ColumnistsSantiago Leyra Curiá

The ancients and the existence of God

The Creator, in the beginning, distinguished with His infinite love man, male and female: He placed at their disposal the other creatures and the possibility of corresponding to friendship with Him in freedom, loyalty, trust and intelligence.

November 3, 2023-Reading time: 4 minutes

Aristotle ©Marco Almbauer

According to Paul of Tarsus, "since the creation of the world, the invisible nature of God-that is, his eternal power and divinity-has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made." (Letter to the Romans 1, 20).

The Creator, in the beginning, distinguished man, male and female, with His infinite love: He placed at their disposal the other creatures and the possibility of corresponding to their friendship with Him in freedom, loyalty, trust and intelligence. Man did not reciprocate, but misused the freedom, intelligence and trust placed in him, breaking his friendship with the Creator. Notwithstanding that disloyalty, God granted man the hope of a restoration of the old relationship and renewed his help through a series of alliances, of an ever widening scope, through righteous men:

a) Covenant with Noah, for all his family.

b) Alliance with Abrahamfor his entire clan.

c) Covenant with Moses, for all the people of Israel.

d) God offered the definitive Covenant, open to men and peoples of all times, revealing at the same time his own Being, his own intimacy: he did so by manifesting himself as Father and Son and Holy Spirit, through Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate Son of God.

Xenophanes, of Colophon (Asia Minor), who lived more than 90 years - between 550 and 450 B.C.E. -, according to Aristotle, was the first to teach the unity of the supreme principle among the ancient Greeks. He did so in these words: "One God, the greatest among gods and men, not like men either by form or by thought. He sees all, thinks all, hears all. Without work, he governs all by the power of his spirit.".

Aristotle, from Stagira, in the Greek Chalcidic peninsula (NE of the Balkan peninsula), lived between 384 and 322 B.C. For him, God is the highest entity, the entity par excellence, is a living being that is sufficient to itself, sees and discerns the being of the remaining entities in their totality; its proper activity is the supreme knowledge; only God has wisdom (sophia); men can only have a certain friendship with it (philosophy). God is the prime mover, who, without being moved, moves, that is, generates, promotes the passage of the other entities from potency to act. Aristotle's God is not the Creator, he is not part of nature (he is not like the natural entities, animals, plants... that are the object of study by Physics) but he is the key entity of nature and, therefore, his study corresponds to the first Philosophy or Metaphysics.

M.T. Cicero, from Arpinum (Italy), lived between 106 and 43 B.C. and studied the Greek philosophers in Athens. Between 45 and 44 B.C. he wrote the work "On the nature of the gods", in which he exposes the philosophical doctrines on the divine in force in his time (Epicureanism, Stoicism and New Academy) in the form of a dialogue between several characters. In this dialogue, one of the characters, the Stoic Balbo, asks the following questions:

Wouldn't it be surprising if there is someone convinced that certain particles of matter exist, dragged along by gravity and from whose collision such an elaborate and beautiful world is produced?

Who, seeing the regular movements of the seasons and the order of the stars, would be able to deny that these things had a rational plan and affirm that all this is the work of chance?

How can we doubt that all this is done for a reason and, moreover, for a reason that is transcendent and divine?

Can any sane person believe that the structure of all the stars and this enormous celestial decoration could have been created from a few atoms that run here and there in a fortuitous and random way? Can a being devoid of intelligence and reason have created these things?

Justin was a philosopher of the second century trained in Greek philosophy. After meeting and converting to Christianity and seeing in it the culmination of knowledge, he continued to practice the profession of philosopher. He saw that ancient Israel possessed a barbaric philosophy that God himself had used as a channel to make himself known. He thought that all men who had lived according to reason, before Christianity, had already been Christians: such were for him the cases of Socrates and Heraclitus. He also affirmed that Christianity, in his time, was hated and persecuted because it was badly known.

Augustine (354/430), reading in 372 a book by Cicero, acquired a great inclination to the search for wisdom. When he began to read the Bible he became disgusted, to the point of giving up reading it because he considered it hard and incomprehensible. He was initiated by then in the Manichean doctrine that promised him the truth and apparently gave him an explanation to the problem of evil. Hearing in Milan the sermons of St. Ambrose and his allegorical interpretation of the texts of the Old Testament, he verified the rationality of the Christian doctrine.

One afternoon, in the garden of his house, he heard a child saying, as part of a game or a song: "Take and read". Augustine then read the letter of St. Paul to the Romans, 13:13: "Let us behave decently, as in the daytime: no eating and drunkenness; no lust and debauchery; no rivalry and envy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and do not concern yourselves with the flesh to gratify its lusts."

At the age of 32 (year 386), Augustine was converted; in his Confessions, he will say: "Late I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late I loved you! And You were within me and I was outside, and there I sought You; and, deformed, I burst into those beautiful things You did. You were with me and I was not with You. I was kept away from You by those very things that would not exist if they were not in You. You called, You cried out and broke my deafness. You shone, shimmered and ended my blindness. You diffused your fragrance and I sighed. I long for you. I tasted You and I hunger and thirst for You. You touched me and I was encouraged in your peace" (Conf. X, 26-36).

The central problem in Augustine's thought is that of happiness. For him, happiness is found in wisdom, in the knowledge of God. Faith seeks to understand; therefore, the conquest of wisdom requires a rigorous discipline, an advance in the moral, the intellectual and the spiritual. Having overcome his youthful presumption, Augustine understood divine authority and its mediations as a luminous guide to reason. His spirituality is based on the real Church (at the beginning, this universal and concrete community was made up of his mother Monica, Bishop Ambrose, his brother, his son and his friends). Over the years, he would become bishop of the universal Church in a diocese in Africa). Between the years 397 and 427 he wrote his work "Of Christian Doctrine", in which he indicates different ways of resolving the difficulties, derived from the letter of Scripture itself, of passages that are disconcerting for morality, in which case he points out the usefulness of exegesis or allegorical interpretation.

The authorSantiago Leyra Curiá

Corresponding member of the Royal Academy of Jurisprudence and Legislation of Spain.

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