Thales of Miletus predicted the solar eclipse of May 28, 585 BC. No one knows how he did it and some say that there was no such prediction but a few historians registered that as one of the many accomplishments of Thales, who lived to the ripe old age of 80, and died of sunstroke while attending the Olympiads of 545 B.C. By the way, the year of his death is an educated guess. But good old Thales — to whom I was acquainted through his famous Theorem — had a talent for the practical applications of abstract concepts. He figured out the height of the Pyramids of Egypt by comparing their shadow to the shadow of objects of known dimensions, etc. The list of Thales tricks is quite long.
Of course, he is considered the first Greek “friend of wisdom” that is: a philosopher but he was not the first thinker. From early on, humans had noted that someone with two apples in his possession, should he be lucky enough to pick two additional apples always ended up with four apples. Some extrapolations were made and soon it was common knowledge that the same rule applied to other types of fruit, or stones, jars of olive oil, or rabbits. Someone whose name was never preserved, was talented enough to notice that the addition thing had elements that were grasped by human imagination but were not possible to “see” unless translated into some kind of material representation like apples and oranges.
Give a Greek a thought and soon you have a philosophy. The Greeks had inherited an alphabet and (this is my guess) the concept of the algorithm (i.e. the rule of three) from the people of Tyre and Sidon, the Phoenicians. Those were eminently practical people, merchants, mariners, the wheelers and dealers of the Mediterranean coast. To them we owe the alphabet, the Carthaginian Wars, the quaint city of Barcelona, and the beginnings of the Roman Empire. The Romans were quietly minding their own business by the swamps of Latium when the Carthaginians decided to wake them up and the rest is history as they say. But Phoenicians were not simple bean counters. They learned astronomy from the Medes and Babylonians and quickly put the stars to use as reference points to travel as far as Spain and Morocco. “Expanding their Mediterranean market share” as they would say these days. Wars were fought, colonies founded, etc. the usual deal. The alphabet spread along the Mediterranean coast almost as an afterthought: it was good for business, like the abacus. From their alphabet, through the Romans, we got our own a-b-c. And yet one thing the Romans did not quite get was the multidimensional grid of meaning that the Phoenician alphabet possessed. Perhaps it was the Phoenician’s little secret, some way to have a little advantage over those simpletons who toiled day after day under the Italian sun.
The Phoenicians (and later the Hebrews) had an alphabet of 22 letters. The first letter is the ancestor of our letter “A”, the one we know in Hebrew as Aleph. It had the shape of a plow (from that archaic word comes the Spanish word for ‘plow’: arado). First of all, it represents a sound (i.e. ah for the Roman alphabet) but it also represents a number (one) and it has also a number of hieroglyphic meanings (God, power, beginning, plow, bull, and the concept that there is a relationship between Heaven and Earth.) Perhaps the Hebrews were the ones that invented and preserved the first alphabet and their Phoenician cousins simply borrowed it. Regardless of original ownership, the first books of the Hebrew Bible were written using that alphabet. When the Greeks got a hold of it, they added the vowels. There the Graeco-Roman history of the alphabet takes off. The alphabet jumped from the serene beauty of the Hebrew language to the precise logical definitions of the no less beautiful Greek.
Thales inherited that conceptual tradition no doubt and so did many other Greek thinkers. Learning to read, they also learned to think in a particular order with a particular discipline. Soon the wise among the Greek were playing with abstractions of growing complexity. They did not know it but they were creating the cultural scenario where the Logos would incarnate many centuries later. Some of the wisdom of the Phoenicians was secretly inserted into the Greek culture. In that small universe of city-states, islands, merchants, soldiers, and thinkers our civilization was born.
I am sure I am not the first to observe (it took the Greeks a few generations to notice) that they were exchanging abstract concepts that only had rough equivalents in the real world. Perhaps Socrates was the first to notice, or may be it was Plato: no one had ever seen a perfect triangle but anyone could point at many things that were roughly equivalent to a triangle, and could be defined and manipulated practically as triangles. That was possible because those things conserved the abstract properties of triangles. The same was valid for a number of other similar entities. The question was inevitable: “Where are these abstractions coming from? Do they reside somewhere?” Plato imagined that they were coming from a region, the tupos uranus (or topos uranos) the region of the ἄρχω, árkhō, ‘beginning’ + τῠ́πος, túpos, ‘type, model’, the “place beyond Heaven.” (Thanks, Wikipedia) Plato was not far from the truth, in fact, he was quite on target.
Many centuries later, a man named John condensed in a few words the essence of what Plato was trying to define:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5) Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος, καὶ ὁ Λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος . . . καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει, καὶ ἡ σκοτία αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν.
In those verses of the Gospel of John, the mystical world of the Hebrews and the logical world of the Greeks come full circle and recognize each other as the two sides of the same coin. The Graeco-Roman culture had found the incipient Christian thought in the mind of John the Divine. That was the tiny sparkle that would ignite the fire of Christian civilization and take those ideas to the end of the world in a voyage that still goes on. You may wonder where in the world am I going! Be patient. There’s a method to my madness.
You see, this wonderful marriage of mysticism and logic gave rise to something the Christians called faith. And faith began to shape a new world. About a thousand years after Thales, the Roman Empire was Christian. None of the wise Greek men of old imagined that God was plowing and seeding their minds with half of what will once come to be the world we now live in.
Some Hebrew mystics imagined the Aleph as a tiny man pointing with one hand to Heaven and with the other hand to Earth, as if it was saying “on Earth as it is in Heaven” — See? that is one of the meanings of the Aleph hiding in the words of the Logos, the Word of God — Plato could never imagine that Someone coming from the Topos Uranos was going to enter our realm to show us the very archetype of man. Compared to that reality, even the most feverish pagan myths look like a pitiful caricature.
About 1968 years after Logos incarnated, a man called Frank Borman radioed back a message from near the Moon, quoting Genesis 1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Inserted in the original Hebrew text of that scripture there’s the name of the Logos. (Revelation 22:13) No one knows why that aleph-tav was placed there but the sopherim, the copyists of ancient time faithfully kept those two letters there. They are simply never read aloud. Aleph is power, God, the beginning. Tav is the Cross. There’s the Logos signature at the very beginning of Creation and the Law.
While God was writing in the canvas of world history and leading Hebrews, Phoenicians, Chaldeans, and Greeks unwittingly contributing important parts of his plan for mankind, there was another party, the nefarious party of darkness who was trying to figure a way to thwart God’s plans. That is of course, a fool’s errand. No one can outsmart God. But envious souls have wanted to frustrate the wise from the beginning of mankind. The devil is the original serpent and we know he has many spiritual descendants who will fight against God in the last battle between good and evil. History is nothing more than the account of many skirmishes between these two forces. Those who have faith know Who will prevail in the end. Those who do not have faith are blind to their own perdition until the final inevitable defeat.
Since the devil in his madness wants to make himself resemble the Most High, he has to offer some kind of “creation” to his followers. The problem is . . . he is an angel, and a fallen one at that. Angels only have a limited intelligence, just the amount of intelligence needed to achieve whatever mission God created them for. They were created as servants while humans were created to be “a kingdom of priests.” (Exodus 19:6, Revelation 1:6) John the Divine saluted the churches of Asia with that message. Notice how all the themes we have been exploring come together:
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. (Revelation 1:4-8)
Ever since the days when God began shaping the world we live in, the enemy, the devil, that wicked reptile who lurks in the darkness was doing his best to destroy, deviate, contaminate, infiltrate and frustrate God’s plans. God is the Great Artist but the devil is a mere critic. Not surprisingly, one of the modern servants of the devil proposed the “ruthless criticism of everything existing” — that was Karl Marx — while lately, some of his publishers have softened that part to “ruthless criticism of the existing order.” In any case, as we read above in the Apocalypse of John, we know who is the One that has created all that exists, and also is the very creator of order. Marx, as Americans sometimes say, was “playing way above his league!”
Chesterton said once that a criminal is the artist while the policeman is a critic. The devil pretends to be the critic of God (like Marx) and that implies that God is a criminal. Of course, it is a lie but that should not surprise us considering the source. Implicit in Marx’s proposal of radically criticizing all Creation is the crazy notion that Marx could improve God’s creation. Clearly, the history of Marxism proves Marx wrong. Criminals will be criminals, and criminals that they are, Marxists are unable to create. They concentrate on criticizing what others have created and, if possible, steal it and run it to the ground.
All the works of the devil have a definite expiration date. Some last longer, some last less but they all come to an ignominious end. The last swindle involved an election in the USA. The size of the heist is a good indication of the desperation permeating the devil’s ranks. It should be a sign of hope to those who wait in God.
God was on the move in the days of Thales. His Divine Providence was weaving an exquisite tapestry through history that is designed for the glorification of His name. Faith consists in calmly observing how He works. He won’t misplace a thread, he won’t skip a knot. All of His work is directed to achieve our eternal happiness. Fear not. He is in complete control. Our part is to trust Him even when all seems lost. Remember the words of Jesus to St. Pio of Pietrelcina: “Your trust obliges me to help you!”
In the following Scripture, notice the words that are sometimes overlooked: “he will come and serve them.” Who are we to be served by Our Master? We do not deserve such honor but that’s how this long story ends: with Him serving the same mankind that the devil swore never to serve at all. What an awesome God is our Lord!
“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.” (Luke 12:35-38)
Calmly trust Him for your own good.
Son, when thou comest to the service of God, stand in justice and in fear, and prepare thy soul for temptation. Humble thy heart, and endure: incline thy ear, and receive the words of understanding: and make not haste in the time of clouds. Wait on God with patience: join thyself to God, and endure, that thy life may be increased in the latter end. Take all that shall be brought upon thee: and in thy sorrow endure, and in thy humiliation keep patience. For gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation. Believe God, and he will recover thee: and direct thy way, and trust in him. Keep his fear, and grow old therein. Ye that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy: and go not aside from him, lest ye fall. Ye that fear the Lord, believe him: and your reward shall not be made void. Ye that fear the Lord, hope in him: and mercy shall come to you for your delight. Ye that fear the Lord, love him, and your hearts shall be enlightened. My children behold the generations of men: and know ye that no one hath hoped in the Lord, and hath been confounded. For who hath continued in his commandment, and hath been forsaken? or who hath called upon him, and he despised him? (Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 2:1-11, DOUAY RHEIMS)