Theology – Platonism

Rushdoony on Platonic Impassibility

Stoicism followed the neoplatonic depreciation of passion or feeling. Reason, the faculty of mind or spirit, had to be the mainspring of action and life; the act of virtue must come from the knowledge of reason; reason being naturally good, the more nearly a man became pure reason, the more he approximated ideal reason and good. The “summum bonum” or highest good of man is the regulation of passion and the total ordering of life by passionless reason. The law of nature is virtue, a rational or passionless good; “nature” definitely did not mean the material world but the world of Ideas or Forms. The irrational nature of man must be suppressed and subjugated by his rational and true nature. The world of reason or nature is a passionless, determined, impersonal world, and as a result Stoicism was fatalistic. The world of necessity is the world of reason, whereas the world of freedom is the anarchistic world of personality, feeling, and imperfection.

Rushdoony, R. J.. The Flight From Humanity: A Study of the Effect of Neoplatonism on Christianity (Kindle Locations 350-356). Chalcedon/Ross House Books. Kindle Edition.

Understanding the Hypostatic Union

From the book Neoplatonism:

Plotinus’s model includes three “hypostases,” or fundamental levels of reality. The first and highest is the unknowable “One,” which emanates the next level, called Nous, translated as Divine Mind or Intelligence. This second level contains the Platonic Forms or Ideas, which we can know intellectually, and so this level is also called the Intelligible World. Nous then emanates the next lower level, Psychē or Soul, which animates the physical world and serves as an intermediary between the Intelligible World and the material world we know with our physical senses.

In Neoplatonism, the universe was divided fundamentally between the highest good (the One), the unchangeable realm known as the “Intellect”, and finally the material world or “Soul”. The highest level of existence was considered pure actuality, or pure act, or pure aseity. This realm could in no fashion be related to other forms of being, but was timeless, immutable, impassible, and ineffable. The second level was the Intellect, with which all good philosophers strove to re-achieve union. The material world was the world of the soul, in which philosophers had to escape through ascension. The early Church fathers became infatuated with this strain of Neoplatonism, in which the material world was separate and unrelated to the highest Good, which they equated with God.

Augustine, particularly, was a strong adherent to Neoplatonism (in this tradition). His conversion to Christianity recognized what he saw as a distinction between Neoplatonism and what he considered Christianity. He saw Jesus as the enabling spark which connects the various realms and helps guide the Soul back to merge with the Intellect, without which the bridge could not be made. Jesus was the key to ascension to the changeless realm.

Jesus, in this view, has an element of the One in himself (often described by modern adherents as a mystery one just has to accept). Recall, the One cannot be in relation to anything else. The One is beyond description or intelligibility; no positive attributes can be said of the One. This, in modern circles is called the Hypostatic union.

Adherents to the idea of the Hypostatic Union will talk about two natures of Christ (the natural and divine), and differentiate Jesus from Christ (as White does in the Enyart debate). They will also be hesitant to call “divine” the human nature of Jesus. Divinity in Neoplatonism, can have nothing to do with the changing material world. In this way, the concept of the Hypostatic Union is a Neoplatonistic mechanism for bridging the hypostases, while trying to maintain them as distinct.

Podcast EP115 – Pressing On Open Theism 2

In this episode we discuss a Calvinist podcast on Open Theism.

Clip resources:

Divine Impassibility

Boyd on Platonistic Omniscience

From How People Misunderstand Open Theism:

First, Plato argued that we see not by light entering our eyes (as we now know is the case) but by light proceeding out of our eyes (Timaeus 45b). For Plato, seeing is an active, not a passive, process. Since knowledge was considered to be a kind of seeing, Plato also construed knowing as acting on something rather than being acted upon (Sophist 248-49). I’ve discovered that this mistaken view of seeing and knowing is picked up and defended by a host of Hellenistic philosophers.

Second, several Neoplatonistic philosophers (Iamblichus, Proclus and Ammonius) used this theory of eyesight and knowing to explain how the gods can foreknow future free actions. They argued that the nature of divine knowledge is determined not by what is known but by the nature of the knower. Since they assumed the gods were absolutely unchanging, they concluded that the gods knew things in an absolutely unchanging manner, despite the fact that the reality the gods know is in fact perpetually changing. This allowed them to affirm that the future partly consisted of indefinite (aoristos) truths (viz. open possibilities) while nevertheless insisting that the gods knew the future in an exhaustively definite, unchanging way.

The view is, I’m convinced, completely incoherent. But one can understand how these philosophers arrived at it in light of their mistaken assumptions about seeing and knowing as wholly active processes. What the gods see when they look at the future conforms to the unchanging nature of the gods rather than the changing nature of the future they see. Through the influence of Augustine and especially Boethius (who explicitly espoused the ancient view of seeing and knowing and repeated some of the Neoplatonic arguments), this way of “reconciling” foreknowledge and free will quickly established itself as the dominant view in the Christian tradition.

Augustine Praises the Platonists

From a Letter from Augustine to Dioscorus:

33. The Platonists, however, who, amidst the errors of false philosophies assailing them at that time on all sides, rather concealed their own doctrine to be searched for than brought it into the light to be vilified, as they had no divine personage to command faith, began to exhibit and unfold the doctrines of Plato after the name of Christ had become widely known to the wondering and troubled kingdoms of this world. Then flourished at Rome the school of Plotinus, which had as scholars many men of great acuteness and ability. But some of them were corrupted by curious inquiries into magic, and others, recognising in the Lord Jesus Christ the impersonation of that essential and immutable Truth and Wisdom which they were endeavouring to reach, passed into His service. Thus the whole supremacy of authority and light of reason for regenerating and reforming the human race has been made to reside in the one saving Name, and in His one Church.

Nebridius Praises Augustine for Teaching Platonism

In a letter to Augustine, Nebridius praises Augustine for teaching Platonism:

To Augustine Nebridius Sends Greeting.

1. Your letters I have great pleasure in keeping as carefully as my own eyes. For they are great, not indeed in length, but in the greatness of the subjects discussed in them, and in the great ability with which the truth in regard to these subjects is demonstrated. They shall bring to my ear the voice of Christ, and the teaching of Plato and of Plotinus.

Apologetics Thursday – Greek Influences in the Church

By Christopher Fisher

Arbour and Blount argue that Open Theists just assume that the church fathers rejected face value readings of the Bible in favor of Platonism. From The Camel’s Nose: Open Theism and Biblical Interpretation – Benjamin H. Arbour and Douglas K. Bloun:

Now Adolf Harnack and Wolfhart Pannenberg not withstanding, we doubt that the tradition’s interpretive approach has been as heavily influenced by Greek philosophy as open theists suggest. Sadly, however, we cannot entertain open theists’ arguments to the contrary for the simple reason that they have put forward no such arguments.21 That traditional Christian readings of scripture have been unduly influenced by Greek philosophy is not a conclusion for which open theists argue but rather an assumption from which they argue. So, for instance, Sanders—who proclaims the point persistently and pointedly—does nothing to show that the tradition has been so influenced; he also does nothing to show which Greek philosophical doctrines are problematic for Christian theology, not to mention why they are so. Apparently, he takes the point to be beyond dispute; it is not.

Arbour and Bloun might be unfamiliar with the extent of documentation of the early Church’s reliance on Platonism. Augustine, the most influential Christian writer, literally stated that he believed the Bible was absurd before Simplicanous told Augustine to read the Bible in light of Plotinus. Augustine admits it plainly. This is in the same work which Augustine shows utter contempt for those who read the Bible on face value:

6. I rejoiced also that the old Scriptures of the law and the prophets were laid before me, to be perused, not now with that eye to which they seemed most absurd before, when I censured Your holy ones for so thinking, whereas in truth they thought not so; and with delight I heard Ambrose, in his sermons to the people, oftentimes most diligently recommend this text as a rule—The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life; while, drawing aside the mystic veil, he spiritually laid open that which, accepted according to the letter, seemed to teach perverse doctrines— teaching herein nothing that offended me, though he taught such things as I knew not as yet whether they were true…

Notice, the Bible was “absurd” to Augustine during his face value readings. And what was absurd? In Chapter 11, Augustine mocks those who think God is in time and spoke as Jesus was being baptized. In Augustine’s commentary on Genesis, he does great damage to the text. Augustine makes the “original sin” as sex between Adam and Eve, as well as other affronts to the face value reading. As soon as Augustine was given license to reinterpret the text spiritually, dumping the face value reading, that allowed him to convert to Christianity.

26. But having then read those books of the Platonists, and being admonished by them to search for incorporeal truth, I saw Your invisible things, understood by those things that are made; [Romans 1:20] and though repulsed, I perceived what that was, which through the darkness of my mind I was not allowed to contemplate,— assured that You were, and were infinite, and yet not diffused in space finite or infinite; and that Thou truly art, who art the same ever, varying neither in part nor motion; and that all other things are from You, on this most sure ground alone, that they are. Of these things was I indeed assured, yet too weak to enjoy You… Upon these [books by the Platonists], therefore, I believe, it was Your pleasure that I should fall before I studied Your Scriptures, that it might be impressed on my memory how I was affected by them… For had I first been moulded in Your Holy Scriptures, and had Thou, in the familiar use of them, grown sweet unto me, and had I afterwards fallen upon those volumes, they might perhaps have withdrawn me from the solid ground of piety; or, had I stood firm in that wholesome disposition which I had thence imbibed, I might have thought that it could have been attained by the study of those books alone.

Notice, Augustine praises the books of the Platonists. Augustine then says his Platonism made the Bible repulsive. Augustine then says that once he used Platonism to understand the Bible, he accepted the Bible. And to top it off, Augustine runs a hypothetical: if Augustine first accepted the Bible and then came across the books of Platonism, Augustine would have converted away from Christianity to Platonism. Christianity, Augustine explicitly says, is Platonism plus charity.

In Confessions, Book 8, Simplicanus lets Augustine into a secret: All the Church Fathers were engrained in Platonism. Simplicanus told Augustine that all Augustine needed to do was import Platonism into Christianity to make Christianity believable:

But when I mentioned to him that I had read certain books of the Platonists, which Victorinus, sometime Professor of Rhetoric at Rome (who died a Christian, as I had been told), had translated into Latin, he congratulated me that I had not fallen upon the writings of other philosophers, which were full of fallacies and deceit, after the rudiments of the world, [Colossians 2:8] whereas they, in many ways, led to the belief in God and His word.

When Arbour and Bloun claim that it is only assumed that the Church Fathers read the Bible in light of Platonism, they are very mistaken. They might be unfamiliar with Early Church writings, but it is not a contested point. It is well documented that not only were the Church Fathers hardcore Platonists, but that they would reject Christianity if they believed the face value text of the Bible. Platonism was their mechanism to conforming Christianity into something they could accept. This is not assumption (as Arbour and Bloun label it); it is explicitly stated in essay format by the Church Fathers.

TC Moore on Greek Influence

From TC Moore’s post on immutability:

Just that easily, the royal announcement of a crucified God, the Lord Jesus of Nazareth, foolishness to Greeks and a scandal to Jews, was transformed into a “respectable doctrine.” Tired of being labled “babblers” (as Paul was called in Athens) or “atheists” as the Roman Empire considered them, or other ignoble epitaphs, Christians began to compromise the Gospel in a quest for legitimacy and respectability.

Pinnock on I AM

From The Openness of God:

A striking example of this is the way they distorted the divine self-ascription “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex 3:14). This text, which points to the living God of the exodus, was transmuted into a principle of metaphysical immutability, as the dynamic “I AM” of the Hebrew text became the impersonal “being who is” of the Greek Septuagint (LXX), enabling theologians like Philo and Origen to link a changeless Greek deity with the God who acts in history.

Fisher Defines Open Theism

Craig Fisher of Will the Real God Step Forward defines Open Theism as a departure from negative theology. Fisher writes:

What it means to be an open theist: Calvinists and even Arminians believe God is everywhere. This sounds almost pious; afterall, does this not give glory to God. The answer is emphatically. No.

Psalm 14:2
“The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.”

If God was everywhere, this verse would be meaningless. There would be no place that would be holy. It would mean the same thing to say God looks up from hell on the children of men. Only by appreciating the meaning of the words and divorcing oneself from the Platonic and Calvinist perspective on the omnipresence of God, can one truly appreciate and honor the meaning of Scriptures. Often a Calvinist has to destroy the communication of the Scriptures to protect his Platonic vision of God. Omnipresence is negative theology: negative theology defines God by what He is “not”. Omnipresence means God is not in any place, therefore he is everywhere. But this is counter by a basic reading of Scripture:

2 Thessalonians 1:9
“2 Thess 9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,”

Negative theologians also deny the punishment of the unbelievers as described in 2 Thessalonians 1:9. Are those who die in disbelief truly separated from God forever? Are there beings who are not in the presence of the Lord? If God is everywhere then all souls will always be in the presence of God and this verse becomes meaningless. When this happens, God actually becomes the lessor god of the Platonic vision and his true character is lost. Only an open theist can truly honor God as he is.

Fisher Describes Augustine’s Conversion

From Craig Fisher of Will the Real God Step Forward:

If one is to take Augustine’s words seriously, one must recognize this conversion was not in terms of a Protestant born again experience, but this conversion was a purification resembling the Neoplatonic purification: “The effect of your converting me to yourself was that I did not now seek a wife and had no ambition for success in this world.” To “not seek a wife” is a commitment to celibacy not an admission of guilt, repentance toward God, and belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Augustine’s autobiography, Confessions, may be described as a manual on Platonic purification. The first seven chapters represents the struggle against sexual desire, the nemesis of Platonic purification. Chapter eight is the accomplishment of his goal. The final chapters are his self-congratulation on his success.

The goal of purification is to become like God in order to see God. The practitioner expects to see God in his mind at the end of the ascent. The ascent is a meditative process, removing oneself from the distractions of physical life and seeing God with you mind. The name ascent refers to the Platonic metaphysical system of the pagan philosophers. God is at the top of the “ladder”, all creation is an ordered descent from the top. In order to reach God, it is necessary to ascend the ladder. Ascent is only possible through a process of purification.

For full post, click here.

Hill Counters Immutability

From Bob Hill’s discontinued site:

I want to belabor this point. Why was Calvin certain that God is immutable? Is this plainly asserted in Scripture? Was Calvin certain that God does not repent because the Scripture said so or because of his Platonic influence? Does Scripture show that God is immutable or that He repents? Where is this clear evidence? It is interesting that Calvin dismissed the evidence almost in a cavalier manner when he dealt with the Scripture that God changes.

For full paper, click here.

Not All Open Theists Embrace Omniscience

Nailing it to the Door has an excellent post explaining that not all Open Theists belive that God “knows all possible futures”. Dan Martin explains:

Belt and Boyd both use the analogy of the Infinitely Intelligent Chess Player to describe how an omniscient God must know not just a single, settled compendium of future events, but rather all the various possibility-trees that might branch from the infinite combinations of choices we might make. That’s what Ben was saying about his future lunch. Bratcher steps back and explains why this discussion came to be, and in the process I think he shines a light on the error in the argument:

The kinds of questions asked in the early church, especially following Augustine in the 4th and 5th centuries, were metaphysical ontological questions about ultimate reality. And those questions were rooted in the Platonic and Neoplatonic philosophies that saw God and human existence in absolute or idealistic terms. God was defined by asking logical questions, and reaching logical answers. Basically, a view of God was developed whereby God was defined in terms of what a god ought to be to be God. While the results may not be totally invalid, they are obviously limited, and a departure from Scripture and God’s own revelation about himself in human history.

This explanation by Bratcher is key. The very notion of God’s “having” to be omniscient is itself not a doctrine of the Bible, but rather part of Plato’s ideal of what a supreme God must be like–an ideal which Augustine adopted and “Christianized.” Bratcher goes on to state that all of our beloved “omni-” doctrines (omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, etc.) actually arise from the logical conceptions of what God “ought” to be. As he sums up his own point, I simply do not think these formulations are at all adequate, simply because they are our definition of what we want in a God or what a god by our definition should be, which does not necessarily define God very adequately. They are far too limiting, at the very point that they claim to be all encompassing! In other words, God does not have to be what we say he is, no matter how “big” or “omni-” we try to make what we say…

It is only once we conclude that our doctrine of omniscience requires God to know everything about the future, that the question of just what God foreknows becomes a “problem.” The Infinitely Intelligent Chess Player, it seems to me, is the Open Theists solution to the problem our own logic created…a problem they should have called out at the same time they called out deterministic doctrines of the future.

To read the full post, click here.

Augustine and His Platonism

Excerpted from Christopher Fisher:

Simplicianus and Ambrose convinced Augustine that the Bible was to be taken figuratively. Notice how Augustine read the Bible on face value. Augustine called it “absurd”, he said “the letter kills”, he called it “perverse doctrines”, and he called it “offensive”. It was only through Simplicanus and Amborse spiritualizing the text in a Platonic sense that Augustine finally accepted the Bible. In short, Augustine was able to see the natural reading of the Bible, and Augustine rejected it because it was antithetical to Plantonism (that “god” cannot change)…

Augustine’s characteristics for the books of the Platonists are “pride” and “knowledge”. Augustine, even after becoming a Christian, held Platonism in high regard. This is in contrast to his disdain for the natural meaning of the Bible text, which he calls “absurd”, “killing”, “perverse”, and “offensive”. Biblical theology was to be rejected all except one point. The Platonists gave Augustine all Augustine’s theology except “charity”. In fact Augustine writes: “I might have thought that it could have been attained by the study of [Platonist] books alone.”

For full post, click here.

Augustinian Christians Are Platonists

“Augustinian” is synonymous with “Reformed”, “Calvinist”, and “Classical Theists”. They are closely related to the philosophy of Plato. From Augustine:

If, then, Plato defined the wise man as one who imitates, knows, loves this God, and who is rendered blessed through fellowship with Him in His own blessedness, why discuss with the other philosophers? It is evident that none come nearer to us than the Platonists. -City of God, 8.5

For context, click here.