Monday, May 11, 2009

A Reformed Protestant Dialogues with the Ghost of Plato


[originally posted on 1 may 2003; revised on 19 April 2004 and 9 December 2011]

This is a twice-revised version of what I consider perhaps my best piece of satire ever. It contains a lot of lighthearted remarks by Plato (which were really fun to create) having to do with well-known historical philosophical and theological disputes (which will make more sense to those familiar with them, but are still fun even if one isn't).

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GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN, 31 October, 2011. The Presbyterian writer Calvin B. Calvin startled and astonished friends, comrades, and fellow Christian enemies alike on Thursday when he strikingly revealed that he had received spirit messages on several occasions from the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (c. 424-348 B. C.). These supernatural brainstorming sessions with the dead sage appear to have profoundly affected Mr. Calvin. He could not be reached for comment, but in a purely coincidental joint press release on Thursday, his compatriots at Calvin College pointed out that "Reformed Protestants oppose spiritism and necromancy of any kind." 

A suggestion from an unnamed source that Mr. Calvin's visions had an uncanny similarity to the Marian apparitions at Fatima and Lourdes was quickly and derisively dismissed by those close to Calvin, with the comment, "obviously this is a conspiracy of RC e-pologists, who engage regularly in unsavory tactics -- to discredit our good friend Calvin." The Ghost of Plato (who first appeared to Mr. Calvin on 1 April, 2011, at the stroke of one, looking like a jolly medieval king, reputedly requested with appropriate scholarly self-effacing humility that Mr. Calvin stop dissing him as one of the compelling influences on the hyper-rationalistic Roman Catholic theology and "mindset". But this has yet to be independently confirmed. 

The amiable yet vaguely frightening and ethereal bearded Ghost of Plato is also reputed to have told the astonished Internet-obsessed student: "the more Catholic your ideas, the better." This advice has obviously not been heeded. Mr. Calvin clearly retains the right of private judgment and dissent, even where Plato is concerned. One anonymous source (possibly the Ghost of Gabriel Biel: c. 1420-1495) claimed that when Mr. Calvin heard this suggestion, he answered, "my obscurantist, convoluted, incoherent, circular arguments will stand. I can do no other, so help me God." A thunderbolt was immediately heard at that moment. 

Some observers believe also that Mr. Calvin cried out to St. Anne after he heard the thunder, though that is merely a rumor at this point. Such shocking revelations have alarmed some of Mr. Calvin's Calvinist and "evangelical" friends (some barely Christian, being lowly Arminian Pelagians), but the illustrious slayer of apologetic folly and foolish apologists has characteristically) defended himself vigorously and assures his detractors that all is well.

Mr. Calvin has assured his Calvinist pals and fellows privately (and we here at the Truth Unknown newspaper have -- as always -- taken the greatest pains to preserve such privacy) that his numerous encyclopedic and sometimes excruciatingly tedious ventures into the history of ideas are rhetorical-only, and sophistical polemical exercises primarily intended to embarrass and confuse Roman Catholics and (above all) Roman Catholic "e-pologists". 

 The editorial staff at Truth Unknown thought it would be helpful, in light of all these events, to ask the Ghost of Plato (who has been bored for centuries because he hasn't found anyone remotely as brilliant as he is to talk to) to do an interview with Mr. Calvin, so that our readers could gain a better understanding of Mr. Calvin's own interpretation of these reports. Here, then, is the interview, conducted on the ruins of Plato's ancient Academy in Athens, Greece:

Plato: Mr. Calvin, welcome, and thanks for agreeing to this interview. I am hoping to receive some sorely-needed intellectual stimulation. Unfortunately, there is a long waiting list to talk to St. Paul here in heaven. Blaise Pascal, St. Anselm, and St. Augustine are also quite in demand. St. Thomas Aquinas is a genius, of course, but his style and emphasis are not to my personal taste (no offense intended). He's too down to earth. Very nice and humble man, though . . .

Calvin B. Calvin: It's a pleasure to meet you. I'm honored and humbled by this chance to meet such a great and influential thinker. I was wondering: have you talked much to Calvin, Turretin, Edwards, Warfield, or Hodge up in heaven?

No. Actually, I can't because they're still serving time in purgatory and I hear that it'll be several decades more before they get out. They're resisting the re-education efforts mightily (especially John Calvin: he is no end of trouble down there. Stubborn!!!!). I was blessed myself because I only had to spend a few months in purgatory. I was told that this was largely because I lived before the Christian revelation was fully revealed in Jesus Christ, whereas Calvin lived 15 centuries after it and had far less excuse; also that he rebelled against a bit too much of the apostolic deposit, faithfully preserved in the Catholic Church down through the centuries. Some verses about, "to whom much is given, much is required," and "let not many be teachers, for they shall be judged more strictly," as I recall . . . Calvin (along with the others) made it because he was a disciple of Christ, but alas, he has required more preparation in correct theology than most (because falsehoods are not allowed in heaven). It's much more difficult to extirpate the false than it is to simply accept the true. But enough of my preaching; sorry (I do a lot of that now that I am a Catholic convert).

That's too bad. I think you could learn much from them.

I doubt it. They're pitifully ignorant of how philosophy works (with the exception of Jonathan Edwards -- to some extent, anyway). But tell you what; I'll look them up when they arrive here.

Good! I think they might convert you to Reformed Protestantism.

As I said, falsehoods (even partial ones accompanied by much truth) are not allowed in heaven, so that is not possible. Some are saying that you (along with Doug Jones and Doug Wilson) are at the forefront of the cultural revolution pushing for the "Third Christendom." How do you respond to that?

I think it is silly and misguided. I am, however, a serious student of history and totally fail to appreciate the absolute flippancy and shallowness with which the RC apologetics subculture approaches these matters.

Okay; fair enough. Perhaps that is true about them (at least on earth; here it is much different). I don't keep up with such things. But don't you think that Catholics on earth (sinners that they are, no doubt) have at least some insights concerning Christian history that might benefit Protestants?

Yes, but there are many many exceptions to that (in fact, almost every Catholic I have met on the Internet). The legacy of Platonism (oops; sorry!) causes them all to be interested only in the ideal, which is so powerful that they simply can't fathom how erroneous so much of their position is. Despite all the RC appeals to history, it's nearly impossible to talk to those folks about real history. We give away way too much to the Roman Catholic case from history that is promulgated via  shallow "Catholic Answers" style apologetics.

I see. Do you think that belief in a papacy warps one's view of Church history?

Partially so, yes. They equate the self-evident belief in a papacy with the Trinity. I am convinced that the belief in the infalliblity of the Church is a capitulation to excessively rationalistic Hellenistic thought.

What do you think about Catholic apologetic methods?

They're always claiming to be either misunderstood or lied about. It's difficult to have a conversation when they fail to accept even the simplest truth about themselves: that they are not Christians and don't understand the saving gospel and the glories of TULIP.

I saw a distressing statement of yours: "You're one of the very rare Catholics I've met on the Internet who actually has some integrity." I must tell you, my son, that those of us in heaven don't judge hearts and motivations anymore. That was one of the most difficult lessons I learned myself, during my stay in purgatory. Can't you see how some people might consider such remarks (which are, I'm afraid, disturbingly common in your writings) rather harsh and uncharitable judgments?

No. Roman Catholics are inherently dishonest, because of the system of deception they labor under. In fact, they are taught to be deceptive, and to never actually believe in anything that they hold. And this is because they are unregenerate and depraved in the first place.

Alright. Moving on: I'm curious; tell me how you think Hellenism affects one's ecclesiology?

RCs think that anyone who is honest about history must immediately become a Catholic, because the Church declares what is true in history and what isn't, based on Platonic realism.

I'm a realist?! Aristotle wouldn't agree with you! Maybe I can persuade him to interview you next time. People define the term "realism" differently, but that is another discussion entirely, of course, and I must desist. Has Plotinus' Ghost also visited you and given you some pointers?

No, but Doug Jones has apparently spent a lot of time with Plotinus, and he spelled out the problematic aspects of Plotinian theology in a Credenda article some years back.

That's interesting. So everything basically comes down to Neo-Platonism (a distortion of my views and philosophy, by the way), in your opinion?

Yes. It has revolutionized my thought.

Hmmmm. But we're not here to discuss my philosophy. Do you admit that you ever get carried away in your voluminous discussions on the Internet, and sometimes descend into personal insults? And can you point to a specific example of an intellectually dishonest Catholic apologist? Maybe we can get a prayer chain going up here in heaven and ask the Blessed Virgin Mary in particular to pray for compulsive liars who give Catholicism a bad name, as her prayers are more powerful than any other creature's (James 5:16).

I would suggest  your good buddy Dave Armstrong, who follows the typical RC apologist path of totally misrepresenting, and he doesn't comprehend at all most of the important issues being debated. I've often noted the tremendous fallacies of his apologetics. His historiographical approach is shallow and self-serving, his citation methods atrocious. My cronies and I don't take him seriously because he's a propagandist who pretends to be a scholar.

Dave Armstrong is my "good buddy"? Who is he, pray tell? Whoever he is, he obviously has you very upset.

I'm sorry I confused you with Aristotle for a moment there . . . Armstrong is obviously an Aristotelian, because he is an RC. His realism is an extreme, absurd version of John Henry Newman's.

In any event, you are confused about Cardinal Newman's thought, which is poles apart from Aristotle's and Aquinas' thought in many important ways.

That may be, but Dave keeps making irrelevant arguments that apply only to "Fundamentalists" -- not us "magisterial Reformation" Reformed.

I don't know anything about Dave Armstrong so I can't comment on him (we've heard, however, from some recently deceased Protestants that he is on the devil's side. They were sternly rebuked by the Lord because lying and slander is not allowed up here). But he sounds like quite a strange, objectionable, obnoxious character, from hearing you describe him.

Oh, you wouldn't believe it, Plato. He's no end of frustration, and the most exasperating person I have ever met.

Could that be, perhaps, because he has some good arguments that frustrate you, and so -- lacking a cogent reply -- you take it out on him personally, when such attacks have nothing to do with the argument at hand (and that is -- I'm sure you know -- the ad hominem fallacy)? After all, my teacher Socrates often received reactions like this, and he was certainly not a simpleton or stupid.

No. The problem lies totally with him. Armstrong is the poster child for the sort of shallow Catholic "apologist" that populates the Internet.

Haven't you ever had a decent dialogue (a form of discourse I personally favor) with a Catholic apologist?

For short periods with one or two in the last 15 years . . .

Do you think that Catholics view the Catholic Church as akin to my ideal forms?


I will have to respectfully disagree. After all, Christian thought (particularly when it was correctly competing against my own particular former errors, in instances such as Paul's sermon at the Areopagus in Athens) was and is characterized by the incarnational principle: men who died were resurrected; they didn't remain spirits. God Himself took on flesh and became Man. The early Church believed strongly in the real, substantial, bodily presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. St. Paul talked about the "Body of Christ." Jesus told Paul that when he was persecuting the Church, he was persecuting Him ("Me"). The Church was a visible, institutional entity, which preserved and passed down apostolic tradition, and this explains, in large part, the historical continuity of the Christian community. I'm sorry, Calvin, but I was duty-bound to express my opinion that you seem to be at least as much influenced by my thought and "Hellenism" as you think Catholics are.

I and my community are just as much "the Church" as RCs. The true Church is the invisible body of all the elect.

I don't follow your hyper-rationalist, Enlightenment-inspired reasoning. If the Church is not simply an ideal form and it is visible and institutional, where, then, does it reside, if not in the Catholic Church?

I haven't totally worked that out yet but it has something to do with Reformed Christianity and the Third Christendom. It's hard to explain.

If it is so hard to explain and you can't describe it, perhaps (just a suggestion) you should be much more patient with your Catholic brothers in Christ who differ with you on ecclesiology? After all, at least they are giving a positive presentation of an ecclesiology and taking a stand, whereas you take the much easier road of a mostly negative approach: tearing down their views but presenting no particularly coherent alternative that makes all that much sense. It's better to err on the side of caution (not to mention apostolic tradition).

One day you'll be persuaded of this, and will "get" it.

I must inform you that I reside (by God's grace) in heaven where the truth concerning the nature of the Church and ecclesiology is a rather elementary affair. I must, therefore, say -- with all due respect and no offense intended at all -- that your reasoning (though impressive in presentation at first glance) is more or less a complete muddle.

But Plato, what is so maddening and frustrating is the dogmatism and arrogance and annoying triumphalism I've received from RCs. They reply too much on you and other pagan philosophers.

Socrates (pagan or no, just as I was) was a great man and he possessed much wisdom. God gave some of us who were striving after philosophical truth (before our Glorious Lord Jesus came down to the earth as a man) much grace to arrive at truth and not falsehood. I'll never forget the wonderful day that He came down to Hades and took us up to heaven!
Maybe you should just tell me I'm a separated brother who can't understand unutterable, esoteric Catholic mysteries.

I have only disagreed mildly. You don't know the half of it, my friend! You see, when we sons of heaven talk about theology and philosophy with mere earthlings, we need to simplify our thought processes and communication styles by several levels of magnitude (much like God did in His revelation, the Bible), because if we didn't, no one on earth would be able to understand us at all. So I am not answering at my full capability (I'm only at about 10% strength). If I did so, you would undergo a severe trauma because so much of your thought is erroneous. I inform you of this as gently as I know how, because I've followed some of your Internet conversations (in preparation for this interview) and I know how you tend to react to people who question your arguments and insights.

Thanks for the lecture, but I'm finished being lectured by people who are pitiful enough to disagree with me . . .

I wasn't lecturing; merely informing, my friend. But perhaps the supreme advantage of my heavenly knowledge (it's not really a fair fight at all) is "leaking through" my attempts to simplify it. I had no intention whatever of offending you. I want to ask you a few more philosophical questions. How do you relate philosophy to Scripture?

I think it is obvious that neither your opinions nor those of Aristotle are found in the Bible.

Calvin, Calvin! Your zeal blinds you! This is simply not true. There are many truths in my philosophy that I developed while on earth, and also (of course) in my pupil Aristotle's philosophy. Whatever was correct in both corresponded with biblical truth, because all truth is God's truth. It is wrong for you to so easily dismiss these philosophies in such broad terms. One must work through the issues one by one. Socrates, Aristotle and I got many things right because God's grace was working through us (largely unlike other rival groups such as the Sophists or the Epicureans). The Christian Church picked up many elements of our thought and developed or "Christianized" them. It's obvious and uncontroversial that Holy Scripture and Christianity as a religion are not philosophical systems at bottom. But they can utilize philosophy as the "handmaiden of faith." I think you generalize far too much and contradict yourself. Hellenistic thinking contradicts Scripture in some ways but not in all ways. We didn't (to cite but one example) get the general resurrection right, but we got concepts like the Logos pretty much right.

All rationalists are "inconsistent" when compared to the premises of other rationalist systems.

I see that you have a lot to learn. I must say, Calvin, that I am somewhat disappointed with your thinking.

I think that there's a big difference between us elite Reformed Christians recognizing that God gave pagans like you and Aristotle some light here and there and Catholics and Arminians acting like you two can't ever be transcended.

I wholeheartedly agree (how well I learned that during my time in purgatory!), and I'll let you in on a secret: so does the Catholic Church. Our time is rapidly coming to an end. I sure had my moments on earth, too, I can assure you (far too many) . . . we intellectuals are a rather arrogant, stubborn lot. I wish I had more time to share with you more answers, but I am needed somewhere else in heaven at the moment. So take care, and go with God.

You, too, Plato. It was my pleasure chatting with you. You're not nearly as bad a fellow as I thought you were, after reading all the propaganda against your philosophy that I've been reading.

Great; thanks for the compliment! Keep reading! But I hope you read much more of the Bible and the Fathers than my writings . . .

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