From Plato to Christ, Louis Markos. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.
Summary: A discussion of the most significant ideas of Plato, summarizing his works and the influence Platonic thought has had on Christian theology.
One of the things readily apparent to anyone who reads the theology of the church fathers is their indebtedness to the Greek philosophers, and particularly Platonic philosophy. Eusebius even believed that Plato’s work was a preparation for the gospel.
In this work, Louis Markos does two things. One is that he offers an introduction to Plato for those unfamiliar with him (and a good refresher for those of us who are). The first part reviews his major works and the key ideas that early Christian thinkers believed anticipated the coming of Christ. Of particular interest is the Cave and the rising path from the shadows of the forms to the forms in all their perfection, the sum of goodness, truth, and beauty. All this serves as a basis of our moral awareness and striving, and may become the basis of our awareness of our need for grace. He understood that we are both physical and spiritual beings. In The Laws Plato comes near a Christian understanding of a God intimately involved in his creation and a cosmology with which Christians deeply resonated. Markos notes where Christians part ways in the Platonic idea of the transmigration of souls, the relative denigration of the body, and the inferiority of women (although I suspect this also had an influence on Christian theology that Markos doesn’t discuss).
The second half of the book treats the Christian thinkers who draw upon his ideas beginning with Origen, the three Gregorys, Augustine, Boethius, and Dante, and more recently, Erasmus, Descartes, Coleridge, and finally C. S. Lewis, whose Professor Digory remarks in The Last Battle as they go “further up and further in” that “It’s all in Plato, all in Plato.”
The work also includes a bibliographic essay, not only of works drawn upon but comments on works and editions the reader may consult who wants to explore the connections of Greek thought and Christianity further. One of the most attractive things about this work is that Markos makes such a prospect inviting.
Aside from acknowledging some of the clear places Plato got it wrong, and some of the erroneous conclusions Origen reached, the book takes a very positive view of how Plato may prepare one for Christ. This may well be the case but I wish Markos would have dealt more with those who question the influence of Greek thought on Christian theology. While this engagement no doubt contributed to the spread of the gospel, the views of the body, the view of women, the “gnostic,” anti-material character of Christianity that led to a divorce of work and worship, of physicality and spirituality, are downplayed if acknowledged.
This needn’t detract from Markos’ argument. Plato undeniably influenced Christian thinkers through history, and if for no other reason (and there are other good reasons) ought to be read. At the same time, syncretism is not just a phenomena of modern missions. Christians have always faced the challenge of how to contextualize without compromising. They have always believed God has both left a witness to God’s self, and yet this is never unalloyed. I wish Markos would have done more with this which would have enhanced the instructiveness of a fine work.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.