We have two warring philosophies in Western society and perhaps in the whole world. These are the Platonic and Aristotelian paradigms (see Arthur Herman, The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization.) Our philosophical views determine how we decide what is true and therefore how we decide what will be our own personal salvation and the salvation of the society in which we live. Our politics and culture reflect our philosophy, and in this world, we go one way or the other. Plato’s ultra-realism is a top down approach to determining what is truth and best for society, while Aristotle’s moderate-realism is bottom’s up. Our philosophy is the interface between our natural approach to belief and the world of supernatural faith. Plato’s is the more Catholic approach, or, at least it was from the time of Jesus, the Apostles, and the Church Fathers like St. Augustine. Aristotle’s is the more scientific atheistic approach, or, at least it has been the main influence on those who preach skepticism about the supernatural and see mankind’s salvation as something coming from here on earth.
Platos’ influence on society is that of our perceived need for enforcing standards of morality, virtue, and conduct on society through both cultural norms and legislation. Here, Morality and Virtue are objectively true forms toward which we must strive if we are to attain perfect knowledge and happiness (the pagan Greek Platonic version) or perfect union with God in the Heavenly Kingdom (the Christian NeoPlatonist version, as represented by Augustine’s City of God). Conversely, Aristotle’s influence on society is that of our perceived need for freedom, complete and total freedom, including the freedom to investigate all matters, even those of faith, through the skeptical lens of scientific inquiry.
The Aristotelian will believe what he sees, and from that judge what he does not see. The Platonist will believe what he does not see and from that judge what he does see. The Platonist implies that we must conform our material world to the unseen objective forms of truth, beauty, and goodness, while Aristotle warns that we must conform to nothing that cannot be seen, measured, and analyzed. Here, we catch a glimpse of why Plato’s natural philosophy is the better interface with Catholic supernatural theology (though, Aristotle usurped Plato as the philosophical foundation for the Catholic Faith as the Church came through and out of the Middle Ages, which has been the root cause of the crisis of belief in the modern day Church – see Charles Coulombe, Desire & Deception: How Catholics Stopped Believing )
There are a number of challenges with whatever natural philosophical approach we take to determining what is true. Our natural philosophical interface with theology is most often imperfect no matter which side we choose. For example, the same top-down Platonic influence manifested itself in two of the most diametrically opposed societies the world has witnessed, that is, as Christendom in the Middle Ages and as the Communist Soviet Union in modern history. Going further, the French Revolutionaries and the Royalist Ancien Régime it overthrew both were Platonic in their philosophical substance. Both believed in imposing standards for cultural norms and legislation on society. They simply had very different ideas about just from where the standards for cultural norms and legislation must come. The Royalists said they came from God through his Catholic Church and his anointed King on earth and from there flowed down to the people, while the Republican revolutionaries said that they came not from God but from the General Will and flowed down to the people as enforced through their representatives. In the end, the Catholic Platonists would keep order through religion, customs, laws, and inquisitions, while the revolutionary Platonists would keep order through the guillotine.
On the other hand, we have the Aristotelian Enlightenment model of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson. Here we find the skeptical rejection of the supernatural, at least as we see in Jefferson, and certainly the overall rejection of the NeoPlatonist Catholic Church by all the “Enlightened.” Freedom from any imposition of norms is the rule. Libertarianism is born – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – “don’t tread on me.” However, we still have problems here, as inspiring as the previous proposition might sound. With no standards “from above” the libertarian system devolves over time to mere moral license and mob rule just as Aristotle darkly predicted (though he supported the concept of the will of the people over that of any alleged form from “above”). The United States constitution is an example of a fabricated Aristotelian mechanism designed to bridge the gap as the final arbiter between liberal libertarians and their representatives from above; however, the effectiveness and durability of that strategy is sorely on trial today.
Both secular Platonism (e.g., the French and Bolshevik Revolutions) and secular Aristotelianism (e.g., the American Revolution) exclude God as the top-down Truth, which creates additional tension between the two philosophical approaches. Both secular paradigms profess to lead mankind to fulfillment and happiness through the ideas and dictates of man; however, secular Platonists tend to be atheistic dictators in the name of a professed virtuous conformity of their own choosing while secular Aristotelians tend to legislate God officially out of society through separation of Church and State all in the name of freedom. Both oddly imply that mankind cannot be free if God has anything openly to do with their cultural norms and legislative agendas. We sense the snake in the garden of Eden here with Adam and Eve choosing to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In the Aristotelian model in particular, men must be free but not on God’s terms. They must be free only on each individual’s personal terms. Man’s freedom to rebel from God must be honored equally with his freedom to obey. Therein is the seed of the Aristotelian Enlightenment’s self-destruction (which self-destruction readily is observable in the United States today).
Has anyone had this right? Can we look to anyone as our example of right philosophy which would therefore lead to a free (satisfying the Aristotelians in the crowd) but more virtuously disciplined (satisfying the Platonists in the crowd) society? We can. We need look no further than to Joan of Arc, the young country woman, mostly illiterate, from what is now rural France.
When Joan reached the Dauphin, Charles VII, in Chinon to plead with him to let her take men-at-arms to rid France of the English and then Charles to his coronation, she stated that Heaven had revealed to her that Jesus Christ was true King of France, and Charles was to be his lieutenant. Charles was, effectively, designated the steward of France for Jesus Christ. This was the divine order as dictated from Heaven which is astonishingly Platonic from a philosophical perspective. There certainly was to be no separation of Church and State, so we can show the “Enlightened” Aristotelians politely to the door. Yet, the French King, as steward, never could be truly absolute or dictatorial (sorry secular Platonists) in his temporal powers since the earthly King was subject always to the true King, Jesus Christ, the higher authority and true Form of the Monarchy. Absolute in earthly civil terms or not, the divine order, or, the “forms in the mind of God,” allowed no legitimacy to any dictatorial tendencies. The earthly King was as subject to Jesus Christ and His Church as were the rest of society. The King had the same boundaries as the rest and was subject to the same “higher” forms. The King could not take away legitimately the freedoms given by Jesus Christ to the people, while, at the same time, the King had to enforce the cultural norms and legislation implied by the commandments of Jesus Christ.
Joan of Arc’s way is a third way, that of Holy Realism (a term used by St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, otherwise known as Edith Stein, in her book, The Science of the Cross), which is the transformation of natural Platonic ultra-realism into God’s Catholic realism through sanctifying grace and the redemption of mankind through Jesus Christ. As Christ is truly the way, the truth and the life, we know that this realism, the Holy Realism of St. Joan of Arc, will lead us to Truth who is Jesus Christ. No society can stand on that which is not objective Truth. St. Joan could not accept any France other than the France given her by Heaven, for no other would be legitimate or lasting.
Joan of Arc gave us splendid insight into God’s point of view. We need the ultra-realism of Plato as our natural interface with grace such that we might be transformed ourselves through Joan’s Holy Realism. Our natural adversaries always will be the Aristotelians, Catholic or secular, along with the secular Platonists. Through this muddled mess, Joan truly points us to the third way, the “narrow way” which is precisely the way of which Our Lord spoke.
Joan of Arc will show us God’s point of view. She is truly our friend, sister, and patroness leading us to the true heavenly Kingdom in the center of the Immaculate Heart of Mary where Jesus Christ is enthroned in all His glory.