@Charlemagne – quite true! Without him, we Gentiles would have been far less receptive to Christ’s message. Credit where it is due. Thank God for Plato!
@Sampson - The rest turn on point 1, so it is that which I shall address. I can easily understand your confusion. I was educated in the British tradition, and deliberately chose the oldest of the old-school. Amongst the elder High Anglicans and Scots Catholics I knew as a youngster, what I am telling you was implicitly understood if rarely stated. Liberté, égalité, fraternité. These are idols. Anywhere else it seems unknown. If you live in one of those faddish and fundamentally unstable republics built on the blood-stained idols of the revolutionaries, then what I am telling you amounts to treason.
I did not call the forms gods. Leaving aside the mathematical, I called them idols. I will try to be more precise. Hard to do in 6,000 chars. Section 2112 of the catechism gives the definition of the familiar false gods of antiquity: “idols of silver and gold, the work of men’s hands.” Section 2113 gives a list of idols which are not antique gods, and gives an all-too-obscure definition:
Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honours and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. Jesus says “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Many martyrs died for not adoring “the Beast” refusing even to simulate such worship. Idolatry rejects the unique Lordship of god; it is therefore incompatible with communion with God.
Much hinges on what is meant by “divinizing what is not God.” In my books, the forms are not “thoughts inside the mind of God,” they are instead (if I may borrow from Edmund Burke) abstract ideas and generalities, the work of men’s minds. Abstract ideas and generalities are not necessarily idols. Mathematical forms, for instance, are not idols. Neither is a statue of necessity an idol of the older sort. I have been looking for a better definition, and a test, of the sort used in law courts, to determine what is and is not an idol. To paraphrase St. Augustine, from On Christian Doctrine, Value nothing for its own sake, except for God. To divinise something then is to value it for its own sake. Plato and Aristotle both make extensive use of abstract ideas and generalities which are valued for their own sake. These I call idols. These idols are not the whole of classical philosophy. They are merely the foundation.
I have found many things which support this theory in scripture, in the history of relations between Platonism and Christianity, and in the works of St. Augustine.
There is the critique of Varro in Books 6 & 7 of The City of God, which gives Varro’s division of the idols into three categories: “they call that kind mythical which the poets chiefly use; physical, that which the philosophers use; civil, that which the people use.” (Bk6Ch5) St. Augustine’s arguments against Athena (or any other pagan god) are no more or less sound if we substitute Wisdom for Athena. I say this because so many of the older gods represent an idea, and to the philosophers it was the idea that mattered, and not the local name and likeness of its representation which varied from place to place. The idea was the thing, the god its shadow. I’ll venture that the association between these ideas and thier representative gods was so close that they were used interchangably.
There is the effect of Platonism on the Jews after Alexander, and on the Christians of western Europe after the re-discovery and translation of Proclus’ The Elements of Theology in the 13th century. “Endless disintegration.” (Catechism 2114)
There is the readiness with which the Hellenes took to Christ’s message. I don’t think it is a coincidence that so many of his followers were Greeks. There are lines like “I am the Truth”, “A man cannot serve God and mammon”, “a man cannot serve two masters”, “Love God with all your heart”, and so on.
There is the relationship between Good and Evil – the fruit of the original sin – and these other Ideas which we value for their own sake, or despise for their own sake. In short, these ideas which we have invented and decided for ourselves are good or evil, and which we value in error, when we should only value God.
I could go on. It is a fairly simple thing, easy to understand but hard to practice. These ideas are everywhere and deeply ingrained. I’ve been suspicious of these ideas since I was a wee lad, and have had decades of practice in thinking without them. To someone raised with them, educated and trained in their use, it is hard to figure on anything without them. But understanding it, it’s like spinning the lens on a telescope. What was once obscure becomes crystal clear. Much of scripture, Christ’s message, the timing of his birth, the relationship between Christian and Platonist (then and now), the “invincible ignorance” of the Protestants, the bloody human sacrifices of the Humanists and Socialists.
I’m a cab driver. Not an academic. I haven’t set foot in a school in… I think it’s about twenty years. Been busy. With a few days and more sleep I might make a better argument, but I hope for now you get the gist of it.