Sunday, September 30, 2007

Religion: All Greek to Me

As a Christian Platonist, Simone Weil found the theme of a divine mediator to be essential to her religious philosophy. In the essay “God in Plato” from the anthology On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, Weil quotes Plato’s Symposium:

“God does not communicate directly with men, but all intercourse and converse between the divine and the human is effected through [an] intermediary.” [p.130]

A bit further on, she states in her own words:

“The idea of mediation is essential in Plato because, as he says in the Philebus, it is important not to proceed too quickly to the one.” [ibid., p.131, emphasis hers]

She subsequently turns to the Timaeus, making this rather striking observation:

“The Timaeus is an account of the creation. Its source appears to be so different that it is unlike any of Plato’s other dialogues. Either he was inspired from a source unknown to us or else between the other dialogues and this one something had happened to him. It is easy to guess what. He had come out of the cave and seen the sun and returned to the cave. The Timaeus is the book of the man who comes back into the cave from above. …

“In the Timaeus there is a trinity: the Artificer, the Model of the creation, and the Soul of the world.” [ibid., p.132]

She next quotes a passage from the Timaeus containing a proof of God’s existence. Because I have no Greek, I will eliminate the Greek words she incorporated to clarify her translation, but I will flag their locations with [*]:

“First of all we must, in my judgment, make this distinction. What is that which is eternally real but never coming into existence, and what is that which is always coming into existence but is never real? The one is apprehended by thought with the help of reason [*] since it is eternally self-consistent reality, whereas the other is a subject of opinion based on unreasoning sensation, since it becomes and perishes without ever possessing real existence. Again, everything which becomes [*] must necessarily have some author [*] since it is quite impossible for there to be a becoming without a cause.” [ibid., p.132, emphasis added]

Plato is, Weil says, “expounding a theory of artistic creation and, by analogy, of the divine creation.” She goes on to develop her explication of this analogy thusly:

“In creating a work of art…the artist’s attention is oriented towards silence and the void; from this silence and void there descends an inspiration which develops into words or forms. Here the Model is the source of transcendent inspiration—and therefore the Artificer fitly corresponds to the Father, the Soul of the World to the Son, and the Model to the Spirit. A model which is ultra-transcendent and unrepresentable, like the Spirit.

“ …This Model is a living Being, it is not a thing. “ [ibid., p.133]

The Soul of the World, in Weil's words, is "the engendered God who is related to the creation as mediator, at the intersection of the other world and this world." She has pointed out, just above, that Plato refers to the Soul of the World in the Timaeus as "the only son [*] which has been, is, and will continue to be." [ibid., p.135]

We can see that a divine trinity corresponding to the Christian concept of the Triune God is explicit in Plato. In the Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament, however, this concept, if found at all, is found only by looking backward, after the established fact, to find text that can be interpreted as being vaguely referential to the persons of the Holy Trinity. In fact, the God of Israel is One, so far as Judaism is concerned. The Messiah of the Old Testament is not God, but a temporal warrior-king. The Holy Spirit, as such, is unknown. The Jews have yet to develop the doctrine of a divine trinity out of their own sacred scriptures. And it is at this point where I become a quasi-Marcionite.

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