Plato, Christianity, Augustine, Spinoza

Robert Royal, in a recent article on The Catholic Thing, puts beautifully an idea central to our Catholic tradition:

There is some mysterious way in which that unique ancient Greek rationality and clarity, worked up by many minds over centuries, was intended to be mixed with – and transformed by – the light of revelation that passed through the Hebrew Scriptures.

This hit home for me this week as I have been leading discussions on authors who take fundamentally opposed views about this topic.  Benedict Spinoza, the 17th century father of modern methods of Scripture interpretation, mocked the medieval tradition of finding in it deep mysteries about the nature of God:

For if you inquire what mysteries they see hiding in Scripture, you will in fact find nothing besides the comments of Aristotle or Plato or another like them, which any Idiot could often dream up more  easily than the most literate could investigate from Scripture.

I love my faith, especially the beautiful treasures of its intellectual tradition.  So the arrogant mocking of modern authors like Spinoza angers and depresses me.  But I was triumphantly comforted by discovering with my theology students the beautiful way in which St. Augustine, in Book XI of The City of God, suggests that the Greek philosophers pointed to images and traces of the Holy  Trinity.  Their investigations of nature, reason and goodness were a response to the natural drives for existence, understanding and love written by the Creator into His image, and led them to glimpse the Triune vestiges throughout creation.  For God, as Plato saw, is “the cause of existence, the ground of understanding and the pattern for leading one’s life.”  The Greek philosophers helped St. Augustine become aware of the Trinitarian language built into the first verses of Genesis — “And God said, Let there be Light….And God saw that it was Good.”

Dr. Royal suggests that The Catholic Thing will be helping us to explore more deeply the Providential union of ancient Greek culture and Christianity in the future.  I encourage you to join me in receiving their regular essays.


About Andrew Seeley

Executive Director, Institute for Catholic Liberal Education Tutor, Thomas Aquinas College
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