Anaximenes, the symbolism of air and the Holy Spirit

Anaxímenes de Mileto
Cicero says that Anaximenes is the first pagan writer to use “pneuma” as a predicate of the divine.| Photo: BigStock

Some students get scared when accumulating the material of the semester. What would they feel if they knew that in self-education we are not just six months old, but more than 2.380 years of late education? This is how those who are committed to rescuing the origins of Western civilization should think, according to the aforementioned undertaking of knowing the origin of their own ideas and never uttering any sentence under the ignorance of their origin, the stages covered, difficulties encountered and the current state of the question.

Although the extension of the subject is not a reason for estrangement and despair, if not effort and persistence. As Plato says: “Beautiful things are difficult.” And for beautiful knowledge the popular saying is encouraging: “The master appears when the disciple is ready.” So everyone who has come this far – at this point in the text and in the other articles in this series – should find it at Gazeta do Povo an open path for newcomers who need help. Here we have already taught the ideas of the first philosophers, Thales and Anaximander, now it is time for Anaximenes of Miletus (660 BC – BC), his disciple and successor.

Like both masters, the pupil seeks the arché2021, the Greek word for “beginning” or “origin of all things”. But while Tales finds her in the water and Anaximander in the Infinite, Anaximenes calls it air. We have already spoken of the error in Thales’ answer: how could the origin of all things give rise to water, which is the union between coldness and humidity, if these qualities cannot coexist with those of fire, namely, heat and dryness ? However, when we think of the denial of Anaximander’s principle, there seems to be a certain return. After all, wouldn’t the infinite be closer to metaphysical ideas? It might even be true. But what good is a metaphysical concept without a referent in the world? How to actually identify something that is absolutely infinite?

We could even think of the God, as Christians preach. Immediately, I recall the words of a cardinal of the 15th century Roman Catholic Church, Nicholas of Cusa: “God is one in such a way that he is actually all that is possible. That is why such a unit is not susceptible to more or less, nor is it multipliable. Divinity is thus an infinite unity. Therefore, the one who said ‘listen, Israel, your God is one’ and ‘one is the teacher’ and is ‘your father in heaven’ (Dt 6, 4; Mt 12, 8-9) could not have said anything truer. (…) Just as number, which is an entity of reason forged by our faculty of distinguishing through comparisons, necessarily presupposes unity as its principle, in such a way that without it it would be impossible to have a number, so also the plurality of things that derives of this infinite unity is for her so that without her it cannot exist. Indeed, how would they be without it?” But he adds: “The absolute unity is an entity”, that’s why there is reference, Pessoa. The gods spoken of by the Greek philosophers, on the other hand, are not personal like the biblical or Homeric deity. He is not the God of life, but the “god of philosophers”.

This is a poetic expression to mean, analytically, a god created by the mind rather than the Creator of the intellect. It is a problematic question addressed by one of the most important medieval mystical philosophers, Master Eckhart, who states: “Man must not be content with a thought God; for when thought passes away, so shall God pass away. On the contrary, it must have a substantial God, who stands far above the thoughts of man and all creatures. That God will not pass away, unless man departs from Him by his will.”

However, this experience is far removed from the pre-Socratic philosophers, so that the return to the determinate element is not demerit of Anaximens. Although he did not think of the divine essence as infinite, doing justice to the thinking of saints and mystics, he has the merit of uniting name and thing, seeking in every discourse a referent in reality: air.

Now it’s our turn to understand it in double movement: scientific and symbolic:

Symbolically, the air can be represented by the bird, which flies over all corners of the earth, as well as the mind transports you to various places. However, the bird is capable of materializing this flight, while the mind is incapable of transforming the word into a thing. So air perfectly symbolizes the reality principle, the union between the physical and the mental, whereas, though ethereal, the mind lacks materiality. Yet, scientifically, air is explained in terms of condensation and rarefaction. Anaximenes says he can convert to others elements without losing their essence, unlike fire, water and earth.

The most interesting thing about all this is the term the philosopher uses: pneuma. He does not simply speak of oxygen, but of the same word used by Christians to refer to the Holy Spirit. “Pneuma” is the Greek sign for the Hebrew “ruach”, which is synonymous with air, but also with breath, wind, breath, spirit and vital principle. That’s why Cicero says that Anaximenes is the first pagan writer using “pneuma” as a predicate of the divine. Here is the germ of a theological discipline: pneumatology.

*Natália Cruz Sulman is a philosophy professor1280

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