The One and the Many


There are cultures that value prose, argument, dialectics, in the search for truth. Others praise the hymn, the psalm, the enigma. Some have pushed far the love of wisdom, or maieutic. Others have preferred prophecy or mystery.

The ways forward are multiple. Variations are legion.

Hard climates, short summers, open landscapes, undoubtedly influence the view, life, and everything else. Scattered archipelagos, high valleys, alluvial plains, tawny deserts, wet basins, all these eclectic places hardly resemble each other. They have had, in their time, in their turn, respective affinities, sudden impulses, for thoughts coming from elsewhere, or born within them. Greece has its light. On the Indus flows a heavy and sweet air. The Nile is not the Oxus. The Rhine is not the Tigris.

Each people has their own way of seeing the sea and the stars, of following the sun and the course of the mountains, of telling the fire and the milk, the cow and the night.

Their languages sometimes bear witness to this, beyond the centuries.

Images, which have become seemingly banal, yesterday founded grandiose metaphors, and for millennia have nourished original intuitions. The arid stone of the desert gave birth to a mineral monotheism. The laughing myriads of the sea waves are of a more pantheistic nature – they diffract the solar unit abundantly into billions of labile shards.

One people alone does not create the idea of the divine; the climate also exudes it, the landscape cherishes it, and the language welcomes it.

Besides, the One has too many names. Prajāpati, El, Adonaï, Eloh, Baal, Elion, El Shaddaï, YHVH, Deus, Allah.

The Elohim themselves testify that the One hides in the plural …

All these names are one. These so many names all say that the One is, but they are very many to proclaim it.

It is inferred that all these names and even the number “one” are but veils.

One, one, one, … One, only one, not two, not three, not a thousand or billions.

How could the One rub shoulders with the Two? Or engender the Three? Or breathe the Infinite?

No, no, no. One, One, One…

Only One, there is only the One!

One is one. The Divine is infinite. How to limit the infinite by the One? Idle question. The world is larger than all the deserts, deeper than all the cosmos: no matter the quarrels of hackneyed words…

There, for millennia, towards the Indus, beyond the Oxus, ancient peoples saw the Divine everywhere they looked. They drank it with their eyes, when the light set its dazzling wing, and offered this very light as a sacrifice.

Grammar, words, style, rhythm, liberty, criticism, were other wings for them, making other prisms glimmer in their unbounded intelligence.

The mind then became aware of its destiny, unique and colorful.

The north still lives in the south of itself. East and west close together at the ends of the day. The one and the infinite make two… and they open the way to the possible and to the unity of being.

Today, it is time to think about the unification of the human, after so much blood has been shed just to claim the “oneness” of the divine.

Renan provoked: « Who will dare to say that by revealing the divine unity and definitively suppressing the local religions, the Semitic race has not laid the foundation stone for the unity and progress of humanity?”i

The Semitic God is far from man, immensely distant. But occasionally He comes near. He chooses a Nabi, an Anointed One, a prophet, a chosen one, or a pure soul, and He reveals Himself, absolutely elevated, infinitely unspeakable, all “Other”.

Next door, close by, elsewhere, the multiple, the diverse, the lowly, the “Other”, are neither « one » nor « far ».

One day, the man of the future will link the One and the Multiple, the distant and the near, the earth and the sky.

Deserts, seas, mountains and valleys will blow various winds, unique and shadowy geniuses, inaudible wisdoms, thoughts yet to be born.


iErnest Renan. Histoire générale et système comparé des langues sémitiques. (1863)

A God with no Name

The intuition of mystery has touched humanity from the earliest ages. Eight hundred thousand years ago, men carried out religious rites accompanying the death of their loved ones, in a cave near Beijing, at Chou Kou Tien. Skulls were found there, placed in a circle and painted in red ochre. They bear witness to the fact that almost a million years ago, men believed that death was a passage.

Fascination with other worlds, a sense of mystery, confrontation with the weakness of life and the rigor of death, seem to be part of the human genetic heritage, since the dawn of time, inhabiting the unconscious, sculpting cultures, knotting myths, informing languages.

The idea of the power of the divine is an extremely ancient idea, as old as humanity itself. It is equally obvious that the minds of men all over the world have, since extremely ancient times, turned towards forms of animism, religions of immanence or even religions of ecstasy and transcendent trance, long before being able to speculate and refine « theological » questions such as the formal opposition between « polytheism » and « monotheism ».

Brains and cultures, minds and languages, were not yet mature.

Animism, shamanism, polytheism, monotheism, and the religions of the immanence try to designate what cannot be said. In the high period, the time of human dawn, all these religions in -isms obviously came together in a single intuition, a single vision: the absolute weakness of man, the irremediable fleetingness of his life, and the infinite greatness and power of the unknown.

Feeling, guessing, fearing, worshipping, revering, this power was one and multiple. Innumerable names throughout the world have tried to express this power, without ever reaching its intrinsic unity.

This is why the assertion of the monotheisms that « God is One » is both a door that has been open for millions of years and at the same time, in a certain way, is also a saying that closes our understanding of the very nature of the « mystery », our understanding of how this « mystery » has taken root in the heart of the human soul, since Homo knew himself to be a sapiens

In the 17th century, Ralph Cudworth was already tackling the « great prejudice » that all primitive and ancient religions had been polytheistic, and that only « a small, insignificant handful of Jews »i had developed the idea of a single God.

A « small insignificant handful of Jews »? Compared to the Nations, number is not always the best indicator. Another way to put the question is: was the idea of the One God invented by the Jews? If so, when and why? If not, who invented it, and for how long was it there around the world?

If we analyse the available sources, it would seem that this idea appeared very early among the nations, perhaps even before the so-called « historical » times. But it must be recognized that the Jews brought the idea to its incandescence, and above all that they « published » it, and « democratized » it, making it the essential idea of their people. Elsewhere, and for millennia, the idea was present, but reserved in a way to an elite.

Greek polytheism, the Sibylline oracles, Zoroastrianism, the Chaldean religion, Orphism, all these « ancient » religions distinguished a radical difference between multiple born and mortal gods, and a Single God, not created and existing by Himself. The Orphic cabal had a great secret, a mystery reserved for the initiated, namely: « God is the Whole ».

Cudworth deduced from the testimonies of Clement of Alexandria, Plutarch, Iamblichus, Horapollo, or Damascius, that it was indisputably clear that Orpheus and all the other Greek pagans knew a single universal deity who was « the One », and « the Whole ». But this knowledge was secret, reserved for the initiated.

Clement of Alexandria wrote that « All the barbarian and Greek theologians had kept the principles of reality secret and had only transmitted the truth in the form of enigmas, symbols, allegories, metaphors and other tropes and similar figures. « ii And Clement made a comparison between the Egyptians and the Hebrews in this respect: « The Egyptians represented the truly secret Logos, which they kept deep in the sanctuary of truth, by what they called ‘Adyta’, and the Hebrews by the curtain in the Temple. As far as concealment is concerned, the secrets of the Hebrews and those of the Egyptians are very similar.”iii

Hieroglyphics (as sacred writing) and allegories (the meaning of symbols and images) were used to transmit the secret arcana of the Egyptian religion to those who were worthy of it, to the most qualified priests and to those chosen to succeed the king.

The « hieroglyphic science » was entirely responsible for expressing the mysteries of theology and religion in such a way that they remained hidden from the profane crowd. The highest of these mysteries was that of the revelation of « the One and Universal Divinity, the Creator of the whole world, » Cudworth added.

Plutarch noted several times in his famous work, On Isis and Osiris, that the Egyptians called their supreme God « the First God » and considered him a « dark and hidden God ».

Cudworth points out that Horapollo tells us that the Egyptians knew a Pantokrator (Universal Sovereign) and a Kosmokrator (Cosmic Sovereign), and that the Egyptian notion of ‘God’ referred to a « spirit that spreads throughout the world, and penetrates into all things to the deepest depths.

The « divine Iamblichus » made similar analyses in his De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum.

Finally, Damascius, in his Treatise on First Principles, wrote that the Egyptian philosophers said that there is a single principle of all things, which is revered under the name of ‘invisible darkness’. This « invisible darkness » is an allegory of this supreme deity, namely that it is inconceivable.

This supreme deity has the name « Ammon », which means « that which is hidden », as explained by Manetho of Sebennytos.

Cudworth, to whom we owe this compilation of quotations, deduced that « among the Egyptians, Ammon was not only the name of the supreme Deity, but also the name of the hidden, invisible and corporeal Deity ».

Cudworth concludes that long before Moses, himself of Egyptian culture, and brought up in the knowledge of ‘Egyptian wisdom’, the Egyptians were already worshipping a Supreme God, conceived as invisible, hidden, outside the world and independent of it.

The One (to Hen, in Greek) is the invisible origin of all things and he manifests himself, or rather « hides » himself in the Whole (to Pan, in Greek).

The same anthropological descent towards the mysterious depths of belief can be undertaken systematically, notably with the oldest texts we have, those of Zend Avesta, the Vedas and their commentaries on Upaniṣad.

« Beyond the senses is the mind, higher than the mind is the essence, above the essence is the great Self, higher than the great [Self] is the unmanifested.

But beyond the unmanifested is Man, the Puruṣa, passing through all and without sign in truth. By knowing Him, the human being is liberated and attains immortality.

His form does not exist to be seen, no one can see it through the eye. Through the heart, through the intelligence, through the mind He is apprehended – those who know Him become immortal. (…)

Not even by speech, not even by the mind can He be reached, not even by the eye. How can He be perceived other than by saying: « He is »?

And by saying « He is » (in Sanskrit asti), He can be perceived in two ways according to His true nature. And by saying « He is », for the one who perceives Him, His true nature is established.

When all the desires established in one’s heart are liberated, then the mortal becomes immortal, he reaches here the Brahman.”iv

The Zohar also affirms: « The Holy One blessed be He has a hidden aspect and a revealed aspect. »

Aren’t these not « two ways » of perceiving the true nature of « He is »? Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhyn affirms: « The essence of the En-Sof (Infinite) is hidden more than any secret; it must not be named by any name, not even the Tetragrammaton, not even the end of the smallest letter, the Yod.” v

So what do all these names of God mean in the purest monotheism?

« R. ‘Abba bar Mamel says: The Holy One blessed be He says to Moshe: Do you want to know my Name? I name Myself after my deeds. Sometimes my name is El Shadday, Tsebaoth, Elohim, YHVY. When I judge creatures my name is Elohim, when I fight the wicked I am called Tsebaoth, when I suspend the faults of men I am El Shadday and when I take pity on the worlds I am YHVH. This Name is the attribute of mercy, as it is said: « YHVY, YHVH, merciful and compassionate God » (Ex. 34:6). Likewise: ‘Ehyeh, asher ‘Ehyeh (I am who I am) (Ex. 3:14) – I name myself after my deeds.”vi

These are very wise words, which invite us to ask ourselves what was the name of YHVH, 800,000 years ago, at Chou Kou Tien, when He saw the sorrow of these men and women, a small group of Homo sapiens in affliction and grief, assembled at the bottom of a cave.

iRalph Cudworth, True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678), quoted in Jan Assmann, Moïse l’Égyptien, 2001, p.138

iiClement of Alexandria, Stromata V, ch. 4, 21,4

iiiClement of Alexandria, Stromata V, ch.3, 19,3 and Stromata V, ch.6, 41,2

ivKaha-upaniad 2.3. 7-9 and 12-14. Upaniad. My translation into English from the French Translation by Alyette Degrâces. Fayard. 2014. p. 390-391

vRabbi Hayyim de Volozhyn. L’âme de la vie. 2ème Portique, ch. 2. Trad. Benjamin Gross. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1986, p.74

viIbid. 2ème Portique, ch. 3, p. 75.

The Metaphors of Monotheism in India, Israel and the West

The philosopher must travel among the nations, following the example of Pythagoras.

« Pythagoras went to Babylon, Egypt, all over Persia, learning from the Magi and priests; it is reported that he also got along with the Brahmins. »i

No people, no culture, no religion has a monopoly on knowledge. Under the appearance of their multiplicities, we must seek a deeper, original unity.

In the Vedas, Agni is « God of Fire ». Fire is an image. It’s only one of his names. Agni is the Divine in many other aspects, which its names designate: « Agni, you are Indra, the dispenser of good; you are the adorable Viṣṇu, praised by many; you are Brahmānaspati… you are all wisdom. Agni you are the royal Varuṇa, observer of the sacred vows, you are the adorable Mitra, the destroyer. »

Agni embodies the infinite multiplicity and profound unity of the Divine. Agni is in the same time innumerable, and the only God.

The religion of the Vedas has the appearance of a polytheism, through the myriadic accumulation of God’s names. But it is also a monotheism in its essential intuition.

The Vedas sing, chant, invoke and cry out the Divine, – in all its forms. This Divine is always Word, – in all its forms. « By the Song and beside it, he produces the Cry; by the Cry, the Hymn; by means of the triple invocation, the Word. »ii

Agni is the divine Fire, which illuminates, it is also the libation of the Soma, which crackles. He is one, and the other, and their union. Through Sacrifice, Fire and Soma unite. Fire and Soma contribute to their union, this union of which Agni is the divine name.

The same questions are still running through humanity.

« Where is the breath, the blood, the breath of the earth? Who went to ask who knows? « asks Ṛg Veda.iii

Later, and further west, the Lord asked Job: « Where were you when I founded the earth? Speak if your knowledge is enlightened. Who set the measures, would you know, or who stretched the line on her? (…) Tell us, if you know all this. On which side does the light dwell, and where does the darkness dwell? » iv

There is an instinctive familiarity, a brotherhood of tone, an intuitive resemblance, between a thousand years apart.

The ancient Hebrews, dedicated to the intuition of the One, also sought and celebrated His various names. Is this not analogy with the multiple names and Vedic attributes of the Divinity, whose essence is unique?

When God « shouts » three times his name to Moses’ address « YHVH, YHVH, EL » (יְהוָה יְהוָה, אֵל), there is one God who pronounces a triple Name. Three screams for three names. What does the first YHVH say? What does the second YHVH mean? What does the third name, EL, express?

Christianity will respond a thousand years after Moses to these questions with other metaphors (the Father, the Son, the Spirit).

A thousand years before Moses, verses from Ṛg Veda already evoked the three divine names of a single God: « Three Hairy shines in turn: one sows itself in the Saṃvatsara; one considers the Whole by means of the Powers; and another one sees the crossing, but not the color. »v

The three « Hairy » are in fact the only God, Agni, whose hair is of

The first « Hairy » is sown in the Soma, as a primordial, unborn germ. The second « Hairy » considers the Whole thanks to the Soma, which contains the powers and forces. The third « Hairy » is the dark being of Agni (the Agni « aja », – « unborn »), a darkness that God « passes through » when he passes from the dark to the bright, from night to light.

For the poet’s eye and ear, this ‘triplicity’ is not a coincidence. Millennia pass, ideas remain. Agni spreads the fire of his bushy and shiny « hair » three times, to signify his creative power, wisdom and revelation. From the burning bush, Yahweh shouts his three names to Moses to make sure he is heard.

The figure of a God « one » who shows Himself as a « three », seems to be an anthropological constant. The same strange, contradictory and fundamental metaphor links Aryan and Vedic India, Semitic and Jewish Israel, and Greek-Latin and Christian West.

iEusèbe de Césarée. Préparation évangélique, 4,15

iiṚg Veda I, 164,24.

iiiṚg Veda I, 164,4.

ivJob, 38, 4-19

vṚg Veda I, 164,44.

viOne of the attributes of Apollo, Xantokomès (Ξανθόκομης), also makes him a God« with « fire-red hair »