Words

Life

Category: Plato

Impressions

by Andrea Elizabeth

We really enjoyed hiking, wading and swimming in the river, cooking out, and playing games at the cabin on the mountain. It was very secluded and peaceful.

Then to Carlsbad. It was the second time most of us had been to the Caverns, the first was 8 years ago. It was weird to see every cactus and tree on the park charred and dead. Apparently there was a fire during the heatwave last summer that is still being investigated.

It seems a non separation of Church and State for a national park to display the name “Rock of Ages” on one of their formations, and to make a big deal about how the Big Room is in the shape of a cross. Maybe the symbols are cryptic enough to get around the atheists.

I was able to do a little cross stitching at the cabin. I am on the second to last repetition of pattern on the top border. It is a bit tedious, but I like that there are times I don’t have to count, so I can think about other things. Like how the pattern coming onto a blank page, so to speak, takes shape identically each time. It’s like cutting and pasting, but by counting instead. I started comparing it to forms, where the idea pre-exists the materialization. But the idea is exact, not more basic or pure.

Which brings us back to work. One of my daughter’s ABeka memory verses today is Romans 2:10,For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” I am thinking that these good works are more about the repetition of a specific pattern, even though individual manifestations may appear different. The pattern is invisible, as love and relational connections are. I’m thinking these individual connections are the good works. Bad connections are passionate, sinful ones; good connections are loving and unselfish. The material objects themselves may be the same or different, but are a vital part of the connection.

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Further down and further out

by Andrea Elizabeth

Having finished the Celestial Hierarchies, let me just note what I suppose are the Platonic forms so represented.

Let us, if you are so disposed, now relax our mental vision from the effort of the contemplation of the sublimity of the Angels, and descend to the particularized, all-various expanse of the manifold diversity of forms in angelic images; and then return analytically from them, as from symbols, ascending again to the simplicity of the Celestial Intelligences. But first let me point out clearly to you that the explanations of the sacred likenesses represent the same Orders of Celestial Beings sometimes as leading, and again being led, and the last leading and the first being led, and the same ones, as has been said, having first, middle and last powers. But there is nothing unreasonable in the account, according to the following method of unfoldment.

The two things that give me pause are, 1) the idea of diminishment as one moves down the chain. And 2) The indirectness of God’s help in using such a chain.

What these two problems assume is that the grace imparted, diminished and indirect, is something apart and detached from God Himself. If I seek confirmation of this in Scripture, then I think of the passage explaining that God made man a little lower than the angels. And I don’t doubt that Moses’ face after the burning bush was less bright than Christ’s at the Transfiguration. And it is also explained somewhere that to each a measure of grace (actually, faith) is given. If we understand that this grace is a living part of God Himself, then it doesn’t seem so detached, even if it is given at the hands of someone else. One must learn to be content no matter where one is placed around the table. Just be glad you’re there, or at least under it searching for dispersed, increasingly particularized fallen crumbs, at all.

Unavoidable atmosphere

by Andrea Elizabeth

Ian McKellan, Gandalph, reading Homer’s Odyssey while cross stitching, brings out the gods’ comforting words during despair, a mother’s incomparable love for her son, a son’s equal jealousy on his departed father’s behalf, a female god’s lust for a mortal man and his unhearted capitulation, the inspiration of lovely things, the great appreciation of shelter from storms, and the great relief of sleep. How human.

Regarding his capitulation, although loyal to his wife, he is not unaffected by his bodily circumstances. We don’t like this devision between the heart’s devotion and one’s unwilling(?) subjection to the senses. The Greeks, later(?), prized the intellect’s transcendence above the senses. But literature isn’t about that. Even Plato set sensual scenes of banquets as backgrounds to intellectual discussions.

Dionysius’ hierarchies

by Andrea Elizabeth

Thinking about hierarchies lead me to this article about how Plato is said to have started it all. If Plato was right, that doesn’t mean he invented it. The article also talks about how hierarchical emergents are making a come back and the material reductionists are losing ground.

Who is wise?

by Andrea Elizabeth

Almost through the fourth lecture of the Leo Strauss audio tapes, I feel the need to regroup. The first recording was pretty packed with information and some interpretation. The pace has slowed down considerably since then, and seems to be dwelling on harder to come by hints and suggestions on whether Socrates was an atheist or not and whether he was wise or not, and why he was accused of the former. My understanding is that the accusations were brought by unknown people who cannot be cross-examined. The prosecutors are those prejudiced by them. Socrates is defending himself because he feels it his duty to defend the truth, not because he thinks he will persuade. He thinks persuasion is for Sophists who use rhetoric to manipulate people with lies.

I am looking forward to seeing if there is a more subtle point (or maybe it’s considered obvious? or maybe I’m wrong) being made about the nature of atheism and wisdom. What if wisdom (things “aloft”) was thought only to be available to the gods who spoke through the Delphic oracle? Pure revelation. Therefore Socrates would be blasphemous if he thought himself wise, which he did because he thought he was the only one wise enough to know he didn’t know anything. He found that politicians thought they knew more than they did, poets didn’t even know how to interpret their own transmissions of inspiration, but craftsmen at least knew what the shoes they made were for. I’ll make the point that one can use reason to know what physical things can do, but ideas are much more opaque. If one sees the heavenly realm of ideas as opaque, then one sort of denies heaven, or the comprehension of it, so then one can be sort of atheist in an apophatic sense. Perhaps these are the wise ones.

This sort of wisdom can make one worry about denying revelation and our ability to know God. I’ll go ahead and lean towards it while writing this sentence because apophaticism can realize that knowledge of the divine came from a source other than man. But the pagan idea of going to a prophet in a drug induced trance to hear from God doesn’t suit either. Orthodox truth is more relational than that, and requires more engagement of our minds. I think atheists put up too many blocks, others not enough. Socrates denied being an atheist. He liked Apollo, which didn’t suit the Greeks much. I can see why after reading the Iliad. I think I’ve heard that the philosophers introduced monotheism and killed the lesser gods. That is a sort of atheism if you think about ADS’ elimination of anything other than the divine essence, to the detriment of the divine persons. It also eliminates the physical, which nullifies the wisdom of craftsmen.

More on the “Spirituality Confusion” is found in A Vow of Conversation,

Indeed, it is the uniting of the polarity between knowing and unknowing that is the heart of faith, and those who insist on the limitation of human language to speak of God, are the first to lay down their lives to defend its expressions. For faith has a name, and a concrete history. It is the revelation of God in Christ and His continued presence in His Body the Church.

Macrina even quotes St. Maximus!

When the pursuit of virtue by society turned to self-preservation

by Andrea Elizabeth

Some of the audio, not to mention the concepts, is a bit hard to understand, but I find the following idea from Leo Strauss’ lecture on “Plato’s Political Philosophy: Apology and Crito,” (h/t Gabriel) the first of the series, enlightening. I hope it is the point he was making.

Apparently Professor Strauss believes that Niccolo Machiavelli ushered in a shift from political or social science being based on virtue to it being based on circumstantial realism/”hedonism”. The virtues became imaginary and unattainable and a more pragmatic approach was adopted. I believe he’s saying that a person’s drive for self-preservation became the goal, not the attainment of the virtuous, ideal telos of all mankind. I like being able to pin this shift on one person and one time in history, which not all agree with Professor Strauss as occurring, but it makes comparing and contrasting, and closure easier.  Even if Machiavelli is being used as a scapegoat, what should he care at this point? The ones who disagree probably don’t think he’s the model citizen either.

I have at times considered that a selfish focus can lead to good. Nice trees and shrubs make people want to shop at certain locations, thus it is profitable for merchants to beautify the polis. However, setting the bar as low as Machiavelli does degrades humanity, and thus stifles it.

On the other hand, idealistic people can become too narrow in what they think the ideal is. The ideal man or woman behaves thus and has a certain kind of appearance. It can get pretty discriminatory and limiting. Louisa May Alcott seems to have suffered from not fitting into an ideal mold in her father’s comparison. He believed his fair hair and mild manners were perfect, whereas her dark looks and passionate manner, being the opposite, must be evil. “What Would Jesus Do” also presumes that a person can imagine the ideal on their own. We can’t completely discount this because our nature is in the divine image. Balancing this with our sinful habits and delusions is the challenge.

Another point Professor Strauss made while talking about how the idea of human nature changed with Machiavelli, was that man began to be seen as an individual and not as a social being. In his desire for self-preservation, he saw after the fact that he needed to be social. I guess this goes along with believing sin is natural. In the Orthodox view, sin is unnatural. Thus, if desiring society is virtuous, then individualism is sinful and not natural. This also fits with the idea of Being as Communion, which I haven’t read.

One can easily idealize and imagine what the perfect society would be like, but its virtuous reality may be far different from that. As long as we strive for it however, by grace we’ll attain it someday – maybe in the next life.

Cliff Lee and David B

by Andrea Elizabeth

My curiosity about what David B. Hart is up to and my subsequent curiosity on whether Cliff Lee is going to stay with the Rangers (probably not) met each other in the former’s First Things article, “A Perfect Game”. He is a delight to read. However, I’m glad he identifies his views as Platonic, and not Orthodox in the piece. My intuition lines up more with his Buddhist and Biblical comparisons with baseball, which seem more incarnational than his elusive Platonist forms.

In his later philosophy, Heidegger liked to indulge in eccentric etymologies because he was certain that there are truths deeply hidden in language. It is one of the more beguilingly magical aspects of his thought and therefore—to my mind—one of the more convincing. Consider, for instance, the wonderful ambiguity one finds in the word invention when one considers its derivation. The Latin invenire means principally “to find,” “to encounter,” or (literally) “to come upon.” Only secondarily does it mean “to create” or “to originate.” Even in English, where the secondary sense has now entirely displaced the primary, the word retained this dual connotation right through the seventeenth century. This pleases me for two reasons. The first is that, as an instinctive Platonist, I naturally believe that every genuine act of human creativity is simultaneously an innovation and a discovery, a marriage of poetic craft and contemplative vision that captures traces of eternity’s radiance in fugitive splendors here below by translating our tacit knowledge of the eternal forms into finite objects of reflection, at once strange and strangely familiar. The second is that the word’s ambiguity helps me to formulate my intuitions regarding the ultimate importance of baseball.

There are things I recognize in the above as pertaining to being made in the image of God, but the pathos and melancholy he describes throughout is about the elusiveness. One can tell he identifies with the batter in his descriptions and how low the odds are that he’ll hit a home run when he comes to bat. While I was watching the playoffs this year, I was identifying with the pitcher. Here is my psychological evaluation of Mr. Hart.

He has a very complicated relationship with his father and thus with God. The pitcher to him is the powerful almighty who is trying to trip him up, but if he’s good enough, he can anticipate and use the pitcher’s power for his own ends. He can’t win his approval, but he can beat him. This possibility sustains him even when most efforts fail. These failures inspire him to constantly outdo himself. Hence DBH’s over achievement in reading and writing. I think his writing can be classified as pretty consistent home runs though. Face to face, maybe not so much, which is what he’s upset about with his dad.

The pitcher to me has to be constantly aware of everyone and what they are doing. Pitching is like serving dinner on time while making sure the laundry’s done and the pool filter behind my back isn’t getting clogged up with leaves. One miscalculation or negligence will ruin everything and it’s “Good-bye baseball” as my favorite announcer, Dick Risenhoover, RIP, used to say.

Askew and awry, or, against idealism

by Andrea Elizabeth

Perfection is cold and boring. This is why I’ve heard some movie stars be advised against straightening their teeth. Without their uniqueness, they disappear among the strictly beautiful. Strict beauty floats away from us. We can bond with imperfection. This is why we can’t bond with cubism. It is why CGI has developed inconsistencies in their lines. Perfect lines are too hard. As in texture, not difficulty.

If creation is imperfect, and so far it has always been because Adam and Eve were not mature and wise, even before they sinned, then in recognizing our relationship to the imperfect keeps us from being gnostic. Perhaps Plato was right to say that the perfect forms of beauty and goodness exist away from us. It is also why Christ became Incarnate. So was pre-resurrected Christ imperfect? We have to begin with the premise that he was and is not. He didn’t have a gnomic will. But he perfected human nature as a divine person through suffering in the flesh. His suffering was ugly, but he made it beautiful through his love for us. He used his broken body to heal us. He uses it still. It is a different kind of beautiful.

The inferiority of changeableness

by Andrea Elizabeth

From Kierkegaard’s exposition on Plato’s Phaedo in The Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates, p. 73:

Now, the soul has the greatest similarity to what is divine, immortal, rational, homogeneous, indissoluble, and is ever self-consistent and invariable; whereas the body has the greatest similarity to that which is human, mortal, irrational, multiform, dissoluble, and never self-consistent (p47). But here we come to an equally abstract view of the existence of the soul and its relation to the body. To be more specific, this view is by no means guilty of tangibly assigning the soul a specific place in the body, but on the other hand it does disregard, and completely, the soul’s relation to the body, and the soul, instead of moving freely in the body produced by it, continually tries to sneak out of the body. […] That the soul is not compounded is quite admissible, but as long as there is no more explicit answer to the question in what sense it is not compounded and, in another sense, to what extent it is a summary of qualifications, the definition of the soul naturally becomes totally negative, and its immortality becomes just as langweilig (boring) as the eternal number one.

Here I assume he is comparing the soul to Absolute Divine Simplicity or the One. Earlier he talked about all the virtues being many but ultimately one, but I’ll leave that for now, except that it is relevant to the discussion in Phaedo about how one’s acquisition of the virtues affects one’s afterlife. There is a part at the end of Phaedo that talks about the unvirtuous soul, though remaining a fully intact soul, is pretty much shunned in the afterlife. The idea that an individual soul can be shunned by other souls seems to place the soul more in the realm of the particular, or diverse, or many, than the universal one. Perhaps the virtuous souls are absorbed by the abstract, and as Kierkegaard surmises, the negative One, and the unvirtuous ones are left to their diverse independence. I can see the appeal of licentiousness in that case.

The problem with the ever shrinking amount of abstract forms in the ascent of the hierarchy to the One is that it has trouble reconciling and maintaining the many. In the essence/energy distinction, the many are retained, but in order to do this the proper Ordo Theologiae must be assumed. Instead of going from essence to activity to person, person is the starting point who determines activities according to nature, unoriginate in the Father’s case, created in ours. A person is many and one. A person has a vast amount of energies which enable him to eat, think, gaze, etc. all at once. There is one human nature, which Yannaras explains in the link, and I think says is more about how we are and do the many things in a personal way. An individual is one person who has a human will to choose the different activities, good or bad. If God is seen as an essence first, then reducing His component parts into one poses problems, the first being boredom to Søren and me. His essence, beyond beingly being as Dr. Jones says (see the St. Dionisius category), is the mode in which He personally moves, but stays immovable, which gets us back to Kierkegaard.

The supposed superiority of the soul is due to its immutability compared to the body’s being subject to change. Likewise a soul that is governed by a passionate body harnesses itself to changeableness and does not achieve a good end in the afterlife, even if it of itself does not change, however that may be. St. Maximus says that it must attain a habit of virtue – virtue achieved not only internally, but through the body. A properly governed body positively affects the everlasting stable soul. Thus it can be said that in some respect, in that case, the body shares in the soul’s stability. This is the point in unGnostic theosis. The body comes to partake of unchangeableness. This is why many bodies of the Saints remain incorrupt.

In the above I am borrowing the idea of the immutable soul from Plato. While I believe the soul has a beginning, I agree it doesn’t have an end. The above doesn’t depend on the idea of a stable soul that doesn’t change and which is not in and of itself affected by the body, but can also be applied to the notion that a person – body, soul and spirit or whatever three parts you want to say make up a human person – was created to achieve a state of unchangeableness. “Ever moving rest” as St. Maximus calls it. Adam in the Garden was yet to attain it in that he was immature and needed to develop stable maturity even before he sinned. He had a gnomic will that had to deliberate in a less than omniscient state. God, even as Incarnate Son, does not have a gnomic will, in that He is omniscient and doesn’t have to blindly choose between good and bad options. He knows all the good options for sure. In partaking of His nature by grace (we will always have a human nature but can be joined to God’s divine nature through His communicating energies), we can attain a conscious stability which extends to our human bodies as illustrated above.

If one does not achieve theosis in this life, then their body at the final resurrection, I suppose, will be unused to being joined to a dispassionate soul, or at least to God’s kingdom. Even if the soul is not dispassionate, contrary to Plato, I think that with the removal of sinful options that one is accustomed to will cause torment in the soul and the body. This lack of options is not due to their being none but One, but due to there being no sin in heaven. This has been explained as the existential state of hell by some. I have heard from western sources that there is sin in their idea of a physical hell, but how that brings suffering I’d have to look more into.

As far as the soul seeking to go in and out of the body, before death there is a demonic way that can occur, but there is also a Christian way. Many saints while still living have trans-located, but their appearance in other places was not disembodied. I do not know the nature of their being in another place at the same time other than that. It appears though that we are created to partake of a certain amount of divine omnipresence.

Death and Dying

by Andrea Elizabeth

How sad the death of Socrates. He passively received perceived deliverance from his earthly bonds by power of the authority of the state. To continue the contrast that was begun in the comments of this post:

A person who dies a “natural death” at old age hopefully has lived a holy life in communion with God so as to receive eternal blessedness. Though his body be weary, I believe he will still anxiously await reunion with it in the final glorious resurrection.

A person who suffers an early death by disease, accident, or murder to me is given an extra grace due to their not having the opportunity, through no fault of their own, to develop and practice the habit of repentance and holiness throughout the usual length of days, which for some reason is enough. One should learn obedience through all seasons of life, even old age.

A person who suffers an early death through a mistaken notion that escape from earthly, bodily struggle will bring relief will have a much harder time of it in the afterlife. I don’t know enough about toll-houses or hell to comment further on this. Nevertheless, may God have mercy on their souls.

A person who suffers death at the hands of the state or even an individual for crimes truly committed hopefully can find enough remorse and repentance before they die to be like the wise thief who was crucified with Christ.

I usually consider that my death will be described in the first two statements. Perhaps humility is learning to have the fear of the third and to consider myself deserving of the first part and conformed to the last part of the fourth.