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What form of love comprises the true Character of God? (Part Three - The infiltration of Plato's `God is Eros' into early Christian thought.)

Posted Dec 15, 2012 by kym Jones in General
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This is the fourth in a series of articles on `The Last Generation'. 

By the time that Christ demonstrated Agape to the world on the cross, the world was so completely steeped in Eros, that its underlying principle of self soon began to gnaw at the truth of agape. This largely resulted from Alexander the Great conquering  the known world in 331 B.C, and then setting  himself to the task of Hellenizing it.  Greek culture was so steeped in the principle of Eros, that everything the Greeks did represented the manner by which the perfection of God is represented to the world. Be it mathematics or architecture, the same principal applied. For instance, classical Greek architecture was based upon an irrational number known as the golden ratio,  which was represented by the ratio of the length of a man's arm to the length of the body. That number was 1.618 . . . . , and is the ratio upon which the entire structure of which the Parthenon  and the statues inside it were built - for the golden ratio represented the perfection of the divinity which they believed resides within us all. 

The Maccabean Period began when when Antiochus Epiphanes IV, the last of the Seleucid Kings, continued in Alexander the Great's practice of the Hellenization of the countries which he conquered:

`Due to the cruelty and sacrilege of Antiochus Epiphanes in B.C. 175 - 164, there was a rising of the Jews under Mattathias and his five sons Johanan, Simon, Judas, Eleazar, and Jonathon. It was the design of Antiochus IV to Hellenize the Jews, indeed to obliterate the distinctiveness of Judaism, and to merge their religion into the cult of Jupiter, or Zeus, or into the lascivious rites of Syria. And, alas, there was a strong inclination among the Jews to be Hellenized. The high priest Jason was at the head of this faction, and apostasy was widespread. Altars were erected to Zeus throughout the Holy Land. At the little town of Modin there was one of these, and when a Jew at the bidding of an emissary of Antiochus was about to offer a sacrifice to Zeus, Mattathias, an old priest, slew both the Jew and the emissary, and then he and his followers fled to the mountains and caves; but revolt had been raised, and on the death of Mattathias his sons antagonized the spreading paganism, and by valiant victories brought deliverance to Israel.' (`The Unfolding Drama of Redemption', W. G. Scroggie, 1953, pp. 27, 28.)

The Hellenization of Jewry soon infected the learned and quasi-intellectual, and the corruption of  the One God of the Hebrews by Hellenistic conceptions of the One God and its associated doctrines of the divine origin of the soul was the inevitable result:

`The idea of the immortality of the soul was entering Jewish life . . . through the absorption of Greek philosophical ideas - in particular, Platonic notions of the immortal soul . . . Resurrection was the preserve of the disenfranchised classes of people who could not abide foreign domination. By contrast, immortality of the soul was adopted mainly by classes of people who learned Greek culture and benefited from it. They were deeply involved in Greek intellectual ideas, or were attempting to combine Judaism with the intellectual currents of their day. They would include Philo, Josephus, several other Jewish philosophical writers, and finally, the Pharisees, or more precisely the rabbis, as they gave up their sectarian status and became the ruling body in Jewish life. In doing so the Pharisees synthesized the notion of an immortal soul with the notion of bodily resurrection.' (`The Resurrection: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Resurrection of Jeus', S. Davis, D. Kendall, G. O'Collins, 1998, p. 102.)

The earliest records of the Jews beginning to believe in doctrines such as purgatory and the immortality of the soul most likely date to the Mishna, which is a Rabbinical book of oral tradition that is credited with originating with the return from the Exile to Babylon under King Cyrus the Great (536 B.C), but was not transcribed into written form until c 220 B.C, by Judah haNasi, at which the oral traditions of the Mishna became corrupted by the Hellenisation of Jewry which had begun with Antiochus some fifty years earlier. At this time Jewish apocryphal books began to flourish and the Hellenization of Jewry had begun. 

Plato had formulated his ideas about the One God of the Greeks  about three centuries earlier, after travelling to Egypt, where he learnt of Moses and synthesised Hebraic  views of the One God of the Bible, with the pantheist pagan equivalent of what later became the Christian Trinity: 

` . . . [Plato], in his travels to the East, (whither he went for his improvement in knowledge), conversed with the Jews, and got some insight into the writings of Moses, and their other sacred books, he learned many things from them which the philosophers did not attain unto and therefore he is said by Numenius to be none other than Moses speaking Greek; and many of the ancient fathers speak of him to the same purpose.' (The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments with a Commentary and Critical Notes', Adam Clarke, 1834, p. 994.)

 Once the Jews had adopted Plato's Hellenistic conceptions of the immortality of the soul, it was not such a short step to adopt the Hellenistic conception of the unity of the Godhead, as many Jews had begun to think that the Platonic view of the Godhead was perfectly reconcilable with Scripture, as recorded in the first five books of the Bible, by Moses.  So by the third century A.D., this principle of the unity of the Godhead was being applied to the Christian Trinity:

 `On the great elementary principle of Christianity, the unity of the Supreme God, this approximation had long been silently made. Celcus, in his celebrated controversy with Origen, asserts that this philosophical notion of the deity is perfectly reconciliable with Paganism. "We also can place a Supreme Being above the world, and above all human things . . . . for, with the belief in the gods, worshipped in every land and by every people, harmonises the belief in a Primal Being, a Supreme God, who has given to every land its guardian, to every people its presiding deity. The unity of the Supreme Being . . . . and the worship of all these different deities is reflected back to the Supreme God, who has appointed them, as it were, his delegates and representatives". ' (`The History of Christianity, from the Birth of Christ, to the Abolition of Paganism in the Roman Empire', Vol. 1', H. Milman, 1840, p. 365.)

 So if we are to turn to any one person who most greatly influenced Jewish and Christian thought upon this issue, it is Philo of Alexandria (c 20 B.C - 50 A.D). Philo lived in Alexandria, Egypt, and his philosophies undoubtedly influenced the formation of the Catechetical School of Alexandria, which was a school of Christian priests and theologians who subjected the Scriptures to Greek philosophy and subsequently allegorized them. While one school of thought believes that this school was established about 180 A.D; Jerome (c 347 - 420 A.D),  who translated the Scriptures into the Latin Vulgate, believed that the School of Alexandria was first established by Mark the Apostle, and the first dean of the school was St. Justus, who was baptized by Mark, and is regarded as the sixth bishop of Alexandria . The most notable deans of this school were Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 - c. 215) and Origen (184 - 253 A.D), who are both regarded as Fathers of the Catholic Church and are largely responsible for not only influencing  the Church apologists of the second century, but later  Church Fathers as well; the most notable being St. Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430 A.D) and St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 - 1274 A.D).

 `The apologists' enterprise of examining and defending Christianity in light of Greek philosophy was not entirely new. A century or more earlier the Jewish scholar Philo had attempted to wed Judaism and Greek philosophy in Egypt. His great influence there among both Jews and Gentile God-fearers probably helps to explain why Alexandrian Christians in the second and third centuries were most open to this project of explaining the Bible and Christian beliefs philosophically. Some of the apologists emulated Philo's positive evaluation of Greek philosophers. Philo, for instance, had taught that Plato's philosophy and Moses' teachings were both based upon divine revelation and at heart were similar if not identical. In order to make this work he had to interpret the Hebrew Scriptures allegorically. By using that method, he was able to blend Greek and Hebrew ways of thinking about God, creation and humanity. Philo's approach to Jewish thought was already widely accepted (though not without controversy) among Jews of the Diaspora and Christian apologists of the second century built on that foundation in order to show a similar consistency between the best of Hellenistic thought and their own fairly sophisticated versions of the Christian message.' (`The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform', R. Olsen, 1999, p. 55.)

 By the time that St. Augustine, the celebrated Doctor of the Catholic Church further influenced the development of Catholic theology in the fourth century, Agape had flourished briefly with the advent of the disciples of Christ, but was then poisoned by Eros as the doctrine of the natural immortality of the soul began to gain ascendancy in the Church - and thus the doctrine of the resurrection of Christ and the hope of the second coming was made of none effect.  It is from the pen of Augustine that we find the doctrine of original sin, and the conception of `Just War', which synthesised Roman military ethics with Greek philosophy. It teaches that any military quest should meet philosophical, religious and political criteria. It became the philosophical basis of the Crusades, and the inquisition. Thus this principal of force became the birthright of the Church, and set the stage for the rise of the little horn power of Daniel chapter 7. It is demonstrated by Julius Caesar, who according to the Greek historian Plutarch (c. 46 - 120 A.D), uttered the words vini, vidi, vici'; which translates to `I came, I saw, I conquered'.  

The principal of force entered the Church when Augustine had attempted to synthesize agape with eros and called it caritas; which means charity; or lovingkindness. Augustine retained the egocentric idea of the Greeks by stipulating that salvation can be achieved by human effort. He believed that eros (or works) is enriched by  agape (or faith)  by transcending it; and thus caritas is the manner by which God reveals himself to us, if we emulate Him in a faith by which our works save us:

`Eros and Grace are not simply conflated in caritas: eros is elevated and transfigured by grace , not destroyed, but redeemed. `Amor tuus migret': `Your love migrates', says Augustine, and finds its focus in God. `Venit Christus mutare amorem': Christ came to transform love. For Augustine, it is a matter of dilectio ordinata: love redeemed by grace.' (`Augustine and his critics',Robert Dodaro, 2000, p. 39.)

Clearly, Augustine saw that there is really only one form of love, and that is Eros; for Eros is redeemed by grace (agape). Over the intervening one and a half millenia, little has changed, for Pope Benedict XVI's First Encyclical Letter reaffirms Augustine's synthesis of Eros with Agape, and makes the point that there is one love only and that is Eros! 

`We have seen that God's eros for man is also totally agape. This is not because it is bestowed in a completely gratuituous manner, without any previous merit, but also because it is a love which forgives' (Pope Benedict XVI, `Deus Caritas Est #10.) 

As the following statement suggests - according to Pope Benedict, Eros is the only form of love there is, and all other forms of love - including Agape, are merely `a variety of dimensions that are all necessary in order to sustain the full meaning of love.'

`The point of this early section of the encyclical is to insist that, although the terms eros and agape may set into relief different aspects of love, in the end they do not represent different kinds of love. Rather, as the pope states forcefully at the outset of the encyclical, there is ultimately just one love, with a variety of dimensions that are all necessary in order to sustain the full meaning of love. If we separate these dimensions from one another, however pure or laudable our motives may be, we will end up distorting love and, at the very least, depriving it of its vitality. “Fundamentally,” the pope writes, “‘love’ is a single reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or [an]other dimension may emerge more clearly. Yet when the two dimensions are totally cut off from one another, the result is a caricature or at least an impoverished form of love” (DCE, 8). This may seem obvious, but let us consider what it implies: if the dimensions of love are intrinsically necessary to one another, it is not enough simply to say that the desire we associate with eros and the generosity we associate with agape need to be balanced against one another. Instead, it means that desire is not truly desire unless it is also generous, and generosity is not truly generous unless it is also filled with desire.'(`The Redemption of Eros: Philosophical Reflections on Benedict XVI's Firs Encyclical', D. C. Schindler, p. 378.) 

Thus, if we look at a broad overview of history, and begin with with the first of the four world kingdoms which are described in the books of Daniel and Revelation, eventually we find that eventually Eros gains ascendency  over Agape with the formation of the Papacy.  It is in ancient Babylon  where the Bible first demonstrates the  principle of Eros in action; for it was at the Tower of Babel where Nimrod first used the principle of force and fear; which is to say that while on the one hand he forced his people to  worship him as the reincarnation of the sun; on the other, many willingly did so because they feared another flood.  Yet in speaking of the principle of  Agape, John the beloved disciple of Christ tells us that: 

`Herein is our agape made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in agape; but perfect agape casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in agape.' (1 John 4:17,18) 

Thus, the primary element of Eros is fear - the fear of God, and the fear of being lost. What did Adam do when he first sinned? He hid from God in fear! He blamed Eve for sinning, and Eve blamed the Serpent!  John had previously informed us in his epistle, that he who does not love with agape does not know God, for God is agape! (1 John 4:8) 

When the Medes and the Persians overran Babylon, the same raw pagan principles were applied and Eros was perpetuated. These same pagan principles which encapsulated Eros were also applied when pagan Rome overthrew Greece. However, by then Rome had already assimilated Greek culture; so when Alexander the Great  Defeated the Persian King Darius the Third in 331 B.C,  the scenario changed. The Hellenization of the western world had begun, and the principle of Eros  entered the early Christian Church through the willing conduit of Hellenized Jewry. Philo of Alexandria's teachings on the natural immortality of the soul, the Greek conception of the unity of the Godhead, and the allegorization of the Hebrew Scriptures became the basis of Greek philosophical thought that gave rise to the Papacy through the influence of the Catechetical School of Alexandria.  The `little horn' power of Daniel ch. 7 and 8 then gained ascendency for the next 1260 years.  Have you ever wondered precisely why the beast in Revelation 13:2 is described as `like unto a leopard'?  The answer is that not only did Alexander Hellenize the culture of the western world, but the Greek philosophical conception on the unity of the Godhead became the basis of semi-paganised Christianity, in the form of the Papacy. Unfortunately, as the Seventh-Day Advent Church is now a Trinitarian Church, Seventh-Day Adventists do not comprehend this, for in this one small prophecy, which is found in Revelation 13:2,  we see the formation of the so-called Christian Trinity!

 The principle of Eros found itself perpetuated in Catholic thought until the Reformation, when the principle of Agape  enjoyed a brief resurgence under Martin Luther, when he declared that `The just shall live by faith'. But Luther could only go so far, and as the Protestant Churches never rescinded their belief in the pagan conceptions of the doctrines of the natural immortality of the soul and the Trinity; as each Church came out of the next, so also did each Church then form a Creed - at which they stultified and died, as they effectively decided that there was no more light to give them!  That is, until the early 1880's, when two men by the names of Ellet J. Waggoner and Alonzo T. Jones rediscovered the underlying principles of Agape in its pristine beauty. Although (to my knowledge) they never used  the words Agape or Eros, nevertheless; their writings are imbued with the basic principle of agape; which is the unconditional love which the Father and the Son have for us; for Christ is near to us, we do not need to go in search of Him so that we might find Him! This is but one of many reasons why Ellen White recognized the true Righteousness of Christ in their discourses when she heard it, and declared that the sermons which these two men gave at the watershed Minneapolis Conference, was `the beginning of the Latter Rain': 

`The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people through Elders Waggoner and Jones. This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God. Many had lost sight of Jesus. They needed to have their eyes directed to His divine person, His merits, and His changeless love for the human family. All power is given into His hands, that He may dispense rich gifts unto men, imparting the priceless gift of His own righteousness to the helpless human agent. This is the message that God commanded to be given to the world. It is the third angel's message, which is to be proclaimed with a loud voice, and attended with the outpouring of His Spirit in a large measure. (Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 91-92.) 

In the last fifty years, the germinal seeds which these two men sowed at Minneapolis,  has grown into a theology which has its basis in the apostolic teachings of Scripture. It is a theology which teaches of the true character of God; which is to say that `God is agape'. God cannot be a synthesis of  Agape and Eros, for if this were possible, God would still be Eros, for any corruption of Agape with Eros degrades it to becoming Eros. Ellen White and the `1888' messengers never believed, nor taught, that the character of God is a synthesis of Eros with Agape.  

Here are the other articles in this series:

The Last Generation - part one

What form of love comprises the true Character of God? (Part Two - The disciples conception of the character of God - God is agape.)

What form of love comprises the true Character of God? (Part Three- Plato's conception of the character of God - `God is Eros')

`The Last Message of Mercy'