‘Christians’ before Christ; a brief presentation of Pythagorean theological views

In this article we present excerpts from Iamblichus‘ book “On the Pythagorean life“; of which appears that there is great similarity of Theological views between the Pythagorean school of Philosophy and Orthodox Christianity.


First excerpt: «we must give birth to children so that we leave someone else in our place to worship the gods»

(NovoScriptorium: As Orthodox Christians we believe that everything, childbearing included, must be done from us ‘for the glory of God‘. Pythagoras view on the matter doesn’t seem to differ at all)

Second excerpt: «it is not like the sophists think, that some things are possible for God and some others are not, but everything is possible for Him»

(NovoScriptorium: As Orthodox Christians, we undoubtedly believe in the Almighty God; everything is possible for Him. Pythagoras believed the same)

Third excerpt: «That they believed that nothing happens by coincidence or luck but according to the Divine provision, above all to the virtuous and pious people, is confirmed by what Androkedes narrates in his work ‘On Pythagorean Symbols’ about a Pythagorean, Thymarides from Tarantas. While he was preparing to embark on a ship to leave for somewhere distant, for some reason, he was surrounded by his companions to be kissed and waved goodbye. And when he was on board, somebody told him; “may you have anything you want from the gods, oh Thymarides’. And then he answered; “do not blaspheme. I would rather have what the gods want“. Because he thought this was more gnostic/sensible and prudent; that no one resists to the Divine provision nor indignate with the Divine provision»

(NovoScriptorium: In Christ, i.e. when one has placed Christ as center of his life and as ‘reference point’, there is no ‘luck’ or ‘misfortune’. Indeed though there is Divine provision even for the very last among people. Pythagoras beliefs were similar. Additionally, from the example he refers to it is clear that the Pythagoreans prefered ‘God’s will‘ to be done, while they considered as ‘blasphemy‘ one’s choice to let his own will prevail instead. In ‘Lord’s prayer’ -Paternoster- we, as Orthodox Christians, say exactly the same to our Godly Father; ‘Thy Will be done‘. Finally, let us add that Pythagoreans considered ‘non-gnostic/non-sensible’ and imprudent for one to resist to and indignate with the Divine provision, essentially condemning grumble, one’s own will and impatience. The same we find condemned by the Neptic Fathers of the Orthodox Church)

Fourth excerpt: «Pythagoras was also saying that people must offer libations three times and that Apollo is making his prophecies with a tripod because the number has arised from the trinity»

(NovoScriptorium: The number -see previous article about Pythagoras- has arised from the First (Πρώτον) and the Thinkable (Νοητόν), which is immaterial and eternal. Consequently, it is apparent that he identifies the Triad/Trinity with the First and Thinkable. What we see here is a clear statement about the Triadicity of the True/Actual Being. As Orthodox Christians, indeed we believe in the consubstantial and indivisible Triad/Trinity)

Fifth excerpt: «he did not permit the burning of the dead (…) He thought it pious to bury the dead with white dresses, thus implying the simple and first nature, which the number is, the beginning of everything»

(NovoScriptorium: Independently of the reasons that Pythagoras did not allow the burning of the dead, the similarity with the Orthodox practice, where the dead are never burned but buried, is obvious)

Sixth excerpt: «The principle of justice is therefore the community and equality and the relationship, in which all of us commiserate, as one body, one soul, and the ‘mine’ is identified with the ‘other’s’, as Plato testifies, since he learned it from the Pythagoreans»

Seventh excerpt: «Then, intimacy between people brings justice, while the removal/departure and contempt of the human race causes injustice»

(NovoScriptorium: Excerpts 6&7 have their Orthodox correspondence at Church itself, where the Head is Christ Himself and all of us the Body! We Orthodox receive Holy Communion, the Blood and Flesh of Christ, from a common chalice; we know that ‘there is no favoritism in God‘ and, hence, in front of Him we are all equal. God has nothing at all to do with any form of Evil and Injustice. The one who is actively in the Church, practicing the commandments of the Lord, indeed, commiserates with every brother. The Christian believes and practices ‘love thy neighbour as yourself‘. From such a stance only good can be produced and, definetly, helps substanstially towards conserving humanity, putting stops and barriers against dehumanization. Apparently, Pythagoras has identified the core of the general idea)

Eighth excerpt: «Even more effective for the prevalence of justice, Pythagoras considered the gods’ principle/authority, and on that basis he set the rule and laws, justice and righteousness from the beginning. It is advisable to see how he regulated everything else accordingly. To think of the Divine that It exists and Its availability to the human race is such that It sees it and is not indifferent to it, the Pythagoreans considered it useful, as he had taught them, and that we need this kind of supervision, against which we will not at all be worthy of opposing. And such is the supervision of the divine, if of course the divine is such that it is worthy of the universe’s authority. They were right to say that every living creature is rampant/unbridled by its nature, full of various rushes, desires, and the rest of passions. They therefore believed that everyone, realizing the complexity of his nature, should not forget the piety towards divinity and worship, but keep it constantly in mind as someone who oversees and observes human behavior. After the divine, one must give great importance to parents and the law and obey them, not hypocritically but with faith. Generally, the Pythagoreans believed that one should not think that there is a greater harm than anarchy. Because people can not live if there is no one to rule them»

(NovoScriptorium: Beginning/Principal/Authority of everything is God and Pythagoras suggests Him as the basis of his State. Indeed he believed in an Almighty and Interventionist God, to Whom every man is ‘answerable/liable’ for his motives and behaviour, too. Constant ‘Memory of God’ consists the foundation of the State and its guarantee, too. Pythagoras was suggesting piety and active participation in God’s worship. After God, he believed in the importance that should be given to the parents– reminding us the commandment ‘honour your father and mother’- and to the Law, too. He insists that all these should be done ‘with faith‘, not hypocritically. He seems to focus on the deepest human intention, on the ‘will of the Heart‘ as we would say today, and it is something that the Orthodox Neptic Tradition emphasizes at. Finally, there is an apparent ‘political’ message that anarchy is a dissolving force for every human society. Notice though that Pythagoras -as we previously saw- places God as Authority/beggining of everything, the State included. So, what ‘anarchy’ really seems to be is ‘life without God’, because ‘Αρχή’ in greek means Authority/Beggining; its opposite is ‘Αν-αρχία’ = Anarchy, i.e. ‘without authority’. He clearly suggests and believes that people cannot live without God. We believe the same as Orthodox Christians)

Ninth excerpt: «Pythagoras also found another method to keep people from injustice, through the judgment of the souls, knowing that this is both true and useful to make someone being afraid of injustice. He claimed that it is far better for one to be wronged rather than kill another man (because judgement takes place in Hades), taking into account the soul and its essence and the first nature of beings»

(NovoScriptorium: Pythagoras believed and preached about ‘judgement after death‘, obviously, he generally believed in ‘life after death‘ and, hence, in the eternal nature of the soul. As Orthodox Christians, we agree on these basic ideas)

Tenth excerpt: «Pythagoras declared that the gods are not responsible for the evil and that the diseases and all the physical sufferings are the fruits of prodigality/profligacy»

(NovoScriptorium: The Orthodox Christian knows that any evil is absent from God. God does not ‘send’ any evil, neither diseases, neither sufferings. God may allow them to happen, as a consequence though of our own choices, as we were made logical and free -and this is not allowed as ‘punishment’, but rather as a way to help us come to our senses. Prodigality/profligacy, product of  an imprudent and irrational -not logical- life stance, gives birth to every grief and pain, as we have analyzed in other articles. Obviously, such a life is, at the same time, a life ‘without God‘, as mentioned earlier. Hence, Pythagoras views coincide with the Orthodox views on the matter)

Isidoros Aggelos



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