Time to Study

Classes are done, once German is out of the way then what looms is comprehensive exams. At Westminster, for Historical Theology you have to study from the Reformation forward for the major of the comprehensive exams. For the minors you have to study theology and apologetics, and the most general advice for that is know Westminster. Well, nobody said it was going to be enjoyable, and had it just been history, it would have been enjoyable.

I’m going to start working my way toward a comprehensive grasp of the last 500 years or church history, having got a pretty good grasp on the first 500 and some pools of insight on the middle 1000. I’m going back into the middle thousand for my dissertation one way or another. There is no point graduating nowadays as an expert in the Reformation. I can go as far back as Henry of Ghent, it looks like, and so anything after, as long as it is worded in terms of a Reformation outcome is fair game. I may go as late as John Colet. Alternatively, W. G. T. Shed is on the radar as a Presbyterian Platonist.

My interest is Christian Platonism. The first 500 years of the church represented an assimilation of classical learning, with Neoplatonism being the dominant philosophical approach. This led to a millennium of Christian Platonism, the golden days of Christian Reason which began to be challenged in the 12th century. What followed, according to Richard Muller, was 500 years of Christian Aristotelianism. Then came Rationalism, the Enlightenment, and the modern philosophies of doubt with which the most successful adaptation so far seems to be Barthianism. (One could argue that presuppositionalism is another unhappy such adaptation, but not at Westminster and if not at Westminster, who cares?) In both the Christian Platonic millennium and the Christian Aristotelian quincentennial one of the persistent strains is Augustinian, and Augustinianism is more than soteriology. In fact, I have a feeling it is in some way Christian Platonist, and I’d like to see what I can find to substantiate that. At least I can try to find out what the more overtly Platonist resistance to Aristotle was doing and what effect it had.

Christian Platonism is seen early in the Reformation (at the twilight of the middle ages it flourishes), in the anti-puritan English Reformation, and more overtly in the late 17th century when it is a precursor to the latitude men. The Platonism of conservative Romanticism is rather evident, and it influences the modernists, and anomalies such as F. D. Maurice. He influenced George MacDonald, a Christian Platonist in the classic vein, and he in turn influenced the astute C. S. Lewis, a subtle user of what Plato supplied. So that is the strain I’m endeavoring to uncover throughout. I want to evaluate how Platonism has been a part of Christianity, how it has been appropriated, what or when it has been useful and when not.


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