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August 20, 2009



I love this depiction--the best thing I've seen on it--but it does leave out some of the keys to Plato's illustration.

As I read the Republic, I see Plato's primary point being that you can't reason your way out of the cave. At some point, reason fails us and we must wait to be illumined by some act of grace whereby God must shine the very light that enlightens the eyes. The video didn't express this crucial point, but Paul certainly does in 2 Cor. 4:6. The light that emanates from the sun (God) is love. The manifest love of God creates a receptive love in our hearts. But the happy surprise to the Platonists is that the word they are waiting for actually becomes flesh in Jesus (John 1 seems to be so purposeful in setting this up).

But on top of that, Plato speaks of the forms being reflected in this realm as images. So love, beauty, the good, justice and so on are expressed in this realm by images of love, beauty, goodness, justice and so on. And these most profoundly by the perfectly just man, who if he were to exist, would surely be martyred (as was Socrates). Bearing that in mind, remember Paul: "[Jesus] is the image (!) of the invisible God." And he is the perfectly just Man that Plato forespoke.

While Augustine is known for integrating Platonism and Christianity, I am much more interested in the Alexandrian school, including Origen and Clement. Unlike Augustine, I think their first agenda in engaging with Plato was the same as Paul's: evangelism. I.e. demonstrating that just as Israel's prophets foresaw Christ and prepared the way for him, so too the Philosophers (and esp. Plato) were forerunners whom God had sent to ripen the Greeks for the Gospel message. Plato was Athen's John the Baptist.

One stumbling point for readers comes when Plato's translators use the words 'intelligence' or 'intelligible' to describe the soul's capacity for and openness to divine love. Very distant meaning from our modern associations with intelligence and intellectuals.

One thing that you're noting, I think (?), is that if you just Christianize Platonism, you'll wind up with something rather gnostic (as history revealed). But a Platonism that is fulfilled in Incarnation works well in my opinion. For the Platonist who can accept that the Word became flesh and dwelled among us, . . . well, there's something marvelous there.

The other thing to note is that the one who has truly "come into the light" will be compelled by love to return to the cave as messengers of love. The cave analogy shows us why so many beautiful people bearing good news were martyred by those sitting in darkness. But they carry a word of light, love and justice. They are socially engaged and in that sense, hardly to be thought of as gnostics. My opinion is that the gnostics were somewhat like those that Plato condemned as 'intellectuals' (those who thought not to return to the cave, thus revealing the deficiency of their enlightenment).

I'm still just working all this through. On a little side note, I think Aristotle gets a bad rap as being some kind of father of rationalism. Though he developed our foundational understanding of the laws of logic, it appears to me that he also saw their limit and attended to pursuing revelation in his two years in Delphi, where he studied the oracles. Much to double-check here, but I'm working it.


Brian Zahnd

Wow! Really makes Plato's allegory come to life!

I've long been fascinated by Plato's allegory of the cave, but I also have conflicting opinions about it.

As a Christian I believe there is a world beyond the fallen world order of lust, greed and pride -- the things that run "the world" as it is (Babylon). And in that sense I like Plato's allegory. Life outside the Matrix -- take the red pill, etc.


In Plato's mind was the world outside the cave the "heavenly" or "spiritual" realm of "perfect forms"?

Thus the dispute between Plato and Aristotle on where reality lies.


In the famous "School of Athens" painting by Raphael, Plato is on the left and Aristotle is on the right and they are discussing this very subject. Their gestures indicate their respective opinions.

For what it's worth, I'm more with Aristotle on this.

Or to choose among theologians instead of philosophers, I'm more with Aquinas than Augustine in this.



imagination is a beautifully inspired gift.
what an endless well of treasure.

thanks for the effort

thanks for the post

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