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The real Plato is on the side of the angels

30 January 2008


From the Revd Dr Matthew Bullimore and others
Sir, — The Revd Dr Giles Fraser need not worry so much about Plato as to devote a month’s columns to him (Comment, 4, 11, 18, and 25 January; Letters, 25 January). The rather dated “nasty totalitarian Plato”, with his dualism between real things up there and flawed material copies down here, might himself be a flawed copy of the real thing.

Instead, there is a more exciting Plato who can be studied, for example, at the Centre for Philosophy and Theology at Nottingham, or at the University of Cambridge. Read through the Platonic philosophies that were in constructive dialogue with early Christianity (e.g., Iamblichus), this Plato is much more cheerful about the world than Dr Fraser allows.

For this Plato, the transcendent heights can be reached only through the mediations of the particular and material. That is, the eternal reveals itself to us in time and space. No wonder nearly all the Church Fathers claimed this more incarnational Plato as a friend.

Since there is a Plato who is on the side of the angels, what a shame to jettison him and — as Dr Fraser admits — most of Western philosophy with him. Dr Fraser’s frustrations with the limitations of analytical philosophy of religion are understandable, but he need not look so far back as Plato for its sinister sources. There are ideologies (materialist and idealist) that really do distort our view of the world and empty it of all signs of transcendence. Against such views, the right Plato is an ally we can scarcely afford to lose.

Matthew Bullimore, Andrew Davison, John Hughes, John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock
c/o 24 Pledwick Lane
Wakefield WF2 6DN

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