Romantic Platonic monism

This visionary element which marks the early period of Romanticism is linked to a revival of speculative Platonism in the early nineteenth century, marked by grand interpretations of nature. Tübingen - the university that produced Hegel, Schelling and Hölderlin - had a long humanistic Platonic tradition cross-fertilised by indigenous south-west German mystical-pietist elements. One of the earliest known works by Schelling was a commentary on Plato's Timaeus. The revival of Platonism was not confined to southern Germany. The arch-Romantics Friedrich Schlegel and Schleiermacher conceived together the first German translations of Plato, a huge task that Schleiermacher completed. In England S. T. Coleridge is described in the 1780s as unfolding 'the mysteries of Jamblichus, or Plotinus' as a boy at Christ's Hospital.1 This 'Platonism' was a syncretistic strand (Spinoza was an important component), often deeply theological in its interests and obsessions, monistic and systematic in its ambitions.

The nerve and tendency of drive of this Platonising monism was towards divine immanence. Eighteenth-century theology is often characterised by a strict division between natural and supernatural; nineteenth-century theology blurred the edges between the two. The radically transcendent Deity and a strongly forensic and mechanistic view of Christianity centred around the inerrant oracle ofScripture were replaced with the idea ofan immanent divine Spirit shaping the minds of the prophets and the apostles and thus speaking to the souls of those reading the sacred texts.

The impulse to immanence affected both Protestantism and Catholicism. The hostile reaction of the Vatican to Romantic Platonic monism can be seen clearly in the effects of the 1879 encyclical of Leo XIII, Aeterni Patris, which established Thomas Aquinas as the normative Catholic philosopher. Equally the critique of 'ontologism' in 1891 tended to repress the Platonic strain. However, such grand speculative Platonising monistic structures gave way to more sceptical and pragmatic approaches to the relationship between philosophy and theology. A more pragmatic approach at the end of the nineteenth century is typified by the Ritschl school and the Catholic Modernists.

1 Holmes, Coleridge, p. 32 (quoting Lamb).

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