Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Christianity Platonism: How one of the world’s most important religions was shaped by one of its most influential philosophies

Alexander J. B. Hampton, John Peter Kenney

Anyone wishing to understand the Christian tradition deeply must consider the central, formative role of Platonism. At various times Platonism has constituted an essential philosophical and theological resource, furnishing Christianity with a fundamental intellectual framework that has played a key role in its early development, and in subsequent periods of renewal. Alternately, at other times, it has been considered a compromising influence, conflicting with the faith’s revelatory foundations and distorting its inherent message. In both the positive and negative cases, the central importance of Platonism, as a force which Christianity defined itself by and against, is clear. Equally, this process of influence is not unidirectional. Whereas Platonism played a key role in the development of Christianity, the further development of Platonism beyond antiquity was dependent to a large degree upon Christian thinkers. The importance of this dialogue provides an answer to Tertullian’s celebrated question: ‘What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?’ The emphatic answer, detailed in the chapters of this volume, is everything.

This is the first volume to offer a systematic consideration and comprehensive overview of Christianity’s long engagement with the Platonic philosophical tradition. The book offers a detailed consideration of the most fertile sources and concepts in Christian Platonism, a historical contextualization of its development, and a series of constructive engagements with central questions. Bringing together a range of leading scholars, the volume aims to guide readers through each of these dimensions, uniquely investigating and explicating one of the most important, controversial, and often misunderstood elements of occidental intellectual history.

Augustine of Hippo, perhaps the single most influential voice in the Christian Platonist tradition, affirmed the importance of Platonism in crucially important teachings—often adumbrating many of the most ingenious ways in which Christian thinkers would discover not only the fulfilment but also the conversion of reason’s greatest aspirations in the mystery of the Word made flesh. In the Word, said Augustine (and countless other Christian Platonists in every period), dwell the real and imperishable archetypes of all that is.

For the Christian Platonist tradition, this signal fulfilment and transformation of Plato’s ideas became the motive force behind a seemingly inexhaustible theological creativity across the ages. It is manifest in those works that rejoice at the luminous goodness and compelling beauty of the creation, echoing with its eternal significance in God. Equally, it is present in the probing critiques of human injustice and local xenophobic evasions of true and more universal justice. Furthermore, it can be observed in the boundary-breaking assertions of the authentic role of desire and love in epistemic success. In many ways one can only fully perceive the inner conceptual beauty and meaning of Christianity’s most significant theological achievements by uncovering the Christian Platonist dimensions at their core. Whether this leads primarily to deeper understanding or also to critique and amendment, neither would be possible without a grasp of the Christian Platonist role in the history of Christian thought.

Christian Platonism By Alexander J. B. Hampton and John Peter Kenney
Christian Platonism By Alexander J. B. Hampton and John Peter Kenney

About The Authors

Alexander J. B. Hampton

Alexander J. B. Hampton is Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of Toronto, specialising in metaphysics, poetics and nature. He is the author of Romanticism and the Re...

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John Peter Kenney

John Peter Kenney is Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Saint Michael's College. He is the author of Mystical Monotheism: A Study in Ancient Platonic Theology (1991), The M...

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