Philosophies & Theologies of the Unexamined Life

I have often felt, living as I do in a moment of Platonic minority, that my position resembles that of Augustine in Numidia. He was surrounded by a Donatist majority, but scorned them as so many frogs on the edge of their marsh croaking that they were the true Christians. He could afford to be scornful, he knew the company he kept. In the same way, there is for me a deep and inescapable affinity of Christianity and Platonism, one that transcends the peculiarities and distortions of time and space. The genius of Aquinas, and Albert before him, lay in discovering what Aristotle was good for, a project with no inconsiderable scope and achievement. It is perhaps, of all the minor movements within Christianity, the greatest yet. But it is not co-extensive with Christianity, and has yet to prove as lasting as the Platonic moment which lasted over one thousand years, and lives on still, and pervades and suffuses, Plato’s philosophy being the more perennial. The present materialism of our society will no doubt pass, and with it perhaps the appeal of Thomism will diminish, his insights be consolidated and platonized, and the project of Christian Platonism may resume with its greater wonder, more robust confidence in reason, more soaring metaphysics, and far more intelligible epistemology.

I can hope so.

Here is an observation you may find more interesting. My teacher for the class at Villanova is a committed Thomist. We have been studying Rahner, and there is an interesting thing I read going on between the lines. It is tacit, it is suggested, but I sense it, and this is what I sense: That there is a feeling that Rahner is an Aquinas wannabe. Aquinas, living in a Platonic world, actually manages successfully to accommodate Christian theology to something new: the coming of the dominant Aristotelian approach: theology as a science, rather than simply as a philosophy, with a corresponding method, rather than just the discipline of a life. These modern guys are wannabes in that they want to accommodate theology to Kant and Hegel, and there is a bit of a Thomist amusement buried away deep lest it be seen as an outright sneer.

I have little sympathy for 20th century theologians of any eminence, and as a result almost no interest. So you must take my observations with a grain of salt. Besides, I’m not a theologian, reading theology is not something I do for the sake of knowing theology; it does not interest me as literature or history do. Anything that is science falls below my threshold of wonder (modern philosophy, for example). But I have to be exposed to them in what I’m doing, and I think they are as difficult and laborious, that people debate what they mean because they are incoherent. They are incoherent because what they’re trying to do, their project of reconciling Christian theology to modern assumptions is impossible, it strains the Christian meaning they’re trying to retain to distortion. Hence Rahner, when he tries to bring the Trinity into interfaith dialogue with Islam and Judaism, ends up sounding like a modalist. I assume that if you bring Christian theology into dialogue with polytheists, you’ll end up sounding tritheist. They’re trying to replicate Aquinas’ achievement, but the span this time, instead of being a river, is the sea, and they must always fall short.

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One thought on “Philosophies & Theologies of the Unexamined Life

  1. Dear “Unknowing” Author, Spiritual greetings. I am a real live, actual Platonist contemplative ascetic, renunciant, eremitical monastic, mystic and philosopher of many years standing tenuously and anachronistically surviving alone and without support. Some short essays and translations of mine are at independent.academia.edu/EricFallick and youtube.com/c/EricFallick. Even though I am not a Christian or Abrahamist of any sort, I thought that perhaps you might find these of interest given your affinity with Platonism and that I take an extremely other-worldly, world-denying (and anti-modern) position.

    Best wishes,

    In contemptus mundi,

    Eric Fallick

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