“Platonic”

13 05 2009

platonic

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Found thanks to the wedgewords blog

I just thought this too funny not to post. “Platonic” is thrown around as an overused epithet in Christian circles . Gilson thought it akin to saying that your mother wears combat boots. Many Orthodox theologians are scared to death that any ideas of the Fathers of the Church might be contaminated by the “Platonic plague”. Any hint of liking Plotinus or Proclus is akin to denying the Trinity, affirming the transmigration of souls, and embracing the idea that all things emanated from the One, having descended in the cosmic cataclysm of falling into matter. Most of these people take these Platonic myths more seriously than the Platonists.

Indeed, maybe these people fear the inautheticity of their own thinking, in the spirit of all Western thought being, according to Whitehead, footnotes to Plato. Maybe what they fear in Platonic thought is not the “lack of clarity” or the “etherealness” of the Platonic school, but rather the radical idea of Otherness that intrudes into the daily lives of men. If this world is merely a play of shadows in a larger game of spiritual ideas, nothing for them would matter. But that is when things precisely begin to matter. Only in glimmers of the immaterial beauty do we find any meaning in this life. The beauty of form is not something bound to matter, but something trying to escape it. The Incarnation is not the proclamation of the sanctity of material, but of its inadequacy. A Platonist is no more a Manichean than a surgeon is a butcher. The latter cuts into something already dead, the former tries to salvage life from the jaws of death.

In the Incarnation, again, we find another term that is remarkably abused. I am thinking most of all in the idea that Catholicism is an “incarnational” religion, whereas Protestantism isn’t. This may have been a compelling idea fifty years ago during Holy Week in the highlands of Guatemala, but today it is merely a quaint anachronism. Anyone who has seen some of the hideous churches and banal services of the contemporary Catholic Church would think twice in applying the “incarnational” label to the Roman confession. On the other hand, what is so “anti-incarnational” in the black Pentecostal churches and snake-handlers of Appalachia? The religion of African-American Protestants has been quite incarnational in its respect for the movement of the body, music, and Scriptural language. But if we really wanted an “incarnational Christianity”, our best bet is to become Mormon: their prophet gets his orders directly from J.C. himself, and they think family is literally forever.

The only anti-incarnational religion I see around me is an American religion that calls itself Christian, and it crosses various confessional lines.

So much for the usefulness of labels…


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8 responses

15 05 2009
Leah

Arturo,

Have you ever heard of “Heaven Bound”? It’s a famous black folk play that is put on annually at Big Bethel Church AME Church in Atlanta. According to the New Georgia Encylopedia, the plot is as follows,

“Performed in pantomime, the play depicts the conflict between the pilgrims and Satan, who is the main character. Each pilgrim, singing a hymn or spiritual appropriate to the character and the struggle being portrayed, symbolizes one of life’s predicaments or a Christian virtue such as Faith, Hope, or Determination. A beguiling Satan waylays the pilgrims and raises the tension between good and evil. The last pilgrim, a “Soldier in the Army of the Lord,” kills Satan in a heated clash, bringing the play to a climactic end….The “heaven” of this play was the heaven of America’s slaves, not the one that figured in Europe’s medieval morality plays or John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. This distinction was critical to the message and promise of Heaven Bound. ”

http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-554

Big Bethel is also noteworthy for the fact that the top of its steeple is crowned by a blue neon sign that reads, “Jesus Saves” that is so large that it can be viewed from the highway.

15 05 2009
Andrea Elizabeth

Yes, but some Orthodox are less adamant about it. I was just trying to provide some contrast.

15 05 2009
Visibilium

AE, we’re anti-Plato, according to Photios. Whew.

15 05 2009
Andrea Elizabeth

“If this world is merely a play of shadows in a larger game of spiritual ideas, nothing for them would matter. But that is when things precisely begin to matter. Only in glimmers of the immaterial beauty do we find any meaning in this life. The beauty of form is not something bound to matter, but something trying to escape it.”

This just feels too distancing to me. I prefer the language of Chalcedon in describing the relationship between the material and spiritual, “The union of the two natures is unmixed and unchanged; undivided and inseparable.”

I haven’t looked for the idea of forms in St. Paul.

14 05 2009
Visibilium

Wonderworking is always a safe incarnational bet. The only question is what’s being incarnated.

13 05 2009
Alice C. Linsley

The Fathers of the church lumped Plato’s thought with all Greek philosophy and wanted to distance Christianity from philosophical speculation. St. Paul, however, saw value in platonism. He evidently found Plato’s eternal Forms a helpful way of explaining many verities.

The implications of Plato for Westerners today is such that most don’t want to go there. They would prefer to live and die with their empirical delusions.

13 05 2009
Lucian

My! How Platonic of You to say this! That again, I always had a Platonic relationship with this blog, so … it doesn’t really disturb me.

13 05 2009
Davis

very insightful post — thanks

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