Dodge: The Pillars of the Church
Plato’s Republic is an odd book. Most think it’s about government. The problem is Plato’s ideas about government are absurd and have never worked. For example, Plato advocates taking away children from their mothers and having the state raise them. Plato wanted to ban poetry and the visual arts. He advocated a kind of communism for material goods. When these ideas have been tried, they’ve failed miserably.
As Peter Kreeft points out, The Republic is a classic not because of its political philosophy, but because of its ethics. Plato insists the good life is found by being good. On the surface, this also seems absurd. Isn’t it the ruthless, the aggressive, the tenacious who get ahead in life? Doesn’t Billy Joel sing, “Only the good die young?” Saints are usually spat upon during their lives, not celebrated.
Plato begs to differ. The just are the happy ones because they’re feeding their souls with good things. The unjust are injuring their souls with wickedness.
If it seems the wicked prosper in life, perhaps we’re not seeing things clearly. The most famous part of the Republic — the simile of the Cave — asserts this most forcefully. Many of us are like people chained to the wall of a cave, only seeing shadows projected from a flickering fire. If this is all we’ve ever known, we might think the shadows are reality. It’s only when we’re led out of the cave into the light that we see there’s a whole world out there we’ve never known. Thus, the pursuit of wisdom enables us to intuit reality properly.
Early Christians took Plato’s ideas a step further when they insisted that wisdom wasn’t only a philosophical idea, but a person. To early Christians, wisdom is Jesus personified. Jesus is the one who brings light into the world and leads people out of the cave.
We find these ideas expressed in the book of Proverbs which most early Christians read in light of Christ. Consider what it says in Proverbs 9.1-2: Wisdom has built her house; she has set up her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table.
What does it mean that wisdom has built her house? This looks forward to the Church, the body of Christ, which Jesus built.
What are the seven pillars? As Gregory the Great, the sixth century Bishop of Rome, wrote, this is fulfilled in the seven sacraments of the Church – Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Holy Orders, Holy Matrimony, Reconciliation, and Unction. Thus, the sacramental ministry of the Church is how Christians participate in the Good.
If Plato is right that the good are the truly happy ones, it’s the Christian sacraments that enable us to participate in what is really good. The sacraments are where earth and heaven, time and eternity, and shadow and reality meet.
Don’t make the mistake of fixating on shadows. Participate in the Good by frequently partaking of the sacraments.