Special Issue "Plato among the Christians"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 August 2016)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. J. Warren Smith

Associate Professor of Historical Theology, Duke Divinity School, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA
Website | E-Mail
Phone: (919) 660-3415
Interests: Ambrose of Milan; Augustine of Hippo; Gregory of Nyssa; divine impassibility; theosis/deification; patristic exegesis of Romans; virtue theory; theological anthropology; Christology; Christian perfection

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Adolf Von Harnack explained in the rise of ur-Catholicism as the corruption of apostolic Christianity through a syncretistic incorporation of ideas from Classical and Hellenistic philosophical traditions, especially Platonism and Stoicism, into early Christian theology. Although Harnack wrote his influential Das Wesen des Christentums over 150 years ago, his essential narrative of the development of patristic theology remains influential in the popular scholarly imagination, in spite of serious scholarly criticism of his thesis. The overall focus of this issue is to question Harnack’s theory by complicating the narrative of the influence of the Platonist tradition. This alternative narrative begins with the influence of Platonism on first century Christianity, as reflected in the Gospel of John. The primary scope of the papers lies between the post-apostolic era of the late first/early second centuries, to the post-Chacedonian era of Maximos the Confessor in the 7th century. The topics in this Special Issue stand within two groups of studies: first, those of the relationship between Christianity and Hellenistic philosophy in the first and second centuries, and, second, those on the development of Christian doctrine (e.g., Khaled Anatolios, Lewis Ayres, Christopher Beeley, and Russell Norman). With the discovery of Aristotle and his influence on Aquinas and the Sentence Commentary tradition, the Platonic influence on Catholic theology that dominated the patristic era waned in the high Middle Ages. The legacy of Christian Platonism, nevertheless, continues to be felt in certain quarters of Catholic thought. This issue, therefore, will conclude with an examination of the Platonic legacy that stretched beyond late antiquity into the Middle Ages and the present.

Dr. J. Warren Smith
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

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References:

Ilaria Ramelli, “Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism: Re-Thinking the Christianization of Hellenism.” In Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009), pp. 217–263.

"Platonist Orientalism," Historical and Biographical Values of Plutarch’s Works. Studies devoted to Professor Philip Stadter by the International Plutarch Society, ed. Aurelio Pérez Jiménez and Frances Titchener,. (Leuven -Madrid 2005), pp. 245–271.

Keywords

  • apologetics
  • Augustine of Hippo
  • Gnosticism
  • Gregory of Nyssa
  • Justin Martyr
  • Origen of Alexandria
  • Middle Platonism
  • Maximos the Confessor
  • mysticism
  • Neo-Platonism
  • Philo Plato
  • Platonism
  • Plotinus
  • theosis

Published Papers (7 papers)

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Research

Open AccessArticle Anamnesis and the Silent Narrator in Plato and John
Religions 2017, 8(4), 47; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8040047
Received: 20 December 2016 / Revised: 14 March 2017 / Accepted: 16 March 2017 / Published: 27 March 2017
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Abstract
The Gospel of John is often compared to the dialogues of Plato by those who connect Johannine theology and Platonic philosophy. The comparison operates on the level of ideas. The present paper does not ignore issues of theology and philosophy but grounds a [...] Read more.
The Gospel of John is often compared to the dialogues of Plato by those who connect Johannine theology and Platonic philosophy. The comparison operates on the level of ideas. The present paper does not ignore issues of theology and philosophy but grounds a comparison of John and Plato first and foremost on the literary level. In several key places in John 1, 3, and 14, the Johannine narrator recedes from view and is unexpectedly silent where one would expect a narrator’s comment to organize the conversations and interactions between characters in John. Plato also renders the voice of the narrator silent in a dialogue like the Theaetetus. This paper argues that John and Plato both suppress the narrator’s voice in order to further their anamnetic efforts and to make later generations not only readers but participants in their original conversations. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Plato among the Christians)
Open AccessArticle Origen and the Platonic Tradition
Religions 2017, 8(2), 21; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8020021
Received: 3 September 2016 / Accepted: 31 January 2017 / Published: 10 February 2017
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (668 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
This study situates Origen of Alexandria within the Platonic tradition, presenting Origenas a Christian philosopher who taught and studied philosophy, of which theology was part and parcel. More specifically, Origen can be described as a Christian Platonist. He criticized “false philosophies” as well [...] Read more.
This study situates Origen of Alexandria within the Platonic tradition, presenting Origenas a Christian philosopher who taught and studied philosophy, of which theology was part and parcel. More specifically, Origen can be described as a Christian Platonist. He criticized “false philosophies” as well as “heresies,” but not the philosophy of Plato. Against the background of recent scholarly debates, the thorny issue of the possible identity between Origen the Christian Platonist and Origen the Neoplatonist is partially addressed (although it requires a much more extensive discussion); it is also discussed in the light of Origen’s formation at Ammonius’s school and the reception of his works and ideas in “pagan” Platonism. As a consequence, and against scholarly perspectives that tend to see Christianity as anti-Platonism, the final section of this paper asks the question of what is imperial and late antique Platonism and, on the basis of rich evidence ,suggests that this was not only “pagan” institutional Platonism. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Plato among the Christians)
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle How Love for the Image Cast out Fear of It in Early Christianity
Religions 2017, 8(2), 20; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8020020
Received: 15 August 2016 / Accepted: 3 February 2017 / Published: 7 February 2017
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Abstract
Iconoclastic and iconophilic impulses have long vied for pre-eminence in Christianity, coming to one particularly fraught crisis point in the Byzantine Iconomachy of the eighth and ninth centuries. Funding both impulses, this paper argues, is a profound Platonic ambivalence about the image. For [...] Read more.
Iconoclastic and iconophilic impulses have long vied for pre-eminence in Christianity, coming to one particularly fraught crisis point in the Byzantine Iconomachy of the eighth and ninth centuries. Funding both impulses, this paper argues, is a profound Platonic ambivalence about the image. For Plato, the image not only deceives and enslaves; it also reveals and inspires. Plotinus, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, John of Damascus, and Theodore of Stoudios articulate their own iterations of Plato’s hopes and fears about the image as they attempt different strategies for resolving these dueling inclinations. This paper traces the evolution of image theory across these thinkers to illumine how Theodore of Stoudios’ approach magnifies Platonic image hopes and quells fears in a way that prepares for the ongoing resolution of image anxiety in the iconographic tradition. More than a purely historical interest, this arc of image thought have continuing relevance for image theory today. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Plato among the Christians)
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle The One and the Many in Bonaventure Exemplarity Explained
Religions 2016, 7(12), 144; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel7120144
Received: 1 September 2016 / Revised: 14 November 2016 / Accepted: 28 November 2016 / Published: 8 December 2016
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Abstract
The category of exemplarity, which holds a central place in Bonaventure’s thought, is in many ways a certain type of solution to the problem of the many and the one. Bonaventure’s account of the relationship between the created many and the uncreated original [...] Read more.
The category of exemplarity, which holds a central place in Bonaventure’s thought, is in many ways a certain type of solution to the problem of the many and the one. Bonaventure’s account of the relationship between the created many and the uncreated original on which they are all based is in many ways like the account that Augustine gives; but he both greatly expands upon the Augustinian account and expands it in directions that prepare for the Christocentrism that will mark the rest of his theological work. This article will explicate Bonaventure’s treatment of this issue on the basis of his two most extended conversations, in the first book of his commentary on Lombard’s Sentences and in the Disputed Questions on the Knowledge of Christ. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Plato among the Christians)
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle Loving the Many in the One: Augustine and the Love of Finite Goods
Religions 2016, 7(11), 137; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel7110137
Received: 18 August 2016 / Revised: 19 October 2016 / Accepted: 24 October 2016 / Published: 18 November 2016
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Abstract
This is an essay in comparative ethics within the Platonist tradition. Although the primary focus is on Augustine’s account of rightly ordered love of neighbor in De vera religione, it analyzes Augustine’s account of the love of finite goods by comparing it [...] Read more.
This is an essay in comparative ethics within the Platonist tradition. Although the primary focus is on Augustine’s account of rightly ordered love of neighbor in De vera religione, it analyzes Augustine’s account of the love of finite goods by comparing it with Plato’s grounding of the love of imperfect creatures within an ontological hierarchy in Symposium. Against the backdrop of the critique by modern readers that neither thinker’s teleological and hierarchical view of love allows for a real love of particular individuals, this essay will show how for Plato and Augustine alike, the love of the One—the Beautiful, for Plato, and God, for Augustine—conditions all other loves. Augustine’s ontological hierarchy of the one eternal God and the many created goods leads him to insist that the love of God, who alone is loved for his own sake, conditions the Christian’s love of neighbors whom she loves not for their own sake but for God’s. The Platonic ontology of Augustine’s theodicy, it will be argued, allows him to explain how use-love is a genuine expression of love for the neighbor in her particularity and yet remains subordinated to one’s highest love of God. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Plato among the Christians)
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle The Platonist Christianity of Marius Victorinus
Religions 2016, 7(10), 122; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel7100122
Received: 18 August 2016 / Revised: 20 September 2016 / Accepted: 20 September 2016 / Published: 1 October 2016
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Abstract
Marius Victorinus is the first representative of Platonist Christianity in the Latin church whose works display knowledge of Plotinus and Porphyry. Scholarship prior to the work of Pierre Hadot in the mid-twentieth century tended to treat him as an isolated figure, ignored by [...] Read more.
Marius Victorinus is the first representative of Platonist Christianity in the Latin church whose works display knowledge of Plotinus and Porphyry. Scholarship prior to the work of Pierre Hadot in the mid-twentieth century tended to treat him as an isolated figure, ignored by later Latin Christians who knew better how to moderate their Platonist borrowings. Scholars since then have been more willing to see Victorinus as earnest Christian who let himself be guided by the community standards of the church as laid out in the biblical canon and creedal definitions. Recent work on Victorinus’ sources has shown him to be more eclectic in his use of philosophical sources than previously thought and for that reason more creative in formulating his Platonist–Christian synthesis. After reviewing important lines of development in scholarship on Victorinus, this article focuses on his Platonist-inspired teaching about the soul as expressed in the three genres of his Christian works: theological treatises, hymns, and scriptural commentaries. The consistent “insider” stance of Victorinus in all of these different genres of theological writings suggests that the extremely Platonist character of his theology, when considered in light of other early Christian thinkers, is a difference of degree and not kind. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Plato among the Christians)
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle “None Come Closer to Us than These:” Augustine and the Platonists
Religions 2016, 7(9), 114; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel7090114
Received: 28 July 2016 / Revised: 22 August 2016 / Accepted: 26 August 2016 / Published: 1 September 2016
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Abstract
This paper reflects on the importance of pagan Platonism to one of its most sympathetic Christian interpreters, Augustine of Hippo. Its goal is to uncover what Platonism meant to Augustine and why it mattered so much to him throughout his long career. To [...] Read more.
This paper reflects on the importance of pagan Platonism to one of its most sympathetic Christian interpreters, Augustine of Hippo. Its goal is to uncover what Platonism meant to Augustine and why it mattered so much to him throughout his long career. To that end the essay begins by considering salient developments in the study of Platonism over the last fifty years, with particular attention to several crucial shifts in interpretation and consequent changes in its contemporary representation. It then follows those leads into the study of Augustine, considering closely how he himself described the import of Platonism and what it contributed to his development. Brief consideration is first given to Augustine’s earliest works. Attention then turns to his definitive treatment of the conversionary power of Platonism in Book VII of the Confessions and his later assessment of Platonism in City of God VIII. That inquiry will offer a basis to conclude with some final observations on the interpretation of Platonism in the study of Augustine. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Plato among the Christians)
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