All religious traditions are built off of three core aspects: doxa, praxis, and pathos. These principles cannot be divorced from one another, and each of them is necessary as the foundations of a proper religion and the achievement of spiritual fulfillment. This article will primarily deal with their understandings in the context of polytheism and Platonism.
Doxa (meaning “belief” or “doctrine”) surrounds sincere belief in the reality and agency of the Gods, the necessity of ritual sacrifice because the Gods, as Gods, are worthy of ritual observance and devotion. It is the foundational understanding that worship of the divine is meaningful, and is tied to praxis, which is discussed later. The point of ritual practice is so we can engage in do ut des, the establishment of a personal relation with a God. If sacrifice is divorced from do ut des, then it is a pointless action. If one was convinced that the Gods were indifferent, uncaring or outright did not exist, then why bother engaging in ritual practice when your acts would be senseless and aimless? Instead, we provide offerings to the Gods because of doxa. We believe in them, believe that they concern themselves with the things of this world, and believe in do ut des.
It is important to note that there doesn’t exist one “single doctrine” which acts as the sole bridge to the truth. Instead, there exist many paths to the One truth of the divine, as evident by the wide variety of religions, spiritual paths and divine experiences found throughout the world across all cultures.
With this in mind, we can look to what the divine Plato and Aristotle write about doxa. Plato writes that doxa can be understood as a faculty which allows one to produce opinions. Aristotle adds onto this, writing that a specific doxa, called endoxa (which is doxa that has withstood the test of debate) can serve as a stepping stone on the path to discovering true knowledge. The journey through this path is necessary to reach true knowledge because it is not enough to merely declare your belief in something without engaging with it on a deeper level. One must apprise and express their doxai through praxis.
“Prayers without sacrifice are only words, and prayers with sacrifice are animated words.”
Praxis (meaning “doing” or “activity”) surrounds work/deeds, and encompasses the particular focus on the correct practice of rituals, and can even extend to an entire lifestyle. Ritual animates belief, and it is through praxis that the teachings and methods of one’s beliefs (doxa) are brought into their everyday life, where they are not simply memorized, but integrated and lived in accordance to.
This connects to theourgia, which is the praxis necessary for embodied souls to transition from experiencing corporeality as an isolated prison, to a divine revelation. This is brought about through the imitation of the divine through the correct observance of rituals, which brings about real changes in oneself and makes them more like the divine above. The wisdom attained through ritual praxis manifests as pathos.
Pathos (meaning “suffering” or “spiritual gnosis”) surrounds direct experiences of the Gods, and special wisdom attained from those experiences. This connects to the concept of personal gnosis.
It’s important to note that the soul doesn’t attain any pathos from its embodiment. Instead, we gain spiritual gnosis from the soul itself, through an awareness of the essential self and our place within the cosmos. It is with this understanding of our true nature that we vertically align with the One and fully participate in the World Soul, effectively achieving henosis.
It’s important to note that gnosis isn’t a single experience, but is rather a continuum which stretches from the natural cosmos to the One itself. It’s both acquired and given, in that while through praxis one makes real changes to themselves to become more like the divine, it is simultaneous that the divine is an active participant in the receiving of gnosis. One can attain gnosis of multiple different things, beings and of the various realms. A purified Theurgic Sage will intuitively know proper moral activity through gnosis.
Aristotle. A New Aristotle reader. Translated by John Lloyd Ackrill. Oxford: Princeton University Press, 1988.
Iamblichus. De mysteriis. Translated by Emma C. Clarke, John M. Dillon and Jackson P. Hershbell. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003.
Kupperman, Jeffrey S. Living theurgy: a course in Iamblichus philosophy, theology and theurgy. London: Avalonia, 2014.
Plato, and Benjamin Jowett. The complete works of Plato. United States?: Akasha Pub., 2008.
Sallustius, “On the Gods and the Cosmos”, 4th Century ACE, accessed May 17, 2017, http://www.platonic-philosophy.org/files/Sallustius%20-%20On%20the%20Gods%20(Taylor).pdf
Shaw, Gregory. Theurgy and the soul: the Neoplatonism of Iamblichus. Second ed. Kettering, OH: Angelico Press, 2014.