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Microcosm and Macrocosm

Greek Christian Theories

Although the ancient idea of the microcosm appealed to many Christian thinkers, their view of the macrocosm as an inanimate structure created by God ex nihilo at the beginning of time led to major alterations of the ancient theory. Most conspicuously, the world-soul was omitted or interpreted allegorically as a reference to God's providential care for the created world. Although Greek Christians, unlike the Latins, had direct access to the ancient sources, they were ambivalent about the pagan philosophical heritage.

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335–c. 394) criticized the comparison of humanity with the universe (De hominis opificio, 17), stressing, like Philo, that it was more appropriate to compare humanity with God; but he nevertheless retained a modified version of the theory. Cosmas Indicopleustes, a sixth-century Greek from Alexandria in Egypt, rejected the idea of a spherical world in his Christian Topography, since he considered Moses' tabernacle a symbolic representation of the universe. He nevertheless accepted the idea that humanity contains the universe within itself and therefore thought the pagans were right to have called man a microcosm (Book 7).

Greek theologians tended to view humanity as a mediator who united the material and spiritual worlds by virtue of being the only creature to possess both a body and a rational soul; at this critical juncture in the chain of being, humanity shared some characteristic with every kind of creature and thus represented the entire universe. The Greek fathers influenced the anthropology of the Irish Neoplatonist, John Scot Eriugena (c. 800–c. 877), but the idea of the microcosm in the Latin West was received mainly through Calcidius and Macrobius, and disseminated by the encyclopedist Isidore of Seville (c. 560–636; De natura rerum, 9.2) and the Venerable Bede (673?–735; De temporum ratione, 35).

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Methane to Molecular clockMicrocosm and Macrocosm - Origins, Plato, The Body Politic, Hellenism And Late Antiquity, Jewish And Muslim Theories In The Middle Ages