In the Vatican is a painting by Raphael, known as the School of Athens. He lived at the height of the renaissance from 1483 until 1520.
Does the Philosophical Wisdom of Hellas Still Communicate?
Like so much that characterizes that period of history, Raphael's masterpiece looks back to the golden age of antiquity when Greek thought flourished. It shows the great school begun by Plato. And depicted in it are the masters of Greek philosophy and mathematics.
There's Plato himself, and Aristotle, strolling beside him. There's Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Ptolemy, Alexander the Great, and Euclid. Raphael hasn't worried about when those characters were born: he has put them into Plato's great school.
Those and many more are names to conjure with, and none more so than the two central characters, Plato and Aristotle. Plato carries a book. And it's said that its title is the Timaeus. If the whole painting is an homage to the life of the mind, then Timaeus is that in miniature.
What this book all about? It's a philosophy of creation, a theology of the universe, a panegyric to what is both extrinsic and intrinsic to every individual. And, in a translation by Donald J Zeyl, there is part of a sentence which captures the essence of the spirit of the enquiring mind and questing heart. Quote. “Divine providence brought our world into being as a truly living thing, endowed with soul and intelligence.”
Why is this important today? What significance does it have for the contemporary world? As commentators, scientists, thinkers and world leaders acknowledge, we are facing massive humanitarian disasters and are at increased and accelerating risk from unfettered resource plundering.
The truly living thing which is our planet, and all the species on it, animal and vegetable, for which we have responsible stewardship, is in the grip of mass species extinction. Yet there is still cause for hope.
The collective wisdom of what was once just the School of Athens, is now multiplied up, dispersed across countless individuals, cultures and languages. And more Christians than ever before, acknowledge the need to recover the philosophical wisdom, which was once embedded into worship and service. When integrated with the simple practice of agape love, Christian community grows and flourishes.