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Lucas wrote:

Hi, guys —

I have a couple of philosophy questions.

  • Why did the Church reject emanationism in favour of ex nihilo?

I've been trying to find an answer to this question for quite a while and haven't been able to find even a Catholic critique.

  • Also, why [did/does] the Church reject Platonism generally, while adhering to Aristotle?

I'd be really grateful if you could point me in the right direction. I'm interested in converting to the Church but am discerning whether I can reconcile my Platonism with the Church's doctrines.

Kind regards,

Lucas

  { Why does the Church reject emanationism and Platonism in favor of ex nihilo and Aristotelianism? }

Paul replied:

Lucas,

As you know, Christianity holds that the universe is created by God; it is not God Himself.

Emanationism seems to hold that the cosmos is of the same substance as God, an extension of His Eternal Divine Being. Although one may say creation [is/was] always in the eternal mind of God, it is not Him. In fact, the eternal forms or ideas that Plato espoused can also be said to exist in the eternal mind of God. Out of an overflow of love, God created something other than Himself to share His Love, Himself, with.

Pantheistic philosophies of the East believe all is God but Biblical religion holds that although God may be in all creation, creation is not God. Another consideration is that God cannot sin. Creation has sinned against God in the choices of free-willed creatures (angels and humans). To redeem man, God became one of us, i.e. part of His own creation in Jesus Christ but the Incarnation is a unique phenomenon in the history of creation.

The Church does not reject Platonism and embrace Aristotelianism. Augustine, Bonaventure, and many great Catholic philosophers had a Platonic philosophical bent. Yes, Aquinas was Aristotelian but he also embraced some Platonic thought.

The Church teaches that the soul survives bodily death (as Plato believes), but also in the Resurrection of the body because man is by nature a body-soul union (as Aristotle taught) and not a soul accidentally attached to a prison-like body.

No one philosopher is accepted or rejected in Catholicism. Whatever can best explain and clarify Catholic doctrine to make it more intelligible to the people is fair game.

Peace,

Paul

Lucas replied:

Dear Paul,

Thank-you for your reply and thank-you for writing back so quickly. If it's OK, I would like to clarify something to make sure I am correctly understanding what you're saying.

I suppose the idea in Western systems of emanationism (Plotinus, Ficino, etc.) is that the material world is a dense, clouded manifestation of God rather than being perfectly identifiable with God (Pantheism). In other words, the material world exists somewhere between two points of God and not-God.

My understanding of emanationism is that God's relationship to the physical universe is like that of a painter with a painting . . . the contents of the painting express qualities in the artist but somehow, when they are on a canvass, they are distant from the artist but we can still see glimpses of the artist's personhood in their work. The work is identifiable with the artist but does not capture their totality. In other words, I can experience God when I look at the beauty of nature but the part of God I'm seeing isn't all of God. It isn't really even a particularly pure manifestation of God. I suspect I haven't explained this very well so I appeal to your tolerance!

  • Would this understanding be compatible with Catholic doctrine?

I know this probably sounds very odd but I'm finding this cosmology a really decisive element of my spiritual search.

Again thank you for replying.

Kind regards,

Lucas

Paul replied:

Lucas,

That is an interesting interpretation. Two thoughts come to mind:

  1. I would see your understanding of emanationism in a strict sense in the relationship between the Father and the Son. The Son is the Eternal Word, Expression, Wisdom (etc.), of God the Father. As sharing one Being while being distinct Persons, I would take your words and tweak them to say, the Son is somewhere between the Father and not the Father. Creation, on the other hand, I would see more in the analogy of a pregnant woman. If Christ can be imagined as being female for a moment, creation is the other that is within Him. All things are in Christ, and must go through Christ to the Father. As the liturgical prayer goes:

      Through Him, with Him, and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor are Yours Almighty Father, forever and ever. Amen.

  2. Nonetheless, I do see creation as reflecting the Trinitarian God and all His perfections. I do agree with you on this. In fact, the fourth way of Aquinas' rational proofs for the existence of God is Platonic in this respect. There must be a model of perfection by which we judge earthly things to be true, good, or beautiful. That perfect Being who is infinite, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty is God.

Paul

Lucas replied:

Dear Paul,

Thank for you for your e-mail.

I think there is some tension and confusion between my interest and, more or less, acceptance of an interpretation of Neoplatonism and Catholicism but I also think this can be best resolved over time after converting/being baptized.

I'm going to do some further reading but I consider that I may have been, falsely as it turns out, led to believe that the Church dislikes Platonism or ideas about God found in those systems.

Thank you again for your thoughts, the Christology that you present actually makes a great deal of sense to me.

Kind regards,

Lucas

Paul replied:

Thank you, Lucas.

A nice prayer I once heard comes to mind, which may apply here:

Father I believe in you; help my unbelief.

Peace,

Paul

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