Christian Platonism

Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom

About Christian Platonism

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THE FIRST purpose of this blog is to promote Christian spirituality, contemplation and meditation, and the devout study of Scripture.  The title has changed over time.  Orignally it was “Catholic Gnosis,” understanding the word gnosis in the sense that Clement of Alexandria used, i.e., to denote spiritual senses, insights, forms of knowledge and experiences that charactrise the life of the deeply spiritual, or pneumatic Christian.  Later the name was changed to “Christian Platonism,” but arguably should have been “Christian Platonist Spirituality” (see below).  The premise was that Christian Platonists (e.g., St. Augustine of Hippo) have, over the centuries, often been the strongest advocates of contemplation and traditional ascetico-mysticism amongst Christians.  Now that title seems too limiting, and perhaps it will change again.  However, for continuity, the earlier comments on that subject are retained below.

In any case, a second purpose is to promite the idea that the ascetico-mystical tradition in Christianity constiutes a viable (and, we might even say, optimal, if not necessary) system of virtue ethics and practical psychology for people today.  In other words, the aim is to map the concepts and writings of Christian ethicists and mystics into modern psychological terms, and argue that they better meet the needs of modern people than secular, atheistics/agnostic psychological theories.

My home page (which supplies a few biographicsl details) is here. My other blog, Satyagraha, is dedicated to cultural psychology and social issues.

My email address is: jsuebersax, followed by the ‘at’ sign, followed by gmail.com.

Thank you for visiting!

John S. Uebersax

What is Christian Platonism?

ἀλλὰ μεταμορφοῦσθε τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοός ὑμῶν (Rom 12.2)

WHAT is Christian Platonism? And what is its relevance today?  We seek to answer these questions here.

The effort is ongoing, but let’s begin with this much: Christian Platonism is a way of or approach to life, a personal quest for wisdom, holiness, and, ultimately, union with God. Our principal aim is to understand the experience of Christian Platonism — that is Christian Platonist spirituality. This is distinct from the subjects of how Platonic philosophical ideas have influenced Christian technical theology, or how Plato’s theories may supply a basis for objective morality.

We can gain some initial appreciation of what this means by examining the many notable Christians who were Platonists and by reflecting on what they have in common. The page linked to in the line above contains a historical listing Christian Platonists, along with some timelines and an extensive bibliography.

So there is no misunderstanding, I am a fully orthodox Roman Catholic and nothing I write should be understood as other than affirming sound, traditional Church teachings, Patristic writings and the Bible.  With that principle kept firmly in mind, I do feel free to on occasion selectively refer to other religious and philosophical traditions. As Pope Paul VI wrote in Nostra Aetate (1965), “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in [other] religions.”

As a psychologist I’m especially concerned with understanding the cognitive psychology of Platonist ethics and epistemology.  The traditional stages of Christian spiritual life are (1) purification, (2) illumination and (3) union.  Platonism, it seems to me, is especially concerned with the first and second.  Achieving the third stage is where Christianity comes in. However what distinguishes Christian Platonism from other forms of Christian spirituality is Plato’s emphasis on awakening certain higher cognitive powers of the mind.

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Written by John Uebersax

April 19, 2006 at 12:14 pm

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