There’s a persistent idea out there that goes something like this: Greek philosophy is a Bad Thing, it has corrupted Christian theology, and we need to cast it off and return to a pure, biblical form of Christianity. I’ve definitely been influenced by this way of thinking. But I’m beginning to have doubts about it.
In this short video, Simon Oliver (now Professor of Theology in Durham, and one my lecturers this year) explains how Plato can be useful for Christian theology. In particular, he draws attention to the way Plato’s idea of the forms can help us to think about the relationship between God and creation.
Plato is commonly assumed to have been a dualist, in proposing that there are two separate realms: the unchanging realm of the forms, and the changing world in which we live. But this, Simon Oliver suggests, is a misunderstanding of Plato. For Plato, as for Christianity, there is only one thing that really exists, in and of itself, and everything else exists only in a relative sense, by participation in that one thing. Just as, for Plato, individual things in the world participate in the eternal realm of the forms, so, for Christianity, everything in creation participates in God’s being and God’s goodness.