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Plato’s God

How was the early church infiltrated?

Plato, the pupil of Socrates, as I’ve remarked before, had ideas that were to become almost as influential as Jesus in the development of Western Christianity. And many of these ideas came from Socrates, including perhaps his greatest (and most damaging) contribution to the world of philosophy, The Theory of Forms.

Plato and Socrates were men of ideas, but thought little of the world that surrounded them. Plato wrote about two worlds, the obvious one that we live in and a “perfect” one, somewhere else in the Universe. I suppose this would be his concept of heaven and in this heaven exists what Plato called Forms.

To understand what these are, we need to think about everything that we see around us in our world, from actual objects like chairs and diamonds, to geometric shapes like squares and triangles, to concepts like beauty and goodness. Now you must realise that, according to Plato, all of these things are just imperfect copies of perfect chairs, diamonds, squares, triangles, beauty and goodness, that exist in the other “perfect” world. These items of perfection are Plato’s Forms. Get your (imperfect) head around that, then!

Plato also believed that whereas most of us will never get to see these Forms, some of us would. These are the guardians, specially gifted and trained individuals, the philosophers of course! Plato explained all of this in his analogy of the cave.

Our lives are as prisoners deep inside a cave, where all we can see of objects are their shadows, projected on the wall by a fire. We believe that what we see is reality but we are mistaken. To see reality we have to leave the cave and see things as they really are, though most are content at just seeing the shadow shapes inside the cave.

According to Plato, the one who makes this step to leave the cave is the guardian, who is rewarded by viewing the “higher Good”, the source of all truth and reason. Here, perhaps, is a link to the Old Testament scenario of priests, prophets and kings, though there is a major difference between these kosher guardians and the ones Plato had in mind. For him, the “higher Good” is the ultimate Form, Plato’s concept of God, though not the personal God as we know Him. This “higher Good” is what we must aspire to. This “higher Good” is an eternal reality that exists in a higher realm and our physical senses are just not equipped enough to see any more than a pale reflection. Plato likens this concept to the sun in two ways. Both cause things to exist and grow and both are sources of light. As it is light which enables our eyes to have a partial sight of reality, then “the higher Good” enables our minds to have partial knowledge of what is real. So there is space for the concept of God, albeit an impersonal one, in Plato’s philosophy. Plato’s God does not answer prayers, or comfort those in distress, or teach his people or listen to the cries of the heart. Plato’s God is most assuredly not our Father in Heaven. So Plato may have got the idea from Socrates, who may have got the idea from the rabbis, but it certainly wasn’t God they were referring to in their new philosophy.

But it goes further and this is where the real damage comes from. Plato believed that there are absolute standards for such things as goodness, morality and truth, each of these existing as a perfect Form in this “second” world. He also believed in the eternal soul and that we are body and soul. He thought that these were totally separate entities, bound together temporarily during a person’s lifetime. This was the concept of the duality of man. But, to Plato, the soul was the dominant, superior entity and it is immortal, being reborn again and again in different bodies, gaining in knowledge as it does so, like the concept of re-incarnation in Eastern religions. The soul is our seat of thought and knowledge, associated with the “second” perfect world. The body interacts through the five senses with our imperfect world and, to Plato, restricts the soul from attaining its full potential. So, in his view, the soul is good and the body is bad. Everything associated with the soul is good, everything associated with the body is bad. This is his big idea and around it much of history revolved.

Thanks to the Gentile Church Fathers, dualism invaded the early Church once the original Jewish leadership had died out, taking away with them the Hebraic mindset of Jesus and all who preceded him. It was time for the pagans to run the show and although they were professed ‘new creations’ in Christ, there was enough of the old to ensure an unhealthy mix and, prominent among this was the effect of the dualism of Platonism, which had now become perhaps the dominant philosophy in the Roman world of the early Church. Here is an idea of the damage this did, summarised from my earlier book, How the Church lost The Way. But you will have to wait until next week …

This is an extract from the book, Shalom, available for £10 at https://www.sppublishing.com/shalom-239-p.asp

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