Trinity and Philosophy in ancient Christianity

St Thomas Aquinas by Fra Angelico, San Marco Priory, Florence

One of the great difficulties facing Christians as we seek to think properly about God’s self-revelation to us through Scripture, the Incarnation, and the ongoing life of the church at prayer and worship is how to think rationally, clearly, and intelligently about the things of God. Sometimes our attempts to provide possible solutions to problems, solutions that seem to be philosophically coherent, bring us into some trouble — thus, pitfalls such as Apollinarianism and Nestorianism; these are ways of thinking about Jesus Christ, the God-Man, the Second Person of the Trinity Incarnate that, in some way, do violence to either the Scriptural narrative or the reasoning mind. Orthodoxy is the attempt to avoid such violence in how we think about God.

One of the great dangers facing Christians as we seek to think properly about God is to imagine that human reason is a flawless tool that cannot err. Ancient and early mediaeval Christians, Platonists though often they were, had a somewhat different relationship to reason and philosophy. We often read anti-philosophy statements, such as the famous Tertullian dictum, ‘What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?’ The medieval monks were constantly back and forth on the subject of philosophy, as to whether it was good or bad — indeed, the same monk may take up either side of said cause at different times. But what those who stayed the course and found themselves within the bounds of orthodoxy found was that the revelation in sacred Scripture had to be upheld, as understood by both reason and tradition. This is, indeed, how the doctrine of the Trinity was put together — prayerful, reasoned reflection on Scripture in light of the worshipping tradition of the gathered Christian community.

In the fifth century, a fellow named Socrates (obvs not the pagan philosopher) wrote about a particular heretic of the second half of the 300s, Aetius, in his Ecclesiastical History as follows, saying that Aetius

began to astonish those who conversed with him by the singularity of his discourses. And this he did in dependence on the precepts of Aristotle’s Categories; there is a book of that name, the scope of which he neither himself perceived, nor had been enlightened on by intercourse with learned persons: so that he was little aware that he was framing fallacious arguments to perplex and deceive himself. For Aristotle had composed this work to exercise the ingenuity of his young disciples, and to confound by subtle arguments the sophists who affected to deride philosophy. Wherefore the Ephectic academicians, who expound the writings of Plato and Plotinus, censure the vain subtlety which Aristotle has displayed in that book: but Aëtius, who never had the advantage of an academical preceptor, adhered to the sophisms of the Categories. For this reason he was unable to comprehend how there could be generation without a beginning, and how that which was begotten can be co-eternal with him who begat. In fact, Aëtius was a man of so superficial attainments, and so little acquainted with the sacred Scriptures, and so extremely fond of caviling, a thing which any clown might do, that he had never carefully studied those ancient writers who have interpreted the Christian oracles; wholly rejecting Clemens and Africanus and Origen, men eminent for their information in every department of literature and science. But he composed epistles both to the emperor Constantius, and to some other persons, wherein he interwove tedious disputes for the purpose of displaying his sophisms. He has therefore been surnamed Atheus. But although his doctrinal statements were similar to those of the Arians, yet from the abstruse nature of his syllogisms, which they were unable to comprehend, his associates in Arianism pronounced him a heretic. Being for that reason expelled from their church, he pretended to have separated himself from their communion. Even in the present day there are to be found some who from him were formerly named Aëtians, but now Eunomians. For some time later Eunomius, who had been his amanuensis, having been instructed by his master in this heretical mode of reasoning, afterwards became the head of that sect. But of Eunomius we shall speak more fully in the proper place. (trans. NPNF2, vol. 2)

Aetius is thus said to be the teacher of Eunomius, who is accused by the famous Cappadocian Fathers (Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa) of being a logic-chopper. Eunomius is one of the most purely logical and reason-driven of the various persons called ‘Arian’. Here we see the concern that many ancient Christians had with pure reason. Aetius’ chief problem, from the way Socrates describes him, is his dependence upon Aristotle. He has treated the Categories almost as a divine book of truth to which all ways of thinking should be subsumed.

To cherry pick simply to demonstrate the point:

Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture. -Athanasius, De Synodis, 6.

But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to thee by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures . . . Take heed then, brethren, and hold fast the traditions which ye now receive, and write them and the table of your heart. -Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 5:12.

The other ‘Arians’ or ‘Semi-Arians’ or ‘Homoians’ were themselves conservative in this respect — in the creed of Rimini, their main case against consubstantial or homoousion is that it is unscriptural (see Socrates, Ecclesiastical History 2.37). The supreme authority in the Christian faith is not, was not, shall not be, human reason. Reason alone cannot impose any belief on the Christian. And if you believe that reason has brought you to a conclusion that runs counter to Scripture and Tradition, then what you believe is not Christian. But if it is true, then perhaps Christianity is not.

As John Anthony McGuckin says in the introduction to his new volume on first-millennium church history, The Path of Christianity, Christianity itself is a strangely conservative institution, even when it is radical and disruptive. Ancient and medieval Christians were always looking back, back to Scripture and to the long line of living tradition that brought them to where they were. Or they were looking around themselves at the worship offered to the Father through the Son in the Spirit and meditating on that in light of Scripture.

People like to imagine where ‘western Christianity went wrong’ — the Orthodox imagine it one way, Protestants in others, Mormons in a new way yet again. Sometimes I wonder if the symptoms are not present already in St Anselm (whom I love). He makes clear, articulate use of Aristotle, including The Categories. However, rather than arguing that the Trinity cannot be deducted by reason, he seeks to prove with pure logic not only that there the Supreme Good is Trinity, but that it is and must be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Now, he does not slide into falsehood. And a great many of the Scholastics who follow him, such as Sts Thomas Aquinas and Albert the Great, do not fall into falsehood.

But High and Late Medieval logic-chopping gets underway, alas, leading to a rejection of analogical language for God, thus producing ideas such as ‘being’ for God is the same as ‘being’ for my chair. In some respects, this adulation of Aristotle is part of the problem that we western Christians need to shake. Anselm has it, ‘I believe in order that I may understand,’ but today many think they understand but have no faith. The life of faith will ever be a matter of tension, I think, and one of those tensions lies in accepting revelation and thinking articulately with logic.

For other musings on Eunomius, see Fr Aidan’s recent post at Eclectic Orthodoxy, ‘The Curious Trinity of Dale Tuggy’.

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Boethius on divinity and happiness

Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy 3.10:

Since it is through the possession of happiness that people become happy, and since happiness is in fact divinity, it is clear that it is through the possession of divinity that they become happy. But by the same logic as men become just through the possession of justice, or wise through the possession of wisdom, so those who possess divinity necessarily become divine. Each happy individual is therefore divine. While only God is so by nature, as many as you like may become so by participation. (Trans. V.E. Watts)

Boethius (or, rather, Philosophy) goes on to argue that happinessgoodness, so you are not truly happy unless you are truly good. This is part of the argument that only God, the Supreme Good, is ultimately happy. That’s a necessary piece of context. (For more context, read my review.) It’s important, because if committing murder or lying to people or stealing make you have feelings you call ‘happy’, this does not mean you are participating in divinity. In fact, according to Boethius, you wouldn’t be happy at all because evil is itself a tendency towards non-existence.

Upon reading this passage, those of us who spend time with the Eastern Orthodox will immediately cry aloud, ‘Ah, theosis!’ And, indeed, it is part of what is going on here, part of the passage from praktike to theoria symbolised by Philosophy’s gown as she stands before the senator in his prison cell. Of these latter two words, theoria is usually Englished as contemplation. So we are back in our sixth-century contemplative context, a few decades before Gregory the Great and Augustine of Canterbury.

This, I would argue, is the philosophical basis of Christian mysticism. God is good. To be truly happy, one must be good. God is wholly good, so he is perfectly happy. Therefore, for us to become happy, we have to connect with God and have communion with Him.

Is belief in God naive?

Is belief in God naive? Steven Pinker, experimental psychologist (would that he were an actual philosopher) seems to think so, as seen in this image (posted by a friend on Facebook, but I have given up on Facebook as a place for the meaningful exchange of ideas between people when they disagree, so I’m blogging instead):

steven pinker quote

Unfortunately, the tools of a cognitive scientist and experimental psychologist such as Prof Pinker, however sophisticated, will never be able to prove or disprove the existence of God.I realise that in saying this I am automatically opening myself up to the ‘We cannot definitively disprove Godzilla’s existence, therefore he must be real,’ kind of argumentation. However, there is a distinct difference between Godzilla and the unmoved mover/designer/creator/divine person.

Godzilla!

Godzilla, as far as the evidence from the Toho films suggests, is a physical being whose interaction with this world would leave behind positive evidence for his existence.

Unlike Godzilla, the divine being who pre-exists the Big Bang, made matter, and set everything in motion according to a plan, is a metaphysical person (hypostasis?). There will never, can never, be incontrovertible proof of the divinity’s existence. Perhaps one could find Godzilla eggs, or catch a video of Godzilla’s approach to Tokyo, or trap Godzilla somehow. But such things are impossible in the case of the divine person.

Metaphysical comes from Aristotle’s Metaphysics, so named because it comes next in his works after the Physicsmeta being the Greek prefix for ‘after’. However, what the Metaphysics deals with is what we think of as metaphysics, anyway. Beyond the physical. The world of the unobservable. Unlike Aristotle’s studies of plants, animals, and astronomy, metaphysical things cannot be discussed through observation or experimentation.

Science proper, be it evolutionary biology or experimental psychology or bio-chemistry or nanotechnology is based upon observation and experimentation.

Metaphysical questions are those such as ‘Is there a God?’ or ‘What is the best way to live morally?’ or ‘Do dogs have souls?’ Some people think they can and make silly TLC documentaries about the cooling of the body after death being evidence for the human soul. Really? That isn’t evidence.

Metaphysical questions require the answers provided by philosophy and the framework of philosophy. And philosophy, being of the humanities, is not a hard science. This means, no matter how smug some Christians and atheists feel about their position, we must all have a slight agnosticism in our hearts, knowing that our belief or disbelief in God can never be fully proven, just as it can never be fully overturned.

To return to Pinker’s likening of belief in a designer to a geocentric vision of the cosmos, saying that both are ‘naive impressions’. This is nonsense. The geocentric model of the universe was proven wrong because Copernicus had better instrumentation. We have no better instrumentation to view the metaphysical than he did, or Plato, or Aristotle.

God the Geometer

Furthermore, these are not simply ‘naive impressions’. People seem to think, for some reason, that the geocentric universe was the sort of thing believed only by the simple, that anyone with enough brains would wake up one day and realise that the earth revolves around the Sun. I realise the scholarship is now old, but if you want to read about the medieval model of the universe, I recommend C S Lewis’ The Discarded Image as well as Barbara Reynolds’ introduction to her and Dorothy L Sayers’ translation of Dante’s Paradise. Then you will see that not even things that science has overturned definitively are necessarily ‘naive’ but often beautiful and enchanting.

And the idea of God as unmoved mover is not naive; neither is the idea of God as designer; indeed, the idea of a God is not naive. Plato’s Timaeus, the Summa Theologiae of Aquinas and others demonstrate that very well. My Great Philosophers professor in first-year undergrad seems to have had trouble with this, poo-pooing the idea that Plato would actually have believed in Transmigration of Souls or that Descartes was actually a theist. But Plato did, and Descartes was.

Other sophisticated philosophers/philosophies whose metaphysical system included a divine being, beside Plato and all of Christianity (including Aquinas, Descartes, Kierkegaard), are Aristotle, Plato’s Middle and Neo-Platonic successors (e.g. Plotinus), the Stoics (Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, et al), all of Islam (including the Sufis), all of the Jewish religion, Anthony Flew. Even if untrue, the philosophy and theology of theism, of the existence of a creator god who has particular traits, is not naive.

If atheism and theism wish to have real conversations, foundational facts about each other — such as this — should be established first.

Christianity and Eastern Religions

I just read an essay by the late Michael Spencer (the Internet Monk) about Thomas Merton and why Merton appeals to iMonk so much. Thomas Merton is one of the 20th century’s most popular spiritual/religious authors, a fact that probably immediately draws the ire and fire of fundamentalists and other likeminded folks (not to mention his being a Roman Catholic!).

One of the aspects of Merton’s writing that seems to draw a lot of fire, however, is neither his popularity nor his Roman Catholicism, but his interest in Eastern religions, especially Zen Buddhism (see here). Thomas Merton is not the only Christian writer to get in trouble for learning of and drawing from Eastern religions — CS Lewis has been accused of being a Taoist and a heretic here! I have no doubt others have suffered similar fates (Anthony de Mello would have if he were popular enough).

This branding of Christian thinkers who have an interest in Eastern religions and who are able to draw ideas from them as heretics or false Christians troubles me. It troubles me because Christians are bound to the Bible as the full revelation of God as far as we need to know, containing nothing superfluous and lacking nothing necessary (see Rick Dugan’s brief but illuminating post to that effect).

Yet to say that the Bible is all true is not to say that there is no true outside the Bible. What it means is that if we find truth elsewhere, it will not run counter to Scripture, nor will it be necessary for human salvation. It will not complete the picture of God we can find by faithfully searching the Scriptures. But Christians must surely be able to learn from Eastern religions.

We certainly learn from pagan Greeks — we are all fans of pagan logic-chopping. We tend to be pleased with readers of Plato’s Republic. I once saw a quotation from Marcus Aurelius — Stoic philosopher and Christian persecutor — in a calendar full of Christian quotations! It was there because it was wise. We like a certain type of pagan Stoic ethics, or a certain type of seeking happiness put forward by the likes of Aristotle.

It’s true that we spent a good long time after dear Origen delineating how closely we should dance with Neo-Platonism, and that aspects of mediaeval philosophy were hopelessly pagan and Platonic, while aspects of late mediaeval theology are heavily Aristotelian. And we have had to disentangle Christian truth from those pagan elements since then.

But what about the paganism of “Enlightenment” thought? Or the paganism of capitalism? Or the paganism of the Renaissance? Or the paganism of secularism? These are ways of thinking that are so bred into our culture that Christians often operate by their assumptions while claiming to be spiritual beings who are inseparably tied to the immortal God who transcends the rational world!

Let us return, then, to Eastern religions, to Taoism and Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism.

Is it necessarily wrong to read their writings and find wisdom there? I sure hope not! In The Inner Experience, his final work, Merton paints an expressly Christian mysticism, one rooted in the reality of the Incarnation, the Scriptures, and the tradition. He also mentions Zen Buddhism, but under the belief that Zen meditation is a form of psychological action that alone does not guarantee contact with God — yet it can help calm the mind and help the mind focus.

Is this so bad? I mean, this is what Christian mystics, Orthodox and Catholic, call for — the dispassionate focussing and, to a certain extent, emptying of the soul/nous/mind to be able to focus on the tangible Presence of God. If a Buddhist practice that is decidedly psychological can help us without denying the Scriptures or the tradition, is that so wrong?

If we are set free by the Scriptures and enlivened by the Holy Spirit, we can read any pagan — ancient or modern, Greek or Indian — and be able to find the wisdom of God himself dwelling there. And we should expect this, actually. Justin Martyr discusses the fact that the Word (that Person of the Godhead who became incarnate as Christ) is the underlying principle of the cosmos, that he orders all things and is present to some extent in all human beings.

All human beings can catch a glimpse of God, of how to reach Him, of what His way of life is to be.

This practice is called spoiling the Egyptians. We read the unbelievers* and, using the twin lens of Scripture and Tradition, we can safely find the wisdom of God residing there. The practice is an ancient Christian practice certainly consciously practised by Origen and St. Clement of Alexandria; St. Justin Martyr became a Christian from having been a Platonist and considered himself a Christian philosopher. Its more recent pedigree includes Erasmus’  Handbook of the Militant Christian (where I first encountered it, though not under this name, if I remember aright).

The idea is set out in St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses (I was going to quote for you, but I left my copy in Canada). Basically, if you’ll recall the Exodus story, when the Israelites go out of Egypt, the Egyptians give them a vast amount of wealth — gold, silver, jewels. The allegorical or spiritual reading of this passage is the teaching that, because of the general grace of God there is wisdom in the writings of pagans. This wisdom is their wealth, and it is open to spoliation by Christians — ie. any wisdom in the pagans may be taken by the Christian reader and applied to his’er own life and beliefs.

Such beliefs are never to be binding unless corroborated by Scripture,** but they can help make our lives fuller and richer. If you have a terrible job, the Stoic idea that freedom resides within you and you can be truly free whilst a slave can be liberating. Or if you have, say, anger problems, breathing practices from Eastern religions can help calm and focus your mind.

So, if you’re halfway through the Bhagavad Gita, keep reading. Just don’t forget to read the Bible while you’re at it!

*The secularists, atheists, agnostics, Greeks, Egyptians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Shintoists, Confucians, Native North Americans, Maori, Aborigines, African animists, Zoroastrians, Sumerians ……

**When we try to make them binding, we end up with embarrassing things like vociferous religious opposition to Copernicus and Galileo (although Galileo got into trouble because, even though correct, he had insufficient evidence and kept on teaching his ideas after promising not to until he had more evidence).

Spyridon

The Council of Nikaia, St. Sozomen's Church, Galata, Cyprus. My photo.

Re-post from 2008.

The Kypriot shepherd (wearing the beehive hat in the right-hand group, close to Konstantinos) walked down from his place near the top of the stands of overseers. Konstantinos watched a man who deigned to wear a straw hat, an old green tunic, and a worn, grey traveller’s cloak who considered himself worthy to debate Aurelios, the well-trained and learned Arian philosopher who had studied philosophy at Athenai and Alexandreia. Gelassios, head overseer of Kypros, had nodded his approval. The Lord moves in mysterious ways, it would seem.

As he approached Aurelios,* he fingered the knots of his prayer rope, each knot signifying a prayer his heart was calling forth to God above, to God in His threeness, His threeness in its oneness.

Spyridon bowed to Aurelios. Aurelios, right eyebrow raised, bowed in return.

“Good afternoon, shepherd,” Aurelios began.

“Good afternoon, philosopher,” returned Spyridon. “God’s holy blessings upon you.” He fingered his prayer rope.

“So, you believe that the Anointed Jesus, the Word, the Son of God, is eternal?”

“Yes.”

And then it began. It began as it always, inevitably (almost tiresomely so, to Spyridon) did, with Proverbs 8:22, as though this were a stepping-off point. His counterargument was swift and simple, to the effect that Wisdom in Proverbs need not necessarily be considered to be the same person as the Word of Holy Iohannes. He also noted that perhaps this was the wrong place to start.**

“What,” he asked Aurelios, “does our Lord and Saviour Jesus the Anointed say about Himself?”

They went through the Scriptures themselves, Spyridon noting that in interpreting the written Word, its plainest sense is to be favoured to one that involves philosophical leaps and entanglements. Is it not plainer to simply take Jesus at His word, that He and the Father are one, that if you have seen Him, you have seen the Father?

Nevertheless, as they discussed these texts (How is it logical for Holy Iohannes to call the Word God if the Word is not God?), Spyridon knew that Aurelios was having trouble being convinced, and that he was starting to pull out his own prooftexts and the philosophy of Platon and Sokrates.

And so they moved from Scripture, with which Spyridon was intimately acquainted, to a discussion of substance — ousia — and hypostasis and the uses of language. Spyridon, rather than speeding up the spinning of the prayer rope actually slowed it down. This was not because he was suddenly less concerned with his prayers, but more. He took his time as he passed over each knot, Lord Jesus the Anointed, have mercy on me.

And he made each response, meeting Aurelios’ challenges. What he did not know was that as the debate continued, as he answered Aurelios calmly and slowly, as Aurelios became more and more notably fervent, as all this happened — his face started to glow.***

Aurelios, naturally, noticed it first and stumbled in mid-statement, “Yet if . . . Jesus is called the first . . . born of creation . . .” with an astonished pause before he continued, “how can he rightly be called Creator?”

Spyridon answered that if everything that has been created was created through Him, how can He himself be part of creation? At that moment, Nikolaos noticed the glowing and held his book of the Good News close to his breast, closed his eyes and entered the mansion of his spirit where he interceded mightily for Spyridon.

At length, Spyridon countered every argument put forth by Aurelios, his facing shining like a light in the midst of the assembly.

“I admit that you have outargued me,” said Aurelios. “Yet I still cannot accept what you say. It feels like blasphemy to say that God the Father shares His divine nature with another.”

Spyridon smiled, a twinkling, brilliant smile. From somewhere in his traveller’s cloak he pulled out a terracotta tile.

“Aurelios, stop doubting and believe!” he declared, clenching the tile in his fist.

And then Spyridon the Wonderworker did it. Flame spurted from the top of his fist. Water ran out the bottom. He held forth his palm to Aurelios, showing him the red earth therein.

“Three can be one, Aurelios.”

“I believe, I believe,” said Aurelios falling to his knees. “Oh Lord, save me from my unbelief!”

*The name “Aurelios” is fake; I don’t know the name of the philosopher St. Spyridon debated. It is not a reference to Marcus Aurelius, however; it is a reference to the fact that a lot of people in late antiquity had the Roman family name “Aurelius” (as previously discussed here).

**In all likelihood, Spyridon would have equated with the Wisdom with the Word; the standard answer was that of Athanasius, that Pr. 8:22 was about the Incarnation. Spyridon here is uttering my modern idea, not an ancient one.

***This happened to St. Seraphim of Sarov and Evelyn Underhill; I do not know if it happened to St. Spyridon, but it could have at some point.

Plato again…

If you were interested in the things I said here and here re Platonism, check out the second one and John’s comment, because he seems to know what he’s talking about and brings a good perspective to the issue.  I think Elliot especially should check it out.

If the question of Christianity and Greek thought intrigues you, here are 2 places to go that are better than I (and if you know any others, link to them via the comments, please):

The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity by Edwin Hatch

John Uebersax’s website

Platonism and Christianity

Why am I so wary of Platonism, as expressed in this post?

I am not actually wary of Platonism specifically.  Plato is a very skilled writer.  He writes with style.  In many of the dialogues, if you read with an attentive mind, then Socrates moves beyond asking questions of, say, Euthyphro, to asking questions of me.  What do you, mjjhoskin, think of holiness?  What is the basis for holiness?  What is the basis for this belief of yours? Foundational questions, all of them.  Questions that strike at the root of things.

Plato also has some interesting ideas.  There’s the ever-popular Cave in The Republic, for example.  Timaeus gives us a cosmology not entirely incompatible with reality.  Crito gives us the endlessly-speculated myth of Atlantis.

Plato also teaches transmigration of souls.  He teaches that this world is not the real world.  We have an idea of justice here, an idea of what a table is, an idea of what eros is, but these ideas are not the real things in themselves but shadows of the truth.  The true reality, according to Plato, is in the world of forms, where our souls dwell between transmigrations.  Platonism also teaches a dualism between body and spirit, between physical and metaphysical.  The spirit and the metaphysical are good, the body and the physical are bad.  This stems from the theory of forms.

This last paragraph is there to help show why traditional Christianity, “classic” Christianity, ought to be wary of Platonism.  Many Christians of the Patristic era liked Platonism too much and created bits of speculative theology that were not in line with Scripture, tradition, or the reasoned account of salvation.

Souls are immortal, according to Platonism — this means that they have a pre-existence in the spiritual realm before becoming incarnate in our bodies.  Such is the case in Origenism as well.  In fact, from what I’ve seen of Origen and his anathematised beliefs, a great many of them stem from an outworking of Platonist ideas.

One of the most pernicious and persistent Platonic ideas within Christianity is the dualism between body and spirit, between the physical and metaphysical.  I think this is in Origen, but it is definitely in the Gnostics and sometimes in the ascetics (but their pagan model was more frequently Stoicism).

The body is not bad.

This is part of true Christian doctrine.  In Genesis we are taught that when God created us, He said that His creation was “Very good.”  God Himself took on flesh in the Incarnation.  He became a man.  At the end of time, we shall all be resurrected in a new heaven and a new earth, and we shall have bodies.

The Platonist idea as it manifests itself in Christianty says that our bodies are “fleshly,” and anything that has to do with the body is to be rejected save those things that keep us alive.  Modern Christians who have maintained this dichotomy between flesh and spirit sometimes argue things such as, “Dancing is bad because it is all about your body.”  Ascetics, on the other hand, argue that you should ignore your body and discipline it.  What really matters, however, is mystical experience and seeking God through contemplation.  Neglect the body, therefore.  Some Gnostics, on the other hand, would argue that since flesh doesn’t matter, do as you please!

Classic Christianity argues that flesh does matter, so treat your body with respect, live morally, and enjoy yourself.  Dance.  Eat.  Drink.  Discipline the body, yes, but do so to discipline your whole self, do so to keep it healthy, not to ruin it.

The most pernicious Platonist idea to persist to today is this idea that we are all going to go to heaven when we die, we shall be disembodied and this will be great and this is what we were made for and this world will be destroyed by fire.

FAIL!

Patristic writers (I forget at the moment where I saw this, but it was one of them) lament death because when we die, our bodies and souls are separated, and this is not what we were created for.  We were created to have bodies, to walk on earth, to breathe air.  This is what the hope of Resurrection is.  We will have bodies, but they will be incorruptible.  The souls and bodies of the dead will be re-knit together for Judgement Day, and the saved will spend eternity living with those bodies and enjoying the world.

Thus, while there is much in Platonism to commend it, there is also much to be cautious of.  The same is true of Aristotelianism, Stoicism, Hinduism, Islam, or Buddhism.  Let us not forget that our first commitment is to Christ who was revealed in the Scriptures and has shown Himself through His people throughout history.  All pagan ideas, good or ill, are secondary.