Relations of early Christianity




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By Rev. Baden Powell

Relations of early Christianity to the prevalent philosophy.

The state of philosophy and the degree of reference it had to any views of theology, about the period of the origin of Christianity, will be apparent were it only from what has been observed above.  It is also well known that in more immediate relation to Christianity itself, that modification of Platonism which was prevalent among the Hellenistic Jews, became the parent of the mystical system of Gnosticism: and in the writings of Philo it made the nearest approach to some of those ideas afterwards developed under other forms in the Christian Church. 

Influence of Neo-Platonism.

But while some of the ideas, or at any rate the language of that Platonism became incorporated with the doctrines of the Gospel, its form of Gnostic extravagance was strenuously opposed and condemned by the Apostle Paul, who expressly announced the spiritual doctrines he taught as essentially independent of all human reason or philosophy [As, e.g. 1 Cor. i. 21; Col. ii. 18, etc.].

In the second century we find a kind of eclecticism (mainly derived from Platonism) mixed up with the Christian doctrine by some of its leading teachers, especially in the Alexandrian school; among whom Clement of that place was one of the most eminent. While somewhat later another modification of a similar philosophy, proposed by Ammonius, was embraced by the learned Origen, and obtained a great influence over the theology of the Church. 

A more rigid party, however, strenuously opposed these innovations, and contended for the original purity of the faith. These disputes are represented by some ecclesiastical historians as the first indication of an antagonism between the principles of reason and of faith [See Mosheim, "Ecc. Hist." i. 175.]. 

The conversion of many of the professed "philosophers" to the Christian faith, about the second century, of whom Justin Martyr was the most illustrious instance, was much boasted of by many of the ecclesiastical writers, but others viewed it rather with different feelings, as productive of a tendency to corrupt the simplicity of the Gospel doctrines with the admixture of philosophical speculations alien (at best) from their real character. 

Of this tenor is the complaint of an author quoted by Eusebius against these philosophical converts: 

They venture to alter the sacred Scriptures, to desert the old rule of faith, and to mould their opinions according to the sophistical precepts of logic. The knowledge of the Church is deserted for that of geometry, and they lose sight of heaven while they are employed in measuring the earth. Euclid is perpetually in their hands; Aristotle and Theophrastus are their admiration; and they express great veneration for the works of Galen. They fall into error from the use of the arts and sciences of unbelievers, and corrupt the simplicity of the Gospel by the subtleties of human reason [Eusebius, 11 Ecc. Hist." lib. v. c. 28. This is the version given by Mosheim (ubi supra) ; but a reference to the original will show that this is a very free translation, though to the same purport It is also given by Mosheim, as from Eusebius himself].

Of the heathen philosophy of this period, it would appear that the prevalent theological aspect was that of Pantheism, a% we learn from Augustine [Confessions, v. 10.], who had himself been originally instructed in its schools. On the other hand, the polemical attacks and argumentative cavils of this so-called philosophy against the Christian doctrine, however empty and sophistical, were in those ages regarded as the most formidable assaults which the Christian cause had to sustain. Such were those of Celsus, Hierocles, the Emperor Julian, and others. Some again more artfully professed to reconcile the Christian tenets with the ancient mythologies, and thus sought to undermine the true doctrine by corrupting it. 

System of Aristotle.  Predominant in the middle ages.

But notwithstanding the vague and desultory character of much of the ancient philosophy, it yet gave rise to some few well compacted systems, framed necessarily on abstract mental ideas, and not on any true generalization, but which were believed to include not merely the whole compass of moral, but even of physical, truth. And of those systems (without dwelling on some others which have retained a partial acceptance), that of Aristotle stands preeminent in the name which it acquired even in ancient times, and still more in the authority which it obtained, and continued to exercise, eventually in uncontrolled supremacy, through the long series of the middle ages. Yet one of its main characteristics in the form it then assumed, was a total forgetfulness of that inductive spirit which Aristotle himself so distinctly insisted on, and the substitution of a system of deductive reasoning supposed equally applicable to all subjects. 

Disputes Verbal.

The Order of Nature






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First Ideas ] Idea of Cosmos ] [ Relations of early Christianity ] Disputes verbal ] Writings of Sebonde ] Copernicus, Galileo, Bacon ] Inductive & Theological ] Philosophy of Montaigne ] Bacon (RAW TEXT) ] IV-SOURCE ] Natural History ] Modern Pantheism ] Rationalism ] Positivism ] Recent Natural Theology ] Celebrity of Hobbes (RAW) ] Conclusion ]

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