Words of Wisdom

Raphael’s fresco “The School of Athens” is the marriage of art, philosophy, and science that was a hallmark of the Italian Renaissance. Painted between 1509 and 1511, it is located in the first of the four rooms designed by Raphael, the Stanza della Segnatura.

But just what does this famous painting mean? Let’s look at what the iconic The School of Athens meant for Raphael as an artist and how it’s become such a symbol of the Renaissance. The stellar work was commissioned by the Pope. An elderly Plato stands at the left, pointing his finger to the sky. Beside him is his student Aristotle. In a display of superb foreshortening, Aristotle reaches his right arm directly out toward the viewer. Each man holds a copy of their books in their left hand—Timaeus for Plato and Nicomachean Ethics for Aristotle.

In the masterpiece Plato’s gesture toward the sky is thought to indicate his Theory of Forms. This philosophy argues that the “real” world is not the physical one, but instead a spiritual realm of ideas filled with abstract concepts and ideas. The physical realm, for Plato, is merely the material, imperfect things we see and interact with on a daily basis.

By contrast Aristotle’s hand is a visual representation of his belief that knowledge comes from experience. Empiricism, as it is known, theorizes that humans must have concrete evidence to support their ideas and is very much grounded in the physical world.

Historically the combined theories represented by two iconoclastic scholars leaves many wondering what is the hidden meaning.

By way of contrast there is another historical figure who exceeded the two combined in understandable thought. 

The officials reporting to the chief priest said of Jesus, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” John 7: 46.

The words of Plato and Aristotle like those of all wise men of all ages were informative. Jesus’ words were transformative. Their words were worldly, Jesus’ words were other worldly.

Jesus has been described as the “Orator of the Universe.” However it was not how He spoke that was most important, but what He spoke. His teachings are the gold standard of truth. His words cut to the heart of the matter with penetrating psychology.

It is critically important that we be able to truthfully say, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You. Blessed are You, O Lord! Teach me Your statutes. (Psalm 119: 10, 11).

Knowing a truth and not applying it is little better than not knowing the truth. Study and memorize the words of Jesus to be wise. Apply them and be blessed.