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Monotheism is simply characterized as the id in one god and is typically positioned together the polar the opposite of polytheism, the id in many gods. However, the word monotheism is a relatively modern-day one that was coined in the mid-17th century CE by the British philosopher Henry much more (1614-1687 CE). It comes from the Greek words, monos (single) and theos (god). In the west tradition, this "belief in one god" specifically refers to the God the the Bible; the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (and constantly written with a resources G). However, in the old world, the ide of monotheism as we understand it this particular day did not exist; all old people to be polytheists. They may have actually elevated one god as greater than the rather (henotheism) however nevertheless recognized the presence of magnificent multiplicity.

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Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. (CC BY-NC-ND)
The principle of the cosmos for the ancients consisted of three realms: the sky (the heavens); planet (humans); and also the underworld (sometimes known as the netherworld or simply "the soil of the dead"). The sky was the domain of the gods and also was crowded with a hold of divinities taken in a gradient that powers. Many old civilizations had actually a dominant god, or a king the the gods, with various other divinities being in charge of various facets of life, serving as a court of advisers, or just as messengers to humans below. Numerous of these powers can transcend (cross over) come the earth listed below in miscellaneous manifestations. Lock could additionally travel come the underworld, and in those manifestations were well-known as chthonic (underworld powers). Few of the lesser deities, well-known as daemons, came to be perceived together evil gradually (demons). This powers were thought to be able to possess people and also functioned together an explanation for diseases and also mental disorders.

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Belief, Faith, & Creed

There was no main authority (like the Vatican) come dictate conformity of ideas & practices.

The modern-day concept the monotheism likewise assumes two other concepts, the of "belief" and also "faith." The trouble in expertise religions in antiquity is not that they walk not think in things or that they lacked belief in the gods and also goddesses. However, this to be not regularly articulated or manifest in the same way that we currently assume in our spiritual systems. Unequal the later on creeds that Christianity, there was no equivalent creed in the assorted ethnic cults in the Mediterranean basin.

The closest indistinguishable of shared understanding was uncovered in the works of Homer (Iliad; Odyssey) Hesiod (Theogony; Works and also Days) and the myths of the bards together the basis of stories of creation and the gods and heroes. There to be no central authority (like the Vatican) to dictate conformity that beliefs and also practices. Every ethnic group occurred rituals and also practices important for worship (consisting the sacrifices) the was passed under to their ancestors indigenous the gods. It was crucially important to lug out these rituals there is no mistakes.

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Ancient roots of Monotheism

While the hatchet monotheism itself is modern, scholars have attempted to uncover ancient roots the monotheistic ideas in the ancient world. High ~ above the perform is the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten (1353-1336 BCE), frequently referred to as the an initial monotheist. During the Amarna Period, Akhenaten promoted the prayer of Aten, the price of the sun, together the highest type of worship, and eliminated the praise of Amon-Ra at Luxor, who was the dominant god in ~ the time. However, the effort to destroy the temples, images, and also priesthood the Amon-Ra nevertheless would show a id in this god"s existence (and influence). At the very same time, over there is no evidence that Akhenaten also persecuted or attempted to remove the other gods/goddesses that Egyptian religion, nor did he effort to remove the numerous religious festivals or afterlife beliefs throughout Egypt.


Akhenaten and also the Royal family members Blessed by Aten
Troels Myrup (CC BY-NC-ND)

Another resource for the roots of old monotheism deserve to be found in Zoroastrianism which came to be the state cult of ancient Persia. Zoroaster to be a prophet (with days anywhere native 1000-600 BCE) who promoted the prayer of one supreme deity, Ahura Mazda, who was the creator of whatever in the universe. Nevertheless, Ahura Mazda emanated six primary Amesha Spentas (spiritual forces) and also other Yazatas (abstract powers) that were in polar opposition to other pressures (e.g. Reality vs. Evil thinking). The too much opposite the Ahura Mazda to be druj, or "chaos," personified together Angra Mainyu. As such, the presence of a power opposed come all creation eventually provided rise to later on Jewish, Christian, and also Islamic concepts of the "Devil." despite the extremes that pure great vs. Pure angry (or the principle known as dualism), modern-day Zoroastrians claim that they room the true originators the monotheism, together everything arose from "the one."

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Ancient Judaism continues to get the most attention as creating the beginnings of monotheism in the west tradition. More recently part scholars are applying the term "monolatry," a device that recognizes the existence of various other gods, however chooses to worship only one. Favor their neighbors, old Jews conceived the a power structure of strength in heaven: “sons that god” (Genesis 6), angels, archangels (the messengers indigenous God who interact God"s will to humans), cherubim and seraphim. Jews likewise recognized the presence of demons with countless examples in the set of Jesus in the gospels in his function as an exorcist.

Jews can pray to angels & other powers in heaven, but they were just to market sacrifices come the god of Israel.

Scholars have perennially attempted to analysis Genesis 1:26: "Then God said, "let us make man in ours image, in our likeness. . . "" who is God talk to? Is the "our" the exact same as the "royal we?" suggestions have contained the ancient and similar ideas in old cultures the the heavens reflected societal structures on earth; kings usually had a court the advisers and also thus there to be a heavenly court together well.

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The foundational story because that the idea the Jews were monotheistic is as soon as Moses obtain the commandments the God ~ above Mt. Sinai: "I to be the Lord her God . . . Girlfriend shall have no various other gods prior to me." The Hebrew might actually be analyzed as "no various other gods alongside me." This walk not suggest that various other gods carry out not exist; that is a commandment the the Jews were no to worship any other gods. Worship in the old world constantly meant sacrifices. Jews could pray come angels and also other powers in heaven, however they were just to sell sacrifices to the god the Israel.

The Jewish bibles consistently describe the visibility of the gods of the nations (ethnic groups): Deuteronomy 6:14 ("do no follow other gods"); 29:18 ("to offer the god of those nations"); 32:43 ("Praise O heavens, his people, worship him all you gods!"); Isaiah 36:20 ("who among all of the gods of these nations have actually saved their nations?"); Psalm 821 ("God presides in the great assembly; he provides judgment among the gods"). In the story the the Jews" Exodus from Egypt, God battles against the gods of Egypt to demonstrate who controls nature. This makes little sense if their presence was not recognized: ". . . I will bring judgment on every the god of Egypt." (Exodus 12:12)


Moses & the Parting that the Red Sea
Providence Lithograph firm (Public Domain)

While Jews only readily available sacrifices to the god that Israel, they common a common conviction that all the gods have to be respected; it to be perilous to anger the various other gods. Exodus 22:28 bespeak the Jews never to revile the gods of the nations. V the damage of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE, cultic sacrifices were no longer possible. The later on leaders of Judaism, the Rabbis, began a long process of reinterpreting worship as a focus on the "one," i m sorry would cause the eventual ide of the presence of just one god in the universe.

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Under the persecution through the Seleucid Greeks (which brought about the Maccabean revolt in 167 BCE), those who died for refusing to worship the Greek gods were believed to be bonus by instantly gift transported come god in heaven, together martyrs ("witnesses").

Philosophical Monotheism

With the emergence of institutions of Greek approach c. 600 BCE in Miletus, thoughtful speculation concerning the universe and humans" ar in it began to spread out throughout the Mediterranean basin. Numerous philosophers gathered students approximately them (disciples), and it was these college student who regularly wrote down the teachings and passed lock on to the following generation. Viewpoint was additionally associated v the upper classes, as just the rich had time and recreation to devote to this kind of greater education. Not just an ivory tower speculation, philosophy, like ancient religion, taught a method of life, offering its very own moral and also spiritual interpretations.

The schools of Plato, Aristotle, and also the Stoics taught ways in which to cope v the vagaries of life, more concerned v the state the one"s soul than with worldly externals. A emphasis was on how the soul could return come its origins in the higher realm ~ death, reuniting v the "most high god." for Plato, this high god to be uncreated, immutable (not subject to change), and also pure significance (not matter and therefore not subject to decay). Through the device of allegory, abstracts of fact emanated indigenous the mind of god, prefer light from a candle. This god additionally emanated the logos, or the rule of rationality, come order the physical world.

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Aristotle (384-322 BCE) encountered metaphysics or the presence of an initial principles. The highest possible god is the first of every substances, the "unmoved mover," bring about the movement of the spheres, the planets. Because that the Stoics, the universe was a solitary organism energized by one imminent, magnificent rational force which ordered the universe according to herbal law. Lock taught the all have to live a life of agree both great and evil, disciplining oneself to ultimately attain harmony v this divine force.

Many institutions critiqued classic Greek mythology and also its anthropomorphism (assigning human attributes to the gods), although very few condemned timeless sacrifices bald or referred to as for an removed of timeless rituals. Through their writings, philosophy contributed to the ultimate views that monotheism for both Christian theologians and the later Rabbis.


Our earliest evidence for Christian communities, the letter of Paul (c. 50-60 CE), show the exact same Jewish recognition in the strength of the universe. Plenty of manifestations the the divine were accepted in the very same gradients that power, yet only the god that Israel to be to be worshipped: "Even despite there may be so-called god in heaven or top top earth—as in fact there are countless lords—yet for united state there is one god, the Father" (1 Corinthians 8:5). Paul frequently railed against the others" gods who impeded his mission (2 Corinthians 4:4). Their existence was real.


Paul the Apostle
RomanZ (CC BY-NC-SA)

However, beforehand Christianity became complicated in relationship to the principle of one god as soon as a new concept was introduced. Native the an extremely beginning (in the post-Easter experiences of the Apostles), Christians started to case that along with Jesus"s resurrection indigenous the dead, that had additionally been "exalted" to heaven and also given a seat "at the best hand that god" (Acts 7:56). 1 Peter 3:21-22 states that: "It saves you by the resurrection that Jesus Christ, that has gotten in heaven and also is at the best hand of god, through angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him."

Until the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the very first followers of Jesus were in accord with the Jewish dictate that sacrifices might only be readily available to the god that Israel. We also know that these early on followers started including other facets of praise in relationship to Jesus: baptizing people in the name of Jesus; curing and also driving the end demons in his name; broadening upon the ide of forgiving guilty in his name; prayers and hymns directed to Jesus.

An early on hymn recited by Paul is discovered in Phil. 2:9-11:

Who, gift in the very nature god, go not think about equality through god something to be provided to his own advantage; rather, he made self nothing by taking the very nature that a servant, being made in human being likeness. And being uncovered in appearance together a man, he humbled himself by coming to be obedient come death—even fatality on a cross! Therefore, god likewise highly exalted him and also gave the the name the is over every name, so the at the surname of Jesus every knee have to bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and also every tongue have to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, come the glory the god the father.

That "every knee must bend" meant worship, in one age-old ide of bowing down prior to images of various gods. The idea the Jesus pre-existed in heaven prior to being manifest as a human being on planet was reinforced in the Gospel that John, whereby he begins by claiming the Jesus was the logos who took on meat to teach us about God and also salvation. This idea was later on canonized as the Incarnation that Jesus.

The road to the Trinity

When ex-pagans convert to Christianity, they embraced the Jewish ide of refusing to praise the various other gods. This led to persecution therefore a refuse was taken as treason to the roman Empire; not placating the gods supposed that you did not want the empire to prosper and also could carry disaster. Treason was constantly a capital offense, and also so Christians were executed in the arenas.

Many Christian authors appealed come the kings that they should be offered the same exemption to the classic sacrifices that had been given to the Jews (during the regime of Julius Caesar). Christians declared that they were the "true Jews," and also not a new religion, utilizing allegory to show that they had old ties v the Jewish Scriptures. They argued that all over that God was mentioned, the was in reality a kind of the pre-existent Christ. Technically, then, prefer the Jews, they just worshipped one god. Rome always responded the Christians were not circumcised and therefore, no Jews.


In 312 CE, Emperor Constantine ended up being a Christian and legalized Christianity so the persecution ceased. However, Christian thinkers still debated the relationship between God and also Jesus. One elder in the church in ~ Alexandria, Arius began teaching the if God produced everything in the universe, then at some allude in time, he must have developed Christ. This expected that Christ to be subordinate to God. Riots occurred over this in Alexandria and also other cities of the Empire.

The first Council the Nicaea assembled to work out the matter; they made decision that God and Christ were the same in substance and also that Christ was a manifestation of God self on earth:

We believe in one god, the Father, the Almighty, an equipment of heaven and also earth, of all that is seen and also unseen. We think in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the just Son the God, eternally begotten of the Father, God indigenous God, light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, no made, one in Being through the Father. Through him all points were made. For united state men and for ours salvation that came under from heaven: through the power of the divine Spirit he to be born the the Virgin Mary and became male . . . We think in the holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver the life, who proceeds from the Father and also the Son. V the Father and also the child he is worshipped and also glorified.

The creed to be revised numerous times end the following decades and a to reduce version came to be popular and also is typically known together the Apostles" Creed. The ide of the Trinity claims that God stays one, however with three manifestations or personas: God, Christ, and the holy Spirit.

Absorbing ideas from both Judaism and Greek hero cults, Christians started meeting at the tombs of martyrs to petition lock in prayer. The increase of the cult that the saints combined Jewish martyrdom and old Greek hero cults where human being would conference at the tombs of the hero. The Greco-Roman principle of patron gods/goddesses of a particular ethnic group or town was absorbed into Christian patron saints in heaven who became mediators between humans and God.


In the 6th century CE, a prophet developed in Saudi Arabia, Mohammad, who came to be the founder of Islam. The was essentially a reformer, claiming the both Judaism and Christianity had end up being corrupted by false teaching. Using the Jewish Scriptures, that emphasized the oneness that God (Allah); combining Allah with any type of other strength is thought about "shirk," equivalent to idolatry. Nevertheless, Islam does recognize gradients that powers.

God created three intelligent species of beings: angels, jinn (the identical of demons), and also humans. Angels did not have complimentary will (they space pure reason) and therefore cannot sin, yet jinn and also humans can choose between great and evil. Once God developed Adam, he ordered all the angels come bow down to him. One angel, Iblis (Shaytan, the Devil), refuse to execute so and was actors down come Hell. The was offered permission by God come tempt humans, yet his authority would eventually be damaged on the job of Judgment.


After the death of Muhammad, his followers separation into two major groups over the succession. Those who sustained his son-in-law, Ali, became the Shi"ites, if the bulk are recognized as Sunnis. Shi"ites respect their great teachers, imams, v the same kind the pilgrimage and rituals at your tombs. Sunnis insurance claim that this is identical to the Christian veneration that saints and compromises the oneness of God.

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Over the centuries, many facets contributed to what would eventually come to be the modern, west conception of monotheism. The paradox is uncovered in proclaiming God as one and also yet perceiving that God is no alone.