Does any specific dominion of Christianity follow the Platonist idea of the forms?

It’s an idea I like but it would be nice to know ‘where in the church’ that sets me…

All traditional forms of Christianity are heavily influenced by Platonism in one way or another, at least in how they express Christian truth.

The early Church Fathers were mostly influenced by Platonism, particularly Augustine in the West and Origen and Gregory of Nyssa in the East. The Orthodox typically denounce Platonism today, but to outsiders their approach looks extremely Platonic.

In the West, Platonism was dominant until the 13th century. Aquinas was more directly influenced by Aristotle, and Aquinas is the dominant theologian of the Western Church. However, the Aristotle Aquinas knew was a very “Platonic” Aristotle–the idea that the two are fundamentally different across the board is a later development.

The element of Platonism that all orthodox Christians reject is the idea of multiple uncreated entities. Christian Platonism locates the forms in God. Aquinas’ position is the classic but not the only one: the forms are the undivided, simple Being of God as reflected in creation. This constitutes a choice for Aristotle over Plato inasmuch as the forms only exist in creatures–they don’t exist in God as actual plural entities, because this would compromise the divine simplicity. But it’s certainly a “realist” position–that is, the forms do really exist and explain why there is order and not chaos in the universe.

In the late Middle Ages a “nominalist” position became popoular, which denied the forms and understood the order of the universe as proceeding directly from God’s will. However, this raises all kinds of problems for Catholic doctrine (soteriology and the Eucharist, just to name two) and has never been the dominant view (except maybe for a while in the late Middle Ages–and some Catholic scholars have argued that this led to the rise of Protestantism).


This has been an interesting topic of discussion amongst my friends lately. It is actually possible that the patristic understanding of ontology is in fact Platonic, but that the typical understanding of Neoplatonism in Western scholarship (Neoplatonic “orthodoxy” if you will) is incorrect. Eric Perl seem to take this position in Theophany (a great book to read, if you have not read it).

I figured that I should add to this that it is possible to affirm the other (more Platonic) position as well. For example, St. Maximus the Confessor does this with his theology of the logoi, which are in God, each distinct and yet each identical with the Logos.

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