How Ancient Greco-Romans Viewed Transcendence

Plato not only revered the arts but also feared them with equal regard for the tenacity to both pursue and persuade.  It remained for him alone to find and hold the defining view of transcendence until the arrival of the Church Fathers under Catholicism.

For Plato, transcendence was a most difficult worthy adversary to pin down, define or study with any systematic rigor. Eros was the final resting place whereby an individual could experience transcendence.  It fell to the Church Fathers to reorientate, to fix a proper understanding of such a elusive concept; this being the cataclysmic  consequence of reflecting on the Incarnation.  To have suggested that the ultimate good or final end resides outside the human person and therefore above the cosmos would not have made any sense for ancient peoples.  For them, all matter was eternal.  By extension this meant that the world was eternal and that nothing can transcend it.  This is the basic philosophical formula informing pantheism that permeated the classical world and populated it with its numerous gods.

It is only with Catholic teaching that matter is contingent, not eternal; that God as a transcendent source residing both within and outside history gains currency.  In a sentence, this is the origin of metaphysics.  St. John’s opening anthem that Christ is the only begotten Son is wording that made it clear in terms the ancient world understood that the exclusivity of Christ’s generation by God the Father meant that the world was not begotten (divine).  Simply put, the world was no longer god, it was created ex nihilo.

Only a theology of love as demonstrated in Good Friday can fix the philosophical moorings of man’s metaphysics.

About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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