What has Jerusalem to do with Athens? Quite a lot, if one reads Louis Markos’s From Plato to Christ. The work is a partly a look into Plato’s thought, and partly a survey of how Plato’s thought impacted Christianity through its early history.
Markos wastes little time essentially baptizing Plato after the fact. The first page of the preface has Markos claiming that Plato’s writings can be read “as inspired writings used by the God of the Bible to prepare the ancient world for the coming of Christ and the New Testament” (ix). On the same page, he says that Plato is the “culmination of the best of the pagan (Pre-Christian) wisdom” (ibid). One might wonder how, say, the Hebrew Scriptures fit into this scheme, and whether Markos lumps Judaism in with “paganism” as it is pre-Christian or whether he simply dismisses it as being capable of preparing the ancient world for the coming of Christ. Markos’s fervor to recommend Plato to his readers seemingly has no limits, as he quickly navigates through chapters that analyze several of Plato’s writings and argue that he offers a kind of vision for Christianity in the future. I may indeed be understating how eagerly Markos endorses Plato, as he later quotes C.S. Lewis approvingly stating that “Prophets and holy men… do not so much teach us morality as remind us of it” (57). This quote is then applied, at least by implication, to Plato.
Those looking for a critical analysis will need to look elsewhere. Markos’s enthusiasm knows few bounds. Even the very occasional time in which he points out something problematic in Plato’s thought are steeped in explanations about why that might have been part of Plato’s belief system. There is also little by way of critiquing Plato’s system itself, something with a long and storied tradition within Christian philosophy and theology. One might forgive the book for this, as it clearly isn’t intended to be a total look at Christian Platonism, but it seems worth mentioning given that readers without background knowledge on the subject may walk away from reading the book thinking that Christians generally have no problem with Platonism despite there being entire systems of thoughts developed to circumvent or deny Platonism in Christianity.
One example is in the chapter outlining The Republic. Markos outlines the way the republic is built by noting it is Socrates presenting all of these ideas. In a way, this shields Plato from criticism, but allows Markos to pour on praise when he agrees with Plato (see the shift from Socrates to Plato on page 27, for example). There is little about the awful way the city is set up to essentially force young adults into sexual relationships to produce offspring as dictated by the city’s leaders. Markos, having shifted before to claiming that these parts of the text reflect a more mature Plato using Socrates as a mouthpiece, in a footnote directly and singularly assigns Socrates the blame for this eugenic and ethical quagmire (45n9). Plato, it appears, can actually do no wrong.
Markos’s survey of Christian history and influence from Platonism is of interest, though not without problems of its own. He questions Origen’s orthodoxy due to his universalism, which fails to account for the lengthy stream of orthodox Christians (some of whom, as Origen, were condemned much later as heretical for their beliefs) who held to universalism or at least something similar. These sections provide insight into at least the range of Christians who were influenced by Plato, however.
From Plato to Christ is an enthusiastic endorsement of Plato and Platonism for Christians to explore. It’s difficult for this reader to wholly endorse the work, as it presents so uneven a picture both of Platonic thought and early Christian history that it could lead to a skewed view going forward. However, it could serve as an introduction to Christian Platonism for those interested who read it with a critical eye.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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