Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Christian life as philosophy

In Pierre Hadot, What is ancient philosophy?, there is a fascinating discussion of the figure of Socrates as philosopher in Plato's Symposium. Of course, the topic of the Symposium is the nature of Love: what kind of a thing is Love, and what is the nature of Love? Socrates argues that Love is a desire for the beautiful or for some other thing. But we desire only that which we do not have; if we had it, we would no longer desire it but merely enjoy it. So Love is a beggar, poor and needy, desiring the beautiful but not possessing it.

So also the philosopher is a person who loves wisdom (φιλοσοφία = φιλία σοφίας). This implies that the philosopher does not possess wisdom. Thus there is a threefold distinction between the sage and the gods, the philosopher, and the ordinary person. The sage or the god does not engage in philosophy, since he already possesses wisdom. On the other hand, the ordinary person believes herself already to be wise when in fact she isn't, and so her position is one of lamentable ignorance. The philosopher stands between the two extremes: he wants to be wise, he loves wisdom, but is also aware that he does not possess wisdom.


In light of this definition of the philosopher as a lover and seeker after wisdom (which implies that he does not possess it), we might pose the question: was Jesus a philosopher? Immediately, Christian theology would want us to deny this point. Jesus is not a philosopher in the same sense that the sage is not a philosopher: the philosopher does not possess wisdom though he desires it; Christ, on the other hand, is in Christian theology understood as the Wisdom of God embodied. Christ himself is the Wisdom, the λόγος which all the philosophers sought after but did not possess.

So Christ falls into the category of god or sage (or both), rather than that of philosopher. On the other hand, the Christian -- the person who desires to learn of Christ, and who finds in him the fount of all wisdom -- is the true philosopher. The Christian admits that she lacks wisdom, yet she desires it. So she goes to the source of all wisdom, which is Christ, in order to learn from him.

Christian life can therefore be understood as philosophy: a desirous effort to learn wisdom from Wisdom Itself, embodied in the person of the Godman Jesus Christ.

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