Enter the Cave

PLATO'S CAVE

Plato offers us the analogy of the cave in book VII of The Republic. Herein Plato suggests that children are born chained at the base of a cave. Behind them real figures move about in front of a bright light that causes shadows to be cast upon the cave wall. The imprisoned souls can do nothing but gaze upon the shadows in front of them. These shadows are mistaken for truth. The prisoners are completely unaware that there is an upper world behind and above them. Until they are liberated (presumably by an educator, one whose soul has already been illuminated) they can do nothing but observe, discuss, and make conclusions about the shadows moving about before them.

Upon liberation the prisoner stands and turns to see the light for the first time. Plato offers us this description, "...when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck around and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities which in his former state he had seen as shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching neared to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision...". As the liberated prisoner journeys upward (or sometimes is "reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent") toward the light he is inevitably perplexed, only understanding the light (the ultimate good) by increasing degrees. This increase in understanding is referred to as the "ascent of the soul" toward an upper world where one ultimately experiences a "beatific vision." Yet this vision is never completely realized by the prisoner, only approached or converged upon by degrees.

The liberated (or even "converted") soul will be tempted to remain in the upper world in perpetual contemplation of all that is really true, good, and beautiful rather than returning to the depths of the cave to live amongst the shadows. Plato remarks that the best Statesmen will nevertheless return to the darkness of the cave (as one who can now see more clearly in the dark) to educate and liberate others so that ultimately all who dwell in the State may be happy. There exists then a cycle of perplexing ascent out of the shadows toward the light followed by a perplexing descent back into the shadows for the sake of others. Each ascent moves the soul closer and closer to the beatific vision and each descent is a call for others to come along.

NOW WE SEE IN A MIRROR DIMLY

The apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 13:12, "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." In this sense we are souls who can only ascend so high out of cave that is darkened by our own finitude. Yet even the dim picture of the majesty of God, the Father of Lights, is so overwhelmingly beautiful that it compels us to seek Him and draw near to Him again and again. The Christian academic community is a community of both perpetually perplexed and perpetually enlightened souls calling one another to turn their necks, cast their eyes upon their Creator and Redeemer, and move out of the shadows of our caved existence unto and into HIs marvelous light.

In this sense, until the Lord calls me home, I am a caveman.

MY BACKYARD CAVE

A backyard "man cave" is not typically the place where a soul ascends towards a contemplation of universals. Admittedly, my 10 by 15 foot shed has been outfitted to accommodate fellowship oriented around darts, cigars, whiskey, and music. However this fellowship has occasionally and naturally led to conversations about truth, goodness, and beauty. The cave (as well as my back porch) has also offered me a place for solitude and quiet contemplation - the necessary prerequisites for much of my careful thinking and writing about classical Christian education.

In this sense, I am also a caveman.