eschatological themes of the past, present, and future, as they are so clearly
set forth in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. One of the strange phenomena of
Greek life was the way the "old, essentially Greek impulses"37 would
revive from time to time, "ein uraltes Erbgut neu belebt."38 The
most enlightened Greeks and Romans were all initiates to the Mysteries; the
Greeks were as mercilessly critical of humbug as the French, and all of their
writings that have reached us have been screened by rationalistic pagan and
Christian schoolmen. It is indeed remarkable that in all the literature we fail
to find any derogatory remark or witticism about the Mysteries.39 Even more
remarkable is that none of a host of outspoken and gossipy writers, hungry for
sensational talk, has ever divulged the secrets of the Mysteries. We are very
much mistaken, Otto reminds us, if we think for a moment that we can run the
Mysteries to ground simply by the use of modern psychology and philology: such
great things are not to be so cheaply had, and we will never know just what
took place in the Mysteries.40
The headquarters of the Mysteries were also the great
assembly places, the economy of all the mysteries and the panegyrises being
inextricably interwoven. Musaeus, for example, the high priest of Delphi, was
also director of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the author of a great creation hymn,
and the founder of the first academy.41 He wrote oracular poems and the
Theogony. The Theogony is in the tradition of the Creation Hymn, eschatological
and cosmic in its sweep. The mark of divinity in all poetry, according to
Aristotle, is its capacity for dealing with things in their universal aspect.
The Creation Hymn deserves special mention because it was the ancient and
original office of the Muses to sing that hymn, the great archetype of all
music and verse. All fields of knowledge belong to the Muses, the wise women,
the purveyors—not the authors—of divine revelation; the schools
never forgot their origin as holy oracular shrines of the Muses with their
sacred temples, images (mostly memorial busts of great teachers), lecture
halls, grottoes, walks, groves, and libraries. A center of learning was a
Musaeon, and the Muses acted as intermediaries between the divine and the human
in all nine fields of learning; the Muses were not worshipped save as agents of
gods. They were the archaic oracular women whom we find all over the ancient
world, whose classic representative is the Sibyll herself.42 Dio Chrysostom tells
how the Seven Wise Men—those true Sophoi of which the rest were all but
imitators, mere Sophists—used to meet at Delphi to unite their wisdom for
the help of the human race, imparting of their knowledge to all who came to
consult the oracles there.43 In that day it was simply inconceivable that
wisdom could be conveyed to the race anywhere but at the properly appointed
holy shrine. The ideas which we designate as Mantic were thus institutionalized
for the ancients—in the panegyris, the Mysteries, and the
schools—to a degree which we can hardly imagine. For them it was easy to
conceive of the heavenly order as real, since one had reminders of it all
around one.44 Even when the Mantic order was challenged, it was possible to
point to an argument in its favor that the rationalists have never been able to
answer—the argument of creativity.
In his lost Hymn to Zeus, Pindar tells how God in the
beginning did not consider his creation complete until he had also created a
voice to proclaim it (the same idea exactly is presented in the Shabako stone,
which may be the oldest surviving Egyptian document), specifically to proclaim
his glory by reciting the works of the Creation.45 The great prototype of all
Music and Verse is thus the Creation Hymn, just as the prototype of all
creative human activity in art and science is the creation itself. The
Egyptians were fairly obsessed with the idea that in creating anything, a man
was doing the work of God; creation could not have any other than a divine
source or be anything but a divine activity. The Devil cannot create; he can
only destroy. He is Apollyon, the Destroyer, and nothing else.
In the early times there was a common Mantic meeting ground
of Christian and non-Christian, just as in later times the common meeting
ground was exclusively Sophic. Everybody agrees today that the distinguishing
characteristic of the Early Christians was their vivid apocalyptic
expectations. Exactly what these expectations were has ever been a subject of
controversy and endless discussion. But again we must insist, though we do not
know and the Christians themselves did not know just what great things were
ahead, one thing was certain: there were great things ahead! Once we know that
the prize is awaiting us "with a firm assurance," then when and where
we shall get it, and even what it is, become secondary
considerations—mere details. It was so with Plato. Along with the Bible,
it is Plato who emerges in Whitehead’s last analysis as supremely
satisfying—and for the same reason. Plato always leaves the door open; he
remains as a good Greek should and as Solon the Wise did, "forever a
child," aiei didaskomenos—ever learning—naive, innocent,
always expecting. That would account for the fact that, try as we will, we
cannot view things neutrally; we are not impartial observers, as the Sophoi
claimed to be. When we applaud whatever is good and beautiful, it is not blind,
accidental force that we are applauding (a mindless operation is just as
willing to produce a bad thing as a good one); it is something good. We bestow
our approval and disapproval upon all we see about us—how could that be
if things just happen?46
The Greeks were greatly impressed by the fact, attested by
long experience, that even the greatest genius cannot create at will.47 The
moments of genuine creativity are simply not within human control, all that is
within human control being what Plato calls mere imitation, i.e., something
that can be taught—for to learn is simply to imitate.48 Even when they
create by inspiration, however, humans know that the result is but a poor
reflection of the divine original. The greater the artist, in fact, the more
frustrated he feels.49 "Wise is he who knows much by nature but, when men
have merely studied and learned their knowledge, they are turbulent and
intemperate of tongue, even as a pair of crows chattering against the divine
bird of Zeus."50 If creation were an intellectual accomplishment, an act
of human intellect or will, that would not be the case. Creation is not of this
world; a place of imitation at best "in the domain of art has apparently
but a small opinion of the earthly counterparts of the celestial originals."51 They are literally worlds apart; the heavenly originals are no mere human
ideas, but, as far as we are aware of them, things actually remembered from
another world. For Plato, what we recognized here as good, true, and beautiful
is but a dim recollection of what we once saw in another and better world. That
is Plato’s doctrine of anamnesis.
The greatest Greeks were determined defenders of the Mantic
against the Sophic, as we shall see later. Though not the best argument for the
Mantic, the first that confronts us is the striking fact, of which the Greeks
themselves are keenly aware, that it is precisely the greatest, most original,
most productive "geniale," of their number who insist most
emphatically upon man’s dependence on light from above. If it had been any but
the greatest poets (Pindar), philosphers (Aristotle, Plato), scientists
(Eratosthenes), or dramatists (all of them), who preached the complete
dependence of the creative mind on direct inspiration from above, we could
brush the doctrine aside as speculation or pretense (and indeed, many a minor
poet and orator, imitating the great ones, pretended to be inspired and made a
show of it);52 but we cannot treat with condescension or contempt, regardless
of our education, the deepest convictions of the very men who have given us the
best we have. If anybody knows what he is talking about, these men should, and
they are not vague or equivocal regarding the reality of the world. In his
study of the Muses, Walter Otto concludes that for the Greeks "the whole
work of the artist is to create," and that "creation is in the last
analysis simply revelation (Schöpfung im Grunde eine Offenbarung ist)."
Those who have had to acquire their art by study and learning alone, Pindar
reminds us, "can never be anything but a flock of crows, jealously
squawking against the divine bird of Zeus."53 Poesis means creation, and
is only true poetry to the extent that it is creation and not imitation. The
dismal failure of a million zealous and often highly intelligent imitators to
produce an inspiring (and therefore inspired) poem or anything else truly
original proves that we have here something totally beyond human ken, while
those who do create are unanimous in reporting that the process is something
equally out of their control. The power to create is something not only
completely beyond the comprehension of the uninspired, but equally beyond the
control of those who possess it: in the moment of creation they are seized with
a divine frenzy, shaken, and even frightened.54
For the experience of creation, whether in great calm or
unbearable excitement, is a profoundly religious experience. Rudolf Otto showed
that there is a thing which can be broken down into no emotional or
psychological elements beyond itself, and that is das Heilige, "the
numinous," that which we call holy and cannot define beyond calling it
holy. As Otto says, this fundamental requisite in the recognition of the Holy
is that it comes upon us but is never self-induced. It is a holy thing, and the
poet, to that degree to which he is truly a poet, is an oracle and a prophet.
In music and poetry "the earliest fragments are priestly incantations; . .
. the first poets, then, are the priests."55 Conversely, Plutarch knows
that the old inspiration is passing away when the oracles start to speak in
prose instead of verse.56 The creator of the Greek epic, ode, and drama is
frankly a prophet and preacher of righteousness, an inspired man; even
historians and orators are expected to play the Mantic role: the sane and
enlightened Thucydides has baffled the critics by affecting the oracular style
of Aeschylus,57 and it remains an open question just how seriously the prayers
and incantations of the orators are to be taken.
None is more insistent on the need for revelation than
Plato. Plato was the great champion of the Mantic. He banned Homer from his
model state not, as the Sophists did, because he was inspired (they made fun of
everything in Homer that was not strictly rational according to their way of
thinking), but because with his inspiration he mingled his own human
contribution, or, as Plato puts it, he mixed mere imitation with inspiration.58 For Plato, whatever is not inspired can only be mere imitation. True
knowledge comes to the race only through men who prove their inspiration "when
they say many great things without knowing what they say."59 Such are the
poets: "I know that they do what they do not by any intelligence of their
own, but by a special nature, and inspiration such as holy prophets and oracles
have, for they too speak many fine and wonderful things without knowing what
they are saying."60 The words of such men, "inspired from heaven,"
are, Plato insists, the only fit instruction for the youth.61 His own favorite
poet was Pindar, one of those poets "of heavenly gifts," who taught
that the human mind is blind when it attempts to find the path unaided by its
own cleverness.62 "Whoever thinks," says Plato, "that skill
alone will make a good poet; . . . [he] will never attain perfection, but be
surpassed by the inspired madmen."63 Both Plato and Aristotle, according
to Jaeger, "placed inspiration above reason and moral insight . . .
because it comes from God"—for while reason is far from infallible, "the
sureness of inspiration, on the other hand, is like lightning."64 Whoever
receives inspiration must be both ritually and morally pure "like an instrument,"
says Plutarch, "prepared and fair-sounding."65 It was both as a
Platonist and as a Christian that Justin Martyr declared: "Neither by
nature nor by any human skill is it possible for men to know such great and
holy things; but only by a gift that descends from above upon holy men from
time to time, who need no training in speech or skill in controversy and
argument, but only to keep themselves pure by the power of the Holy Spirit so
that the divine plectrum . . . can express itself through them as on the
strings of a lyre."66
This sort of thing suggests a kind of pentecostal ecstasy to
outsiders—something like Nietzsche’s dionysischer Geist; and indeed when
the less gifted tried, as inevitably they would, to imitate divine obsession or
to induce it by artificial means, the result was a degenerate form of the
Mysteries, which did much to discredit the genuinely Mantic.67 The Corybantic
orgies are not Mantic—quite the opposite; they break the first rule of
inspiration, as Manetho explains it, that nothing can be forced; it is not
within human authority to command or control revelation. We can make ourselves
fit to receive it (and a favorite image both of the early Christian writers and
the Greeks was that of the musical instrument properly tuned and prepared for
God to play upon it when and as He—and only He—chose to do so), but
we cannot produce it at will. What all the descriptions of the phenomena of
inspiration from Plato to Sappho amount to is that the creative person is
himself completely at a loss to account for how he does it, while to imitate it
is a pitiful device indeed.68 So vivid and real is the Greek faith in
inspiration that students are now attempting to explain it in terms of
shamanism:69 but the shaman is a false prophet precisely because he seeks to
induce an ecstatic experience by artificial means over which he presumes to
exercise control. It is when they descend to such devices that such seekers of
inspiration as Empedocles, Pythagoras, and Apollonius are rightly charged with quackery
and assume the guise of the shaman.
In spite of the danger of easy abuses and even easier
misunderstanding in the realm of the Mantic, Plato showed an increasing
partiality to the Mantic over the Sophic. "When I was young," he has
Socrates say, "I was fanatically devoted to the intellectual quest which
they call natural science. Filled with pride and youthful conceit
(hyperphanos), I was convinced that I could know the reason for everything. . .
. I was always experimenting to discover the secrets of nature and life."70 He was convinced, as was Socrates, "that no one need look any farther
than science for the answers to everything." That is the "Sophic"
state of mind clearly set forth. Then it was, he says, that he read the passage
that completely changed his point of view: "There is a mind that orders
things and causes all things to be."71 The idea electrified him: "Somehow
it seemed to me just right, that idea that there must be a mind responsible for
everything." So he turned from the majority to join a very small minority.
"Shall we say," he asks in discussing the nature of the earth, "that
God the Creator made it? Or would you prefer the teaching and language that
everybody follows today—that it all came about simply by spontaneous
cause and without any intelligence?"72 Here we have the basic dichotomy:
on the one hand, things just happen—the physis holds in itself the
explanation for everything; on the other hand, things do not just happen. Note
well that in Plato’s day public opinion was all on the side of the former.
At the end of his life Socrates explained that he had taken
the course he had through the years "because, as I said, the way was shown
me by God through oracles and dreams and by whatever other means divine
providence directs the actions of men."73 He was dead serious about this.
"Listen to a tale which you consider a myth," he tells his
intellectual friends, "but which I believe to be true." Then he tells
of the next world and its judgments and concludes, "This, Callicles, is what
I have heard, and I believe it to be true. . . . In a word, whatever
characteristics a man’s body presented in this life, these remain visible in
death. . . . Now my concern is how I may present my soul to the judge in its
healthiest condition."74 The next world and the judgment are his guiding
light. "But you," he says to his Sophist friends, "the three of
you, you and Polus and Gorgias, the wisest [sophoteroi] of all the Greeks alive
at this moment [and they would see no sarcasm in this] can’t demonstrate the
necessity of living any other life than this earthly one."75 When
Socrates asks the intellectual Meletus, who is accusing him of sacrilege and
calling for the death penalty, "Do you believe that the sun and moon are
gods as lots of people do?" the indignant Meletus replies, "Of course
not! The sun is just a stone and the moon is a piece of earth." Then
Socrates, who may well have shared Meletus’s opinions on astronomy, points out
to him that because he and his friends think that everything can be explained
by such glib and confident naturalism they must necessarily fear death, as
Socrates himself does not.76 For Meletus and the three Sophists there is
nothing beyond this life; for Socrates, what is beyond is all that is really
What irony that the people whom Socrates thus opposed all of
his life, and who brought about his death, should ever after proclaim him as
their patron saint! Now professors of philosophy brush aside Socrates’ own
solemn profession of faith as sarcasm or gentle irony, so that they can
maintain that he was put to death by reactionary religionists instead of
enlightened professors. But to the charge of atheism he emphatically pleads not
guilty: How, he asks, can he be a religious innovator and trouble-making
sectarian if, as they also say, he is antireligious? How can he be guilty of
believing in false gods if, as they say, he believes in no god?77 What is most
clearly brought out at the trial is not that Socrates believes like others, for
he does not, but that he does believe, and that for his faith he is willing to
give his life.78 If there is anything Socrates was not, it was a barefoot
liberal blasting away at conventional beliefs. What he blasted was conventional
unbelief. Plato is simply appalled at the Athenians’ lack of belief in
anything, based on the comforting popular creed that science knows all the
answers and that the important thing in religion is to go along with the group.
This was the safe, conventional, respectable creed of educated Athenians, and
Plato despised it. In the Crito Socrates points out that his colleagues know
even less than he does about things, since they think they know the answers
while he at least is aware of his ignorance; but of two things he is convinced,
(1) that the important questions of life are eschatological ones and (2) that
these can be answered only by revelation.79
Socrates never found the revelation for which he was
seeking, and he remained a seeker to the end of his days. Only a believer would
have carried on the search, as Eduard Meyer’s Egyptians did "with such
energy and persistence." His credo is only a preparatory one, but it is
nonetheless emphatic and explicit: he believes, namely, that the way is still
unexplored and the doors still remain open and the means have been provided to
attain to the only knowledge that counts; and as long as such is the case, no
one is excused from pressing the search. Contrary to this position is the maxim
of the Fathers of the fourth century that it is better not to believe anything than to differ
from them in slightest point of doctrine. The accent was not on faith but on
conformity—the discovery of nonconformity in the Church is more
important, says St. Augustine, than the discovery of truth. It was quite the
opposite in the Primitive Church, whose converts were all made among people
with a Mantic inclination, that is, those who believed something already. Much
of Christ’s discourse in the New Testament is addressed to schoolmen, the
Scribes and Pharisees, who apparently often consulted with him, and yet though
he converted farmers and soldiers, taxgatherers, fishermen, harlots, and
princes, there is no recorded instance of his ever converting one of the
Doctors. In the Primitive Church one is expected to knock before the door is
open, ask before he receives, and seek before he finds. To believe in Christ
you had to believe something in the first place: the sick did not have to make
Peter’s confession before they were healed, but they did have to have faith.
The people who would not believe in Jesus believed in nothing—they said
they believed in the prophets, but they did not: if they believed in the
prophets, in the scriptures, in Moses, or in God, they would believe in
Christ—but they do not. The greatest Christian convert was a man who
believed all the wrong things about Christ—it was not what he believed,
but his capacity for faith that made Saul of Tarsus eligible for immediate
Saul’s case would seem to indicate that it is more desirable
to have faith in false propositions than to have no faith at all. Actually one
cannot have faith in a false proposition, since one cannot have faith in a
proposition at all. One does not have faith in propositions, creeds, or
institutions, to which one is merely loyal. One has faith in God alone—all
else is subject to change without notice. Faith does not seek security by
boxing itself in with definite and binding creeds, as did the Doctors of the
Church in a time of desperate uncertainty and insecurity. One does not cling to
faith but to substitutes for faith: drowning men cling to things, but men of
faith are not desperate and don’t cling to anything. Professor Gaylord Simpson
likes to cite the case of Santa Claus as providing the futility of all faith.80 But has belief in Santa Claus ever closed the door to knowledge as loyalty
to a scientific credo so often has? Is it better for a child to believe in
Santa Claus with the understanding that someday he is going to revise his views
than for him to be taught, as some professors’ children are, only what is
scientifically correct from infancy, so that he will never, never have to
revise his views on anything and thus go through life being always right about
everything? Which course is more liable to lead to disaster, the open-ended
Santa Claus, or the ingrained illusion of infallibility?
Did the pagans, then, have faith in true principles? No more
than the Christians. Jesus made it perfectly clear that he considered faith to
be the rarest thing on earth. The Greeks did not have true faith: Plato was appalled
by the lack of faith among his fellow Athenians, and their preference instead
for a religion of popular superstitions and smug conventional piety—the
belief that righteousness consists in going to church, saluting the flag, and
keeping one’s nose clean.81 Thucydides’ History is a terrible commentary on
the fate of a generation that had lost its faith, and the whole literature of
the following century is one long and melancholy footnote to that commentary.
It is true that the old religion had long been weak and ailing and the oracles
very feeble indeed,82 yet as Plato feels so keenly, it was the only tie men
had with the other world, and it did have sacral foundations worthy of respect.83 And now comes a strange turn of events: within the last few years a rich
outpouring of newly discovered documents has so broadened the ancient religious
community of East and West as to embrace heretofore aloof and incompatible
sects in a single fold. And within that fold Christianity finds itself rubbing
shoulders not only with desert sectarians and pagan mystics but with something
very like Plato’s inspired madmen.84 It would seem now that Greek my thology
is not the key to Greek religion, but a red herring: it was the Christian
apologists, laboring the safe and obvious, who established the image of Greek
religion as the Night Life of the Gods. No, the Greeks did not have the true
religion: even Plato didn’t, and he knew he didn’t. His Socrates is a seeker,
convinced as he is that true enlightenment can come only by revelation.
II. The Sophic Scaffolding: The Rise and Prosperity of the
The beginning of the sixth century B.C. is what Karl Jaspers
calls the "Axial Period" in human history.85 The significance,
according to Jaspers, was first noted by Lasaulx, who in 1851 wrote: "It
cannot possibly be an accident that, six-hundred years before Christ,
Zarathustra in Persia, Gautama Buddha in India, Confucius in China, the
prophets in Israel, King Numa in Rome and the first philosophers—Ionians,
Dorians, and Eleatics—in Hellas, all made their appearance pretty well
simultaneously as reformers of the national religion."86 A strange
movement of the spirit passed through all civilized peoples. The time was
marked by a series of popular revolutions which everywhere saw the final
overthrow of the old sacral kingship; the great social crises and world
upheavals of the early second and middle first millennia B.C. had dealt
shattering blows to the old sacral order, and the sixth century saw the
completion of the process with what we might call the great Sophic revolution.
With the passing of the priestkings, people everywhere found themselves looking
for some other principle of authority for the ordering of society; with oracles
silent and priestly lines extinct, who would have the final word? Where could
men turn for the voice of authority? What could now command their loyalty?
For a time the tyrants tried their hand at governing the
world; there is everywhere a sort of transitional period of tyrants, able and
often even idealistic men, whose right to rule rested neither on hereditary
office, popular election, nor divine inspiration but on their wits alone. Many
a tyrant tried to legalize his position by religious fictions and ritual
trickery—for the only alternative to government by divine sanction seemed
to be brute power alone. It was the Greeks who decided to go to the root of the
baffling problem of who has a right to govern his fellows: that question became
the theme of much of their most enthusiastic discussion and profound research
in even more significant phenomena than the tyrants in the appearance of the
so-called Seven Wise Men. "The sixth century, the most critical period in
the mental development of the Greeks, came to be known afterwards as the age of
Seven Sages."87 These were the original Sophoi, from whom we have taken
our word Sophic. To the ancient mind the apex of human success, the highest
prize to which any man could attain, was to be a Sophos, one of those heroes of
the mind, typified by the Seven Sages, who, after giving wise laws and examples
to their own cities, wandered free of earthly passions and attachments through
the universe, selfless and aloof, as spectators of God’s works, seeking only
knowledge and carrying with them the healing blessing of true wisdom,
especially of statesmanship, for all who sought or needed it. Hailed by adoring
multitudes—who often saw the aura of divinity around them—humbly
petitioned by great cities and magnificent potentates, these incorruptible wise
men represented the pinnacle of real human attainment. They represent indeed
the peak of human excellence, but for all that they are purely human—that
is their significance. Like the tyrants, the Sophoi represent a sort of
experimental phase; they were an attempt at compromise between the Mantic and
Sophic on the principle that a very high order of human wisdom has something
divine about it, making the true Sophos the equivalent of an inspired leader.
But the Sophoi had no successors—only imitators, the notorious Sophists,
a very different order of men. What set the Sophoi apart from their fellows was
not a peculiar type of wisdom but simply a higher degree of
intelligence—they had an extra large amount of what everybody has more or
less of, but that was all. They lay no claim to Mantic powers—Pythagoras
himself, the most "Mantic" wise man of his time, was charged with
quackery for trying to preempt the glory of a prophet instead of being
satisfied to shine as a thinker. For all the veneration they received from a
world yearning for guidance and starved for the comfort of the Mantic order,
the Seven Wise Men represent a true Sophic revolution, a deliberate
renunciation of the Mantic. By their own confession their complete humanity is
their glory and their tragedy.
Such is the gospel of Solon, who speaks for them all. His
earthly wisdom was of the highest order, but what does he see beyond? Nothing,
as the typical Solonian utterances make clear: "At every turn the mind of
the immortals is hid from men. . . . Like gaping fools we amuse ourselves with
empty dreams."88 The best anyone can hope for from life is the
contentment of possessing children, horses, dogs, and good friends, and "a
stomach, lungs, and feet that cause him a minimum of trouble; . . . and as a
man gets older his speech and intelligence progressively fail him, and if he
manages to reach old age intact, it is high time for him to embrace death."89 In all this there is no expectation but earthly expectation—it is
good, it is noble, it is heroic, but it is all there is. The Mantic has become
little more than a figure of speech: "One man receives from the Olympian
Muses the gift of that inspired sophia that men yearn for, and another from
Apollo the mantic gift of prophecy."90 Note the conjunction of mantic and
sophia—but to what purpose? For all that, "no man knows at the
beginning of an enterprise how it is going to turn out," and "no
divination or religious rites can help a bit to avert what is going to happen
(ta morsima)."91 In the end the Mantic is unavailing; a man’s only
comfort and guide is his own common sense.
Such is the mature mind of the Sophic, bravely renouncing
the wonders of the Mantic because they are just too good to be true. I once
reviewed a book by a historian who was convinced that any historical account of
events depicted as spectacular, picturesque, or dramatic must necessarily be a
fabrication—this, for him, was the measure of sound, safe, conservative
scholarship. Actually, the Sophic mind never seems to be completely reconciled
to the negative doctrine in which it glories; one never fails to detect in the
sermons of the atheist a peevish and bitter undertone, a vindictive
satisfaction in putting the Mantic in its place, a tendency to gloat over the
discomfiture of the believer. This is another sign of the basic Sophic
insecurity, for to one who really believed that the sum total of all experience
was zero it could not make the slightest difference what other people might
think on the subject, and nothing could concern him less than the fond
illusions of his fellows. Yet your Sophic thinker spends most of his time and
energy in preachments, denouncing such illusions. Even more important in the
history of thought than the tyrant and the Sophoi who tried, each in his way,
to provide a satisfactory substitute for heavenly guidance in the affairs of
men, was the emergence of real science in Ionia at the same time.
The most serious defect of the Mantic, the standard
objection to it in every age, is that it does not lend itself to any kind of
control—"the Spirit bloweth where it listeth"; it does not wait
upon human convenience, nor do its manifestations comply with human
expectations. Its operations are always surprising—they always catch men
off guard. And here, incidentally, we have another indication that the Mantic
and not the Sophic holds the key to the real order of things, for reality, as
C. S. Lewis notes, "besides being complicated . . . is usually odd: it is
not neat, is not what you expect. . . . Reality, in fact, is usually something
you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity.
It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of
universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. . . . So
let us leave behind all these boys’ philosophies—these over-simple
answers."92 This defense of the Mantic position might well be taken by a
Sophic thinker as an attack on it, as an admission that the Mantic is
uncontrollable, incalculable, and full of imponderables, as indeed it is. The
normal reaction to real heavenly manifestation, whether to the prophets of old,
Zacharias in the Temple, Mary at home, the shepherd in the fields, or the
Apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration, is to be amazed and "sore afraid"—all
must be assured by the divine messenger that there is nothing to be afraid of,
that this is a joyful and not an appalling event.
Whatever its correspondence to reality, such a state of
things can only be deplorable to the neat and methodical world of science, and
it is understandable that in Miletus, at the time when people were everywhere
dissatisfied with a Mantic order which had lost much of its vitality and been
discredited by the Corybantic excesses of irresponsible sectarians, certain
clever men should have decided to study things with the troublesome Mantic left
out. The other world cannot be brought into the laboratory to be weighed and
measured; it cannot figure in any set calculations because of its
unpredictability. Then why not simply leave it out of our experiments and
formulas and go along without it? Why not study this world with the other world
left out, if only to see where it will get us? It was proposed to confine all
study to matter that can be managed and situations that can be controlled,
i.e., to the physis, the tangible, visible, measurable world, as if it were all
that existed or at least all that could really be known. Thus science became
Science when it renounced eschatology: "For scientific procedure,"
write Courrant and Robbins, "it is important to discard elements of [a]
metaphysical character. . . . To renounce the goal of . . . knowing the ‘ultimate
truth,’ of unravelling the innermost essence of the world, may be a
psychological hardship for naive enthusiasts, but in fact it was one of the
most fruitful turns in modern thinking." Yet after having embraced this
principle with ardor, the naive enthusiasts of Ionia were soon to be found, as
modern scientists are, zealously holding forth on no less a theme than "the
innermost essence of the world"93—which is what the scientist is
seeking to discover more than anyone else. "Here we are," cries an
eminent contemporary scientist, "and we had better find some meaning or
invent one for ourselves so that we have some definite mission to lend dignity
to our life. If there is a meaning, it obviously lies somewhere in the vast
areas of biology which are still unknown to us, and we should have faith that
it is at least worth looking for by the usual rational experimental approach."94 Has he forgotten that science, to be scientific, must renounce all that sort
of nonsense? To be effective science must work in closed systems, always
assuming that the scientist, when he sets up his experiment, is taking all
relevant factors into consideration. When the scientist leaves his closed
system and starts talking in eschatological terms he is exceeding his
authority, going beyond the bounds which science proudly sets for all who would
play the game according to her rules. Only faith enjoys the luxury of being
open-ended. But is it a luxury? Who is to say what unknown factors may not be
highly relevant to any situation? It is not for science, having shut itself in
the impregnable castle of sensory experience and having raised the drawbridge
against all evil premonitions from without to suggest picnics in the
countryside and exploring in the woods. If we decide to treat the physis as all
there is, then of course we need look no farther than physis itself for the
explanation of everything; and the physis is a closed system—no matter
how large it may be, it is still perfectly complete and self-contained: By
turning from Mantic to Sophic we have tidied up our calculations, but at the
price of putting ourselves in a box, as Heraclitus was quick to point out to
the Ionian physicists.
Heraclitus is known to the world as ho skoteinos which, as
Sophocles uses the word, does not mean "the obscure," but rather "the
recalcitrant," "the gloomy one," the wetblanket, the man who
throws cold water on things.95 He earned the title by asking his scientific
friends to consider, before they began making their pontifical statements about
things, just how reliable the human organism is as a gatherer and interpreter
of information. Men’s eyes and ears are, to say the least, unreliable instruments,
and if their senses are feeble, their interpretive faculties are even more so:
all men are more or less asleep, and never completely sober. Mere information
(polymathia) is pointless for all the pride we take in it; the Sophoi have done
with God once for all—but they are always talking about him; they are
seeking the same objective as religion—to explain everything. And what
are their chances of succeeding? What about the objects they observe? They are
always changing, even while they seek to limit and define them—"all
things flow. . . . You can’t step into the same river twice."96 The
observer’s own position is purely relative, yet everything depends on the way
you are facing.97 So what hope have we for real knowledge? Revelation, says
Heraclitus: "A man should listen to the spirits [daimones, the same word
is used by Socrates]98 as a child to an adult";99 "our individual
minds are pretty dull, but through the ages there exists an unmistakable
consensus of humanity about things, an ethos which is not the product of reason
but of revelation."100 There is a common divine logos in which we all
have a share, and that is the one thing we can be really sure of, "the one
criterion of truth."101
By saying such things Heraclitus made himself a controversial
and unpopular figure. The general public, at its wit’s end for moral and
intellectual guidance, embraced the new gospel with open arms. Much the same
eager greeting awaited Darwin’s gospel, which gave the Victorians what they
most needed, a genuine eschatology without Mantic contamination. The whole
appeal of Darwinism lay in its thoroughgoing protology and eschatology—it
was a universal hypothesis that answered all the questions of life. Ionian
physics also quickly took eschatological form, its proponents dogmatically
holding forth on the one quality or property or element that could, like
evolution later, explain the creation and all subsequent phenomena. And this
new eschatology met with the same sensational success in Periclean Athens that
Darwinism did in Victorian England. Its chief exponent was Anaxagoras, who "believed,"
according to one of his disciples, "that theoria—scientific
investigation—was the purpose of life, . . . while Heraclitus believed
that the purpose of life was to have joy (euarestesis)."102
It was, as might be expected, the younger generation at
Athens that hailed the new scientific emancipation from the hoary past with the
greatest glee. The kids suddenly knew all the answers. We have already seen
that Socrates admitted to some youthful conceit (hyperphanos) in his early
attachment to the Sophic. The Sophists, popularizers of science and common
sense, "attacked every illusion and every tradition in the name of truth,
clarity, objectivity, consistency, and neatness in thinking and speech."
Here was something that was easy to understand, flattering to the intellect,
and liberating to the conscience. The public ate it up. The basic proposition,
clearly and forthrightly stated by Hippocrates, is that there is nothing
supernatural, the elements of which things are made being sufficient to explain
all phenomena.103 Implicit in all the Sophist teaching, as Schmid points out,
was a basic atheism which, as far as the general public was concerned,
infallibly became the main issue. Smart people were expected to dismantle and
debunk all old beliefs in the name of a fresh, modern, emancipated morality:
the broad-minded Hippias prefers "the frank and straightforward Achilles"
to "the wily and false Odysseus";104 Protagoras made the devastating
discovery that the opening lines of the Iliad are not a prayer at all, being in
the imperative. So what? snorts Aristotle, any fool can see that it is a
prayer!105 The faith of many was shaken by the scandalous disclosure that
Crete has one hundred cities in the Iliad and only ninety in the Odyssey and
that God who is said to see everything in the Iliad has to send out messengers
in the Odyssey to report to him.106 The great liberals boil with indignation
at the injustice and inhumanity with which a god kills innocent mules and dogs
in wartime. This sort of thing, presented with clever rhetoric, was glorious
and heady stuff for the youth of Athens.
In the year that Plato was born, Aristophanes, a kid from
the country, produced his first play, a biting satire on the Athenian youth and
the new education that was making them what they were: "Their general lack
of reverence disgusted him. They struck him as dreadfully ignorant of Homer and
good literature. . . . Also they were full of strange information, and sometimes
of shocking beliefs and disbeliefs."107 Pericles had declared, "Athens
needs no Homer to praise her"; the city, J. B. Bury says, "enshrined
the worldly wisdom of men who stood wholly aloof from mystic excitements and
sought for no revelation, in the fiction of the Seven Sages."108 It was
Anaxagoras the physicist, according to Plutarch, who taught Pericles "to
despise all the superstitious fears which the awe-inspiring signs in the
heavens arouse in those who are ignorant of the real causes of such things."109 And it was just this attitude of Pericles, Plato avers, that laid the
foundation for the ruin of Athens.110 Plato rejected Homer as the perfect
teacher for exactly the opposite reason that Pericles and the Sophists
did—for them the poet was not civilized enough, for Plato he had too much
of human cleverness.111 Plutarch tells how the doctors eagerly sought for the
few errors and contradictions to be found in Homer, while completely ignoring
his matchless qualities of greatness. Why? Because the Sophic cannot tolerate
the Mantic. Dionysius Halicarnassus says the rationalist philosophers "ridicule
all the epiphanies of the Gods"; all that was now so much old baggage,
dead wood of the past. The issue is clearly drawn between two antithetical and
hostile views of life. We have seen that both Socrates and Plato in their youth
were enthusiastic followers of the new learning upon which both later turned
their backs. What is plain is that there is in the literature of the Golden Age
a strong tension, never sufficiently studied, between the Sophic and the
Mantic: the men of genius are consciously embattled against their rivals and
imitators whose special skill is in beguiling the public. Socrates lost his
life in the battle, and he confidently predicted that his teaching had no more
chance of winning out in competition with the delightfully packaged and
skillfully advertised product of the Sophists than the sound prescriptions of a
good doctor would have in competition with a quack who prescribed nothing but
candy for his child patients.
One of the most moving documents of the confrontation of the
Mantic and the Sophic at Athens is a noble tragedy which has received rough
treatment at the hands of the critics (although some think it is the greatest
drama ever written). "Strange to say," comments Sandys, "at the
presentation of the Oedipus Tyrannus, Sophocles was defeated by a minor poet."112 There must have been a reason, and it must be the same reason for which the
present critics of Sophocles denounced the play, in spite of its transcendent
genius, as a badly botched job from the rational and moral standpoint. The
unpardonable defect of the Oedipus Tyrannus is that in this titanic showdown
between the Sophic and the Mantic, it is the Mantic that wins. Hence the play
is denounced as a moral fiasco. And so, like the ancient critics, the present
critics of Sophocles—Kitto, Bowra, Sheppard, and Letters113—all
give it up as a hopeless impasse. To quote one of them: "Whatever were
Oedipus’s defects, they did not justify his fate. . . . They [the gods] have
not only yoked the cosmological law to their own designs, but decreed their
victim neither compensation nor hope. . . . We must believe the gods just, but
the play does not help us to see that they are."114
"Oedipus is the victim of Fate. . . . His doings,
moods, and character in the drama cannot make matters either better or worse. .
. . For us the deeper problem is thereby made only more acute. . . . Sophocles
hints at no answer in the Tyrannus."115 That is the way it looked to
Oedipus too—because he was a Sophist. In this play the Sophic and Mantic
let loose with tremendous salvos at each other, and because the Mantic wins,
the critics agree that the play is morally and rationally bankrupt. Was Sophocles
a fool? No, but he was a priest and patron of Aesculapius, who took his calling
seriously and believed as did Plato in inspired utterance. This play is one of
his impassioned sermons specifically against the shallowness of the brilliant
intellectuals that gathered around Anaxagoras at Pericles’ house after the
Oedipus had killed his father and married his
mother—but quite innocently. As Letters points out, he had committed no
crime by Athenian law; he was not "guilty," but he was "polluted."116 He is under a curse brought on, as Aristotle notes, by a mistake, and the
critics are quick to point out (as the chorus does in the play) that his
mistake consists simply in being an erring human being—we are all in the
same case. But a way of escape and the redemption is open if we are ready to
accept it; we can be cleansed of our pollution if we can bring ourselves to
repent and submit to certain ministrations that we cannot perform for
ourselves. This Oedipus will not do. That is his responsibility, and the
tragedy is of his own making. In the speech that opens the drama, Oedipus tells
us that for sixteen years everybody has been telling him that he is perfect
(line 8)—an opinion with which he readily concurs. But now there is a
plague and he must save the city. He admits that he is as helpless as anybody, "no
one is sicker than I am" (hos ego ouk estin hymon hostis ex isou nosei,
61-62), and that he must seek instruction which can only come from the holy
oracles (68-77), for which reason he has sent messengers to Delphi for orders
and is determined to do "whatever God reveals" (77). To the king’s
question, "What is the word of the god?" the returning messenger’s
first word is esthlen—wonderful! splendid! It is good news indeed; he
quickly adds that there are hard conditions attached but assures Oedipus that
if the conditions are met, "all will be well" (87-88). Is this
inexorable Fate? Having learned what is to be done, Oedipus decides to act and
leaves the stage with the solemn declaration that though he stand or fall, he
will follow God (144-46). The chorus then begs for divine
instruction—ambrote Phama—the child of golden hope (151-58). To the
end there is hope for Oedipus, if he will only admit his mortal limitations and
repent. Throughout the play, whenever Oedipus asks for divine instruction he
gets it—and in his vanity refuses to follow it. To the Sophic mind, "Sophocles
hints at no answer"117 to Oedipus’s predicament; but to the Mantic mind
the answer stares him in the face from first to last. In the play, Oedipus
receives nothing but good advice and good news: the former he rejects; the
latter he willfully misinterprets.
When the king returns to the stage it is apparent that he is
already slipping, for in a ringing speech he emphatically dissociates himself
from the crime and grandly announces that others must face reality, no matter
how grim (216-18). From here on he keeps reverting subconsciously to the guilt
he will not acknowledge in himself in a series of hypothetical situations: even
if the guilty wretch should be related to his own wife; even if he should be
living at his own house—he will avenge Laius as if he were his own
father. Incidentally, all that is necessary to clear the city of the plague is
for the guilty party to leave it—no further punishment is required.
The aged blind prophet Teiresias enters and Oedipus goes on
his knees to him: "Save the city! Save me! . . . We are in your hands!"
(312-14). The prophet’s reply, referring both to Oedipus’s renowned cleverness
and to the too-clever Athenians, goes right to the point: "Being smart can
only be disastrous to a man who doesn’t know where his cleverness is taking
him! [Pheu, pheu, phronein hos deinon entha me tele lyei phronounti] (316-17).
Then he asks Oedipus to let him go and assures him, "It will be best if
you bear your burden and I bear mine" (320-21)—more good advice that
Oedipus refuses to take, but he insists on prophecy. The whole company goes
down on its knees to the prophet, who pronounces Sophocles’ burning indictment
on the lot of them: "All of you know nothing!" (328). When he refuses
to prophesy, explaining to Oedipus, "I don’t want to hurt myself or you"
(332), the king like a spoiled child loses his temper and calls him kakon
kakiste, the worst possible name—the vilest of the vile (334), to which
Teiresias replies by observing that the one thing Oedipus cannot do is to admit
a weakness in himself—"in me you attack it readily enough, but you
simply can’t see it in yourself!" (337-38).
Then it is the blameless Oedipus who shouts back at the holy
man: "Who wouldn’t lose his temper listening to such treason. I don’t take
that from anybody!" (339-40).
So then the priest finally comes out with it: "You are
the defilement of the land!" (354).
"How can you dare say such a thing!" cries the
outraged king; and then, after a brief interchange, "How’s that again?
Repeat it—I want to know what you said" (359)—though of course
he understood perfectly well—he doesn’t want to hear.
Teiresias: "You are the murderer you seek!" (362).
Oedipus: "You won’t get away with that a second time!"
(363)—showing that he heard him perfectly well the first time. "Say
as much as you like," says Oedipus, "I won’t listen to you"
(365). Then, still the ill-mannered child, he exploits a new angle—a mean
and shameless attack on the old man’s blindness; and Teiresias in reply
prophesies Oedipus’s blindness—that is the theme of the play, the
blindness of which the Sophic and the Mantic are always accusing each other.
Flinging all reserve aside, Oedipus shouts the awful words: "It was not
God, it was I who solved the riddle of the Sphinx, by my own unaided powers. I
did it by using my brains (gnome kyresas oud’ ap’ oionon mathon) and not by any
supernatural hokum" (398). This marks Oedipus as the official representative
of the Sophic position pure and simple (exactly the way Anaxagoras instructed
Pericles) as Teiresias is of the Mantic, when he replies, "I am not your
servant but God’s. . . . You have usurped divine authority; you are willfully
blind—in darkness at noon. After all," he reminds the king, "you
begged for my instructions" (410-15, 432).
"But I never would have," replies the other, "if
I had known you were going to utter foolishness" (434). Such is the good
faith of Oedipus, the helpless victim of the relentless gods, and yet the
critics insist that Oedipus is acting in good faith! The helpless victim of an
ancient curse! Teiresias’s parting word to Oedipus is a fair enough
proposition: "Think it over, and if you ever find that I was wrong you can
call me a false prophet" (460-62). The chorus then declares that only God
knows and men do not.
But does Oedipus ever play fair? He proceeds to take the
offensive as the best defense against his own guilt feelings, completely
transferring his guilt to his brother-in-law Creon. Then Jocasta enters to tell
Oedipus that the prophecy about his crime—that he would one day kill his
father—has been proven false, since the king has just died far away in
Corinth and, reasoning like a typical Sophist, triumphantly argues from that
that all oracles are a fraud (707-9). To drive home her point she gleefully
recalls that it was also predicted that her former husband should be killed by
his son, and instead of that he was slain by a stranger at a place where three
roads meet. This is of course the worst thing she could have said, but she
thinks she is being terribly clever by debunking all prophecy. Even when
Oedipus complains of feeling dizzy and nauseated at her words (psyches planema
k’anakinesis phrenon, 726-27), she goes right on adding one clever
demonstration after another, thinking that she is burying the oracles as she
digs the grave deeper and deeper. Oedipus begins to admit that he has always
suspected things (785-86), and that he alone may be morally responsible; still,
how could he be guilty when he was only obeying the oracle? (821).
To this the chorus replies that Oedipus is not condemned and
that there is still hope of complete deliverance (834-35). Is this the "victim
without compensation or hope?" All that is required by the oracle to clear
the city of the plague is for the guilty party to leave town—no further
punishment is mentioned. And hope is not long in coming: another messenger
arrives with wonderful news—Oedipus has been elected king of Corinth (939-40),
where his supposed father has just died a natural death (934); it will be
remembered that there was a prophecy that Oedipus would kill his father, and
now that monarch has died of old age. Heretofore, the one real disadvantage in
his obeying the oracle and delivering Thebes was that he would in the process
become an exile, but now even that is taken care of; he has been offered a
splendid position, a promotion, in his home town, and all he has to do is to
accept it and everyone will be happy. Instead of that, he and Jocasta seize the
occasion to vent their savage spite on the oracles and add a pious discourse on
religious duty (911-12). Jocasta, when she hears the news, explodes with a
Sophist shout of triumph: "O oracles of the gods, where are you now!
(946). Now tell me what you think of your precious prophecies!" (952-53).
This is the more shocking, since the chorus, lamenting the disastrous general
neglect of holy things, has just vowed: "Though all others are deserting
the holy shrines [another reference to the Athenians], I will never desert!"
(865). Oedipus vents his pent-up tensions and suppressed guilt feelings in a
glorious, savage, and needlessly ferocious denunciation of all Mantic things: "Halleluiah,
wife! Who would ever take the Pythian oracle or heavenly omens seriously again?"
(964-65). You see what they prophesied, he says, and you see what happened. He
cannot in his relief resist a merry witticism about the death of the old king
Polybus, "Perhaps I killed him, by making him die of longing for me!"—in
which case the oracle would be right after all—a delicious joke. Then an
even more vicious gibe: "Well, he’s taken all that supernatural drivel
(thespismata) down to hell with him—it’s as dead and stinking as he is!"
"That’s just what I’ve been trying to tell you all
along," says his delighted wife (973), and delivers a thoroughly typical
and hackneyed Sophist speech such as Sophocles had heard a thousand times: "Why
should we worry about these things? After all, they just happen, and you can’t
be sure about anything. The best thing to do is just to try and get along the
best way you can, . . . and that means paying no attention to dreams and
oracles and that sort of nonsense" (977-83).
To this commonsense sermon Oedipus replies that they are
still not in the clear, since some prophecies still remain to be disproven.
Then, as the investigation proceeds and the evidence begins to pile up, it is
Jocasta who begins to get panicky—"Silly old stuff!" (1056);
then shaken—"That must be the explanation" (it was absurd and
she knew it); frantic—"I beg you—do not pursue this"
(1060); then desperate—"For your sake ask no more!" (1066).
Then Oedipus, also desperate, tries to invent an issue that
betrays his feelings of insecurity: Jocasta is making all this fuss because she
is ashamed of having married one beneath her station—she and her fine
airs! (1070). She sees that her mate is beyond hope and leaves him with the
words, "Oh you poor, miserable wretch! That’s all I have to say—the
whole thing is hopeless now and everafter! That is all I can ever call you!"
(1071-72). He has reached the point of no return and still tries to tell
himself that it is all her family pride.
"But I can’t lose!" he cries. "Lady Luck is
my mother!" (1080). This is the well-known appeal to
Tyche—Luck—which, as they shed all vestiges of faith, was becoming
a veritable obsession with the Greeks: for when faith moves out, superstition
moves in—everything is just chance, after all. Then Merton, the aged
herdsman of Laius who knows the real secret of Oedipus’s birth and upbringing,
is dragged in and he too warns the king not to go too far, to which good advice
Oedipus responds characteristically like a wild man by ordering the old man
tortured: "We will make you talk!" though he knows perfectly well
what the answer will be—"But still I must hear it!" (1170).
This is Ate.
The irony is that from the beginning of the play, everyone,
including Providence, has been trying to help Oedipus, who has been receiving
nothing but good news and good advice. The only disadvantage he has to suffer
is in becoming an expatriate from Thebes, but now he has been offered a
splendid position, as king of Corinth—all he has to do is leave town,
with or without his wife (and their marriage was only an affair of state), and
everything will be all right! Here is no imponderable, inscrutable, relentless
working of an age-old family curse, but a man able to receive salvation any
time he is willing to accept counsel. But right up to the end he insists on
accusing others of his own crimes, dashing through the palace with drawn sword
looking for Jocasta—she is to blame for all this! (1250-60). And so,
instead of leaving town in style, he goes forth as an outcast like Cain, having
marked himself with blindness, crying like Cain that his sufferings (nosema,
affliction, disease) are greater than he can bear (1293-94). What mania brought
this on him? the chorus asks (1299-1300), and further asks, Why doesn’t he kill
himself? Because he knows that that would be no escape, for there is indeed an
afterlife (1369-71). Now he knows the folly of trying to transfer his
guilt—"No mortal but myself can pay the price" (1415)—Is
he the god dying for the sins? the Christ figure? No! He rejected all that as
outmoded. He has even blinded himself and publicly confesses that the god, the
oracular Apollo he mocked, has smitten him with blindness, though he himself
struck the blow; he can blame no one, for he is self-blinded as the Sophists
are; and his words to the chorus are, "Be not afraid, only believe!"
(pithesthe, me deisete! 1414). His crime was in destroying the foundations of
faith, and now he repents most terribly.
Creon announces that Oedipus is now a true believer, "For
now at last you believe in the god completely" (1445). Yet to the end he
must admonish the departing outcast, who orders his daughters to go with him,
to learn submission, and Creon’s last words to Oedipus are, "Do not think
that you are still giving all the orders" (panta me boulou kratein)! Creon
is now inheriting not the curse but the arrogance of Oedipus, which is to be
his undoing! (1522). To the end, Oedipus refuses to give in.
The closing chorus is a sermon for Sophists: "Look
fellow citizens, at Oedipus here, the man who knew all the answers and was as
able as any man could be. There wasn’t another who did not look with envy on
his brilliant career—and look where he ends up—in utter disaster.
So let us remember that no man can be called a success until he has reached the
terminal of life without having suffered any misery at all" (1524-30). In
other words, the only happiness lies beyond "the termination of this life,"
not here. Where is the moral nullity in all this of which the critics complain?
We know that the great men who like Sophocles took the side
of the Mantic in his showdown were very much in the minority, and that the
Sophists, the self-appointed successors of the Sophoi, won the game hands
down—Longinus and Tacitus state the case clearly enough. It was not the
Sophoi who raised a victorious banner in all the cities of the ancient world,
but their diligent imitators the Sophists. Both, however, were able to
capitalize on the Mantic image. But, having displaced the prophets, the Doctors
naturally aspired to their honors, supplanting not only the inspired men in the
popular esteem but God himself! If everything happens "without any guiding
mind," which, according to Plato, "everybody believes today,"
then the human mind must be the only mind we can believe in—and who can
doubt among human minds which are the greatest? The unabashed
self-glorification and sublime conceit of the schoolmen becomes one of the main
themes of ancient and medieval literature. A favorite maxim of the Doctors was
that the knower is greater than the known, and where they are the knowers and
all the rest of the universe is the known, or at least the object of their
contemplation, where does that leave us? As successors to the seers of old, the
schoolmen willingly received and encouraged the veneration once accorded divinity;
the critic henceforward is himself the Great Sublime he draws. Plato chooses as
the representative type of the most vicious and dangerous order of Sophists the
clever and charming Gorgias—utterly cynical and opportunistic. And this
Gorgias merchandised his wares by addressing the holy national assembly of all
the Greeks at Olympia clothed in priestly robes, cleverly imitating the solemn
and ringing measures of oracular utterance in the new rhetorical style of which
he was one of the inventors; his golden statue stood in the Temple of Delphi,
where during the holy season he had "thundered his Pythian speech from the
The Mantic pose was useful to the Sophists, though it was
but a meaningless concession to tradition. Anaxagoras and his fellows might
reinterpret the old myths in terms of physics, and the Orphic theologians
reverse the process by transmitting the mythical gods into the elements and
forces of the cosmos, but with them such Mantic gestures were but literary
affectations. Paul Schmitt now argues that the Greek philosophers, contrary to
the prevailing impression, did not have a disintegrating effect on Greek
religion—but what religion? Schmitt’s only proof of his thesis is that
philosophy continued to show respect for the outward forms.119 I use the word
Mantic in preference to "religion" precisely because the Sophists,
once in control, were perfectly free to apply the label of religion to anything
they chose. Many of the Sophists were, like Toynbee, genuinely pious men,
glowing with a belief that "all creation has been groaning and travailing
to produce [them]," with a deep and fervid feeling of their own holiness.120 There is a Sophic religion: who was more devout and dedicated than Thomas
Henry Huxley, who more evangelical and saintly in our own day than Professor
Simpson? John Dewey was devoted to the project of freeing religion from all
Mantic, unscientific associations by founding his own religion in which the
works of Dewey would have the status of holy scripture—a process about as
meaningful as the production of silent music or odorless perfume. Any apparent
compromise of Mantic and Sophic can only mean that the one has absorbed the
other. That is nowhere more clearly seen than in the writings of the Church
The Christian Doctors of the fourth and fifth centuries were
all well-educated men, thoroughly grounded in the prevailing doctrines of the
day. When they attack paganism it is always the literal and supernatural, i.e.,
the Mantic, aspect of it that they assail—a perfectly safe procedure, the
mere beating of a dead horse, since nobody took that stuff seriously any more
anyway. The same fathers, however, have only reverence and respect for the
Sophic teachings of the schools, which the Church swallowed hook, line, and sinker.
Minucius Felix speaks for all when he announces that all educated Christians
believe exactly what all educated pagans do, while all educated Greeks are just
as contemptuous of their outmoded traditions as all educated Christians are of
theirs—the "old wives’ tales" over which Jerome and Chrysostom
pour such contempt. There was a real knock-down, drag-out fight between the "Allegorists"
and the "literalizers" in the Church, ending with complete victory
for the intellectuals: henceforth any reviving spark of crackpot sectarian
Mantic is attacked by the churchmen with hysterical fury. That group cannot be
in the Catholic Church, which claims to have prophets and charismatic gifts,
even though it follows all the proper Christian forms. The Mantic has become
the very essence of heresy. The Creeds of the fourth century and after were
Sophic, phrased in the jargon of the schools, to the horror of many, if not
most, good Christians. There is nothing open-ended about them, since their
whole purpose is to settle all problems once for all. The mood of the early
Fathers is one of desperation rather than of faith; the fantastic cruelty and
intolerance of the fourth century are, Alföldi observes, a natural expression
of the thinking of the times: "The victory of abstract ways of thinking,
the universal triumph of theory, knows no half-measures; punishment, like
everything else, must be a hundred per cent, but even this seemed inadequate."121 There was no place for the nonconforming Mantic in this Sophic world of
St. Augustine completes the process of de-Manticizing
antique culture that began in the sixth century B.C. It was he, we are told,
who cast the Christian and antique cultures together "once for all in one
mighty mold," thereby achieving that fusion of once hostile traditions
which make up the metal of our own civilization to this day. But what the great
man put into the crucible was not the whole of the Christian or the Greek
heritage, but only the Sophic part of each; that is why he was able to fuse
them. Much has been written about Augustine as the man who finally closed the
books on chiliastic charismatic Christianity, but what is not so well known is
that at the same time he finished off the lingering traces of Mantic glory in
the antique tradition. His famous justification for including the learning of
non-Christian antiquity in the curriculum of the Christian schools was the
doctrine of "spoiling the Egyptians." The Egyptians have good stuff
which we can use without danger if we make a careful selection: "I have
nothing against their words," he writes, "which are rare and precious
vessels; only the wine of error they contain displeases me." The figure is
an apt one: what the fourth century valued in the ancients was not the content
of their work, but simply the cellophane package of rhetoric, the ornamental
vases which the schools could use only after they were empty.
The thousands of quotations that ballast the writings of
Augustine, which were to furnish the whole Middle Ages with their classical
diet, have enabled specialists to reconstruct with ease and confidence what St.
Augustine regarded as "the treasures of the Egyptians." They show
that he did not trust the ancients in their moments of inspiration: Homer he
hated; the lyric poets he ignored; though he spent a good part of his life in
the theater, the only dramatist who engages his fancy is the shallow and
conventional Terrence; when he read history it was not the pages of Thucydides
or Tacitus but the dull, dignified school texts and manuals of a Justin, a
Pompeius, a Philippus, or a Eutropius; most significant of all, though a
practicing orator and professor of the art, he gives no sign of having read
Demosthenes or any of the Ten, or any orator at all, in fact, but Cicero, whom he
prizes especially for his highly unoriginal philosophy. The only writers of
real gifts that appeal to him, Vergil and Aesop, are those which he was taught
to affect as a small boy in school. In a word, he preferred erudition to
inspiration. Please notice that he had no objection to pagan writers as such,
but only to the inspired pagan writers, whom he condemns with unerring
It may seem strange that it took Christianity to drive the
last lingering traces of the Mantic court out of the world—it was
Theodosius who closed the last shrines of the Muses. That is because the
Christian Fathers had a more clear-cut view and lively dread of the Mantic from
their long feud with the old-fashioned Christians. The pagan Doctors actually
took some timid steps to revive the Mantic in order to compete with that early
Mantic Christianity. But the Christian Doctors had to compete with it too,
since it was wholly incompatible with their program of taking Christianity to
school. And they attacked it with uncompromising tenacity, even though they
recognized that it was indeed the old original Christian tradition.
III. The Sophistic Junkyard
There are many indications in the world today of a general
drift in the direction of what we have been calling the Mantic. We cannot do
more than indicate a few of them here—ten of the more striking phenomena
that have emerged since World War II and seem to have been gaining in power
1. The rediscovery of the eschatological nature of the New
Testament and the Christian church comes as a great surprise, not because
eschatological elements had been hidden away, but because they have always been
so glaringly apparent on almost every page of the Bible. The astounding fact
that Christian eschatology actually had to be rediscovered by Catholic and
Protestant alike in our own day is an indication of how completely Sophic the
thinking of the Christians has been all these years. The new trend can be
illustrated by the use of the word kerygma, referring to the literal-eschatological
preaching of the primitive Christians as against the later moral-philosophical
emphasis. After a search through the literature, the editors of the Expository
Times report that the word "thirty years ago . . . hardly existed,"
while today "index references to it may well outnumber those of any other
2. But another theme now bids fair to overshadow even
eschatology in the journals, a theme closely related to it but considered taboo
until quite recently. This is the subject of revelation and inspiration. "The
return to ideas of inspiration and revelation may be put down as one of the
marked trends of our biblical scholarship of the last decade," wrote S.
Vernon McCasland in 1954.123 It is, moreover, not the safe conventional
concept of revelation that the experts are now toying with so dangerously, but
something, as one of them says, very different from the traditional
formulations. It is in fact Mantic instead of Sophic, a deliberate renunciation
of the traditional doctrine and a departure from what the Church has from the
first believed concerning special revelation.
3. There is a growing partiality to literalism today, since
the discovery of a real Age of the Patriarchs to take the place of the mythical
one, and a real primitive Christian society to supplant a vague and
hypothetical one. Former liberals now break down and confess that to read
anything but a literal meaning into Christ’s words when he obviously meant them
to be literal is "to contort his message . . . to suit our preconceptions";
and many a scholar is now asking how we can continue to call ourselves
Christians unless we are willing to believe the things which we now know the
original Christians believed. A surprising example of the new literalism is the
plea now being made for an anthropomorphic God—a word of opprobrium not
long ago. Are "the terms most commonly applied to God . . . logically
compatible with the biblical God?" Professor Cherbonnier asks, and replies
with a ringing negative; the God of the philosophers is not the God of the
Bible and never was.124 The one is Sophic, the other, Mantic. The actual
return of the Jews to the Promised Land has given a new sense of reality to
ancient prophecy, and many churchmen are now willing to concede a literal
fulfillment of prophecy which all the Doctors of the Church—not the least
among them Luther and Calvin—rejected with horror.
4. Christian churches everywhere have begun to betray a
marked hankering for the old charismatic gifts. Protestants and Catholics alike
would now have us believe that the old prophetic tradition was never completely
lost. But Professor Tillich knows better: "This discourse," he writes
at the introduction of a recent study, "is based on the proposition that
the prophetic tradition of the Church was lost. It is one of the great
tragedies in the History of the Christian Church, that this tradition actually
and virtually completely perished. . . . For St. Augustine the Millennium is
here, everything essential has been achieved . . . in the hierarchy of the
Church. With this theory the spirit of Prophecy was expelled from the official
Church."125 We have already noted that with St. Augustine, the most
eminent of the Doctors, the Sophic completely supplants the Mantic in Christian
theology; it is reassuring to have Dr. Tillich say the same thing, and
especially to hear his declaration that what happened was a major catastrophe.
Other gifts of the Spirit are also being invited back into the churches today,
and one sober Episcopalian scholar glories that of recent years glossolalia has
appeared in the Episcopal Church, of all bodies.
5. The new respect with which the ancient Mysteries are
being studied and the laborious attempts to reconcile those resemblances
between them and the mysteries of the Catholic Church which cannot be explained
away is a step in the direction of the Mantic. For while authors like Jung and
Rahner remain stoutly Sophic and scientific, they are constantly crowding the
rational over the line—just a little bit—into superrational territory
while gently prodding the abstract and spiritual ever more in the direction of
the literal. It is a head-swimming performance in double-talk. It has been
increasingly recognized in recent years that the ritual and liturgy of the
Church was actually a substitute for the lost charismatic gifts; the mass thus
presents the ultimate paradox, a controlled miracle, in which the priest does
everything but actually does nothing. It is in precisely this "basic
contradiction" that Catholic scholars find the wonder and mystery of the
whole thing, the mystery being simply that it cannot be explained. Here at
least is a momentary relaxation of vaunted Sophic rigor—"steeled in
the school of old Aquinas," who for all that leaned so heavily on his
precious Areopagite to avoid the literalism of the Bible.
6. With recent important manuscript discoveries has come a
new respect for the old apocryphal writings. Not many years ago, leading
Catholic and Protestant authorities on apocrypha and apocalyptic could not find
words to express their contempt for the lurid, undisciplined, stereotyped, and
childishly literal thinking that characterized this large and important segment
of Christian tradition. Today its rising prestige is another sign of weakening
Sophic controls. Along with this has come the rediscovery of Israel by both
Catholics and Protestants, who now want to call themselves Israel, help rebuild
Jerusalem, and convince us that they have never really broken with the
7. We have already mentioned the bridges that scholarship is
now building between all sorts of ancient, medieval, and modern religious
societies and their traditions, but we should not overlook the discovery of the
heretofore unsuspected significance or even existence of what Professor Goodenough
calls "Vertical" Judaism.126 It seems that the traditional Rabbinic,
Halakhic Judaism which we have always thought to be the one and only official
religion of the Jews achieved its Alleinherrschaft only after suppressing with
great difficulty an older and diametrically opposed tradition of "mystic,"
Hasidic, or inspired Judaism. It is the old story of Sophic vs. Mantic all over
again, with the Jewish Sophic teachings coming straight from the Greek school
of Alexandria, whence the Christians and later the Moslems also took their
Sophic life. After all, the spirit of the Sophic is as all-pervading, as
uniform in content, and as centralized in origin as the Mantic. But the belated
recognition of the rights and claims of Vertical as over against Horizontal
Judaism is a definite step in the direction of the Mantic.
8. Perhaps the most significant bridge to be flung out in
our times is that which seeks life on other worlds. True, the other worlds are
still just a possibility, but such a vivid one that their religious impact is
already being felt. A recent symposium of American scientists on the subject of
"Life in Other Worlds" turned into a general attack on any tendency
or desire to engage in religious or otherwordly speculations on the subject.127 Was this onslaught on religion uncalled for or irrelevant? Not at all. The
reality of other worlds is the fundamental thesis of the Mantic. What other
reason can there be that the scientists so long, so dogmatically, and with no
evidence whatever asserted that there just could not be life on other worlds,
and why today they almost panic to forestall any Mantic interpretation now that
they concede its validity?
9. Another singular development of our times is the attempt
by hitherto impeccably indoctrinated Sophic thinkers to break out of their
Sophic box by the use of drugs. The consensus of these scholars, poets, and
scientists is that the Sophic world is a pretty drab place, in spite of all the
vaunted enticements of science, art, and scholarship. "Art is an Ersatz,"
is the verdict of one of these eminent experimenters, "the elegantly
composed recipe in lieu of actual dinner." The general public
unconsciously sustains this verdict in its mass dependence on tobacco and
alcohol. The effects of certain drugs were also achieved by mystics and
ascetics everywhere by various fasts and exercises. Though the experiences
induced by mescalin and mushroom are recognized as real and not as imaginary,
still they are strangely unsatisfactory. "The natural poetic trance,"
as Robert Graves puts it, "means a good deal more to me than any trance
induced by artificial means."128 That is because, as we have already
indicated, an experience is not genuinely Mantic which is in any way
self-induced or controlled.
10. Another Mantic development of our time is the phenomenal
growth of the Mormon Church, a growth quietly proceeding with only scarce and
reluctant publicity. Some years ago I made a long study of just what objections
had been raised against Mormonism in the past. From the beginning it was always
the same. Nobody was really worried about polygamy, which was in fact a welcome
stick to beat the Mormons with; the ferocious denunciations from press and
pulpit, the incitement of mobs, and the stampeding of legislatures always rested
on one thing alone—the incredible fact that in an age of modern
enlightenment, universal education, and scientific supremacy there should be
found coexisting with Christian civilization a community of primitives so
ignorant, so deluded and depraved as to believe in revelations from heaven and
the operation of charismatic gifts. In the Journal of Discourses, Mormon
leaders steadily hurled charges of gross darkness, total unbelief, and pious
double-talk against the Christian clergy who insisted that Christians simply
could not fellowship beings so degenerate as to believe in modern-day prophets
and angelic visitations. It was the purest case of Mantic versus Sophic. Yet
today it is the same church journals that publish anti-Mormon denunciations
that ring with fervid calls for a return to eschatology and inspiration.
The trend towards the Mantic is so broad and strong as to
suggest a reversal of the Sophic tide of 600 B.C. The Mantic was exhausted
then; today it is the Sophic that is leading us nowhere. The old evangelistic
fervor of the Evolutionists with its gospel of eternal organic progression is
viewed with a jaundiced eye today, when leading evolutionists insist that
evolution is a diffuse sort of network process that is going nowhere—it
has no consistent direction. It is significant that H. G. Wells, the prophet of
the glorious future that science was going to give us, turns out to be most
interesting when he is writing about the past; his wonderful world of the
future is a crashing bore: glass corridors under the sea may provide some hours
of fun, but the exhilaration of exchanging stares with silent fishes can
deteriorate after a while into something like a nightmare.
The Greeks too had their science fiction. Friedrich Blass
reports that when he first read Lucian as a youth he was convinced, as were the
men of the Renaissance, that he was in the presence of a truly great creative
genius, only to discover later that Lucian, the clever debunker and
science-fiction writer, could not stand rereading because he had no soul.
Science fiction, with its "suggestion of infinite possibilities" and
its spying on other worlds, was an ancient, as it is a modern, substitute for
Here let us correct a common misunderstanding, namely that
magic belongs to the Mantic tradition. It does not: it is the purest Sophic.
The essence of magic power is that it resides in physical objects—wands,
books, rings, robes, magic words, potions, seals, amulets, charms,
etc.—independent of any higher power or moral order. Solomon’s seal,
Aaron’s rod, or the Philosopher’s Stone will operate for anybody—they are
self-operating and self-contained, like the self-operating cosmos of the
naturalist. "The eye makes itself," we are told; we need look no
further than the atoms and molecules that make it up for a full explanation of
all that transpires. This, according to Professor Simpson, is the very essence
of scientific thinking. It is also the purest magical thinking, looking no
further than the thing itself, or a connected but always limited chain of
things, to explain everything—beyond the wand or the microscope or the
test-tube there is nothing.
But even a Sophic society needs, as Professor Wallace O.
Fenn reminds us, a sense of something to live for, and this is provided in
various ways. Dr. Fenn himself suggests the cult of scientific research,
particularly biology, as the answer, as Anaxagoras did long ago ("From a
very long range point of view biological research becomes the highest objective
that can be thought of for human life. . . . Unlike the physical sciences
biology can be almost a religion in itself")—but he himself is a
researcher and admittedly frustrated, since biology is apparently no nearer to
discovering the meaning of life than it ever was ("This problem of
consciousness is one which biology has never cracked").130 It was the
Sophists themselves who supplied the standard solution to the problem of
keeping hope and expectation alive in the human breast by developing the cult
of careerism to a religion. Mere rank brings small satisfaction to intelligent
people, and ninety-nine percent of the work done by those who are climbing the
military, civil, or corporate gradus honorum does not really need to be done;
what keeps the elaborate, artificial, and costly promotion structures alive is
the invaluable sense of expectation they infuse into a society. As
civilizations decline they become progressively enveloped in a system of
creeping careerism in which eventually every calling is a career and everyone
lives for promotion.
As a stimulant to living, the cult of travel has always
figured conspicuously in Sophic societies. The peculiar calling of the Seven
Sages required them to be always moving about among the children of men as the
seven planets move through the Zodiac. But long before their day, the roads
connecting the holy shrines and schools of the East were worn by the feet of
priests, bards, teachers, and scholars constantly traveling in their quest for
wisdom and sanctity. At the great centers they would come to know each other
and be known; life was a pilgrimage to holy places in which one acquired
ever-increasing knowledge, merit, and renown. The Sophists continued the
program, with increased emphasis on the fame-and-fortune motif, and it was
carried on throughout the Middle Ages by the Moslem Doctors. The extensive
Reiseberichte and Gelehrtenregister of the Greeks and Arabs show how completely
dependent the Sophic world is on travel to keep alive the spirit of
expectation. It is the airport culture of our own day.
Then there is Art as an Ersatz for the Mantic—the menu
instead of the dinner, as Huxley put it. Great artists are Mantic souls, but to
be an artist without being a great artist is being a king without being a great
king—an intolerable, not to say absurd, situation: aut Caesar aut nihil:
The mediocre artist has an axe to grind with the niggardly Muses and invariably
takes refuge in the Sophic, becoming the most intellectual of intellectuals. A
little inquiry will show that the most determined and implacable enemies of the
Mantic are to be found not among the scientists and scholars but among the
artists—particularly the painters. It may be said that hatred of the
Mantic is a pretty good measure of frustration in any department.
The aesthetic appeal of religious ritual is highly
recommended by many thinkers seeking to salvage the undeniable human need for
religion from the wreck of outmoded supernaturalism. This, however, is a purely
Sophic performance. The Mantic is not at the disposal of Hollywood; it is not
photogenic and will not be manipulated. The old Christian indifference to great
works of religious art, gorgeous antique liturgy, gracefully gesturing priests,
and lovely old legends comes under attack in the Octavius of Minucius Felix by
a Roman gentleman who equally deplores Christian preoccupation with the other
world in preference to this one and their whole anti-intellectual attitude.
There is nothing in the Mantic that could be used by a popular picture
magazine. The most glorious special effects do not have even a hint of heaven.
Recently Martin Grabmann’s Geschichte der scholastischen
Methode has been reprinted.131 The whole work is devoted to an attempt to
prove that in embracing the philosophy of the Schools, the Church was not
betraying its original tradition. Grabmann works valiantly to anticipate and
answer certain annoying questions that the adoption of Scholasticism by the
Church inevitably raises. To the natural question of why the Church borrowed
Scholastic philosophy in the first place, the conventional answer is that it
did nothing of the sort, but spontaneously and independently invented the art
with no deference whatever to the pagans. But Grabmann is too well-informed to
go along with that and prefers the argument that philosophy, even false pagan
philosophy, can help us to a fuller understanding of the content of revealed
knowledge by furnishing a strong and reliable apodexis (demonstration), of the
things that have been left us through faith. "Its purpose," says
Grabmann "is to give us Vollbesitz der christlichen Wahrheit" (full
understanding of Christian truth). But is not revelation itself the last word
in apodexis, and were not the Prophets and Apostles in full possession of the
truth? Yes, is the reply, but we do not understand them fully, because the
revelation they received directly was by nature
übervernünftig—suprarational; so we must needs have some rational
discipline to explain it. But can we explain the nonrational in terms of the
rational? If so, why was not the "Christian truth" delivered in
rational form in the first place? Why must it be reworked by the Scholastic
discipline in order to become intelligible?
Answer: Reworking is hardly the word; Grabmann insists at
all times that Scholasticism "bedeutet keine inhaltliche Umprägung und
Entstellung des Urchristentums" (implies no substantial transformation and
distortion of primitive Christianity). To prove this he searched out
declarations of Justin, Clement, and others that their teachings were not
corrupting the Christian faith. Of course they affirm that; what else could
they do? But the fact is that they all worry a good deal about what they are
doing, while the mere assertion that one is perfectly orthodox in spite of
everything carries little enough weight coming from the very men who loudly
protest against the use of the Rhetorical handmaiden of Scholasticism, while
every page of their work bears the stamp of Rhetoric. Why not dispense with
Rhetoric and Scholastic altogether? Because, says Grabmann of the latter,
without it revelation is both incomprehensible and unbelievable. Then the
Scholastic method can do what revelation cannot do, namely convey a clear and
unequivocal message to men? Not at all! "By its very nature," says
Grabmann, "revelation assumes that it can be understood by men, nay, it is
the supreme act of understanding."132 Then we must ask again, why must
the intellectual machinery of the schools be brought to the aid of that
supernatural power? Well, the whole operation of Scholastic can be summed up in
the immortal formula fides quaerens intellectum. Does that mean that faith must
still seek something after the perfect and final revelation of the truth? If it
is still looking for something, it must be defective. Answer: It is not seeking
doctrine or information but simply clearer and sharper expression and
definition of what it believes.
And for that it must turn to the ailing schools of
antiquity? Let us remember that the schools had reached an all-time
intellectual low at the time the church chose to embrace their methods. The
church married a "sick man," says Duchesne, when she joined forces
with the state under Theodosius;133 she married a much sicker one when she
embraced the schools of the same decadent age. What could the church gain by such
a match? It is inconceivable that the wedding could have taken place had either
of the parties retained its original vigor and independence—but both, as
the writings of the Fathers make painfully clear, were in a desperate
condition. One of the earliest fragments of church history is Hegesippus’s
remark: "up until then the Church had remained a pure and incorrupted
virgin."134 Up until when? Until the philosophers took over. The last
Roman, for Grabmann, was also the first Scholastic, who "minted the authentic
coin of its Latin terminology"—that noble Boethius, who in his last
hours was comforted not by religion but by an allegorical visit from Dame
Now again, why was the marriage with philosophy necessary?
Answer: "To overcome the objections of reason to revelation"—that
is St. Augustine’s famous reconciliation of Classical and Christian learning.
But how can you call it reconciliation when it is always the church that gives
way? It is always reason that has to be satisfied and revelation that must be
manipulated in order to give that satisfaction; this is no compromise but
complete surrender, by which Theology "becomes the train-bearer of the Old
Queen Philosophy." Augustine’s long and painful "conversion," as
he describes it, was the progressive realization that Christian doctrine could
be accommodated to the teachings of the schools by the application of Tichonius’s
Seven Rules of Tropology—but the tropes are never applied to "the
works of the Platonists," which remain the undeviating norm, but always to
the conveniently adjustable Scriptures. The key word is accommodation, and
Schweitzer and others have seen in the history of Christian dogma one long
process of de-eschatologizing. "The result of the continued repetition of
this undignified retreat, during many generations," writes Alfred N.
Whitehead of the last phase of it, "has at last almost entirely destroyed
the intellectual authority of religious thinkers."135 Well, if they
insist on their authority being intellectual, what other choice have they but
to accommodate with the best intellectual discipline of the times?
The result of the marriage was that each party contracted
the other’s disease: both were seriously weakened by the match, as Eucken
observes. Many have described how Christianity acquired the worst vices of the
schools—shallow rhetoric, learned obscurity, academic formalism,
hair-splitting subtlety, and above all a total inability to create or discover.
Grabmann repeatedly comments on how the greatest Christian thinkers for
generation after generation can do nothing but copy and compile. It was Jerome
who lamented that the ancients had left him nothing to say—even as a
Christian. In Scholasticism, the Western mind, according to Norden, reaches its
bathos, and even Grabmann admits that by the eleventh century Christian
philosophy had degenerated into "eitle Sophistik."136
Yet it had to be that or nothing. Without "science and
intellect," Thomas Aquinas assures us, the student of Christianity would
have nothing to study: nihil acquiret sed vacuus abscedet—he would
acquire nothing, but go away empty. How bankrupt the Doctors must have been to
accept with open arms the once despised contribution of the schools! Nay, they
gloried in it, satisfied that in it they had the full equivalent of revelation;
like the smart-alec youth of Pericles’ Athens, they had a "joyous
confidence in the omnipotence of logical demonstration," says Reinhold
Seeberg. "There was an ever-widening circle of disputants who either
depended solely upon rational arguments or held that faith should at least find
confirmation in the deductions of reason."137 Even today the philosophia
perennis of the Catholic Church is "complete trust in the power of reason,
the absolute validity of the law of causality." The deadly sin of
Modernism, Grabmann announces, is simply "the rejection of
Intellectualism," and the transfer of religion "to a realm of
feeling." "The Roman Catholic Church has made reason its bulwark,"
he cries, "against the intellectual high crimes of the times: Lack of
order and system in thinking (Unordnung und Regellosigkeit im Denken),
subjectivism, and the increase of fantasy at the expense of logic—. . .
shallow, imprecise (verschommenes), confused, and oracular expression."
All of these are treason against the "clarity, precision, sharpness,
logical consequence, and systematic structure" of Scholasticism. It is
only fair to recall, however, that St. Augustine took the Sophic way only after
long and unavailing efforts to acquire an experience of direct revelation: for
him logical consequence was a poor second best, and he finally accepted it with
a heavy heart only because he had no choice.
Much of the literature and art of our day is simply a bitter
commentary on the emptiness of the world. We can gain nothing by joining the
angry chorus, but we can get a new insight into emptiness if we will stand on a
cold windy mesa in Tusayan just at dawn on a spring morning. All around is
nothing but a vast expanse of sterile sand, stretching to barren bluffs and
volcanic peaks on the dark horizon; except for the dim, huddled houses of an
ancient stone village, there is only bare rock, the vast ceaseless wind, and
the fading stars. We are in an empty, inhospitable, primordial world, suspended
between earth and sky on a high cold rock, and there, in the midst of this
gloom and nothingness, there is a play going on! A drama is being enacted with
great concentration and talent—and likely as not at this hour without a
single spectator. We think of other dramas in the desert—Qumran or the
Siwa Oasis—and realize that this Hopi dance in the vast emptiness of the
Southwestern Desert is our little world in the vaster emptiness of space, where
in the infinite void on a bright tiny stage, all, all alone, a play is being
Shakespeare is haunted by the image of the drama in the
void: "the cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples,
the great globe itself, yea, all that it inherits, shall dissolve, and like
this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind."138 It is the
void that appalls him, as it does other poets living in Sophically oriented
One moment in annihilation’s waste,
One moment of the wine of life to taste—
The stars are setting, and the caravan
Starts for the dawn of nothing—O, make haste!139
"Welch’ Schauspiel!" cries Goethe, "Aber ach,
ein Schauspiel nur!"140 Only a play? Actually the awful emptiness only
makes the drama the more marvelous. The presence of nothing and the vast
inane—that we can readily understand; but that there should be anything
else besides, to say nothing of a full-blown drama, is simply incredible. If
that little play can come out of nothing, as the Sophic mind assures us it
does, then our troubles are over: if nothing can produce that, then there is no
end to what nothing can produce. Once we have broken through the barrier of
existence, as the Egyptians taught, the rest is easy; once the incredible
obstacles of coming to be have been surmounted, that of continuing existence
becomes a mere technicality.
But what about the drama? If you miss the first or last five
minutes of a well-knit play, you may try to guess what it is all about, but you
can never be sure; and if you should see only thirty seconds or less of any
play, your guessing would be far-fetched indeed. Well, we are pushed onto this
earthly stage in the middle of a play that has been going on for thousands of
years; we want to play an intelligent part and, in whispers, ask some of the
older actors what this is all about—what we are supposed to be doing? And
we soon learn that they know as little about it as we do. Who can tell us the
plot of the play? The Sophic mind assures us that the play is simply a product
of lighting, rocks, and wind and has no plot aside from the plots we invent for
it. In that book things just happen—and there is no way of proving that
that is not so. The mystic makes a virtue of the incomprehensibility of the
whole thing; he submerges himself in the darkness of unknowing and wallows in
his self-induced and self-dramatizing mood of contradictions: he is strictly a
Sophic, not a Mantic, product.
The Mantic admits that the play is incomprehensible to
people of as little knowledge and experience as ours, and insists for that
reason that if we are to know anything at all about it, our knowledge must come
from a higher source, by revelation. According to the Mantic way of thinking,
things do not just happen—and there is absolutely no way of proving that
that is not so. The same starry heavens that have supplied the Mantic with
irrefutable proof since time immemorial that things do not just happen has
always been the most self-evident proof in the world to the Sophic that things
do just happen.
That drama on the windy rock at the end of the world
naturally puts us in mind of Prometheus Bound, a drama that definitely takes us
back to the Mantic. The interesting thing about the setting here is the way in
which Aeschylus teaches us that the drama in the void is not in the void at all
and that the hero’s supposedly hopeless case is by no means hopeless. Zeus and
his Sophistic counsellors (the messenger Hermes in this play is the model
Sophist) have tried to consign Prometheus to utter isolation and hopelessness;
they have banished him to the most distant and inhospitable region of the
universe and there chained him in the most paralyzing and at the same time
excruciating manner possible. Plainly it is all up with Prometheus. And yet the
plan fails: the whole play consists of a string of visitors and messengers to
Prometheus from other worlds, and reminders of other worlds and other orders
that were before this one, and yet others that will surely come after.
Prometheus’s isolation is only temporary, the determined effort of the Sophists
to nullify his whole existence is a complete failure. Like Job, Prometheus
takes his comfort not in the desperate present but in the assured past.
Eusebius develops the theory that all that is good and
desirable in any civilization is actually a survival from some previous age of
enlightenment when the Gospel was on the earth and men received light from
heaven. Since civilization and the arts are of course older than Christianity,
he does not presume that God’s gifts to mankind began with Jesus, but conceives
of earlier dispensations when the earth was blessed with divine visitations and
showered with heavenly gifts, only to be followed in the course of human
affairs by inevitable corruption and apostasy. Dispensationism is a conspicuous
item in the Jewish and Christian Apocrypha, in the early Christian writings,
and now in the Dead Sea Scrolls. A dispensation is not a reformation but a
restoration, specifically, a return of revelation—"again the heavens
were open." Whenever revelation is resumed, the holy order of things
revives, while that holy order cannot survive after revelation has ceased, no
matter how hard men try to preserve and imitate its institutions. The sacral
order is thus completely dependent on revelation.
But that is not all. The uninspired, secular order of
things, which we have called Sophic, is also, as Eusebius notes, a derivative
of the old Mantic society, living on the capital of an earlier prosperity. The
primary function of the Christian Church, the Doctors tell us, is to preserve
unchanged and undiminished the deposit of past revelation, carefully guarding
the cisterns which hold the precious water which has long since ceased to flow,
as "living water" must flow, from the source. Thus it would appear
that the substance of a civilization would be very much the same whether the
civilization is "Sophic" or "Mantic"—it is the world
view of each that puts them poles apart. All this is important when it comes to
understanding the peculiar role of Mormonism in the world.
*"Three Shrines: Mantic, Sophic, and Sophistic"
were a series of lectures delivered at the Sterling Library Lecture Hall at
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, under the sponsorship of the
Latter-day Saint Deseret Club at Yale on May 1, 2, and 3, 1963.
1. Carl Kerényi, The Gods of the Greeks (New York: Grove,
2. Synesius Ptolemais, De Insomniis 147, in PG 66:1305.
3. This is brought out, for example, in Aristides, Apology
13, in J. Rendel Harris, The Apology of Aristides on Behalf of the Christians
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1893), 108-9.
4. Eric V. Gordon, An Introduction to Old Norse (Oxford:
Clarendon, 1927), xxxi.
5. Plato, Apology 19C, 20C.
6. Ibid., 21E-23D.
7. Eduard Meyer, Geschichte des Altertums, 3 vols., 5th ed.
(Berlin: Cotta, 1926), 1:2:211-12.
8. I. E. S. Edwards, The Pyramids of Egypt (New York:
Penguin Books, 1964), 29-30.
9. Louis Speelers, Textes des cercueils du Moyen Empire
égyptien (Bruxelles: Dept, 1947), x.
10. Westcar Papyrus 7, 6-7, in Alan H. Gardiner, Egyptian
Grammar, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Griffith Institute, 1957), 228.
11. Alfred N. Whitehead, quoted in Lucien Price, "To
Live without Certitude," Atlantic Monthly 193 (March 1954): 59.
12. Josephus, Against Apion I, 236.
13. Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica I, 9, in PG 21:65.
14. Aristotle, Oeconomica II, 2, 33.
15. Dio Chrysostom, Discourse XII, 15.
16. Erwin R. Goodenough, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman
Period, 13 vols. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1953), 1:18-21.
17. Synesius Ptolemais, De Insomniis, in PG 66:1305.
18. Goodenough, Jewish Symbols, 1:17-18, 20-21.
19. Empedocles, in Sextus Empericus, Against the Logicians
20. Charles H. Kahn, "Religion and Natural Philosophy
in Empedocles’ Doctrine of the Soul," Archiv für Geschichte und
Philosophie 42 (1960): 3.
21. O. D. Chwolsohn (Khvol’son), Die Ssabier und der
Ssabismus, 2 vols. (St. Petersburg: Buchdruckerei der Kaiserlichen Akademie der
Wissenschaften, 1856), 2:15.
22. Morton S. Enslin, "A Gentleman among the Fathers,"
Harvard Theological Review 47 (1954): 238-39.
23. Ibid., 230.
24. Kostas Papaioannou, "Nature and History in the
Greek Conception of the Cosmos," Diogenes 25 (1959): 14.
25. Commenting on Sophocles’ Eleusinian fragment, in F. J.
H. Letters, The life and Work of Sophocles (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1953),
26. H. H. Rowley, "Ritual and the Hebrew Prophets,"
in S. H. Hooke, ed., Myth, Ritual, and Kingship (London: Oxford University
Press, 1958), 246-47, 258.
27. Letters, The Life and Work of Sophocles, 64.
28. C. G. Jung, "Transformation Symbolism in the Mass,"
in Joseph Campbell, ed., The Mysteries: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks (New
York: Pantheon Books, 1955), 318-19. In the same volume, Hugo Rahner’s article,
"The Christian Mystery and the Pagan Mysteries," observes that "it
is of the utmost importance for the understanding of this mystery of the Cross
that we recall the fundamental structure of all mysteries," 371; and Hans
Leisegang’s article, "The Mystery of the Serpent," notes that "the
Christian cosmos can be shown to be directly related, both formally and
conceptually, to the Orphic cosmos," 228; while Paul Schmitt observes in
his article, "The Ancient Mysteries in the Society of Their Time: Their
Transformation and Most Recent Echoes," that Homer’s Hymn to Demeter is an
"almost medieval hymn," 106.
29. Jung, "Transformation Symbolism in the Mass,"
30. Ernst Benz, "Christus und Sokrates in der alten
Kirche," Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 43 (1950):
195-97; and Erich Fascher, "Sokrates und Christus," Zeitschrift für
die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 45 (1954): 1-41.
31. Cf., for example, Clement, Epistola I ad Corinthios
(First Epistle to the Corinthians) VI, 25, in PG 1:220-21, 261-66. "Solon
eidem regi finem longae vitae intuendum praedicavit non aliter, quam prophetae
[Solon told the same king that the end of a long life must be seen much as the
prophets did]," says Tertullian, Apologeticus adversus Gentes XIX, 1, in
32. Hugh Nibley, "The Hierocentric State," Western
Political Quarterly 4 (1951): 230-35, 250-51; reprinted in this volume, pages
33. Ibid., 226-30; reprinted in this volume, pages 99-103.
34. Pindar, frg. 137: "Blessed is he who hath seen
these things before he goeth beneath the hollow earth; for he understandeth the
end of mortal life, and the beginning (of a new life) given of god"; John
Sandys, tr., The Odes of Pindar including the Principal Fragments (Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 1968), 593-95.
35. Walter Wili, "The Orphic Mysteries and the Greek
Spirit," in Campbell, The Mysteries, 77.
36. Walter F. Otto, "The Meaning of the Eleusinian
Mysteries," in Campbell, The Mysteries, 14.
37. Wili, "Orphic Mysteries," 87.
38. Theodor Gomperz, Griechische Denker: Eine Geschichte der
antiken Philosophie, 3 vols. (Leipzig: Veit, 1903), 1:65.
39. Otto, "Eleusinian Mysteries," 25, comments on "the
veneration of the Mysteries by such men as Sophocles and Euripides."
40. Ibid., 30.
41. Walter F. Otto, Die Musen und der göttliche Ursprung des
Singens und Sagens (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1961), 47.
42. John E. Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship, 3
vols. (London: Cambridge University Press, 1921), 1:105-6.
43. Dio Chrysostom, Discourse LXXII, 12.
44. Chrysostom constantly harps on this theme in his
discourses delivered at the ancient cult centers which had been converted to
45. Pindar, frg. 31, quoted by Aristides, In Defense of
Oratory 142D, 420.
46. Plato, Phaedo 97B-C.
47. Clementine Recognitions II, 65-67, in PG 1:1278-79.
48. Dio Chrysostom, Discourse I, 58: Synesius, Dio 10, in PG
66:1145; Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship, 1:70-72.
49. Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship, 1:71.
50. Pindar, Olympian Odes II, 81-87.
51. Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship, 1:71.
52. See Philostratus II, quoted in Sandys, History of
Classical Scholarship, 1:336.
53. Pindar, Olympian Odes II, 86-88. On Pindar’s Mantic
association see Basil L. Gildersleeve, Pindar: The Olympian and Pythian Odes
(New York: Harper and Brothers, 1885), Olympian Odes II, 96-97.
54. References in Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship,
1:72, 389; Dio Chrysostom, Discourse 1.
55. H. W. Garrod, Oxford Book of Latin Verse (London: Oxford
University Press, 1952), ix-x.
56. Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship, 1:303.
57. Francis M. Cornford, Thucydides Mythistoricus (New York:
Greenwood, 1969), 201, 221.
58. Plato, Republic X, 595B, 600E, 607A.
59. Plato, Meno 99D.
60. Plato, Apology 22C.
61. Plato, Laws VII, 809-11.
62. Plato, Meno 81B.
63. Plato, Phaedrus 245A.
64. Werner Jaeger, Aristotle, tr. Richard Robinson (Oxford:
Clarendon, 1948), 240-41.
65. Plutarch, The Oracles at Delphi 22 (405A-D).
66. Justin Martyr, Discourses to the Greeks 8, in PG
67. Erwin Rohde, Psyche: The Cult of Souls and Belief in
Immortality among the Greeks, tr. W. B. Hillis, 2 vols. (New York: Harper
Torchbooks, 1966), 2:257, 260, 294-97.
68. Josephus, Against Apion I, 236: However great his
yearning for the gifts of prophecy and revelation, the Pharaoh knew "that
he would incur the wrath of the gods if he tried to see them by force."
69. Walter Burkert, "Goes: zum griechischen
Schamanismus," Rheinisches Musuem für Philologie 105 (1962): 36-56.
70. Plato, Phaedo 96A-97B.
71. Ibid., 97C.
72. Plato, Sophist 265C.
73. Plato, Apology 33C.
74. Plato, Gorgias 523-26.
75. Ibid., 527A-B.
76. Plato, Apology 26D.
77. Ibid., 24B-C, 26C-27E, 31C-D.
78. Ibid., 23B, 32A, 41A-B.
79. Plato, Crito 54B-E.
80. Gaylord Simpson, "The World into Which Darwin Led
Us," Science 131 (April 1960): 974. Cf. Gaylord Simpson, Concession to the
Improbable: An Unconventional Autobiography (London: Yale University Press,
81. Plato, Laws IV, 715E-716B.
82. Edwyn Bevan, Sibyls and Seers (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1929), 99-103, shows how feeble the Greek Mantic
manifestations were compared with those of the Hebrew. Socrates’ grateful
acceptance of his Delphic message suggests snatching at straws; that oracle, as
Heraclitus observes (frg. 11), "neither declares nor conceals, but gives a
sign." At no time does Mantic inspiration seem to have been general.
Theophilus, To Autolycus III, 384, 7, in PG 6:1132; even the Egyptians were
beset by doubts from the very first, Erich von Lüddeckens, "Untersuchungen
über religiösen Gehalt, Sprache und Form der ägyptischen Totenklagen,"
Mitteillungen des Deutschen Instituts für ägyptische Altertumskunde in Kairo 11
(1943): 171-72; Speelers, Textes des cercueils, lviii.
83. For example, the "Greek people never gave up the
alluring fancy of a distant land of blessedness," Rohde, Psyche, 1:64.
84. Schmitt, "The Ancient Mysteries," in Campbell,
The Mysteries, 97; Herbert Braun, "Der Fahrende," Zeitschrift für
Theologie und Kirche 48 (1951): 32-38; Ejnar Dyggve, "Les traditions
cultuelles de Delphes et l’église chrétienne," Cahiers Archéologiques 3
(1948): 9-28; Bevan, Sibyls and Seers, 165-68.
85. Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1953), 1.
86. Lasaulx, in ibid., 8.
87. J. B. Bury and Russell Meiggs, A History of Greece to
the Death of Alexander the Great, 4th ed. (New York: St. Martin’s, 1975), 199.
Cf. Diogenes Laertius, Thales I, 22: "He was the first to receive the name
of sage, in the archonship of Damasias at Athens, when the term was applied to
all Seven Sages."
88. Ivan M. Linforth, Solon the Athenian (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1919), 159.
89. Ibid., 167.
90. Ibid., 165-67.
91. Ibid., 166-69.
92. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan,
93. Richard Courant and Herbert Robbins, What is
Mathematics? An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1941, 1961), xvii-xviii (emphasis added).
94. Wallace O. Fenn, "Front Seat for Biologists,"
AIBS Bulletin (December 1960): 16.
95. Used with reference to Heraclitus in Pseudo-Aristotle,
De Mundo (On the Cosmos) 396b20; Cicero, De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum II, 5,
96. Heraclitus, On the Universe 41.
97. Ibid., 69.
98. Plato, Apology 24C, 26B, 27C, E.
99. Heraclitus, On the Universe 97.
100. Ibid., 121.
101. Ibid., 1.
102. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata II, 21, in PG 8:1076;
in Otto Stählin, ed., Clemens Alexandrinus, 6 vols., 4th ed. (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag,
1985), 2:184; in Hermann Diels, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, 3 vols, 6th
ed. (Berlin: Weidmann, 1951), 1:149.
103. Hippocrates, The Art XXI, 1-4.
104. Plato, Lesser Hippias 365B.
105. Aristotle, Poetics XIX, 7-9.
106. Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship, 1:36.
107. Gilbert Murray, Aristophanes (London: Oxford University
Press, 1933), 19-20.
108. Bury and Meiggs, A History of Greece, 199.
109. Plutarch, Pericles VI, 1; cf. IV, 4: "But the man
who most consorted with Pericles . . . was Anaxagoras, . . . whom men of that
day used to call ‘Nous,’ . . . because he was the first to enthrone in the
universe, not Chance, nor yet Necessity, as the source of its orderly
arrangement, but Mind (Nous) pure and simple, which distinguishes and sets
apart, in the midst of an otherwise chaotic mass, the substances which have
110. Plato, Gorgias 518-19.
111. Plato, Republic X, 595B, C, 600E, 607A.
112. Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship, 1:52.
113. H. D. F. Kitto, Sophocles: Dramatist and Philospher
(London: Oxford University Press, 1958); C. M. Bowra, Sophoclean Tragedy
(Oxford: Clarendon, 1944); J. T. Sheppard, The Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1920); Letters, The Life and Work of
114. Letters, The Life and Work of Sophocles, 218, 221
115. Ibid., 226, 229-30.
116. Ibid., 220.
117. Ibid., 230.
118. Pliny, Natural History XXXIII, 82-83; Cicero, De
Oratore III, 129; Pausanias, Description of Greece, X, 18, 7.
119. Schmitt, "The Ancient Mysteries," 114.
120. Hugh R. Trevor-Roper, Men and Events (New York: Harper
& Brothers, 1957), 313.
121. András Alföldi, A Conflict of Ideas in the Late Roman
empire, tr. Harold Mattingly (Oxford: Clarendon, 1952), 40.
122. "Notes of Recent Exposition," Expository
Times 73 (1962): 226.
123. S. Vernon McCasland, "The Unity of the Scriptures,"
Journal of Biblical Literature 73 (1954): 6.
124. E. Cherbonnier, "The Logic of Biblical
Anthropomorphism," Harvard Theological Review 55 (1962): 190.
125. Paul Tillich, "Die Wiederentdeckung der
prophetischen Tradition in der Reformation," Neue Zeitschrift für
systematische Theologie 3 (1961): 237.
126. Goodenough, Jewish Symbols, 1:18-21.
127. Life in Other Worlds, A Symposium Sponsored by Joseph
E. Seagram and Sons (1 March 1961).
128. Robert Graves, Difficult Questions, Easy Answers (New
York: Doubleday, 1964), 93.
129. Hugh W. Nibley, "Victoriosa Loquacitas: The Rise
of Rhetoric and the Decline of Everything Else," Western Speech 20 (Spring
1956): 76; reprinted in this volume, pages 273-74; Montague R. James,
Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1925), 49, 53-55, 58-60, 70,
80-82, 83, 337-39. The pseudoscientific element is not lacking, e.g., in the
Pseudo-Callisthenes, Life of Alexander I, 38, the king sails under the sea in a
glass vessel or flies through space, as in Lucian’s trip to the moon sequences
in The Dream; cf. Lucian, Zeuxis; cf. Seneca, Controversiae I, 7, 4-5; V, 6;
VII, 1, 4-5; IX, 6; X, 3.
130. Fenn, "Front Seat for Biologists," 14-16.
131. Martin Grabmann, Geschichte der scholastischen Methode,
2 vols. (Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, 1957).
133. Louis M. O. Duchesne, The Early History of the Church,
tr. Claude Jenkins, 3 vols. (London: Murray, 1924), 2:1.
134. Hegesippus, Fragmenta, in PG 5:1321, quoted in
Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History IV, 22, in PG 20:377-84.
135. Alfred N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New
York: Macmillan, 1962), 270.
136. Eduard Norden, Antike Kunstprosa, 2 vols., 3rd ed.
(Leipzig: Teubner, 1915), 2:711-12.
137. Reinhold Seeberg, Text-Book of the History of
Doctrines, vol. 2: History of Doctrines in the Middle and Early Modern Ages
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1952), 105. 141
138. William Shakespeare, The Tempest, act IV, scene 1, lines
139. Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, XXXVIII, tr. Edward
140. Goethe, Faust, 454.