ANCIENT GREEK PHILOSOPHY AND THE FOUNDATIONS OF CHRISTIANITY No4 BY DR.ANDREW THEOPHANOUS


PLATO

In turn now to the philosophy of Plato. I cannot, within the context
within the limitations of this seminar, provide anything but a sketch of his
philosophy. I refer you to the basic elements.

We can begin with the most fundamental theory of Plato: the theory of Ideas,
known as The Forms. Like Parmenides, Plato believed that there is a Logos, a
Wisdom and understanding whivh has Divine origins. In fact. he attempted to
explain the way in which the human being understands the world using this
theory. Thus he proposed in his Theory of the Forms, a realm of eternal and
unchanging ideas. It is these Ideas or Forms which are then reflected in
the minds of individual men and women in the world. This concept of the
unchanging Ideas, which belong to a realm of reality different from the
realm of human beings, is the Divine Wisdom which ties back to the
Pythagoras’ and Parmenides ideas of Wisdom and gnosis.

These Platonic Ideas represent what we would call today “abstract concepts”
– such as the ideas of Beauty, Justice, Goodness etc. In Plato’s theory,
the human being can only grasp these Ideas in an imperfect way. When we
perceive the physical world, we do so because of the operation of these
ideas in the mind. However, the Ideas only appear to us as manifested in the
world in an imperfect way.
Only through greater philosophical understanding can we gain a contemplation
of these Ideas or Forms themselves. This process can be illustrate if we
consider how St Augustine, writing 1000 years later, explains the Idea of
the Good (which he adopted from Plato ). He describes how many things are
good in nature and in human world. For example,:
the heart of a friend whose companionship is sweet and whose love is loyal
is good; a righteous man is good; the sky with its sun, moon and stars
immune status is good; the angels by their Holy obedience are good…
But enough! This is good and that is good; take away ‘this’ and ‘that’ and
gaze if you can upon Good itself; then you will behold God… He is the
goodness of every good … so our love must rise to God as the Good itself,
not in the way we love this or that thing….And what is that Good but God? –
not the good soul, the good angel, the good heavens, but the good Good. ”

Looking again at our Schema 3, we can see that for Plato the human soul or
spirit interacts with Raw Matter; out of his process of interaction, there
arise concrete ideas about the world. But these concrete ideas are not the
true reality of the universe; they are like a shadow of the real world.
Plato explained this concept in his famous Analogy of the Cave. We can
understand the situation of human beings if we imagine a cave , in which
people are chained so that they can only perceive the wall in front of them.
Behind them there is a bright flame which creates shadows on the wall that
they see. They cannot see the flame, or behind them, or indeed their real
self. All they see is the shadows. The human being in his physical existence
is like a person trapped in the cave who perceives only the shadows. He must
use his mind and try to discern from the shadows the nature of reality.

In order to talk understand such reality, philosophical understanding and
wisdom are absolutely essential. What this wisdom consists of is in fact
the ability to extract from life experiences the fact that they are a
reflection of the fundamental Ideas or Forms, such as justice, beauty and
above all, goodness. For Plato, the purpose of philosophy, and indeed the
aim of life itself, is to concentrate the mind on this contemplation Forms
in such a way that the person can recognize the nature of the Logos and the
Divine Mind.

What then is the purpose of all this.? Plato believed that through this
philosophical understanding, we can gain a recognition of the general
metaphysical structure of the universe. Thus we come to understand that the
Logos contains the Forms. We then see that this Divine Mind has emanated
from the One, as Parmenides conceived of Him.

Turning to the actual situation of man in the world, Plato believed that
the human Soul has a free will; that it can make choices. However, as we
have seen, it can only express this will in the context of the shadows –
its physical existence is an imperfect world. There is a temptation in
these circumstances to forget about the fact that the human Soul is Divine,
that it contains within it part of the spirit of God. What happens in the
circumstances is that this ignorance and forgetfulness give rise to what we
call evil in the world. Evil is not attributed to actions as such, it arise
because of the ignorance of man about his true nature and his
forgetfulness with respect to the Logos and God who have created him.Thus he
loses sight of the fact that the purpose of life is to link up with his
Divine origins, through philosophical understanding and seeking union with
God in mysticism.

Thus, for Plato, evil arises not so much from our actions in the world, as
from the fact that these actions represent a turning away from our true
nature. To overcome this plight,one must also look into one’s own soul. This
is the meaning of the Socratic statement: Know Thyself.

Thus we can say that for Plato the philosophical dialogues are a guide to
further apprehension of our Divine existence. We come to understand the
Logos, the Divine Mind and eventually gain an apprehension of the fact that
the One God exists. However, as in Parmenides, we do not and cannot know His
essence. All we can do is contemplate the Divine through the Forms or
Ideas.

Once a person recognizes that they have this philosophical understanding,
they are drawn closer to God. But as he makes clear in his Dialogues, this
itself is insufficient; man also needs the mysticism to which Parmenides
referred. We need to concentrate our mind and Soul in the direction of the
Logos so that we forge a link with God. This can be done from a
combination of love and ecstasy. For Plato, mysticism was a passionate
exercise.

About sooteris kyritsis

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