By Pierre Grimes, Ph. D.
To Theodorus, the Alexandrine Philosopher,
No, I regret having to report to you that we have not escaped the fury of the mob, as you call it. For even now we are in the midst of the struggle against them. As for our surrounding cities it is unlikely that any will escape the fury of this storm. Nor do I think that any part of the Hellenes will escape similar devastation. We liken it to a plague because it strikes this person and not that one for reasons no one can explain. As far as we know, once one has been seized by its deadliness, there is no remedy. It is a perverse thing that they laud to the sky but for all their zeal they are unable to comprehend that in trying to seize the citadels of heaven they use what shackles and binds men to the deepest part of Hades, Tartarus. Surely you know how difficult it is to fight against this storm of irrationality. It engulfs even those whom we had thought were secure and strong enough to resist its absurdities.
It is your understanding of what you call the absurdity of belief that we have found most intriguing. Curiously enough, we had not fully realized the significance of their leader’s last words until you made it clear. You said that in the last desperate hour of his life their leader revealed that he believed that God had abandoned and forsaken him. Surely, then, to believe in him and his message it is necessary to deny they know what he believed in his last hour. Unquestioned belief comes, as you have often said, when one willingly accepts as true what one knows is false. So, as children do, in believing as true what is known to be false we give up our own right to judge. Yet, even as with children a part of us knows that we only do that to preserve a vital relationship for us.
Reflecting on this, we could only wonder why these people hadn’t recognized that what they believe is in reality a tragic drama that could have competed in Athens for the first prize against Sophocles¹ plays. We found it hard to believe others had not noticed this work of Mark has all the formal divisions of a tragedy with a prologue, the proposito, the peripetia, the katastrophe, and the fifth act, the pathos. We were more than surprised and could only wonder about the keepers of their tradition when, as you informed us, that the physical resurrection theme was not in the original work and that it was added several hundred years after it was first written.
When we point out to them that the soul needs careful cultivation and training for its true and proper nurture and growth they exclaim, “Who needs a cow when milk is free?” And, “Jerusalem that has conquered Rome, what need is there for Athens ?” They argue that it is foolish to strive for perfection when it can so easily be had in one leap of faith. Faith can reach, in a single leap, they insist, what philosophers have only dreamt about achieving.
If philosophy were sufficient, they argue, there would be no need for Christ. What we have found as the loftiest of quests, they heap scorn upon. When we try to explain to them what is the most essential of all tasks they wrap themselves contentedly around their faith believing that it offers divine protection against any need to awaken their own minds. They bind together, like to like, in a holy war against those who reject their belief. They pour hatred and do violence to those who find reasons for rejecting their faith.
Because they are unable to silence reason’s claims they reject what cannot serve their faith. To prove their faith they must convert others because otherwise they would not know their belief is believable. To keep their faith secure from doubt they must depreciate the very nature of the mind’s grasp of Being so that in the end they deny what they cannot comprehend.
The conflict intensifies into a war. From within, it goes without. It becomes an inferno that sweeps away all opposition and, since reason objects to the irrational, things of the mind are sacrificed to preserve unquestioned faith. They have to band together for strength because alone they are cowards. Mutual support and agreement become the bonds that tie them together.
They believe they have created a new people, a new brotherhood of man for a new age, and that they are superior to both Hellenes and Jews. However, they easily become confused and furious when they recognize that there are other tribes much like their own that harbor slightly different beliefs of what they have taken to have the certainty of truth.
Thus, these tribes must fight one another over differences that do not make a difference or else they must deny their own allegiance and the literalness of their faith. What is this they have done? They live without nous and elevate thumos, they sacrifice the intellect and raise feelings as the sole arbitrator of the soul. What do we have here but a war against states of mind: one that treasures a seeing through the mind and devalues belief and the other that ends in belief and denies any significance to such seeing?
A while ago we talked to one of these people who visited with us and learned some of the reasons they reject our idea of reincarnation. We explained that at death one carries all that one has learned and nurtured into the next realm, to Hades, and after receiving due benefits and punishments one returns to another existence.
Our visitor experienced a deep sense of dismay and futility at this idea because he knew how impossible it has been for him to become free of his own errors. In contrast with our view, they want death to put an end to it all. They want to be accepted by a heavenly father without regard to their sinful ways, as they call it.
They believe all they need to be saved is to recognize the true nature of the Father, or if not that then his Son, whom they call their messiah. The entire movement depends on this one issue, Hell. Which is it, is this life a stage in a learning process? Are we here to figure out why we are here and apply there what we have learnt here? Must we ignore the mystery of our own being? Or, does this existence of ours turn about this single issue: that you and I will burn in a Hell if we can not believe as they do?
As you know when we used to meet fellow Pythagoreans we would find leisure to discuss together in public the furthermost reach of our vision and in those discussions we would carefully follow the logos to gain greater clarity and understanding in what matters most to us.
When we found that there was a deviation in the words or deeds of another we would gently bring them to discover what belief they, unknowingly, must still cling to that could have caused them to miss the mark. They banish those who dare correct another, insisting that since God alone is their judge no man can do what is God’s sole task. They allow each others absurdities but only as long as they agree that in their brotherhood they are above all criticism and have no need for the sages.
What then is our task? Are we to descend into the darkness and seek some way to hold up a candle of light for others like ourselves? Perhaps, but I think we should try to discover why we failed to bring the light to those who desperately needed it. For they lived amongst us in a darkness and we ignored or could not meet their need. Or, shall we say that some can never participate in things divine because they lack the means to enter the noetic realm? I ask you, Theodorus, if justice permeates existence as it does Being then how is it that it is so difficult for man to perceive its nature?
I do not think we could have realized all this had you not sent a copy of the work of Mark so that we could see it for ourselves. It may be, as some have said, that our age is coming to a close, much like what once happened to us during the Doric invasions. Consider, neither private sacrifice to the divine is permitted nor any purgation save that of public confession.
More and more we do in secret what once blossomed in the light of day. So much may I say in a letter. You are able to fill in what I omit and to bring to your reflections what I have yet to grasp for myself. It is your destiny to be among those like yourself and to study and contemplate what has been brought together from distant places and ancient times. The realization that there are those continuing our rich heritage at the library gives us a measure of hope for the future.
sealed: Agathon, the son of Dionysius