Throughout antiquity, it was commonly held that a major part of Plato's philosophy pertains to theological matters. This theological reception of Plato’s work received its monumental expression in Proclus’ On the Theology of Plato.

When, however, one turns to Plato’s works seeking analyses of an authentically theological import, the results are rather paltry.

In the early dialogues, Plato appears mainly interested in acquitting Socrates of the charge that he introduced novel ideas in the field of theology. Most importantly, in the Phaedo philosophical “death” is regarded as a philosopher’s main concern, i.e. the soul’s release from the bonds of its body and bodily cares, and its ascent towards the Ideas, which are described as θεῖα ὄντα (=divine beings). Perhaps the most characteristic expression of this view can be found in the Theaetetus, where man’s goal is defined as ὁμοίωσίς (=assimilation) to god to the greatest possible extent.

Only in the later dialogues does Plato begin to allude to a theological system; it apparently casts a heavy shadow on dialogues of an intensely dogmatic content, like the Laws. The first step in this direction occurs in the Republic, where Socrates defines two prerequisites (379a ff.): (a) God cannot be responsible for anything bad that happens in the world. (b) Being perfect, god cannot be subject to any change. These prerequisites are strictly adhered to in the description of the world’s creation in the Timaeus. The creator god acts as a providential Nous (Mind), planning his creation with teleological criteria (as an instantiation of the Good) so as to achieve the optimal result.

Goodness is a constitutive feature of Plato’s god, an element of god’s own essence. This leads us to seek the core of Plato’s concept of god in the same supreme principle of his ontology, the Idea of the Good. It is true that the Idea of the Good lacks several of the characteristics traditionally associated with god. Perhaps this should be correlated with the fact that Platonic theology is purely philosophical, lacking the intent to articulate any novel religious system or even a theological doctrine.

Author: Pavlos Kalligas
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