From the Sept/Oct, 2015 issue of Touchstone


Philosopher-King by Patrick Henry Reardon

Column: As It Is Written . . .


From the first page of Holy Writ, the reader is left with no doubt about the nature of the world and humanity's place within it.

Perhaps it is less obvious that a certain polemical concern is active in the mind of Moses: he is at some pains to declare that God is the Creator of all things, even those things which many non-Hebrews commonly regarded as gods.

Although, for instance, the Assyrians set the sun god, Shamash, high in their pantheon, Moses treated Shemesh ("sun") as simply a big light God placed above the earth on Creation's fourth day. And although most of their neighbors regarded the earth as a divine mother, the Hebrews treated it as simply a creature on which other creatures walked about and did their work. In short, the Bible treats no part of Creation as divine. Only God, ultimately, is the King.

God's Vice-Regent

I write "ultimately," however, because there is a qualification to be considered: Under God, and only by God's command, Adam also functioned on the earth in a royal capacity, having dominion over the other creatures. God assigned him this task when he created man in his own image, after his own likeness. According to the Bible, man is not simply one among a multitude of creatures. There is an order in Creation, and man is at the top of that order. He is God's commissioned vice-regent.

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The Bible reader must be clear about this vice-regency: it is entirely one of stewardship. At no point can man's authority in the world challenge or diminish the fundamental proclamation, "The earth is the Lord's." Adam's is a delegated royalty, a custodial responsibility. Whatever authority he has in the world, he has only for the sake of his duties.

According to Genesis, Adam's regal state is expressed in tending and caring for Creation. He is to treat it as a garden, a place of nourishment and beauty. Much of his time, in fact, is spent in the pursuit of agriculture, the indispensable basis of all culture.

Adam's stewardship in the world, however, was not merely physical. It was also—and preeminently—intellectual and moral. When, on the first day, God established the order of Creation on the principle of "light," he had in mind to form the single creature, man, who would be able to discern that created light within its sundry expressions—its "kinds"—among the other creatures.

This is why we observe Adam functioning in Creation, not merely as a king, but as a philosopher-king. He ruled the world, first of all, by understanding it. When God formed each creature different "according to its kind," he intended for Adam's mind to discern and respect those differences. And Adam acted on that impulse when he assembled the animals and gave a specific name to each kind.

The names Adam gave to the creatures were not arbitrary. On the contrary, as God's vice-regent over Creation, he recognized in each creature its specific logos, and he named every one of them kata logon, "according to its logos." Adam thus became mankind's first cataloguist, the father of scientific and analytical study, the very founder of philosophy.

Adam received these God-given abilities for the sake of his God-given responsibilities. Enabled to discern the differences between light and darkness, day and night, firmament and earth, sea and dry land, swimming fish and flying bird, male and female—Adam's intellect was tutored in how to discern the differences separating true and false, good and evil, beauty and ugliness, right and wrong. Adam's conscience, thus, was educated for moral discernment and choice.

Gift & Burden

Adam knew this. Unlike every other creature in the cosmos, he was gifted—burdened!—with the ability to make decisions on the basis of discernment. To no other creature did the Creator give the capacity to reflect critically on what it knows and how it knows what it knows. Adam's mind was the only place in Creation where epistemology was possible—to say nothing of metaphysics.

The proper prayer of this philosopher-king was, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and let all that is within me bless his holy name." This kol qerabai, this reflective inner life of thought, freedom, and resolve, was the reason for Adam's unique place as ruler of the world. If, at any point, however, this "all that is within me" were to cease blessing the Lord, not only would Adam fall as the head of Creation, but Creation itself would fall with him. A terrible cosmic darkness would ensue. •

Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of Christ in the Psalms, Christ in His Saints, and The Trial of Job (all from Conciliar Press). He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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“Philosopher-King” first appeared in the Sept/Oct 2015 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue. Support the work of Touchstone by subscribing today!

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