The Envy of Existence – Athanasius on Creation

17008681649_d93e84ff58_k
“Betrayal” – a depiction of jealousy

Let me tell you then why the creator made this world of generation. He was good, and the good can never have any jealousy of anything. And being free from jealousy, he desired that all things should be as like himself as they could be.

– Plato, Timaeus, (ca 360 BC)

You probably remember that in the Republic, Socrates describes what he thinks the perfect city would be like. “Republic” is actually the Latin name for the work. Its Greek name is Politeia, meaning “pertaining to the city.”  This can be confusing because the perfect city in Plato’s Republic is not a democracy or republic at all, but ironically a monarchical dictatorship protected by philosopher vigilantes.  Within the work itself, the perfect city is called Kallipolis, literally “the beautiful city” or “the good city” (Greek philosophers treated beauty as goodness). The reason Socrates gives the constitution of Kallipolis is that his students ask him what “justice” really is. Justice must be more than simple revenge or the advantage that strong and cunning people have over weak and gullible ones. But if justice is different from mere fairness or getting what you deserve, what is it?

This turns out to be a difficult question to answer, so Socrates proposes that perhaps if people saw justice at work in a city full of people, we could then proceed to see what it is for a single person to be just. But in order to find out what justice is in a city, you need to design a city in which justice is theoretically possible. This is how the Republic gets its shape. It is the theoretical (not literal or practical) constitution of a just city in Plato-Socrates’ philosophy.

How would such a city get along with other cities? Long ago, according to Socrates, two such cities, Athens and the lost city of Atlantis went to war with each other… But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, and that’s a story for another day. Before we can describe how cities even came to be, from theoretical Kallipolis to actual Athens or Atlantis, we need to know how anything came to exist. This is why the Timaeus (arguably Plato’s masterpiece) was written in about 360 BC. Timaeus is the character in this dialogue who gives the account of how the world came to be, and very much like in the Bible, it starts in the beginning. Continue reading The Envy of Existence – Athanasius on Creation