Sunday, November 9, 2014

"In reality, Christian theology is the antithesis of Platonic theology." (Niketas Siniossoglou on essentialism, anti-essentialistm, Hellenism and Christianity)

This post concerns a 2011 paper by Byzantine scholar Niketas Siniossoglou: Plato Christianus: The Colonization of Plato and Identity Formation in Late Antiquity. Of course you should read the paper for yourself and draw your own conclusions (it is available freely via academia.edu here). For my part I found the following eight essential themes in the paper especially noteworthy:

1. Philosophy in general and Platonic philosophy in particular are incompatible with Christianity.

2. Philosophy and Christianity are more than mere social constructs, for each has it's own essential nature, and it is these essential natures that are mutually incompatible with one another. Therefore the incompatibility itself is also something essential (that is, not merely an adventitious social construction).

3. Hellenism, as a religious designation, is synonymous with the Pagan Platonic philosophy.

4. In late antiquity, when Hellenism and Christianity first came into contact with each other, Hellenes (that is, Pagan intellectuals) and Christian intellectuals unproblematically recognized this mutual incompatibility.

5. While still recognizing this intrinsic mutual incompatibility, early Christian apologists tried to turn Plato against himself by claiming that bits and pieces of his philosophy were redeemable becuase they anticipated their "gospel", and that this was all part of their god's master plan for "preparing the way" for the Incarnation.

6. The resulting Christianized version of Plato ("Plato Christianus") has been recognized by many, at least until recent times, for the intellectual fraud that it is.

7. More recently, however, western intellectual culture has fallen under the spell of anti-essenitialism (or "postmodernism", or "cultural history", or whatever else one wishes to call it), which requires modern historians to absolutely deny that Hellenism and Christianity possess distinct essences. Because they are lacking in any distinct essence, are are merely social constructions, there is no sense in which Hellenism and Christianity could be said to be essentially incompatible with one another.

8. Although he diplomatically refrains from driving home this point, it is quite clearly implied by Siniossoglou that modern historians who obfuscate the essential incompatibility of Platonism and Christianism are simply acting as crypto-apologists, to the extent that they are aware of the agenda they are serving, or as naive dupes, to the extent that they are unaware of the agenda they are serving.

5 comments:

Julia Ergane said...

"Hellenism, as a religious designation, is synonymous with the Pagan Platonic philosophy."

This is a statement of belief which is inherently false. No one philosophy is synonymous with the threskia of Hellenism. Though I do agree that later Christian apologists did take Platon out of context (read Edward Butler on Plato's inherent polytheism)because of the Myth of the Cave etc. However, no one philosophy can be attached to the "religion" because it was NOT really a religion back then but a threskia, things done for the Gods.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Platonism must not be understood in a narrow sense. Plato is as fundamental to Hellenism as Homer is.

Marlon C. Hartshorn said...

The idea of everything being a social construction comes from 1970s France and Bruno Latour, correct? Latour has said some things that are outlandish and silly. I do not think everything is a social construction personally, and I think "intellectuals" of the academic variety should steer clear of such nonsense.

Anonymous said...

It all comes down to whether or not you believe the Golden Chain has an objective reality, beyond being merely a social construct.

Devotional/'Hard' polytheists who hold Plato in contempt for theological and ideological reasons, are never going to accept the notion that understanding the Platonic worldview is necessary to truly grasp both Hellenismos and the Theoi Themselves.

Platonists who honor the Deathless Ones will always see things differently. This is one of those religious/cultural fault lines that will always exist among self-identified Hellenists...and may have always existed.

In the interest of full disclosure, I despise both post-modernism, and the obscurantist secret code in which its anointed prophets utter their glossolalia.

Aetius

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Marlon, I am enough of an anti-modernist that I rarely concern myself with any philosophers who lived any later than Simplicius, although I do make exceptions. What little I know of Latour seems to suggest that he might not be quite as guilty as you suggest, for at least two reasons. For one thing, he applies the methodology of constructivism to modernism itself and in particular to the "anthropology of science", which tends to undermine that key article of modernism: blind faith in science. Secondly, Latour appears to want to distance himself from so-called "postmodernism" and actually attacks that other pillar of postmodernism: the naive assumption that "moderns" are inherently more sophisticated in our understanding of ourselves and the world than all those who have come before.