“Platonic”

13 05 2009

platonic

Image source

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…