I hope that Christians, West and East, are having a productive Lent. I know that several people refrain from the internet during the fast to spend more time in prayer, study, and charitible activities. I am not among them, but I wish them well. I have found that when I am “stranded” from the web while on trips or during projects, it is quite refreshing. In my normal life in East Coast exile, though, I find the net quite useful in maintaining sanity. In the film, Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis, played by Anthony Hopkins, asks a student why we read. The student responds—with his father’s wisdom—that we read to know that we are not alone. Lewis repeats the line later in the movie, and it is the sort of line that one remembers. I find it truthful. Though the internet is not a substitute for good books or personal conversation, it is a way to encounter other human minds—some quite excellent in insight and in wit.
Rather à propos, on the Serbian Church’s web page, I found a short essay by J.A. McGuckin, “The Notion of The Beautiful in Ancient Greek Thought and its Christian Patristic Transfiguration.” After summarily discussing how the Christian theological and philosophical tradition interpreted and transformed the Socratic notion of the beautiful, McGuckin suggests that this forsaken synthesis serve as medicine for Western civilization’s current malady:
The one reconciliation possible for a society that is in danger of losing even the distant memories of its religious civilisation, at a time when its preferred religions have turned solipsistic, and its schools of political, philosophical, and artistic thought have elevated short-term self interest to new heights, is no less than the return to a renewed sense of the Beautiful. It is, in the Christian reinterpretation of the Greek notion of kalokagaqon, the ideal synthesis of a religious, mystical, and moral transcendental. It is, if the Church can still act decisively enough to be the intellectual midwife and interpreter, the one concept and experience that can still be remembered well enough by a generally ‘paganised’ society to serve as the basis for a new pro-paideusis of what civilisation and human aspirations to ascent are all about. If the Church can find the wit, and the voices in the present generation who will be up to the task as were the farseeing saints, founders and teachers in the past, ( who dealt with an equally ambiguous and decadent society ), then this pro-paideusis will be no less than a re-evangelisation of the western world which has already declined far from its once high standards of civilisation, and now urgently needs catechising about the very nature of the simplest truths - what constitutes Beauty ; and where lies the reconciliation of Aesthetics and Justice - central ideas constitutive to a civilisation that even a few decades ago might have been thought to be hardly capable of being forgotten in so short a time and so widespread a fashion.
It delights me to find contemporary scholars who acknowledge the complementarity of Platonism with the gospel. It is no surprise that Plato has served as the paedagogue who has led many thoughtful people to Christ for two millennia. From men on the Areopagus who heard Paul’s sermon to Augustine to Lewis to many people whom I know, that beautiful transcendent vision has led philosophical minds to meet the God of Abraham as the God known by λόγος.