On Timaeus

Plato is not an easy writer and Timaeus is his most difficult text. After his last student died, who had heard his oral teaching, we lost the key to some parts of the book, perhaps forever. Yet we must read it with care, because for centuries it shaped Western Europe as the only Platonic text they had.

For the makers of the modern mind, there was only one Plato: the maker of the Atlantis myth and the scientist whose creation account was so much like Genesis that some church leaders thought he must have met Jeremiah in Egypt. He didn’t and it was not necessary, because anyone who looks hard, consistently, and for his whole life will often get to close to the right places.

Timaeus reminds us that mathematics is part of the language of God. When Saint John calls Jesus the Divine Logos, the Evangelist is associating Jesus with logic and reason.

The Saint Constantine School asks students to read Timaeus, because the book is not just of historic importance. Questions about the nature of time, the role of God in creation, and the truth or untruth of evolutionary ideas are all asked in Timaeus.

Plato gives us a “likely story” to account for the facts he knows. Nobody would buy all the details, but his method–give the best theory that covers all the facts–is still valuable today. He understood that some events were caused by intelligence and some by nature. Plato was open minded to both God and nature as being a cause for events.

All of these topics are very hard, no “edutainment” in sight, but a joy of my day is learning with our students in dialogue. They ask questions that I would never have thought to ask and rise to very difficult challenges.

Last week we probed the nature of time (where is God?) and reality. We asked questions about being and not being. One student, very gifted, asked if there could be justice in this work, because there was a missing voice: a woman’s voice.

This was profound, because there is someone missing and women are treated very badly in the book. This is not usual for Plato. Women could be philosophers in his great Republic, but something has gone wrong in the Timaeus. How could such a great book get things so wrong?

We realized as a group that we were not patient. We were not hearing every voice and so we waited as one bright student sat thinking to articulate an idea. We learned to listen, fearful that our story would not be good, if we did not hear this student.

It was a very good discussion on a text that was the basis for my doctorate. Our college students at The Saint Constantine School might have done as well, but these were not our college students. It was not even a discussion with our high school students.  

They were in eighth grade.

Know hope. Kids can rise to a challenge and do more than anyone believes.


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