Plato on Deification and Eternal Marriage

By August 21, 2011

Clement of Alexandria asserted that Plato was an important precursor to the coming of Christ. [1] The quotes I post from Plato here suggest that Mormons could sympathize with Clement’s point of view. The first is Plato’s statement on deification from the Theaetetus.

Theodorus: Socrates, if your words convinced everyone as they do me, there would be more peace and less evil on earth.

Socrates: But is it not possible, Theodorus, that evil should be destroyed—for there must always be something opposed to good; nor it is possible that it should have its seat in heaven. But it must inevitably haunt human life, and prowl about this earth. That is why a man should make all haste to escape from earth to heaven; and escape means becoming as like God as possible; and a man becomes like God when he becomes just and pure, with understanding….

Let us try to put the truth in this way, in God there is no sort of wrong whatsoever; he is supremely just, and the thing most like him is the man who has become just as it lies in human nature to be. [2]

Not surprisingly, Clement, the Christian Platonist, asserted most strongly that the purpose of Christianity was to become a god.

The second quote comes from the Symposium, which I find rather lovely. Here Aristophanes tells the myth of the Androgyn, that humans were once male and female fused into one being. These androgyns were very powerful and sought to attack the gods, so the gods split them in two. I put the particularly important part in bold.

Now, since their natural form had been cut in two, each one longed for its own half, and so they would throw their arms about each other, weaving themselves together, wanting to grow together….

This, then, is the source of our desire to love each other. Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature….

And so, when a person meets the half that is his very own … then something wonderful happens: the two are struck from their senses by love, by a sense of belonging to one another, and by desire, and they don’t want to be separated from one another, not even for a moment.

These are the people who finish out their lives together and still cannot say what it is they want from one another. No one would think it is the intimacy of sex–that mere sex is the reason each lover takes so great and deep joy in being with the other. It’s obvious that the soul of each lover longs for something else; his soul cannot say what it is, but like an oracle it has a sense of what it wants, and like an oracle it hides behind a riddle. Suppose two lovers are lying together and Hephaestus stands over them with his mending tools, asking “What is it you human beings really want from each other?” And suppose they were perplexed, and he asks them again: “Is this your hearts desire, then–for the two of you to become parts of the same whole, as near as can be, and never to separate, day or night? Because if that’s your desire, I’d like to weld you together and join you into something that is naturally whole, so that the two of you are made into one. Then the two of you would share one life, as long as you live, because you would be one being, and by the same token, when you died, you would be one and not two in Hades, [3] having died a single death. Look at your love, and see if this is what you desire: wouldn’t this be all the good fortune you could want?

Surely you can see that no one who received such an offer would turn it down; no one would find anything else that he wanted. Instead, everyone would think he’d found out at last what he had always wanted: to come together and melt together with the one he loves, so that one person emerged from two. Why should this be? It’s because, as I said, we used to be complete wholes in our original nature, and now “Love” is the name for our pursuit of wholeness, for our desire to be complete. [4]

That quite reminds me of what we taught people on my mission. Again, such passages suggest that from a Latter-day Saint point of view, Clement of Alexandria had it right.
______________________________

[1] Florian Ebeling, The Secret History of Hermes Trismegistus: Hermeticism from Ancient to Modern Times, forward by Jan Assmann trans by David Lorton (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2007), 39-40.

[2] Plato, Theaetetus, 176 a-c.

[3] Hades meaning the afterlife.

[4] Plato, Symposium, 190-193. Clement is also the Father that spoke most highly of marriage.

Article filed under Christian History Theology


Comments

  1. I love reading about Clement of Alexandria. Later generations always tried to shut him up because his views contradicted the state supported creeds. Most modern Christians try to pretend that all of the views outlined in the creeds have been believed by all Christians since the time of the Apostles. Yet people like Clement (Who was not viewed as a heretic in his time) did exist, and weren’t outcasts.

    Comment by Sean — August 22, 2011 @ 4:10 am

  2. Of course one has to contextualize this and understand what becoming a God meant to the platonists of late antiquity. I know you understand that Steve but I do notice that a lot of lay apologists tend to bring up such things from a position of ignorance.

    That said Clement is always interesting to read for a Mormon. As Sean said he’s the guy that a lot of later Christians wish hadn’t opened his mouth. Even if one acknowledges his views aren’t what became mainstream western Christianity it does illustrate the range of beliefs one could hold to while being a Christian. i.e. if Mormons aren’t Christians then neither is Clement.

    Comment by Clark — August 22, 2011 @ 11:35 am

  3. Clement is indeed very interesting.

    No doubt becoming like god had a variety of meanings. The statement in the Theateaetus was very influential. It became the Neoplatonists’ motto. The statement in the Symposium had a lot of influence as well.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — August 22, 2011 @ 9:33 pm


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