Grace and Philo

I have two items for my write-up today on Erwin Goodenough’s By Light, Light: The Mystic Gospel of Hellenistic Judaism.

1.  On pages 131-132, Goodenough says the following about Philo’s view of Noah:

“Noah…would appear to be the man who achieved the lower height of self-discipline and control, the domination of his lower members by his reason, but not the higher life in which those lower members are themselves forgotten or left behind as reason turns to immaterial realm for its sphere of activity.  Noah’s achievement might be compared to that of the ‘merely moral man’ so often preached against by Protestant clergymen.  The ‘moral man’ has indeed done much to live the life he does.  His superiority to the mass of sinners is freely recognized, valued more highly by Philo than by the Protestants, it may be added, but both agree that morality which is an end in itself is definitely inferior to a life in which morality is regarded as a by-product of the experience of God.”

What I read this to be saying is that, according to Philo, Noah represents one who restrains his passions fairly well, and yet fails to turn his mind to the immaterial realm, which contains the forms, God, and God’s powers.  His morality notwithstanding, this man does not arrive at that ecstatic experience of God that Philo promotes.  Goodenough says that morality should be a “by-product of the experience of God”, according to Philo and Protestant clergy.  Does that mean that morality comes after the experience of God, rather than being the prerequisite for the experience?  That brings me to my next item.

2.  On page 170, Goodenough says the following about Philo’s conception of grace, using Jacob as an example:

“The dream has thus far taught us a good deal about Philo’s conception of Jacob.  In spite of the representations of Jacob as a man of virtue in contrast to his brother Esau, Jacob is a man who has actually a long way to go before he can get the vision of God, and be worthy of the Higher Mystery…Philo’s conception of the saving activity of God is unmistakable.  For God reaches down by his [logoi] to the ‘great unwashed,’ meets them on their level, and gives them the sort of help they need at that stage.  The familiar assertion that Philo, in contrast to Christianity, thought that spiritual rewards awaited only those who had in some way already purified themselves is a complete misconception.  With the exception of Calvin’s doctrine of ‘irresistible grace,’ Christianity, as well as Philo, has always regarded God as powerless to help a man who does not first want to be helped.”

From what I have read in Goodenough’s book, Philo did appear to believe that purification was a prerequisite, of sorts, for having an ecstatic experience of God.  That’s one reason that people were supposed to seek to restrain their passions, according to Philo.  And yet, Goodenough refers to another dimension—-grace: that God reaches out to people where they are when they are willing to receive God’s help, even though they may be far from being pure.  But, while God may help people where they are, that by itself does not count as a vision of God.  That’s where God is leading people through God’s logoi, and purification does appear to be a prerequisite for that.  God assists people on that path.  (At the same time, Goodenough does appear to say that Moses’ vision of God was unique, if I recall correctly.)

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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1 Response to Grace and Philo

  1. Pingback: Ramblings on Philo and “Only One Way” | James' Ramblings

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