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(lō`gŏs) [Gr.,=word], in Greek and Hebrew metaphysics, the unifying principle of the world. The central idea of the Logos is that it links God and man, hence any system in which the Logos plays a part is monistic. The Greek HeraclitusHeraclitus
, c.535–c.475 B.C., Greek philosopher of Ephesus, of noble birth. According to Heraclitus, there was no permanent reality except the reality of change; permanence was an illusion of the senses.
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 held (c.500 B.C.) that the world is animated and kept in order by fire—this fire is the Logos; it is the power of order in the world and the order itself. It thus became the unifying feature of the Heraclitean system. The Stoics (see StoicismStoicism
, school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium (in Cyprus) c.300 B.C. The first Stoics were so called because they met in the Stoa Poecile [Gr.,=painted porch], at Athens, a colonnade near the Agora, to hear their master Zeno lecture.
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) were influenced in part by Platonism and Aristotelianism in their conception of the Logos. To them God was immanent in the world, its vitalizing force, and God as the law guiding the universe they called Logos; with the additional idea that all things develop from this force, it is called the Spermaticos Logos. The Logos reappears in Greek philosophy in a much restricted form in the system of emanations of NeoplatonismNeoplatonism
, ancient mystical philosophy based on the doctrines of Plato. Plotinus and the Nature of Neoplatonism

Considered the last of the great pagan philosophies, it was developed by Plotinus (3d cent. A.D.).
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. Certain books of the Old Testament present a principle called the Wisdom of God active in the world. At the same time there was a very ancient Hebrew idea of the Word of God, also active in the world. Thus the Wisdom and the Word of God, sometimes quasi-distinct from Him, coalesced. PhiloPhilo
or Philo Judaeus
[Lat.,=Philo the Jew], c.20 B.C.–c.A.D. 50, Alexandrian Jewish philosopher. His writings have had an enormous influence on both Jewish and Christian thought, and particularly upon the Alexandrian theologians Clement and Origen.
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, in his synthesis of Judaism and Greek thought, naturally hit upon the Logos as a union between the systems; hence his Logos retains qualities both of the Stoic Logos and the Hebrew Word of God. Philo's God is remote, unaffected by the world, without attributes, unmoving; hence He must have mediation to connect Him with the world. At times Philo's Logos is independent of God (because of God's remoteness); at other times the Logos is simply the Reason of God (because Philo's monism obliges God to act in the world through His mediating forces). St. John in his Gospel adapted the term to his purpose. In the prologue of 14 verses the idea of the Gospel is stated clearly and simply. The Logos, which is the eternal God, took flesh and became man, in time. The Logos is Jesus. The impersonal, remote God of Philo is not there; the intermediate Logos, neither God nor man, has been replaced by a Logos that is both God and man. This explanation of the relation of God and man became an abiding feature of Christian thought.


See W. J. Ong, Presence of the Word (1967).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a term in ancient Greek philosophy signifying both “word” (“sentence,” “statement,” or “speech”) and “meaning” (“concept,” “proposition,” or “foundation”). “Word” is not to be understood as sound perceived by the senses, but exclusively in its meaningful aspect. On the other hand, meaning is felt as something revealed, shaped, and therefore “word-like.” From everyday language the concept of Logos acquired the sense of precise numerical relation: of “counting” and hence of “accounting” (logon didonai, “to render an account”). Logos is both the objectively given content, of which the mind must “render an account,” and the “accounting” activity of the mind itself, and, finally, the all-encompassing, meaningful orderedness of being and consciousness. Logos is the antithesis of everything that is unaccountable and nonverbal, unresponsive and irresponsible, and senseless and formless in the world and in man.

Heraclitus was the first to use the word logos as a philosophical term. Making use of the term’s superficial identity with the everyday name for human “word,” Heraclitus created an ironic paradox that served to emphasize the gulf that separates Logos, as the law of being, from human speech, falling short of it.

The cosmic Logos, as befits the word, “calls out” to people but they, even having “heard” it, are incapable of grasping and comprehending it. In the light of Logos the world is an integral whole and, therefore, harmony, but ordinary consciousness sets its individual willfulness above the “common idea” and attaches different values to the equally indispensable parts of the whole. Within this all-embracing unity “everything flows,” things and even essences flow into each other, but Logos maintains its self-identity: Logos is the rhythm of their mutual transformations and the pattern of their interrelations. Thus, Heraclitus’ vision of the world, although dynamic and catastrophic, maintains stability and harmony due to the notion of Logos. As a whole, Heraclitus’ teachings about Logos reveal a close historical and philosophical parallel to Lao-tzu’s teachings about the Tao.

For the later Greek natural philosophers, for the Sophists, and for Plato and Aristotle, Logos lost its fundamental ontological content. Only the Stoics returned to Heraclitus’ concept of a substantial cosmic Logos, describing it as the soul of the cosmos, which consists of fine matter (ether, fire), and as the totality of form-generating potentialities (logoi spermatikoi, “seminal reasons”) from which things are “conceived” in inert lower matter. The Neoplatonists inherited this concept but rejected its naturalist and materialist aspects: logoi are no longer the outflowings of very fine matter but the emanations of the intellectual universe that form and regulate the sensory world. This puts an end to the history of the ancient classic interpretation of Logos as “word,” which is substantial but not personal, and manifests form but not will.

However, by this time the concept of Logos had long been part of the teachings of Judaism and Christianity, where it was reinterpreted as the word of the personal and “living” god who with this word summoned things and called them forth out of nonbeing. Thus, for Philo Judaeus, Logos is the “image of god” and, as it were, a “second god” that mediates between the other-worldliness of god and the temporality of the world.

For Christianity, the meaning of Logos is defined by the very first words of the Gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The entire history of Christ’s earthly life is interpreted here as the incarnation and “humanization” of Logos, which brought revelation to man and was itself this revelation (“the word of life”) and the manifestation of the “invisible god.” Christian dogma affirms the substantial identity of Logos with god the father, whose “word” Logos is, and considers Logos as the second person of the trinity.

Some Russian idealist philosophers (V. F. Ern, P. A. Florenskii) used the term “Logos” to signify “integral” and “organic” knowledge, which is characterized by a balance between mind and heart, analysis and intuition.


Trubetskoi, S. N. Uchenie o logose ν ego istorii, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1906.
Losev, A. F. Istoriia antichnoi estetiki, vol. 1. Moscow, 1963.
Kelber, W. Die Logoslehre von Heraklit bis Origenes. Stuttgart, 1958.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.