CHRISTIANITY IS MORE PLATONIC THAN PLATO

Dionysios Skliris

John Milbank is one of the most creative Christian thinkers of our time, as his thought extends to Theology, Philosophy, Social Theory, Political Theology, Philosophy of Art, Cultural Criticism, etc. Born in Hertfordshire in 1952, he studied Modern History at the University of Oxford and Theology at the University of Cambridge, while his PhD Thesis at the University of Birmingham was on the thought of Giambattista Vico, the modern founder of the Philosophy of History, with emphasis on the analogy of creation (see also his later work The Religious Dimension in the Thought of Giambattista Vico, 1668–1744, Edwin Mellen Press, New York 1991-92). Decisive for his development was the influence of Rowan Williams, later Archbishop of Canterbury, while in his thought there are also traces of Henri de Lubac's view of the continuity between nature and divine grace (see .The Suspended Middle: Henri de Lubac and the renewed split in modern Catholic Theology, William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan and Cambridge 2014) and the theology of art by Hans Urs von Balthasar [Hans Urs von Balthasar].

The work for which he became more widely known is his study of the relationship between Theology and Social Theory (Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason, Blackwell, Oxford 1990). Milbank has articulated a theological program with references to Political Philosophy and Social Theory, in which he considers the Christian experience of intoxication as pivotal, based on the ecclesiastical and mystical participation in the Body of Christ, which includes us in the life of the Holy Trinity. He considers that this Christian experience rather completes rather than differentiates itself from the methexis as a request of the philosophy of Plato, who could be considered as a kind of "pedagogue in Christ" in common with the Old Testament (To Galatians 3,24). And, like the Athenian philosopher, Milbank seeks the consequences of drunkenness for political action, drawing in this regard also from the State of God (De Civitate Dei) of Augustine of Hippo. One of the provocative dimensions of Milbank's thought is his criticism of aspects of secularization in modernity or even of the theory of rights. He proceeds, however, to a systematic genealogy of them which is perceived as problematic aspects of modernity from the nominalism of late medieval scholasticism and also from the thought of John Duns Scotus. The combination of systematicity and sharpness, with which John Milbank has structured his cultural narrative, have made him an influential intellectual mainly in the Anglo-Saxon area, with important interventions in current issues of political life.
Milbank is considered the main founder and exponent of the "Radical Orthodoxy" movement. The name of the movement was established by the collective volume Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology [John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, Graham Ward (eds.), Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology, Routledge, London 1999]. The phrase is probably intended to be a paradox that shows that authentic radicalism does not lie in liberal radical theological programs, which consider as obsolete the basic doctrines, such as the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation, but, on the contrary, in what we derive the dramatic consequences these doctrines have for our social and political coexistence. Orthodoxy, of course, does not mean the Orthodox Church here, but doctrinal orthodoxy in its experiential and communal ramifications, a fact that brings Milbank very close to the Orthodox Church, as his interest is strongly focused on the primordial undivided Church.

The leading edge of the "Radical Orthodoxy" movement lies in the fact that it combines two extremes, that is, on the one hand, the pre-modern Theology of Shares and a corresponding Political Philosophy, and on the other hand, the vanguard of philosophical postmodernism, thus proceeding to a two-faced critique of political theories of modernity, which it refers to nominalism. Fathers of the primitive Church thus find their place alongside the most subversive postmodern thinkers, in a very interesting and challenging way for the updating of theological thought. Basic demands of "Radical Orthodoxy" are to remove divisions, such as those between nature and grace, reason and faith, the secular and the sacred, which it reduces not generally to scholasticism, as many Orthodox critics of modernity do, but especially in the nominalist version of scholasticism. Whereas, on the contrary, the works of Thomas Aquinas and earlier Augustine of Hippo are re-read by the movement, in the direction of highlighting the tensions and paradoxes they contain in contrast to their "ontotheological" interpretation by the neoscholastic tradition that used the two great theologians for war reasons in the beginnings of modernity, in the 16th and 17th centuries. By "nominalism", with problematic consequences for the spiritual evolution of Western thought, we mean, we recall, the movement of the late Middle Ages that emphasized the ontological priority of the individual over the universality and, in connection, of the individual will over the metaphysical mind, resulting in the later modern projecting deterministic mechanocracy against stochastic teleology.

The main problem of nominalism is considered by Milbank to be the "homonymity" of the concept of being between God and buildings, namely that it is considered a single concept that includes both the built and the unbuilt, in contrast to the older concept of "analogy" which he left room for an interweaving of the created in the uncreated with respect to the decisive transcendence of the latter. "Radical Orthodoxy" is therefore, in principle, a brave movement to reinterpret the sources of the Western Fathers and scholastic philosophers, in a way that is at the same time closer to the archetype of Greek thought, but also to the cutting edge of the postmodern avant-garde, a fact that makes the movement of great interest to Orthodox theologians with similar concerns. A special application of the above paradoxical combination is that Neoplatonic theology of Late Antiquity and Christian eucharistic and liturgical theology are studied at the same time, but also the contemporary question of whether modern and postmodern technology can share with God in the context of a catalystic view of An image of human creativity. On the other hand, a matter of open dialogue is to what extent the criticism of modernity affects its important achievements, such as e.g. pluralism, the neutrality of the state and the democratic protection of minorities, for which however the representatives of "Radical Orthodoxy" try to articulate answers. The main virtue of John Milbank is that he is a thinker of dialogue, who managed to create not only a school of thought, but also a holistic movement, which is based precisely on the possibility of its individual members to have different opinions than or rather precisely because of their coordination in certain basic concerns. It is indeed characteristic that prominent representatives of the movement belong to different political spaces, without being easily classified between Right or Left, conservatism or progressivism, liberalism or anti-liberalism, while they also belong to different Christian denominations. John Milbank's ongoing dialogue with the Slovenian thinker Slavoj Žižek also caused a sensation, which was recorded in the works The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic? (MIT Press, Cambridge MA 2009) and Paul's New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology (Brazos Press, Grand Rapids Michigan 2010).

Read more in ANTHIVOLA, issue 3

ANTIBOLA 3

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