An Introduction to Philosophy for Deacons: Issue #8

(The following are the written notes/texts of four, three hour, online session presentations given in the months of February through May in A.D. 2018.  A similar set of presentations was given to a previous group some years earlier.  The group consisted of diaconal aspirants, spouses, and diocesan officials of the Diocese of Pueblo in Colorado, United States.  The fifteen articles found here will include thirteen specific philosophical issues, covered in those four online sessions.)

Let us now turn attention to the eighth issue: the impact of Christianity’s appropriation and adoption of Platonic idealism.

Plato’s idealism stated that what was most real were immaterial things such as the forms of things and various immaterial categorical concepts such as treeness, and numbers.  Plato reasoned that the only way we have awareness and knowledge of the various material things we sense, is because of the immaterial categorical concepts of those same things which exist in our minds, and to which we can attach and sort those various material things we sense.

Saint Augustine and others noticed a striking similarity between Plato’s emphasis on the immaterial realities and those realities which Christianity highly valued; immaterial things such as God, angels, heaven, eternal life, prayer, meditation.

This attraction would cause Christianity to take a neo-Platonic turn in which the social and political structures of Christianity focus on the importance and primacy of immaterial things.  One of those things on which neo-Platonic Christianity focused were those institutions which took individual persons out of the work-a-day common world of man and woman, and placed them in monasteries dedicated to a focus on spiritual things, prayer, God, truths, ideas.

In the safe and quiet monasteries, space and time and resources were dedicated to scriptoriums; places where various texts were received, repaired, copied, and stored.

Among the writings which are collected, and repaired, and copied, and stored, are the many writings of the Greek realist, Aristotle.  

Because Aristotle’s writings focused primarily on real tangible contingent material things, though copied and preserved, Aristotle’s writings were not much read, consulted, or used.

But, they were preserved.

At the end of the Medieval Middle Ages Period, the brilliant Dominican monk, Saint Thomas Aquinas, will be introduced to, pick up, read and begin to redefine Christianity’s social and political structures in terms of the realism of Aristotle.

Aquinas’ emphasis on Aristotelian realism will be among and will cause others to look at Aristotle again.  Among those who reconsider the writings of Aristotle are those modern persons who will take Aristotle’s ideas on methods-of-acquiring-new-knowledge and develop these into modern scientific methods.

Saint Augustine’s neo-Platonism will preserve Aristotelian realism which will then be able to be rediscovered by Saint Thomas Aquinas which in turn will lead to the best aspects of the science, social, and political structures of the modern world.


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