Category: Plato in 80 entries

Christianity and Platonism

The relationship between Christianity and Platonism is a very important aspect of the history of philosophy, especially in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages.

The attitude of the Christian thinkers of the first centuries took the form of (a) an acceptance of basic tenets of Platonism and an attempt of their Christianization (Dionysius the Areopagite), (b) a sometimes enthusiastic acceptance and eclectic assimilation of some of its elements (Clement of Alexandria), (c) a critical attitude, combined with the acceptance of certain Greek views or methodology (Justin, Origen, the Cappadocians, Augustine) and, finally, (d) an absolute denial and hostility (Tatian, Tertullian).

The main question was whether the Platonic philosophy and tradition, along with certain of its basic tenets are compatible with Christianity. Apart from several apparent differences between them, many elements of Platonism were considered suitable for a Christian use: the ontological dualism between intelligibles and sensibles, the possibility of the sensible world to participate in the intelligible realm, the divine creation through ideas-examples, the immortality of the soul, the ascent to Intelligible and the intuitive trend, the conception of philosophy as a study of death and a resemblance to God. More elements were drawn from late Platonism: apophaticism, the cosmological and ontological hierarchy, the ecstatic movement of the soul as emancipation from matter, the escape from the world and asceticism; and the allegorical method of interpreting the Bible.

Platonism was one of the key factors in shaping and creating a philosophical language of the Christian doctrine, of its central dogmas (Triadology-Christology) and its dependent aspects (cosmology, anthropology, ethics); it was considered by some Christian writers as an evangelical preparation. As to whether it distorted the original message of Christianity, the main interpretations are that: (a) Christianity was not affected at its core but it simply borrowed from the platonic terminology; (b) this external relationship led to a kind of a Christianization of Platonism; (c ) Christian theology was contaminated by the use the Platonic terminology (“Hellenization of Christianity”); (d) Platonic terminology was the most appropriate vehicle for the theoretical formation and development of Christianity.

Author: George Zografidis
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