Cicero and Temple Cosmology


What is Temple Cosmology? Temple Cosmology is the belief that earthly temples or shrines are microcosms (literally “little universes) of the universe.

A temple is a model of the universe whereby appointed agents (priests or priestesses) enter to approach the divine. They are gates to heaven. What occurs in a temple is supposed to occur in the cosmos.

The Old Covenant tabernacle and Davidic Temple operated in the same way. I can’t go into this in detail at the moment, but I have put together a podcast on the topic. Please take a listen to Jewish Temple, Catholic Cathedral to get the gist of it.

[Listen to Jewish Temple, Catholic Cathedral mp3 by clicking here.]

The concept of “Temple Cosmology” is found in the Old Testament and described in detail by Philo of Alexandria. It entails the Platonic idea of participation – so much so that many of the Church Fathers believed that Plato received his doctrine of participation by reading the account of the construction of the tabernacle in the Hebrew Bible with Plato was in Egypt.

[Read "Justin Martyr on Plato’s dependence on Moses" by Taylor Marshall (Canterbury Tales)]

I recently found an exceptional passage in Cicero’s De Re Publica in which he follows the Stoic doctrine that the universe as both a “home” and “temple” (domus and templum).

Take for example De re publica VI, 15:

“No so, for unless that God, whose temple is everything that you see…”

Nisi enim deus is, cuius hoc templum est omne, quod conspicis…

It’s worth noting that the “god” in question is identified by Cicero as the “princeps deus” (VI, 13, 26), “deus arcens (VI, 17), and “deus aeternus” (VI, 26). Cicero is referring here not the pantheon of Roman gods but to the “chief god” who dwells in the “temple” of the universe.

Moreover, Cicero refers to the earth’s place in the universe as “that sphere in the middle of the temple” (illum globum, quem in hoc templo medium).

By no means do I wish to suggest that Cicero was a proto-Christian. He certainly held scorn for the body and believes that souls are fashioned from the eternal fires of the stars. His notion of the “supreme God” seems to be pantheistic, as well. However, I do wish to shed light on the fact that Cicero is a pre-Christian, non-Jewish, Roman witness to the idea of “Temple Cosmology”.

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