Journey to Truth: Where are we?

The previous essays considered the journey of philosophy beginning with Thales, the father of philosophy, and ending with Aristotle. Where appropriate, I have turned to theology, the first and more secure wing of truth. Let’s consider again the purpose of this historical and sapient exercise.

Modern society has a profound crisis of memory. Contemporary man is much like the prodigal son, who was bequeathed a great inheritance, and squandered it. The elder son, those who know why society is in such a mess, instead of showing mercy and compassion, turns his back and retreats to his safe space of like minded. John Paul II[1]Ecclesia Europa 6-9 quickly ties a crisis of memory to a crisis of truth. Quickly, questions of life and death, good and evil, justice and mercy quickly become incomprehensible.[2]John Paul Evangelium Vitae 4 A totalitarian grip of moral relativism reigns supreme in the hearts of men. Benedict XVI shared these same concerns and offered a path out of this confusion. The City of Man must learn anew that it is on a pilgrimage and a self-critique is indispensible.[3]BXVI Spe Savi 22-23 My modest aim in these essays is to extend compassion to my contemporaries and a map out of our quagmire.

Philosophy presupposes that the only relevant thinking is of the past 500 years beginning arguably with Machiavelli. As the Pre-Socratics show, the ancient philosophies are in fact with us and were often resurrected in Modern Philosophy.

I do not subscribe to the story that the peak of man’s philosophical endeavor was the Middle Ages, and since then it has been a long and steady decline devoid of positive development. As Augustine observed 1700 years ago, there are two cities: the City of God and the City of Man. Both cities always exist alongside one another in every age. Christ was quite clear that there would always be tares interspersed in the wheat. It is also true that some ages and cultures can have better access to parts of truth. Our task in each age is to decide to which city do I want to belong by recalling the relevant parts of our historical tradition and thus find the truth more easily.

The fundamental problem addressed, and which modern man has lost sight of, is the unbridgeable gap between the One and the Many. Without Christ it is unbridgeable. The ancients knew the gap could not be crossed on the side of man. On the side of the One, why would He want to? It seems preposterous to consider.

Parmenides proposed that there was only one changeless being, which was outside of time. Heraclitus proposed that there is only the ever-changing sense world. “All we see is all we get, nothing more.” The sense world is comprised of the many, which exists in time. Both Pre-Socratic philosophers agree there is no way to cross this barrier, even though they acknowledged the desire in every human heart,. Plato gets us to the realm of being through dialectic, through the mind and the contemplation of Forms, which is the perfection of Ideas.

Aristotle goes further and includes materiality as the stuff that takes the shape of the ideas or forms. Aristotle, partially in line with Heraclitus, will draw generalizations and truth from the observation of the many visible and variable things. Aristotle employs inductive reasoning when he can observe many types of chairs, and then draws general principles about the form of chairs.

Plotinus, a Neo-Platonist, will introduce the concept of reditus, return, to the One. This concept of closing the cycle, gives closure that Aristotle and the Unmoved Mover could not give. Plotinus proposes that we come from the One, and strive to return to the One, a cyclic reditus et exitus, reversion and procession.[4][5]

How is this is accomplished for Plotinus? Plotinus could not reconcile how the One Good, or the beautiful could be in contact with those in the material world though there was this desire for it in the soul in man. Briefly, he proposes three gradations in the intelligible realm: The One, Intelligence, and Soul. What is relevant for this essay is that Plotinus does not bridge the gap for man. Rather, he proposes that man should be satisfied with something less than the One to be in contact. As to be expected, his Gnosticism, which is evidenced by his disregard for materiality, considers materiality a fall and in need of purification.[6]This is contra to the position of Sacred Scripture, which sees creation as good, and the creation of man as very good.

The gap between: the One and the Many, of Being and Time, or of Whole and Part (different philosophers categorize this gap in different ways) remains. Man’s use of only reason (philosophy) cannot bridge it. How is man’s deepest desire met? The Gospel of John gives us a key to this intractable problem.

Two types of life distinguished within man. Biosand zoe. Biosis the soul that Aristotle proposes that gives form to all living things through their materiality. It is the feline aspect, the soul in the stuff of fur that makes man call it cat and not a dog. Zoeis the Spirit that resides in man’s rational soul. Paul talks about this tripartite division within man: that of body, soul and spirit. (1 Thess 5:23)

Plato’s idea that the more man unites himself to the immortal, the more immortal man becomes points to a profound truth. Jesus’ life, zoe, in John’s Gospel[7]clearly states, that “He is the way, the truth, and the life (zoe)”[8]. Jesus is the map for bridging the gap between the One and the Many.

The bridging of the gap, only possible in Christ, is man’s goal, which is called beatitude. Death cannot take away this zoe. With the Resurrection, an evolutionary leap is made for man on behalf of the Divine Man. Nothing we can do can warrant such a gift. It is freely given in love, while at the same time, respecting the free will of humanity. Will we recover our prodigal senses and return to our Father? Will we help those return or remain aloof?

                  [1]John Paul II Ecclesia in Europa§6-9 accessed April 17, 2018

            [2]John Paul II Evangelium Vitae§4 accessed April 17, 2018 http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25031995_evangelium-vitae.html

            [3]Benedict XVI Spe Salvi §22-23 accessed April 17, 2018 http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20071130_spe-salvi.html

                  [4]In his biography of Plotinus, Porphyry records the last words of his teacher to his students as follows: “Strive to bring back the god in yourselves to the God in the All” (Porphyry, Life of Plotinus2, Edward Moore, St. Elias School of Orthodox Theology). Accessed April 17, 2018 http://www.iep.utm.edu/neoplato/

            [5]Proclus building on Plotinus’ principle in the Elementsstates “Prop 31 All that proceeds from any principal reverts in respect of its being upon that from which it proceeds.” Accessed April 17, 2018 http://mbdefault.org/3_elements/default.asp#fn6

                  [6]Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth Holy Week, (Ignatius Press :San Francisco 2011) 55, 60.

            [7] SBL Greek New Testament (SBLGNT) λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ὁδὸς καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια καὶ ἡ ζωή· οὐδεὶς ἔρχεται πρὸς τὸν πατέρα εἰ μὴ δι’ ἐμοῦ.

            [8]Ratzinger, 85

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