The Faith of the Ancients, pt. 1

Today we are led to believe that the fight between religion and science is something new. We are told that it is a radically new idea that the earth originated through spontaneous causes. And we are taught that ancient people only believed in God because they couldn’t explain natural phenomenon. 

NOTHING could be further from the truth!

These ideas were prevalent in many civilizations, including Ancient Greece. The Greeks not only believed in a God that revealed truths to mankind and an afterlife where we would be held accountable to Him for our choices, they understood the need for worship and holy places to make us more virtuous and pure. 

This two-part podcast series first introduces you to the key words and ideas that clarify these religious debates, then it takes you into ancient writings to explore them and see how the religious debates we see around us are nothing new–they are actually very old. 

Listener’s Guide:

Use the time stamps below to skip to any part of the podcast. 

2:42  Mantic defined
5:35  Sophic defined
9:05  “Harmonizing” them
14:47  Civilizations “created by God” 
17:05 Mysteries of Eleusis
19:55  Musaeus
24:40  Religion was institutionalized
25:45  Creation as an act of God 

Quotes from this episode:

All quotes from “Three Shrines: Mantic, Sophic, Sophistic” by Stephen D Ricks, Donald W. Parry and Hugh Nibley found in The Ancient State: The Rulers and the Ruled


“The Greek word Mantic simply means prophetic or inspired, oracular, coming from the other world and not from the resources of the human mind.” “‘Vertical’ Judaism, i.e. the belief in the real and present operation of divine gifts by which one receives constant guidance from the other world.”

“It supplies the element of hope in our lives by assuring us of the reality of things beyond.”

“Those who share the Mantic hope of things beyond, whatever those things may be, are in a very real sense a community of believers, just as Christians, Jews and Moslems form a fellowship of ‘the People of the Book,’ because of their belief in inspired books—even though they may not agree as to which books are the inspired ones.”

“None is more insistent on the need for revelation than Plato. Plato was the greatest champion of the Mantic.”

*Revelation, supernatural, duality, what’s to come


“The Sophic, on the other hand, is the tradition which boasted its cool, critical, objective, naturalistic and scientific attitude; its Jewish equivalent is called ‘horizontal’ Judaism—scholarly, bookish, halachic, intellectual, rabbinical. All religions seem to make some distinction.”

“On the other hand, the Sophic society unitedly rejects the Mantic proposition, and it too forms a single community.”

*Reason, materialism, here and now, naturalistic


“Sophistic came to be identical with Rhetorical, that is, a pseudothought form which merely imitated the other two in an attempt to impress the public.”


Whoever accepts the Sophic attitude must abandon the Mantic, and vice versa. It is the famous doctrine of Two Ways found among the Orientals, Greeks and early Christians—if you try to compromise between them you get nowhere, because as one of the Apostolic Fathers points out, they lead in opposite directions.”

“It is when one seeks to combine or reconcile the Sophic and the Mantic that trouble begins.”


“Each great civilization thought of itself as having been carefully planned in the beginning, all its rites and patterns handed down from above, a complete, perfect structure, planned in detail from the beginning as the faithful reflection of a heavenly prototype present in sacred books of great antiquity. Over against this, the Sophic presented a theory of the evolution of man from his primitive beginnings, following ‘natural laws,’ a theory which armies of dedicated researchers have failed to make even momentarily watertight to this day; not that it might not be true, but if the old forgotten doctrine of the divine plan, conveyed to men in a primordial revelation and since confirmed from time to time by heavenly messengers, were to be given equal time or even one percent of equal time, the opposition would be hard-pressed indeed. The ‘hierocentric’ concept that all good things have been conveyed to mankind from above through divinely appointed operations of holy shrines and persons is immensely appealing, even in the abstract. But transcending all theory is the fact, obvious enough to the ancients if not to us, that all the basic institutions of civilization—political, economic, artistic, literary, military, and scientific—did take their rise at the Temple.”

Their festivals, rituals, feasts and contests “never let the people individually or collectively forget the other world and their ties to it.”


“Their substance was the preexistence, the present existence, and the future existence of things—the full and complete picture, that is, of the drama of the universe. Without that story, Greek life lost its meaning.”

It was about “contact with a higher, hidden source…it’s basic meaning was to ‘inspire’ or ‘initiate,’ that is, to introduce someone to something he could never discover for himself…It dealt with the substance of the Orphic mysteries: (1) Creation and preexistence, ‘the genesis of gods, the cosmos, and men’ (2) the fall of man its necessary retribution (3) his ultimate destiny and goal, expressed in the Pythagorean and Orphic traditions in the doctrine of transmigration of souls…These will be readily recognized as the three great eschatological themes of the past, present and future, as they are so Cleary set forth in the Egyptian Book of the Dead.”

“The most enlightened Greeks and Romans were all initiates to the Mysteries.”

“It is indeed remarkable that in all the literature we fail to find any derogatory remark or witticism about the Mysteries.” They were holy and sacred and not to be mocked. “Even more remarkable is that none of a host of outspoken and gossipy writers, hungry for sensational talk, has ever divulged the secrets of the Mysteries.”


Musaeus, for example, the high priest of Delphi, was also director of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the author of a great creation hymn, and the founder of the first academy…it was the ancient and original office of the Muses to sing that hymn, the great archetype of all music and verse. All fields of knowledge belong to the Muses, the wise women, the purveyors—not the authors—of divine revelation; the schools never forgot their origin as holy oracular shrines of the Muses with their sacred temples, images, lecture halls, grottoes, walks, groves, and libraries. A center of learning was  Musaeon (museum) and the Muses were not worshipped save as agents of gods.”

By 600 BC, the with advent of the 7 Sages or Wise men—“used to meet at Delphi to unite their wisdom for the help of the human race, imparting of their knowledge to all who came to consult the oracles there. In that day it was simply inconceivable that wisdom could be conveyed to the race anywhere but at the properly appointed holy shrine.”

The ideas which we designate as Mantic were thus institutionalized for the ancients—in the panegyris (holy books, creation hymn), the Mysteries, and the schools—to a degree which we can hardly imagine. For them it was easy to conceive of the heavenly order as real, since one had reminders of it all around one.”


Man’s power of creation was seen as holy. “The Egyptians were fairly obsessed with the idea that in creating anything, a man was doing the work of God; creation could not have any other than a divine source to be anything but a divine activity. The Devil cannot create; he can only destroy.”

Plato taught that “try as we will, we cannot view things neutrally; we are not impartial observers, as the Sophoi claimed to be. When we applaud whatever is good and beautiful, it is not blind, accidental force that we are applauding; it is something good. We bestow our approval and disapproval upon all we see about us—could that be if things just happen?”

“The Greeks were greatly impressed by the fact, attested by long experience, that even the greatest genius cannot create at will. The moments of genuine creativity are simply not within human control…those who do create are unanimous in reporting that the process is something equally out of their control.”

“For Plato, what we recognize here as good, true, and beautiful is but a dim recollection of what we once saw in another and better world.”

This is why “the greatest Greeks were determined defenders of the Mantic against the Sophic, as we shall see later…it is precisely the great, most original, most productive of their number who insist most emphatically upon man’s dependence on light from above.

“For the experience of creation, whether in great calm or unbearable excitement, is a profoundly religious experience…[there are things] which we call holy and cannot define beyond calling them holy.”

Book from this episode: