Tuesday, January 31, 2012

De Lubac on Platonism and Stoicism in the Bible and the Fathers

Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man

"It is a commonplace to allude to the Platonism of the Fathers in connexion with these doctrines [of the cosmic body]. But instead of invoking the Platonic doctrine of essential being, we should do better to account for them--to the extent that they are dependent at all on a philosophic basis--by looking rather to the Stoic conception of universal being. There are many expressions in Marcus Aurelius, for example, regarding the integration of the individual in the concrete totality of the cosmos, and still more concerning the reciprocal immanence of those who are participators in the Nous. But all this is of secondary importance, and we should beware of adopting the practice known in accountancy as double-entry, as so many Protestant historians do in dealing with the Fathers and the Bible. For in the Fathers they will see nothing but Hellenistic borrowings and influence, whereas in St. Paul and St. John they will find nothing but 'pure revelation' or at least 'pure religion.' So severely critical an attitude on the one hand, such naive simplicity on the other, are in fact equally the causes of their blindness.

"For in whatever degree a philosophical basis was necessary to the Fathers, were it Platonist or Stoic, their speculation was conditioned less by considerations of philosophy than by a keen realization of the needs of Christianity. How else indeed could they make the most of the metaphor of the body and its members in the great Pauline epistles if they were to leave Stoicism out of account? Or how could they interpret with accuracy the epistle to the Hebrews if first they must eliminate all trace of Platonism? In fact, they never scrupled to borrow, and that to a large extent, from the great pagan philosophers whom they held in esteem. But, wiser than Solomon, they were not led into idolatry by their philosophy, and as a modern historian, Christopher Dawson, has remarked, we must go back to St. John and St. Paul if we would understand patristic thought."

--Henri de Lubac, Catholicism (transl. Lancelot Sheppard; New York: Sheed and Ward, 1958) 9-10. (Pages 40-1 in Ignatius Press version pictured above.)