The Wonder of It All: Paul and Plato

The Wonder of It All: Paul and Plato July 18, 2015

Saturating in a great book is good, in two great books better. Laches is one of Plato’s shorter dialogs and full of wisdom on living the good life as is Philippians. The great Jewish rabbi Paul placed (out of time!) in dialog with the greatest philosopher gives me fresh insight to both men.

Paul is writing a letter to a gathering of people he is pastoring and I am reminded that a letter invites dialog. Paul was inspired by God in writing this letter and it must have been a wonderful experience to participate with God in creating a work of such sublime beauty. Sometimes we forget that this inspiration began a conversation that continues to this day.

I get to mediate!
I get to mediate!

The fact that the letter is true does not mean I understand the truth it teaches. I have to interpret, think, and translate the message. Truth can only transform me if I understand the truth and abide in it, but do not misinterpret or wrench it out of context. Philippians is worth a lifetime of thought.

Paul opens the book humbly: the church is participating with him. He is benefiting by their prayers and that makes me pause. Paul is a man with spiritual authority, but he invites this group of Christians to participate with him. He is suffering in jail and yet he sees the good that comes of this suffering. Paul is courageously living out his beliefs and so educates his friends by example and word.

Which brings me to Laches, Plato’s discussion of what courage is in the context of education. Plato dimly sees the Wisdom that blinded Paul. The philosopher clears the way for the theologian by showing how little we know and how often conventional wisdom is wrong. After all, if you want to teach courage, doesn’t a bloody sport do it best?  So you might think, but good men kept producing wastrel sons. Why?

Plato ends with no definitive answer, but we know this: being  a brave human is not just a matter of physical courage. Plato demonstrates that sometimes the brave man is the man who stands alone against popular opinion. Medals and honors are rarely given for this profile in courage, but courage it is nonetheless. Plato

And this is where tension superficially exists between Paul and Plato: Paul seems to be building up a community of love while Plato is challenging his city. Actually, Paul was also challenging the “city” of his time, Rome, and building an alternative city just as Plato was doing with Athens. Paul was free to use the benefits of Roman citizenship, but Rome did not have his heart. Plato appreciated the intellectual freedom of Athens, though he saw the limits of it in the death of Socrates, but he was a citizen of a Heavenly city first.

Plato followed the logos (the argument) even when it led him to unpopular places or out of the city. Paul followed King Logos right through martyrdom and into glory. Both helped establish new communities of men and women united in the love of Wisdom. Plato’s academy was a shadow of the Church that was coming . . . an imperfect but valuable icon of the reality.

I must follow the logos and serve the Logos. I may be a citizen of the American Republic, but my first allegiance is to the Heavenly Kingdom under the Philosopher King. O the wonder of it all!




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