Christian Platonism

Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom

What is the Platonic Form of Jesus Christ?

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Here is a thought experiment, one with the potential to be a contemplative or devotional exercise.

We know that in Platonism, God can be thought of as the Form of the Good – that is, as the ultimate Form, Ideal, Essence, or Archetype of which all good things partake, and also the Form which is hierarchically higher than the other high-level Forms of Beauty, Truth, Virtue and Excellence. (This does not suppose that God is *only* the Form of the Good.  God may be more, something beyond all categories, even beyond Being itself –an unknowable ‘One’, as in Neoplatonism, but this is a different issue.)

Recall also that for Plato (as in Diotima’s speech of Symposium 210a–212c), one may, by an ascending contemplation of Forms, arrive at a vision of the highest Form, the Form of the Good (beatific vision).

This suggests: (1) our concept of ‘Jesus Christ’ is also associated with a Form of an extremely high order; and (2) we may achieve a vision of this Form by a similar kind of ascending contemplation, from lower and higher Forms. (We place ‘Jesus Christ’ in quotes because, among other things, Jesus Christ may *be* this Form, and it would be redundant to speak of a Form of Itself.)

In keeping with the provisional nature of this exercise, I will here only suggest some of the Forms that may be relevant to consider.  That is, our concept of ‘Jesus Christ’ is associated, for example, with all of the following Forms; that is, the epitome of all these:

  • Savior, Deliverer
  • Mediator, Advocate
  • Christ, Anointed, Messiah
  • Prince of Peace
  • Son of God
  • Son of Man
  • Bread of Life
  • Friend
  • Shepherd
  • Physician
  • Counselor
  • Educator
  • Judge
  • Captain
  • King
  • High Priest
  • Agriculturist, Vine-tender
  • Pantacrator (Almighty Ruler)
  • Gate, Way, Truth
  • Light
  • Author of Light
  • Light of Day
  • Life
  • Love
  • Our Hope
  • Morning Star
  • Source of Living Waters
  • Word of God
  • Cornerstone
  • Power of God
  • Wisdom of God
  • Elder Brother
  • Emmanuel (‘God is with us’)
  • Conqueror, Victor
  • King of Righteousness
  • King of Glory
  • Most High

Contemplating the meaning of each of these individually, one may potentially discover related groupings and higher-order Forms.  And higher than all these individual and higher-order Forms, would be a highest Form.  So potentially, by following Plato’s method one could glimpse this highest order Form of ‘Jesus Christ’.

Jesus Christ as the Principle of Self-Actualization

One initial observation might be that several of the attributes or titles above (Physician, Agriculturist, Savior, etc.) constellate around a higher-order Form or principle that involves guiding, developing, nurturing, and bringing to fruition the human soul and all of Creation.  In this sense, Jesus Christ would be, among other things, the Archetype of self-actualization — the essential principle by which all things progress and achieve their intended end or telos.  Thus, just as an acorn is brought by Nature to its telos of being an oak tree, so too the human soul achieves its telos through the wisdom, guidance,  and power of Jesus Christ.  Human self-actualization in this sense does not mean something a person does personally; the self does not actualize itself, as in the theories of certain humanistic psychologists, but, rather, the self is actualized through by agency of Jesus Christ.

Forms here may also help us to understand the relationship of Jesus Christ to the individual soul, that is, how Christ can be both something within the soul, part of it and part of ourselves, and yet different and distinct from ourselves.  Jesus would be the universal Form/Archetype of self-actualization, and our souls would individually instantiate the Archetype (according to whatever the mechanism is by which Forms instantiate — say as an emanation, image, reflection, etc.)  By such a view, salvation would in part consist of our ego conforming itself to the self-actualizing or Christ principle, which is perhaps already within the soul (i.e., part of the Image of God which each soul contains).  In its salvation, the ego, instead of devoting itself to seeking transient pleasures or following its own schemes, would itself become an anti-type (i.e., an ‘image’, loosely speaking) of Jesus Christ in his role as the self-actualizing principle.

Note that this is positing three levels:  (1) Jesus Christ as the Archetype of self-actualization; (2) a self-actualization principle within the soul, which is an image of the Archetype; and (3) the ego being gradually re-organized around the self-actualizing principle, itself then also becoming an image of the Archetype.  The ego, that is, both is the recipient of self-actualization, and, eventually, also becomes itself an agent of it.

We might also observe that, of the traditional Platonic triad of Truth (Intellectual Goodness), Beauty (Aesthetic Goodness) and Justice (Moral Goodness), Truth and Justice are well represented amongst those roles traditionally associated with Jesus Christ. Beauty is less well represented.  We have become accustomed to seeing Jesus Christ as Judge and Logos; yet are less prone to think of Him as Artist, Conductor, or Gardener. Perhaps this suggests an important direction of growth for modern Christianity.

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Written by John Uebersax

December 4, 2013 at 4:15 pm

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