Plato,Aristotle and other 'foreign imports'

Discussion in '2004 Archive' started by Matt Black, Aug 6, 2004.

  1. Matt Black

    Matt Black
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    ISTM that Greek philosophy has had a profound influence on Christendom right from the start. In some respects, that is no suprise and not necessarily a Bad Thing (TM); Paul addressed his Letters to a Greek Gentile world imbued with Classical philosophy. But to what extent I wonder is church history littered with perhaps more pervasive examples of Greek influence and to what extent is that a Good Thing (TM)? Let's consider some of the evidence:-

    The main philosophies influencing the church,as I see it, are Platonic dualism imported by the Early Church Fathers, particularly the Greeks/ Alexandrian School plus of course Augustine, and Aristotelianism imported by Thomas Aquinas into the medieval church (Thomism)

    If I have understood correctly Plato divides the cosmos into two parts; the visible and invisible. The visible is transitory, the invisible consistent. The visible is merely a shadow of the invisible reality, and any visible thing such as a cup, but also concepts and attitudes as vested in visible people participate in an abstract reality which we can only concieve of intellectually. These abstract.. invisible realities are normally termed as 'forms'.

    Augustine, as I understand it, was pretty open about creating a Christianity-Platonism fusion. While this may not have been all negative, one effect was to import into Christianity a dualism that has dogged us ever since. The body-soul dualism, for example, led to the idea of soul=good, body=bad, and the connected idea that anything bodily was somehow wrong. (Augustine had big personal problems with sex, BTW.) This distrust of bodies created the Catholic paranoia re sex, IMO. We also have Augustine (Plato?!) to thank for the doctrine of Original Sin (or, if you prefer, Total Depravity) and the polarisation between Calvinism and Arminianism (determinism vs free will)

    The other-worldliness of Platonic philosophy made him very popular amongst other early Christian theologians who took many of his ideas and made them part of the structure of Church doctrine. This goes a long way to explaining, I suppose, the high value that the Catholic Church has given to celebacy for most of its history. But a key plank in NT teaching is that Christ became fully man and fully God, with a body, his resurrection physical. Do we see a Platonic influence here, but with the Gospels saying 'yes, but as everything in creation is to be redeemed that includes the physical also', and this raises everything rather than simply the bloodless intellect heavenwards?

    Moving on to Aristotle, I would suggest that the difference of opinion between Plato and Aristotle about the nature of Creation has informed the whole debate between the exoteric and esoteric Christian churches.

    The Aristotelian model was adopted by the exoteric church, because Aristotle's perception of Creation was that it was fundamentally "good", in contradistinction to Plato's 'matter=bad'. This viewpoint was supported by the canon of scripture, wherein God saw His work to be "good". Aristotle's exhaustive inquiry into practically every aspect of human and natural philosophy made him a polymath for the ages, most especially for the church coming out of the dark ages into the Renaissance.

    The Platonic model was arguably an exegesis of a Gnostic worldview, where Creation is viewed through the lens of duality-perception, and found to be flawed because of the light and dark that appears to be inextricably entwined in all experience and nature. The exoteric church could not reconcile the scripture with a worldview that saw God's handiwork as imperfect, but esoteric, Gnostic Christian ideas could not be totally eradicated either.

    Thoughts?

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  2. Dr. Bob

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    No. We don't have Aristotle to thank for Original Sin and the reformed principle of total inability. We have Adam to thank.

    Gnosticism and its touchy-feely counterfeits (the charismatics) today have little in common with Greek philosophy. Greek and Roman logic, absolutism, linguistic precision, etc are a boon to us today.

    I can read the Greek NT and know that it was written with a Greek presupposition that is much more exact and easy to grasp than other languages and cultures allow.

    And in many ways Christianity is a dualism of good/evil. I don't think Plato was far from the truth. I see the problem in Neo-platonism of the middle ages (as do you with Aquinas and Augustine) and its effects of replacing the Aritotelian "logic" and "absolutes", with a Kierkegaardian mystical leap of faith.
     
  3. wopik

    wopik
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    Matt Black

    Are you saying that thanks to Plato and Greek philosophy we have many church doctrines that did not have their origins with Jesus and His original Apostles and Disciples ?

    Let's hope Matt Black is still around, for this is a very interesting and relevant topic.
     
  4. Matt Black

    Matt Black
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    Thanks, wopik!

    I agree with Dr Bob that there is no problem with dualism per se when we are talking about God vs Satan, good vs evil etc - Christianity is of course dualist rather than monist; the problem I have with Augustine is his extension of that into every sphere of life. Hence we have the mystery of salvation couched in absolute opposites of determinism vs free will, the artificial division between sacred and secular, matter and spirit (both of which spawned the rise of monsaticism in Catholicism and Orthodoxy).

    I suppose my problem is less with Plato (there is evidence that he was aware of Jewish theology and perhaps that his dualism in part at least came from that) than with the intermediate extreme dualist filter and distortion of Manichaeism (which we know DID heavily influence Augustine and Jerome), plus neo-Aristotelianism/ Thomism which gave us such heresies as the 'Real Presence'

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  5. wopik

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    The popular Christian state religion was described by one of the greatest Latin Fathers of the Roman Church, Augustine (A.D. 345):

    "That which is now called the Christian religion was not wanting among the ancients from the beginning of the human race, until Christ came in the flesh, after which time the true religion, which already existed, began to be called 'Christian'."

    He later retracted these words, but Augustine was fully aware of the antiquity of the teachings absorbed by the Roman Church which was now called Christian. -- The Decoded NT, 1974 edition.


    Sunday and December 25 were absorbed from Mythraism; Black Friday and Easter Sunday came from the Attis/Cybel cult.
     
  6. dean198

    dean198
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    Matt, Dr Bob, anyone -
    Could any of you give me a concise definition of some of these terms please??!!??:

    Aristotelianism


    Thomism

    Platonic philosophy

    Neo-platonism

    Kierkegaardian

    I hear of these concepts alot, but it is hard to get a good definition.
     
  7. Charles Meadows

    Charles Meadows
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    Dean,

    Wow!!!!

    One could write hundreds of pages about each of them!!

    I'll try to give a sentence (or so) nutshell of each.

    Plato posited that there were perfect "forms" which existed - things existing on earth were but copies of these. As such there was a dualism between the perfect forms and the imperfect earthly matter.

    Neoplatonism properly refers to a philosophy advanced by Plotinus in the early church years. He saw a perfect "One" from which all things emanated. This one was the root of good and evil things, forms and matter. This term has at times been liberalized to include platonic ideas imported into other systems.

    Thomism refers to the teachings of Thomas Aquinas. He stated that philosophy seeks truth via logic and reason and theology seeks truth via revelation from God. Aquinas felt that the two were quite compatible.

    Aristotle was a pupil of Plato. He sought representations of the "forms" on earth but concluded that they could not be found. The forms as such were merely mental constructs which did not exist in any other medium than the human mind. Aristotle saw a dualism between the heavenly and the earthly - not between the conceptual and the material (as did Plato).

    Kierkegaard was a melancholy Danish philospoher. He was so convinced that he had earned God's wrath that he was suprised that he was able to live longer than Jesus did on earth (although he only lived to be 42). He stated that religious experience and belief were, by their nature, not subject to objective inquiry and were as such not per se provable or disprovable.

    Hope that helps.
     
  8. dean198

    dean198
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    Great! Thank you!
    This all raises a few more questions [​IMG]

    How did Thomas Aquinas bring in the ideas of Aristotle, what influenced the church before Thomas (Plato?), and how did the change effect things? How did it result in transubstantiation?

    How did Neo-Platonsim effect Augustine and the Church? I can see how Plato effected the view of the body etc.


    Crazy questions I know, but I really want to try to grasp this stuff!
     
  9. Matt Black

    Matt Black
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    Neo-Platonism was (IMO) imported via the Manicheeism of Augustine and others into the church. Manicheeism was a form of dualism that basically said that matter was evil but spirit was good. This influenced the church profoundly eg: monasticism and eremeticism (withdrawal from an evil material world to contemplate the spiritual alone), division between sacred and secular ('holy days', 'holy things', clergy and laity), denial of the body (fasting to extremes, flagellation, asceticism), fear of sex as being unclean (celibacy of the clergy) and so on.

    Aristotle's thought influenced the church via Aquinas to produce the Real Presence doctrine thus: Aquinas stated that the Aristotle's dualism between the heavenly and the earthly meant that matter could exist both materially and spiritually and that there was a fundamental differene in 'nature' between the two. EG: a living sheep was truly a sheep, animated by its spirit, a dead sheep was merely a collection of wool, bones and flesh and was consequently no sheep at all even though it was materially constituted identically to a living sheep. Similarly the bread and wine before consecration by one of the aforementioned celibate holy priests were just bread and wine, but when the words of consecration were spoken and the elements animated by the Holy Spirit they became something very different - the Body and Blood of the Lord - even though materially nothing had changed.

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  10. dean198

    dean198
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    head spinning concepts indeed. Thanks for the clarification.

    Dean

    ps I hope England is doing well....I am a native myself.
     
  11. preachinjesus

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    One must wonder that in the vast pantheon of Greek philosophy why Christianity seemed have "appropriated" only a handful of their philosophers and not others.
     
  12. SaggyWoman

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    The only thing I really know is that I don't know anything.

    Except that Christ died for this filthy rag life.
     
  13. Matt Black

    Matt Black
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    Do you mean the Olympics? Not so well.... :(

    Whereabouts are you from?

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  14. Daniel Dunivan

    Daniel Dunivan
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    Hello Matt,

    I think that you are very right that Neo-Platonism and Aristotelianism impacted the development of doctrines within the church over the centuries. However, I think that you have oversimplified the process. Neo-platonism was well established in the church many years before Augustine ever arrived. He is not to blaim, but his thought is a reflection of the direction that the church had been going for centuries. It can (and has by many) be argued that Paul's theology is affected by Platonic thought from the start over against the thought of a more Palestinian Christianity (and Judaism) which did not really emphasize dualism (notice the paucity of heaven/hell or God/devil passages in the OT vs. the NT).

    The statements about Plato getting his philosophical teachings from Jewish theology is a claim as old as Christian apologetics. Justin Martyr (a very Platonic thinker 200+ years before Augustine) even tried to claim that in the 4th century. Historically speaking we have no reason to believe that this is true or that these ancient persons said these things on the basis of anything more than it sounded good for their arguement.

    The thought of Aristotle was important even in the years prior to Aquinas (please note: the Middle Ages are not entirely constituted by Aquinas--for the most part they are more Neo-Platonic than Aristotelian). Boethius, an early church philosopher/theologian, was very influenced by Aristotle. However, when the full works of Aristotle were "rediscovered" during the years just prior to Aquinas, they became the in-fashion way of approaching reality. The Catholic Church's history with Thomism is much too complex to discuss here, but it should be noted that transubstantiation was not really created by Aquinas, but the basic elements of it existed for a millenia before him. Aquinas simply provided the Aristotelian terms to more exactly explain it.

    I think I just muddied the waters, but the way this discussion was going things were too simplistic--so maybe a little cloudiness isn't so bad. It is my opinion that these issues are so intertwined with our history and the doctrines that we have historically believed that we cannot pick apart what is "truly Christian" from what is philosphical speculation, thus a quick division of where the "theology of the church" ends and where the philsophy of the pagans begins is hard pressed.

    Grace and Peace, Danny [​IMG]
     
  15. dean198

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    Hi Matt, I used to live in Dunstable and in London. Been in the United States for nearly four years now.
     

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