Friday, December 17, 2010

Did Christian Faith Succumb to Neo-Platonism

I doubt if I am up to answering this question.  But I will give it a try, and I shall begin with the idea of the person in Greek thought. In Greek thought there was no sure idea of the person as we have come to know it in the West.   In Greek thought the Absolute, the One was an Impersonal Absolute, and since all things ultimately resolved into the One,  anything that appeared as person was a mask of sorts and not an aspect of being.   Prosopon in Greek conveyed that as did Persona in Latin. This more or less applied as well to 'souls' and to their pre-existence, and their relationship to the Impersonal Absolute.  You also see it in Buddhism which seems to follow closely Greek philosophies.  In Hellenism there was no ontological ground for the person.  Drama was important in Greek culture because that which was depicted as person was enacted in dramas where masks were added, in a sort of myth of personhood.  The Impersonal One did not supply an ontological ground for personhood. 
In marked contrast the Source of All in Christian thought was the Person of the Father who derived freely from all Eternity, the person of the Logos, and the person of the Spirit, as well as the common Nature that belonged to all equally.  Thus from All Eternity there was not an Impersonal Absolute, but a Person who amplified Himself in Eternity into a Communion of Persons.   So,  the eternal absolute, if you will in Christian thought was a Communion of Persons, and one in which the Three equaled One.  The ground of all being was a Communion of Persons, that gave ontological ground to both the notion of the person and also of the possibility of geniune community and the overcoming of existential isolation as isolated existents. 
This ontological uniqueness of Christian faith was derived from Scripture, Old and New Testaments, which utilized neo-platonic terms, but did not succumb to neo-platonic categories, but redeemed, if you will greek theological speculations by the impetus of revelation.
Christian revelation also fulfilled the apophatic impulses of Greek thought that nevertheless was never able to escape the limitations of thought and syllogism, to conceive of any existence utterly different from the created.  Reason and logic are qualities of the created order, and if the Transcendent can be conceived by reason and logic, then it ceases to be transcendent and we fail utterly to conceive anything beyond our experience. Greek thought usually was followed by to an Impersonal Abolute, the One. Greek thought was captive to the created order and could not point to anything beyond.
Christian revelation came on the scene and redeemed the captivity of Greek thought, first by positing the ground of Being as a Communion of Persons, but more so by a Communion of Persons where three equals one.  It does not submit to human reason, nor to mathematical verities, and points to an existence beyond the Created order and incomprehensible to it.  Christian revelation redeemed the Greek captivity to creation.
But if we were left only with a Transcendent God, how could there be revelation?   How can it be that the God who could not be known, reveal Himself.  Orthodox thought came to the rescue again by the distinction of the Essence and Energies of God.  The Essence is the unknowability of God; the Energies is the presence of God outside of His Essence. The Energies enable the Transcendent God to be Known in His Immanence.  Greek thought had no means of dealing with this either, and the Aristotelean neo-Platonism resolved it in an unacceptable way and led to the big mistakes of the Catholic Church that would fully emerge after the first millennium.  

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