What to do when Socrates is gone?

What to do when Socrates is gone? October 4, 2019

The best teacher is not a machine, someone that can be replaced like a part when missing. A very great teacher, Socrates, was killed by the city and yet, somehow, his students had to go forward. If you were a very great teacher, like Socrates, then you might have a very great student, Plato, who could pass your legacy forward, best he could. Plato’s best was very great indeed.

What of rest of us?

All of us have mentors, pastors, teachers and eventually life ends. They go to glory, but we are left, at least for a time, behind their journey. . .for the first time. This struck me as I prepared to lead the first Marathon after the death of Professor Al Geier of the University of Rochester. If things were as they had always been for thirty years, I should be arranging the venue and participating not leading.

That’s Dr. Geier’s job.

This hit me directly and indirectly. The hardest blow came as I prepared Republic and reached the point where Glaucon, best of students, has agreed to go forward with Socrates. When asked if he will do the hard work of understanding, Glaucon says: “I understand, I concur, I arrange them as you say.” This is not because some guru has told Glaucon what to think.


Instead, over three hard books, teacher and students have reached a harmony of purpose and understanding. They will see (after some more distractions!) great sights and eventually find a story that might save them from the evils of th world. Professor Geier described this moment of dialectic harmony as the “high point of the dialogue.”

Glaucon and Socrates: they journey together. What would happen to such a student the next day when Socrates was gone? Plato, Glaucon’s half-brother, gives us the answer by writing this dialogue: go on looking for understanding, concurrence, and harmony. Those of us who are less than Plato do the best we can hoping for eternity.

Yet a group faced an even harder task than Glaucon (Plato) with the death of Socrates.

The disciples of Jesus faced such a hole in their hearts and gap in their mental lives when Jesus was executed. Where was the rabbi? How could they learn? Even when they knew Jesus was risen, this did not fill every gap: He was risen, but He was not as He was. An atheist once sneered at the apostles “going fishing” after they knew Jesus was alive. Who would do that?

I might.

Peter and John were glad when they saw the Risen Lord, but the man who walked around Palestine with them was gone to a better place, doing greater things, which meant (it seemed) He could know long teach them the Word of Life. Before the Holy Spirit came to comfort, there was a gap. Where was the teacher? Peter went back to his day job, fishing, because having betrayed the Lord, now King of Glory, and without a teacher, what else was a man to do?

Jesus came and made Peter breakfast and commissioned him as a teacher. He let Peter confess his love for his Teacher as often as he had denied Him and then Jesus made Peter a teacher. He then sent him out empowered to do justice and love his fellows. 

There is only one Divine Teacher, but Peter could carry on until other people decided the earthly part of his journey. Saint Peter is, of course, greater than we are, but if like me you started badly, hope for redemption, you can carry on as he did.

Plato, Peter persevered until paradise.

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