Do Catholics believe in a sort of Platoism?

That is, do they follow the theory of the Forms in part, laid down by Plato ( believed in by CS Lewis) that says all things (everything- all objects, all life, all ideas, all fiction) has a heavenly, perfected version?

“Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith “man freely commits his entire self to God.” For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God’s will.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1814)

There was a revival of the teachings of Plato during the time when it was free in the Roman Empire to practice the Christian faith. St. Augustine, a highly regarded Church Father, is commonly known to be influenced by Plato.

Philosophy is a tool. And their are good tools and bad tools in this regard. Philosophy is a individual meditation on truth, and it could be expressed to others in logic. But Christianity is the Way, the person of Christ, who is Wisdom of the Father, in the community of the Holy Spirit. From Philosophy we adopted terms like efficient cause, exemplary cause, and final cause. Theology, under the auspicious teachings of St. Bonaventure and Pope Leo XIII, would say those terms pertain to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As far as forms are concerned, I guess they have their place in ontology. It is a term used by S. Thomas Aquinas, who cited more from Aristotle in his Summa Theologica.

It is not quite a catechetical matter to be directly concerned with forms. A catechetical matter would be the ordinary matter, that the Holy Church purposes for belief, and that in which pertains to our acceptance in the virtue of faith.

I study often but I am selfish about the practice. I am happy to share.

What reason do you have for saying Lewis believed in the theory of Forms?

There is a Christianized version of it yes.

Pure Platonism of the classical period in the actual Academy posited the Theory of Forms, with the highest Form known as “The Form of the Good” the cause of all other Ideas, which resided in a “third realm distinct both from the sensible external world and from the internal world of consciousness”. Plato implied that the soul was immortal and could ascend to the Form of Supreme, changeless Beauty and contemplate it, participate in it and share in its Eternity.

It does not take a huge leap of the imagination to convert this into monotheistic mysticism.
St. Justin Martyr, St. Clement of Alexandria, Origen St. Augustine of Hippo, The Cappadocian Fathers, Pseudo-Dionysius were all in a sense Christian Platonists.

In the fifth century AD an anonymous Syrian monk who took the pen-name of “Dionysius” wrote a series of mystical Christian treatises about apophatic prayer (imageless prayer that rests beyond the reach of thought in an unknowing union with God) that were heavily coloured by Neo-Platonic concepts and imagery. He was mistakenly thought by John Eriugena, an Irish philosopher of the 9th century, to be Dionysius the Areopagite from the Bible, a disciple of St. Paul. Eriugena translated these texts into Latin. As a result The Dionysian Corpus became a crucial foundation of medieval Orthodox and Catholic mysticism - spreading Neoplatonic philosophy widely in the Christian world.

Happold, in his 1970 opus magnus on mysticism notes:

“…Few, if any, thinkers have had a deeper and more permanent influence on European thought. Much of his writing was concerned with politics; be has sometimes been called the Father of the Modern State. Behind all his writings on political issues, however, lay a profound spiritual philosophy. It was his intense sense of the world of spirit which impelled him to strive to create on earth the sort of state in which the life of the spirit would be possible. The fundamental issue with which Plato concerned himself was a dual one; what was the nature of the truly Real over against appearance, and what and how do we know about it. What was Plato’s basic theory? It has been called the Theory of Ideas, or better, Forms…That is not to say that there were no mystical strains in the Greek transition from a primitive polytheistic naturalism to rational philosophy. There is, for instance, a marked mystical element in Plato, which later developed into that Neoplatonism, which, as we have seen, profoundly influenced Christian mysticism. It was inevitable that there should be, for no rational philosophical system can alone satisfy the deep religious and psychological needs inherent in mankind…Plato may not be a mystic in the way St John of the Cross was a mystic; he was, however, the Father of Christian mysticism. The pure Platonism of Plato himself was the stem from which branched out that Neoplatonism, of which Plotinus is the greatest exponent, on which much of the later speculative mysticism of Christianity was founded…”

A bit excessive but that is how some secular academics would view it.

And “the workings of the Trinity are inseparable” (S. Augustine, On the Predestination of the Saints, 13)

Here is one example of the use of the term forms used by St. Augustine in his On the Trinity.

“they think they are able to prove that the Son in Himself was mortal also before the incarnation, because changeableness itself is not unfitly called mortality, according to which the soul also is said to die, not because it is changed and turned into body, or into some substance other than itself, but because, whatever in its own selfsame substance is now after another mode than it once was, is discovered to be mortal, in so far as it has ceased to be what it was. Because then, say they, before the Son of God was born of the Virgin Mary, He Himself appeared to our fathers, not in one and the same form only, but in many forms; first in one form, then in another…” (2, 9, 15)

You see he describes an error in which someone could assert that the Son in himself was mortal. The Fathers of the Church wrote in many cases as a reaction to error, and some might say that is a predisposed condition that would sway an investigation into the truth of what they say. But these are sublime causes in effect from these Fathers. They point to a higher cause of the Trinity in which there own principles are in union with the most simple principle of action of the Trinity, set in the context of Sacred Tradition.

The use of forms and other philosophical terms, was a means of presenting knowledge in many cases that the Church may stay secure in the true faith. For we should not shun the deep draughts of the reception of truth, that be it communicated and retain its integrity.

Sorry for all these posts, if that bother you. As now it does not bother me. But I think this reference to the Summa Theologica by the Angelic Doctor is clearly related to your question.

I think we have been over this before.

Catholics do not have to believe in the Forms, but some version of “realism” (which is a form of the doctrine of the Forms) is central to most traditional Catholic philosophy, and the “nominalist” alternative creates more difficulties for Catholicism. So it’s not doctrine per se, but it’s a pretty important part of the Catholic intellectual tradition.

The two most important Western Catholic theologians are Augustine and Aquinas. Augustine is more clearly Platonic than Aquinas, but Aquinas has a lot of Platonic elements too. He merged Augustine’s thought with Aristotle’s, but the medieval view of Aristotle was very shaped by Platonism as well.

Both Augustine and Aquinas, like most traditional Christian thinkers, believed that the Forms were in the mind of God. The question was how to reconcile this with divine simplicity: the view that God’s nature has no parts but is just one indivisible reality. How can plural forms exist in the simplicity of the divine nature? Aquinas’ answer was that God knows Himself as capable of being imitated in various ways. So the Forms don’t have an existence in God as things in and of themselves (in that sense he’s not a Platonist), but rather exist in creation as reflections of the indivisible Being of God, and exist in God insofar as God knows all the ways in which creatures either do or can reflect Him.

I just wrote a blog post addressing some of these issues in response to some questions by a former student.


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