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Christianity and Hellenism, Part 3 of 3: On Human Nature

December 11th, 2010 | 7 min read

By Kevin White

One of the theological areas most likely to raise questions about the relationship between historical Christian teaching and Greek (especially Platonic) thought is that of human nature. Especially with regard to two related subjects:  the relationship between body and soul, and just how good or evil either part is. Most of this topic is Matthew’s bailiwick, what with his current book project. But I can’t rightly conclude this series without addressing it.

Plato gives a very stirring account of human nature and the challenge of human existence in the Phaedrus. He gives the following description of the human soul:

To describe what the soul actually is would require a very long account, altogether a task for a god in every way; but to say what it is like is humanly possible and takes less time… Let us then liken the soul to the natural union of a team of winged horses and their charioteer. The gods have horses and charioteers that are themselves all good and come from good stock besides, while everyone else has a mixture. To begin with, our driver is in charge of a pair of horses; second, one of his horses is beautiful and good and from stock of the same sort, while the other is the opposite and has the opposite sort of bloodline. This means that chariot-driving in our case is inevitably a painfully difficult business. (Phaedrus 246a-b)

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Kevin White