Viewing the Gods with Porphyry

Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry was married old with Marcella who has seven children. He had to leave the city for a while. He wrote to her a letter to read it when she will miss him. This text has a lot of ethical teachings of neoplatonism and as philosophy was connected with theology, it contains a lot information about piety and the correct way of worshipping the gods. In this article I will provide some of the best teachings concerning honoring the gods.

Porphyrios writes about self-control and perseverance which are needed to obtain something worthwhile. Anything that has a value requires a difficult way to gain it. This is what it makes it worthwhile. The obstacles that we find in the route to the goal are ther to stop us from reaching the target, bu we must not fall or prefer the easy way. This perseverance should follow us to our lives in anything we want to achieve. As effort is the leader, he gives the examples of Hercules, Dioscouroi, Asclepieus. "The ascension to the God is possible only to those who learned to face with high will the greatest bad luck, not to them who lived in a world of pleasure."

Sacrifice, Offerings and Temples

According to him, "every passion of the soul is the enemy to her salvation. Mother of all those passions is the lack of education." Education in ancient Hellas was not the encyclopaedic view of knowing many things from different sciences but knowing the useful things from all sciences. Porphyry dictates that education is the collection of knowledge who will help us get rid of those passions, which are illnesses and the biggest illness of soul is badness. Anything that is not beautiful and good is enemy of the soul. An ill soul cannot get close to the gods because of her impurity. God has no need for us, for our offerings, sacrifices and rituals. The ultimate house for the gods, in the neoplatonic current of that age, is the human mind, the human body, which was pure, and connected with the gods. "The mind of the wise man is the temple of divinity.... In a body clear, where the soul and mind enjoy the love of the God, the actions should be in harmony with the theory... Is it possible the same man who likes the pleasures of the body to love also the God? Every human who loves the pleasure and the body and the money, he is an unfair person and this person is also disgraceful for the God and his ancestors and outlaw against others. So even if he will sacrifice onehundred animals or give offerings to the temples of the gods by thousands, he has no piety, he has no God and in his conciousness he polutes the sacred places."

The Right Attitude

"God helps the man who does the right thing. The good thing. On the opposite, the leader of bad acts is the bad daemon. The polluted soul gets away from God, doesn't accept the existence of divine foresight, goes away from the divine law, the punisher of all evils. The soul of the wise is looking the God and is in harmony with Him... God does not value the words of the wise man, but his actions." Porphyry believes that gods does not punish when they got angry, they never get angry, but when we ingore them. For the sacrifices that are perfomed by people with a wrong way of thinking he believes that they never arrive to the gods, but they leave to the fire or to the earth. He was teaching that the mind is the temple, without a right attitude the man cannot connect with the God. Angels, good daemons and bad daemons see everything but everything is managed by the foresight, the plan of the God. For the offerings specifically, he says that "divinity likes two ways of worship:

  • Offerings we provide should be according to our strength.
  • Our thoughs in which we honour the divinity should be higher than our strength.

...Ingratitude towards God is the greatest sin. For the bad things that happen to life, God has nothing to do, they are caused by the choices of the man. Praying which is accompanied by inpure actions is not accepted by the God... Four elements should be amplyfied about God:

  • faith
  • truth
  • love
  • hope"

A human can be sad because of fear or many wishes. This theory is deeply rooted in hellenic philosophy. To have less things and be happy is better than have more things and wish for more. Freedom is not a process of wining material things but cultivating the soul. The mean to cultivation and healing the soul is philosophy. The body is controlled by philosophy or education, else the passions of the soul will enslave the human. Those are the most cruel tyrans.

The book ends with a great advice. "Anyone who is unfair to humans cannot respect God. In the opposite, to consider love for humans as a foundation of piety..." The continuation is lost.

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Theurgy and Philosophy are two different methods which lead to the union with God.


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