88. Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity

Bethlehem and the Church
Entrance to the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem

This is my fourth annual Christmas post. That is hard to believe. This year, I thought that I would do something different. Instead of taking a philosophical or theological approach to Christmas, I decided to take more of a historical and archaeological approach and discuss the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. This church not only has very important historical significance, but it also has very personal significance for me. Not only have I visited this church, but when my daughter came into the Catholic Church as a young adult, she celebrated Mass and took her First Communion there on Christmas Eve.

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87. Plato’s Love-Hate Relationship with the Arts, Part II

Ancient Greek Mosaic

Plato sowed the seeds of Western art theory. His brief discussions on the topic, spread throughout his dialogues, give us a glimpse into his ideas. On one hand, these ideas can seem incomplete, fragmented, or even confusing. On the other hand, they can be strikingly profound and thought provoking. Regardless, one thing that Plato’s art theory is not comprehensive about is something that later thinkers and artists over the span of millennia would develop.

With that in mind, it is important to realize that Plato’s ideas played a foundational role in raising poignant questions throughout his dialogues. These questions not only started the conversation on the nature of art but also pointed it in the right direction. As such, his insights are valuable for artists and patrons, especially in the modern age.

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86. Plato’s Love-Hate Relationship with the Arts, Part I

Plato by Paolo Veronese, c. 1560

I’d like to thank you for your patience. I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been concentrating on my Master’s program in Sacred Arts at Pontifex University. I am now over the halfway point. Additionally, I’m working on a book for my program about how ancient cultures and philosophers recognized the mathematics of beauty in the universe and how we have lost that in modern times. But, enough about me; let’s get to the article itself.

That being said, the information above is relevant to the topic of this post, which is Plato’s perspective on the arts and beauty. One reason this is important is because it directly applies to modern life. As you know, modernity is often characterized by ugliness. Whether it’s in city planning such as strip malls, or in modern art, much of which can be confusing at best. Part of the journey to rediscover beauty, what I call Renaissance 2.0, involves understanding what ancient philosophers believed about aesthetics and learning how to apply these principles to modern life.

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85. Plato’s Dialogue ‘Ion’ -Inspiration in Poetry, Human, Divine, or Demonic?

Ion
A Rhapsode Reciting Homer

Musical artist Joni Mitchell once said, “Music comes from the muses, and not other musicians,” illustrating that the concept of the muse is alive and well in modern times. Many would say that she was speaking figuratively, but was she?

Music comes from the muses.

-Joni Mitchell

This leads us to the question: where do poets and musicians get their inspiration? In fact, we get the word “music” from the word “muse.” This is the operative question in Plato’s dialogue, Ion. Before dismissing the concept of the muse, we should read Ion.

Ion
Joni Mitchell

And what did Plato think about poets and artists in general? In his dialogues Laws, Republic, and Phaedrus, he discusses poets, but only incidentally in relation to other matters. What is fascinating about “Ion” is that it is the only one of Plato’s dialogues where he directly addresses the issue. Consequently, we gain deeper insight into his perspective on the matter.1 Ion is the world’s oldest surviving book on art theory, and it holds implications for how we view art and artists today.

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84. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Divisive Harvard Address, ‘A World Split Apart’,1978, Part 4

Alexander

This is the final installment of a four-part series on Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He is the man who achieved with a pen what the nuclear arms buildup of the 20th century could not do: bring down the mighty Soviet Union. I left off in POST 83 discussing Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s ideas about the spiritual poverty of Western materialism. (Italics below added for emphasis.)

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83. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Divisive Harvard Address, ‘A World Split Apart’,1978, Part 3

Solzhenitsyn proved that the pen is mightier than the sword, for his writings were instrumental in toppling an evil superpower. If you would like to start at the beginning, see Post 81. Click the link to read his speech in its entirety.

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82. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Divisive Harvard Address, ‘A World Split Apart’,1978, Part 2

A Young Alexander Solzhenitsyn as a Russian Gulag Prisoner

Just as Solzhenitsyn agitated the Soviet Union with his criticisms, so he agitated the West with his critique of the United States during his 1978 Harvard address. This is Part 2 of that address. See Post 81 for background and discussion of Part 1.

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81. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Divisive Harvard Address, ‘A World Split Apart’,1978, Part 1

Solzhenitsyn

When I was growing up, in the midst of the Cold War, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008) was a household name. Older readers, like myself, will remember his name. Younger readers, tragically, have never heard of him.

He was known for being the Soviet dissident who spent years in a Soviet gulag for a simple critique of Stalin and eventually wrote his famous Gulag Archipelago, which recounted the harsh, miserable existence in a Soviet labor camp, shedding light on the evils of the Soviet Communist system. Because of that, he was one of my childhood heroes. Beginning in 2009, Gulag became required reading in Russia. 1 The Gulag Archipelago has sold tens of millions of copies. 2 His writings were significantly responsible for bringing down the Soviet Union. As they say, the pen is mightier than the sword.

In 1978, he gave his famous Harvard Commencement Address, which did not go very well. Americans naively thought that Solzhenitsyn, a natural political and cultural critic, would spare them the scrutiny he had dished out to the Soviets. They were wrong. His critique of America during that speech is even more relevant now than it was over forty years ago. A link to his speech is provided below.

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80. Phaedo on the Soul and the Afterlife, Part 3

Phaedo

Despite all of our technology, the Greeks were, in many ways, wiser than we are. We should not mistake knowledge for wisdom, for we have much more knowledge. They were wiser for many reasons, but especially because they recognized that human beings have immortal souls, something that we have lost today. This is the subject of Plato’s Phaedo.

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79. Phaedo on the Soul and the Afterlife, Part 2

Phaedo

Many people think about the afterlife on a regular basis, while others avoid the subject. But coming to grips with our mortality is essential if we are going to have any sort of meaningful life. This is what Plato’s Phaedo is all about. After all, as the saying goes, if you don’t know how to die, then you don’t know how to live.

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