Saturday, April 30, 2016

Plato and Christianity

Quoting CMI:*

However, there are also important differences. For instance, Christianity is a form of monotheism—the belief that there is one supreme being who is the beneficent source and sovereign of all things. While Plato certainly believed in some sort of ultimate beneficent reality, so that many of his ideas are easily conformable to monotheism, he’s not really clear on the precise nature of that ultimate reality. He had two notions that he never really systematized into a single coherent worldview—his Form of the Good, and his Demiurge. The Form of the Good was the ultimate form for Plato, from which every other form derived its goodness, but it was impersonal. The Demiurge was the ‘craftsman’ who gave shape to the material universe by moulding the matter (which Plato believed to be eternal, which the Bible rejects) after the pattern of the forms. However, his Demiurge was in a real sense ‘subordinate’ to the realm of the forms. Later thinkers identified Plato’s form of the Good with God, and located the other forms in His mind as divine ideas (many early church fathers were champions of this modification of Plato), and others identified the Form of the Good with the ultimate good god, and the Demiurge with a bad, subordinate god who made the physical universe (as the ultimate good god wouldn’t sully himself by using or creating matter)—this was Gnosticism.

Moreover, Plato believed that souls are indestructible, which the New Testament rejects. We are God’s creatures, soul and body, and God has the power to annihilate our souls.

In Timaeus**, the Demiurge need not have been as subordinate as is here thought.

Some writers have said that in Timaeus Moses was retelling Genesis in Greek.

It is noteworthy that, though Gnostics were rejected as a very vile heresy, Christian thinkers did not blame Plato for the Gnostics.

Rather, in Boethius, the "house of Wisdom" includes Plato and Aristotle, has Stoics just outside the door and has Epicureans very far off.

And Boethius was of course a Catholic Christian, suspected by the Arian and Gothic King (Theoderic the Great) of not quite sympathising with his all tolerant state, and therefore executed by the said. He wrote De Consolatione Philosophiae while waiting for execution in prison.

I think St Paul is very likely to have agreed.

Plato and Aristotle by philosophy had discovered monotheism so to speak independently of Hebrews. Therefore they were without excuse for nevertheless bowing down to spirits they knew to be inferior to the one God. (Romans 1). On the other hand, Epicureans believed in a world view where everything is definable in terms of the atoms making it up - the stoicheia, elements "of the world" (Colossians 2:8). Hence St Paul warns us not to be deceived by that kind of philosophy. This view being the traditional one, the opposite view, St Paul warning against not the personal example of Plato and Aristotle as idolaters despite philosophic monotheism, but against their philosophy, was defended by an as yet still Christian (Protestant) student who made a thesis in philophy. Karl Marx, whose later very much further errors are known and abhorred by Christians was already then friendly to the Materialism which he later made totally his own.

That said, Plato was only an independent witness to monotheism, not the origin of Jewish and Christian such.

On the final point of the quote:

Has God the power to destroy our souls? Yes, He has called them from nothingness into being, from no material, and He has the power to destroy, if He would have wanted to.

Are souls indestructible? Yes, in the sense that no reality less than God has the power to annihilate a soul. So, Plato was right.

He was however wrong in believing in transmigration of souls. So are some Jews to this day.

If Plato was wrong anywhere in Timaeus, it was in coordinating Ananke with the Demiurge as co-producer of Universe - but since I have not read the dialogue, I am not sure this is meant in a worse sense than when C. S. Lewis said "if God decides to create beings having free will, it is necessary that it involves the freedom of putting self before God or before other created selves, i e the freedom of going wrong."

Hans Georg Lundahl
Cergy St Christophe
St Catherine of Siena

* CMI : Plato and Christianity
Published: 30 April 2016

** Which as yet I have not read myself.

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