“All things come into being according to the Logos.”
“The Logos is one only. It is unwilling and willing to be called by the name of Zeus.”
(Heraclitus, 600 B.C.)
“In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God and the God was the Logos.”
(Saint John, 90 A.D.)
Twenty-five centuries ago a small group of thinkers called sophists attempted to use a certain kind of intuitive thinking to re-define the way they talked about the world. Their intellectual heirs and disciples — the scientists and philosophers — continue to produced the most sophisticated views of the world. Heraclitus’ is — arguably — the most influential of these these post-pagan thinkers. In many ways, all of western civilization– both Christian and atheist — are deeply Heraclitian in the way they explain the world.
Heraclitus saw a unity of all of the patterns of energy that make up the comos. This unity he termed the Logos, i.e. the Word. The term Logos pointed to the unseen order that shapes the energy (fire) that is the substance of all things. He correctly proclaimed proclaimed that the Logos — not the gods —was the reason for all things.
Heraclitus’ view of the Logos mirrors how science sees the truth today. His philosophy, like science that evolved from it, is a form of scientific monotheism that both encompasses the pagan ways of viewing god and transcends them. He saw that the gods of the pantheon, like nations, are the products of human war and storytelling rather than either the existence or divinity of their personality. The gods were all accidents that happened according to the laws of the way things work, i.e. the nomos.
Heraclitus believed it was necessary to submit to the government’s law as a matter of intellectual conscience. The law of the Logos was that we must always act according to the logic common to all — the light that illuminates every person — rather than our own private logic. Heraclitus counseled everyone to be subject to the governing authorities, because — ultimately– there was no authority except that which the Logos had established. Anybody who rebelled against the legal authority was rebelling against what the Logos had instituted and rightfully suffered the terror of the punishments of the government. This was also — in essence at least — the political faith of Pharisees like Paul and the Christian theologians that followed.
Heraclitus’ logic also told him that some things weren’t true, regardless of what the prophets, oracles, and sophist lawyers said, and some things we should do, regardless of what the prophets, oracles, and lawyers said. This is still the faith of America and American law.
The sophistry of Heraclitus was so influential that Christianity adopted it nearly whole cloth merely because the religion was forged in the Greek language. 150 years after Jesus, church father Justin Martyr acknowledged that Christianity was part and parcel with the reasonable monotheism of the Logos. He wrote in First Apology, chapter 26:
“We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Logos of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived according to the logos are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them. . .”
Augustine had a similar opinion. He wrote in his Retractions:
For what is now called the Christian religion existed even among the Ancients and was not lacking from the beginning of the human race until “Christ came in the flesh” (cf. 1 John 4:2; 2 John 1:7). From that time, true religion which already existed, began to be called Christian.
Heraclitus, like the Christian theologians that followed him, saw that men naturally lack experience with the Logos, they were born in the darkness and often cannot see the light of the Logos even when it was obviously in front of them. Most were too busy playing the complicated games that the gods made them play rather than to sit quietly and logically contemplate the way things were. They could not hear or see the Logos because they were preoccupied with the various brands of nomos that each of the gods stood for. In a more familiar vernacular: he recognized that men cannot hear the Word because they have become obsessed with the Law.
Heraclitus himself did not seem to have access to Christian joy. After recognizing that the gods did not rule, he refused to play any of their games, and — according to legend — after writing his philosophy, he spent the rest of his days in isolation in the wilderness, weeping for the world, and consuming only herbs and grass. Twenty-five centuries later, his is the faith of the sophisticated classes who have abandoned ancient faiths and claim to live by the same logic that guided Heraclitus. This is still the faith of the upper-middle-class, who also seems to share Heraclitus’ path to disaffected despair, and organic food.
John’s first verse reads like a conscious answer to Heraclitus, as an answer to the dense philosophical riddles that made the Greek thinker famous. It immediately tells the reader that the Gospel does not ignore the most profound thinking that came before it. It begins the story where Heraclitus left off by making the astounding claim that there was a man that revealed the Word itself.
— More later. . .