During a conversation with my friend Jeffrey S. Kupperman, the topic of divine omnipotence came up. It led to an interesting discussion. In short, properly understood, no deity is omnipotent, or “all powerful” in traditional Hellenism, and in general, the concept doesn’t really make a lot of sense if we attempt to take it literally. From a relative perspective, we might say Zeus-Helios, the Celestial Demiurge, as the most powerful deity, is in effect all powerful in that He has power over all the other Gods. But that’s not really “all-powerful” in the sense that we’re talking about. So if we want to describe a God as omnipotent, what can we do? We could challenge the notion of what “all-powerful” actually means. For instance…
- First Option: We could define omnipotence as meaning “can do absolutely anything whatsoever.” This doesn’t make much sense; can God microwave a hot pocket so hot even He cannot eat it? This is logically impossible because if God is all-powerful, God should be able to do this, but simultaneously it doesn’t make any sense because being all-powerful God should be able to eat any hot pocket, regardless of hotness.
- Second Option: We could define omnipotence as “being able to do anything that can logically be done.” While this fixes our too-hot hot pocket problem, it isn’t exactly “all-powerful” in a sense we’re discussing though, so once again, we’re stuck.
This second option seems, realistically, better, and leads to the development of a third option; to acknowledge that the conception of theistic Deity as being all good, all knowing, all present, and all powerful is third-rate theology, only meant to give something that cannot be understood characteristics that we can somewhat grasp, but makes sure we don’t conflate Deity with just really powerful people by putting “all” (omni) in front of each descriptor.
The Celestial Demiurge isn’t all good or all knowing or all powerful, etc., The Demiurge is the Demiurge, and does exactly what He is supposed to do. His essence (and the essence of the Gods) as Iamblichus tells us, is nearly impossible to determine; we can only see His actions, and even those are by large only viewed second hand, most often manifesting from nature rather than immediately from His hand.
Not even the One, which is the Good itself, can be said to be omnibenevolent, or “all good.” In Platonic ontology, the source of a quality is itself beyond that quality. An analogy of this is a bucket pouring out water: the bucket holds the water because it is beyond the water; it doesn’t turn into water particles. This essentially means that the Good, as the source of all good, is beyond all good. The Good is good because everything desires participation in it; however the Good doesn’t desire participation in anything because it is above (ontologically prior to) all things.
Likewise, the Demiurge is simply the Demiurge, and does exactly what He is meant to do; create order. Zeus isn’t all powerful in the sense that mainstream Western Abrahamics think that YHWH is. There is no creation ex nihilo, as the Demiurge, our universal creator, would need something infinite and eternal to draw on to craft. After all, the word Demiurge quite literally means “craftsman,” and the craftsman needs materials to work on and shape. Matter (hyle) comes from the One, and Aion, the first manifestation of Being, is described the creative power that the Demiurge draws from to craft the cosmos out of the primordial chaos that Plato’s Timaeus describes. The Demiurge’s does exactly what His role entails; create order.
For a close analogy, we can look to Kemetic theology with the concepts of Ma’at and Isfet for a comparison.
- Isfet is negative and chaotic disorder.
- Ma’at is order, which we’ve established that the Gods bring.
Apophis is the embodiment of Isfet and is born from Ra’s umbilical cord; meaning it’s merely something that comes as a result of Ra’s ordering of the cosmos – something that has a negative existence; without Being (Ousia). It doesn’t have an independent existence, and this is further evident with how it’s easily slain by the Gods each and every day without fail in mythology. As such, Isfet is analogous to evil in a Platonist sense: chaotic and negative disorder. Now, we’ve already dismantled the traditional Abrahamic view of God, and can thus conclude that good isn’t the typical “light side” of the Good vs. Evil dichotomy. I’ve already written how evil doesn’t exist as a positive, but Good most certainly does.
This means that Good is, ultimately, order. What we see in the Good is an emphasis on harmony and alignment with the Good. The Demiurge’s job is ordering of the cosmos, and order is something that is, ultimately, good. The Good is harmony; the Good is Order. This is what the Demiurge brought when He ordered the cosmos out of chaos. To achieve henosis, union with the One, is to take your proper place in this order.
Hence, great and divine thinkers such as the divine Plato, and even the Iranian prophet Zarathustra, said that we best serve the Gods by assisting them or being helpful. We help the divine by fulfilling tasks which benefit humankind, which spreads the Good; which as we understand, is order. Hence while omnibenevolence is useless as a term, it can be understood that the essential nature of the divine is one of benevolence.
(Special thanks to Jeffrey S. Kupperman for heavily inspiring me with this!)
Kupperman, Jeffrey S. Living theurgy: a course in Iamblichus philosophy, theology and theurgy. London: Avalonia, 2014.
Nasios, Angelo. “The Hearth of Hellenism: We Don’t have Relationships with the Gods, or Do We?” Agora. July 14, 2017. Accessed August 11, 2017. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2017/07/hearth-hellenism-2/
Plato. Plato Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo. Translated by G. M. A. Grube and John M. Cooper. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 2002.
Plato, and Benjamin Jowett. The complete works of Plato. United States?: Akasha Pub., 2008.
Proclus, and E. R. Dodds. The Elements of Theology: A Revised Text with Translation, Introduction, and Commentary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004.