The Stoics are not greatly concerned with theology, nor religious, but they assert there is a god (often not capitalized). God’s existence is proven both ontologically according to Zeno and cosmologically according to Cleanthes. They believe the likelihood of god’s existence is further supported by the near universal belief of humans that god exists.

The god of Stoicism is more impersonal than in traditional religions. It is often referred to as logos, the creative fire, Nature, and “the Soul of the World.” God is a ‘craftsman,’ but not anthropomorphic. God is the source of rational, formless principles that are ungenerated and indestructible as against passive matter and form which are both generated and destructible. God is also called the “Lawgiver, Mind, Order, and even Destiny. God sustains the universe, is immortal, rational, perfect in happiness, immune to all bad, and divine. In a single word, the Stoic god is Providence (pronia).


The metaphysics of the Stoics follows directly from this impersonal theology. Stoics believe in a natural determinism originating from god wherein attention to the smallest details in the whole design leads to certain ends by natural means, especially in reference to those ends connected with human purpose. These final ends are considered good and the order of the cosmos includes a benevolent care of mankind.4

Within this framework, the Stoics position human freedom as actions not driven by natural determinism. Still fate is instantiated in human experience and choice as factors of ‘co-fate’ (naturally occurring events) influence outcomes of all human action. Human freedom is a key element in Stoic philosophy as when collated with god’s perfect design and natural determinism, the “fundamental injunction” of Stoicism is to live in harmony with Nature, which is the virtual definition of virtue for them.5 In addition, as rational beings, humans have a spark of divinity and recognizing the divinity (reason) in oneself is the means to happiness.


In summary, ultimate reality for the Stoics, includes Truth, the infinitely cycling material world, Providence, Fate, and the shared divinity of all rational creatures. This description seems to correlate well with the experience of being human, and is thus psychologically comforting. As the universe is ultimately good, the Stoic picture is incontrovertibly optimistic despite the usually negative connotation attributed to the word fate. Virtue and happiness involve conducting one’s life in harmony with Nature and recognizing the divinity in oneself. It is no surprise that the emerging Christianity of the late Roman period incorporates Stoicism and its philosophy remains with us today. Moreover Stoic doctrines transcend culture, for example Providence echoes the Tao and ‘grasp’ mirrors the means to knowledge in Zen.

Next time we look at Neoplatinism, especially as presented by Plotinus.


4 Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972. Volume 8, page 21.

5Ibid., page 19.


“Zeno of Citium says the principle of the universe is god and matter, god being the active and matter what is acted upon.” – Achilles Tatius, Introduction to Aratus (?)1

In our pursuit of the various concepts of ultimate reality developed by the ancient Greeks we come now to the Stoics. Building on the thoughts of Heraclitus, the Atomists, and the Cynics, Zeno of Citium (336-265 B.C.E.) founded one of the most eminent philosophies in human history through his lectures on the Painted Porch (Stoa Poikile) in Athens. Stoicism evolved as a philosophy over the subsequent 400 years and thus variations in its understanding of ultimate reality appeared over that time. Throughout, the Stoics were typically more concerned about ethics than metaphysics, but a few fundamental principles underpin their teachings on the latter.


The Stoics, opposing the Skeptics, first and foremost believe there is knowable truth. When admittedly fickle sense perception is combined with disciplined logic, one comes to a ‘graspable presentation’ or basic grasp (katalepsis) of truth which is in turn verbalized as a lekton (plural= lekta). The resulting reasoned dialectic is one component of the tripartite logos; (1) nature (physics), (2) character (ethics), and (3) rational discourse (logic). So by way of analogy, some Stocis compare logic to a wall, physics to a tree, and ethics to the the fruit in the garden of Stoic thought.2


The Stoics are for the most part materialists believing in the four elements (air, water, earth, and fire) and rejecting immortality, though a partial immortality is adopted later under the influence of Platonism. Four kinds of corporeal entities are identified: void, place, time, and lekta or ‘things said.’ Corporeal things exist while incorporeal things ‘subsist.’

The cosmos is one and finite, but active, while the surrounding void is unlimited. The cosmos is fundamentally indivisible (according to Posidonius) and seen by Stoicism as ultimately perfect. They deny the possibility of a better world; imperfection in details is essential to perfection of the whole. That is to say that the cosmos is also good, even the ultimate good. However there is an indefinite cycling (periodos or magnus annus) of the cosmos beginning with the logos and ending in conflagration.3

(continued next post)


1Inwood, Brad and Gerson, L.P. Hellenistic Philosophy: Introductory Readings. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., Indianapolis/Cambridge, 1988. ISBN 0-87220-041-8, page 123. The question mark reflects some question of the origin of this work.

2Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972. Volume 8, page 20.

3Immortality is limited to the end of a cycle in late Stoicism, hence “partial.”



We have seen that ultimate reality for Aristotle in one sense is the single word “Being” and in another sense a mélange: first with substrate and form as adaptations of the thinking of the atomists and Plato, and second with change as motion and actualization of potentiality combined with constancy as substance and identity as accommodating the extremes of Heraclitus and Parmenides. To these he adds an eternal universe, a timeless first mover, and final cause or essence as foundational to all particular entities.

The “science’ of Aristotle seems static when compared to our modern understanding, however I believe he would say he bestowed a foundation on which future great minds could build, although of course his preeminence and supposed authority unfortunately suppressed innovative thinking for nearly 2000 years. However, even today, his perspective is viable, especially if we switch the word “explanations” for “causes.” Likewise, perhaps the unmoved first mover continues in the concept of the quantum flux of modern physics (the most viable theoretical origin of the universe), which itself borders on immateriality. More importantly his approach to interaction with ultimate reality, as study of the material world plus contemplation still seems entirely correct.

This incredibly abbreviated description of the mind of Aristotle is by no means sufficient for the reader’s full understanding, and thus I urge consulting the original texts where time spent will be well rewarded. In the words of Louise Ropes Loomis, the great 20th century classics scholar, “Remembering that his surviving works are condensed and often disjointed summaries of academic lectures, which he certainly never expected would outlast him…” we see “the encyclopedic scope of his activity and the tireless power of his mind, that penetrated so far into so many subjects of human thought and knowledge, in the brief space of the thirteen years at the Lyceum.”9


9Loomis, Louise Ropes, On Man in the Universe. Walter J. Black, Inc., Roslyn, New York, 1943 (Classics Club®). Pages xxxvii-xxxviii.



For Aristotle, the first question in metaphysics is “What is Being?” or in existential parlance, ‘Being-in-itself.’ Being in this sense is different from specific beings, rather it is the totality of existing things, which he calls substances, as well as an adjective applicable to them. Substances make up one element of Being and continue independent of human perception. In contrast, characteristics of things are ‘non-existent’ universals such as ‘dog’ (or “dogness’) as opposed to the existence or being of a particular dog.

In this doctrine then species and genera are secondary and depend on examples of substance. Substances, unlike universals, can exist alone, and are prior to definition and prior to knowledge. Four features applied to ‘substance’ include (1) essence, (2) universals, (3) substrate, and (4) genus. The essence of a thing is its final cause or what a thing is by its very nature and what gives it identity, and thus can be identified with substance. Substrate means matter which is not in itself a particular thing, because separability and ‘this-ness’ are lacking while form is realized in the essence of a concrete thing. Aristotle has a technical term, entelechy, for the actuality, as opposed to potentiality, of a substance.

For Aristotle, material reality, involves three ingredients: (1) substrate (persistent through change), (2) form, and (3) privation (absence of form). Not-being is privation while continual being informs substrate. Form allows substrate to become things.5


Aristotle proposes there is a separate but unchanging being or transcendental supersensible being of which God is the outstanding case.6 As unmoved mover, God turns potentiality into actuality and is the cause of the universe, but not the creator per se, as the universe is eternal. God must be eternal (or timeless) for change to be eternal – a logical necessity since time is simply the measurement of change. The prime mover must also be immaterial so as not to be changeable, since all material things change, that is, God is pure actuality, without matter and not extended in space. God moves objects by desire and thought and is supremely good and divine. Divine thought is about itself as object “in virtue of its participation in what is thought.”7 Likewise there is divinity in the human mind. Our active reason – the ‘Nous’ – is separate from matter, and is transcendental, eternal, even immortal and perhaps even identical with the prime mover, “like God himself thinking in us.”8

(final continuation next post)


4 Don’t look for the word ‘metaphysics’ in Aristotle; it is a later term used to designate the texts after the physics. Aristotle referred to metaphysics as ‘first philosophy.’

5Ibid., page 159-160.

6Ibid., page 160.

7Ibid., page 161.

8Ibid., page 159.


“It is clear from what has been said that there is a substance that is eternal and unmovable and separate from sensible things. It has been shown that this substance cannot have any magnitude, but is without parts and indivisible…But it has also been shown that it is impassive and unalterable; for all other changes are posterior to change and place.” – Aristotle, Metaphysics (1073a).1

We return now to our ongoing philosophical analysis of ultimate reality. We have seen how ultimate reality for the pre-Socratic Greeks came down to one existing intelligible world governed by logos and pervaded by energy, thought, and opposites, whereas Plato contributed the notion of God as the supremely Good, the reality of the output of the human mind, and his theory of the Forms as separately existing, ideal templates mirrored in the visible world. Today we move forward one generation to Plato’s student Aristotle, possibly the greatest single mind in history. An attempt to summarize Aristotle’s concept of ultimate reality in 1000 words or so is dubious at best and folly at worst, but so it must be for us to push forward in our journey.

We can think about ultimate reality for Aristotle from three overlapping perspectives: physics, metaphysics (first philosophy), and theology.


We should not expect here something akin to our modern science, but a partly empirical and partly deductive description. I will omit his patently erroneous theories (such as a free will of the heavenly bodies) which reflect the limitations of his time. An oversimplified understanding of Aristotle’s physics is that the universe consists of things or substances subject to two kinds of change.

Aristotle disassembles entities into substrate and form – for example, a chair is made of wood (substrate) arranged into a particular furniture piece (form), thus warranting the designation ‘substance.’ A substance can be the recipient of characteristics, but changing characteristics does not change the substance – consider the example of the chair where changing the color neither changes the wood nor the structure of the chair. Substances do not come into existence ex nihilo, rather their potential existence becomes actual – Aristotle’s first kind of change. Potential is actualized by virtue of four causes: (1) material, (2) formal, (3) efficient, and (4) final. Material and formal causes are the “what” (the wood and structure of the chair), efficient cause is the “how” (the worker’s building the chair) and final cause is the “why” (the chair as intended for sitting upon).

All substances have an internal finality best summarized: “The end of each object is to be itself.” Aristotle believes teleology or final cause applies not only to human creations but also to Nature which “makes nothing without a purpose”2 However, teleology does not apply to the universe overall which is eternal forward and backwards in time.

The second kind of change in the universe is motion which has three possible causes: Nature (e.g. the growth of a tree), force (e.g. gravity) or free will (e.g. human activities). Aristotle blends Heraclitus’ ‘change’ with Parmenides’ “constancy’ – thus, for example, when we throw a ball, it changes place or moves, but the ball itself is intact and remains a ball. A key point here is that a retrograde analysis of motion in the universe leads to a prime mover with free will.

(continued next post)


1Russell, Bertrand, A History of Western Philosophy. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1972. ISBN-13 978-1-4165-5477-6, page 168.

2Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972. Volume 1, page 158.


“If the Universe is a mystery, and if the key to this mystery is hidden, are not myths an indispensable means for expressing as much as we can express of the ineffable? ‘No man hath seen God at any time’…This similitude of Absolute Reality in the World of Time and Change is the nearest approach to the Beatific Vision that can be attained by human souls; and myths are the instruments through which these farthest flights of the Human Spirit are achieved.” ­– Arnold Toynbee.20

The last four posts introduced and offered short synopses of the stories in Mr. Breen’s book bringing us now to my humble commentary on the book. I cannot help but tell the reader that the author’s voice is one I remember from the classroom – a peculiar mix of cleverness, imagination, a rich lexicon, and a tinge of sarcasm. I feel sure I would have been able to identify him from the narrative of at least the first story.

In any case, should you read the book (available on Amazon®), be prepared for a rich vocabulary full of lesser-known words like eremite, palimpsest, corrody, aspergillum, and lemniscate. Also plan on searching for the significance of ancient and historical allusions such as Mount Saphon, Aryaka, Julian of Norwich, Asaph, Parthia, and Semjaza. I like to think of myself as fairly well-read and my library as comprehensive, but Breen forced me to reassess. Thankfully Wikipedia conquered my ignorance.

The 195 pages contain immense variety from science fiction to comedy with settings varying from biblical milieus to a particle accelerator installation. The tales are full of metaphors, analogies, and allegory. Breen effortlessly takes on meta-theology in an ecumenical and non-dogmatic fashion. We witness his deployment of opposites, paradox, and irony reminiscent of the Tao Te Ching. But there is so much more: discussions of good and evil, absolute truth, science, suffering, immortality, human weakness and salvation, personal fate, and human destiny. I too have explored, though in a different fashion, many of these topics over the last five years on this site, and believe Mr. Breen and I have been traveling on parallel tracks in our reading and contemplations.

Last I would like to offer my brief take on the dominant lessons from each of the stories:

  1. God is not timeless, but adjusts to the reality of the unfolding universe.
  2. Good and evil both originate from God and thus both are part of every life.
  3. Rituals fail to assure divine favor or desired outcomes.
  4. Voluntary suffering can be part of a meaningful life, but may not secure blessedness.
  5. Goodness is abstruse and elusive, and its dogmatic pursuit is perilous.
  6. Organized religion is no guarantee of spiritual harmony.
  7. In matters of ethics, irony is inevitable.
  8. Science is ultimately limited in understanding the Ultimate.

I would like to thank Mr. Breen for sharing his text with me and highly recommend it for open-minded readers.

Next time we return to Ultimate Reality in the works of Aristotle.


20Toynbee, Arnold, An Historian’s Approach to Religion. Oxford University Press, London, 1956. Page 282.


Restoration House

This work of satire starts with Tennessee Ernie Ford’s 16 Tons and takes place in the near future in an assisted living facility of the One True Church. The building which had formerly been an abattoir and later a toilet distribution center has smart technology that monitors not only the residents’ medical condition, but also their behavior. We learn there has just been an annual Jubilee Revival with humorously titled workshops such as Your Suffering: Is It Enough? and God and Guns: What Would Jesus Pack? and thus the place is quiet “because its denizens languished in the satisfied exhaustion of exuberance, as they were fatigued by the aftereffects of excessive righteousness.”12 After a series of sermons in the grand hall by cleverly-named preachers assisted by a righteous parrot, the Jubilee closed with the famous Bible School Bowl in which contestants responded to a series of absurd multiple choice questions each of which had the same correct answer. But the denouement of the story is a debate about tithing fomented by the Devil. The hilarious narrative that follows should not be missed.

The Full Immersion Baptist Church

This very short piece takes place in a small, nearly inaccessible church in Appalachia where baptism only counts if the person is fully submerged. An elderly man named Jedidiah Jones13 asks to be baptized, but as his body is contorted due to longstanding paralysis from a fall, he does not fit entirely within the baptistery. It will take a complicated and expensive process to enlarge the baptistery, but the congregation feels it must offer baptism to Jones. After raising the large sum of money needed and starting the fix, an unexpected event brings the story to an ironic end.


In Breen’s last story we are invited to a press conference by the Conseil Europeén pour lea Recherche Nucléaire (CERN) opening with a statement from Francois Kohelét14 in front of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which the author compares to a mandala15 The impeccably dressed Kohelét sports a Vandyke16 and tells the audience that CERN is now “prepared to uncover the secrets of the universe and usher in a new age of peace, wisdom, and prosperity.”17 He tells them that they are 300 meters underground in the Super Hadron Energy Output Laboratory (SHEOL) where scientists are able to look back to the beginning of the universe using a process called Molecular Output Linear Energy Collision Habitation (MOLECH18) With this ability and their analysis of quarks, Kohelét explains, science will uncover absolute truth. The three loops of the LHC are compared to the Holy Trinity and the subatomic particles to life, while the Higgs Boson which gives mass to all things carries the moniker of the “God Particle.” He scoffs at the questions from the press, especially with respect to what came before the big bang, stating with a straight face, “…God must prove to us that he exists.”19 However, after the conference a series of scientific findings confounds Kohelét with a message from Ecclesiastes.

Next time I will offer some commentary on Mr. Breen’s book.

(final continuation next post)


12Breen Michael, Modern Myths; Stories from the Bible. Self-published, 2018. ISBN 978-0-692-14254-7, page 154.

13Jedidiah is Hebrew for beloved of the Lord and the name given to Solomon at birth by the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12:24-25).

14Koheleth (derived from the Hebrew qohelet meaning member of an assembly) is an alternate name for the book of Ecclesiastes (Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary).

15In Oriental art, the mandala is a schematized representation of the cosmos characterized by a concentric configuration of geometric shapes, each of which contains and image of a deity or an attribute of a deity. In Jungian psychology, the mandala is a symbol representing the effort to reunify the self. (Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary).

16 A Vandyke beard is a short pointed beard which is often pictured on Saint Francis and the Devil.

17Ibid., 178.

18Molech (or Moloch) was a deity whose worship was marked by the propitiatory sacrifice of children by their own parents as in 2 Kings 23:10 or Jeremiah 32:35. (Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary).

19Ibid., 186.