It started with a simple comment during our Great Texts Capstone course, where we sit around the big, boardroom table and drain coffee cups and complain about dialectic. "It's not like Aristotle can hear us."
"Maybe he can."
I said it offhandedly, perhaps flippantly. But I've thought about it since. I wonder if Aristotle can hear us.
Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
I am not interested in a kind of Christian universalism. The revelation of Christ marks a clear point in which the standard of salvation emerges, that we must call on the name of the Lord to be saved, confess with our mouths the reality of the Redeemer.
But what of before?
As the lectionary has taken us through Genesis, it is interesting to trace God's revelation of Himself. While He calls Jacob in Chapter 32, it is not until Chapter 35 that God begins to clarify who He is. Even then, Joseph takes a wife from the priests of Egypt, and it seems for a time that the One God is nothing more than a god out of many. It is not until the Exodus, it is not until tablet commandments and mountain descents, that Israel hears the Lord is God and God is One.
Again, I do not want to present this as a sort of Christian universalism, a byway by which we reconcile all our questions with the tidy presumption that mercy dictates permissiveness. Rather, I should like to consider the mystery of God's patience in His revelation. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the One God, was less concerned with being the One God to the people He revealed Himself to until much later. There were other things to worry about. There were other parts of the Story that needed writing.
So what of Aristotle or Plato? We know that they both concluded that there was a Force behind all things and that such a Force was also good. Given the culture of most pagans of the time, the idea of a deity that was also good and benevolent and just was a bit absurd. And yet, by way of natural reason, so they concluded. What does it mean? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps they simply perished into Sheol.
... in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah ...
I wonder why this bothers us. I wonder why we feel the need to ask. Is Aristotle in Heaven? Perhaps. Perhaps he is part of the communion of saints. Perhaps he can listen in on our conversation around that boardroom table where we pick apart his dialectic and miss, in the process, that he perhaps knew something of this One God, this God who reveals Himself slowly, who chose to reveal Himself slowly.
Perhaps this is a patient mystery. Perhaps there is more of a question mark over some of those souls before the mystery of God through the Person of Christ was revealed than we realize.
I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.
Maybe. Perhaps, at least, we should keep the question closer than we are comfortable with. The action of grace upon our hearts is a patient mystery, too.