Christianity and Classical Culture

Christianity and Classical Culture: The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Hellenism

Jaroslav Pelikan
Copyright Date: 1993
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Christianity and Classical Culture
    Book Description:

    The momentous encounter between Christian thought and Greek philosophy reached a high point in fourth-century Byzantium, and the principal actors were four Greek-speaking Christian thinkers whose collective influence on the Eastern Church was comparable to that of Augustine on Western Latin Christendom. In this erudite and informative book, a distinguished scholar provides the first coherent account of the lives and writings of these so-called Cappadocians (named for a region in what is now eastern Turkey), showing how they managed to be Greek and Christian at the same time.Jaroslav Pelikan describes the four Cappadocians-Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Macrina, sister and teacher of the last two-who were trained in Classical culture, philosophy, and rhetoric but who were also defenders and expositors of Christian orthodoxy. On one issue of faith and life after another-the nature of religious language, the ways of knowing, the existence of God, the universe as cosmos, time, and space, free will and immortality, the nature of the good life, the purpose of the universe-they challenged and debated the validity of the Greek philosophical tradition in interpreting Scripture. Because the way they resolved these issues became the very definition of normative Christian belief, says Pelikan, their system is still a key to our understanding not only of Christianity's diverse religious traditions but also of its intellectual and philosophical traditions.This book is based on the prestigious Gifford Lectures, presented by Jaroslav Pelikan at the University of Aberdeen in 1992 and 1993.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15815-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-vii)
  3. [Illustration]
    (pp. viii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. PART ONE Natural Theology as Apologetics
    • CHAPTER 1 Classical Culture and Christian Theology
      (pp. 3-21)

      It remains one of the most momentous linguistic convergences in the entire history of the human mind and spirit that the New Testament happens to have been written in Greek—not in the Hebrew of Moses and the prophets, nor in the Aramaic of Jesus and his disciples, nor yet in the Latin of the imperium Romanum, but in the Greek of Socrates and Plato, or at any rate in a reasonably accurate facsimile thereof, disguised and even disfigured though this was in the Koine by the intervening centuries of Hellenistic usage. As a result of this convergence, every attempt...

    • CHAPTER 2 Natural Theology as Apologetics
      (pp. 22-39)

      It is clear that the thought of the Cappadocians was by no means uniform in its treatment of the various aspects of Classical Greek culture. For although it is probably fair to say that some ambivalence characterized their attitude toward the whole of Classical culture, the ambivalence ranged across a wide spectrum, as they themselves acknowledged, from their positive view of the Greek tongue to their condemnation of other aspects of the Hellenic tradition. The opposite end of the spectrum from the Greek tongue was occupied by Greek religion, toward which their language was consistently harsh and their assessment uniformly...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Language of Negation
      (pp. 40-56)

      One of the most important measures both of the continuity and of the change that took place in the transition from Classical culture to the dominance of Christian theology is to be found in the history of the Greek language itself, especially of its vocabulary for rational and natural theology. Thus, of the 1,568 pages in the LampeLexicon of Patristic Greek, 281 pages, or 18 percent, are given over to the letter alpha, while in the Liddell-Scott-JonesGreek-English Lexicon, the ratio, though still remarkably high considering the number of letters in the Greek alphabet, is significantly lower, 300 of...

    • CHAPTER 4 God and the Ways of Knowing
      (pp. 57-73)

      When the language of negation was being directed against the presumption by some schools of Classical thought—and even by some of Christian thought—of being able to perceive the divine nature in its essence, it could be devastating in its refutation of all ways of knowing as they were supposed to lead to any knowledge of natural theology. “Knowledge” of this kind was not only “inexpressible by the human voice,” it was also “incomprehensible to human reason.” From such polemics of Cappadocianapophaticismit would be easy to conclude that in their judgment the epistemological enterprise—indeed, the very...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Many and the One
      (pp. 74-89)

      The Cappadocians recognized that in any speaking about knowledge it was necessary to acknowledge a multiplicity of ways of knowing in general, and that in speaking specifically about the knowledge of God it was necessary to acknowledge a plurality of “modes of perception” of a “nature above every nature, a nature invisible and incomprehensible.” But this recognition carried with it the potential danger that such multiplicity and plurality could be interpreted as being applicable also to the object of knowing, not only to the process of knowing. Therefore, they emphasized “the contrast between the One and the many, between the...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Universe as Cosmos
      (pp. 90-106)

      The doctrine of God rendered the apologetic rejection of polytheism of supreme importance in the Cappadocian system of thought. Even apart from its destructive implications for prayer and spirituality, through which, in the words of Gregory of Nazianzus, worshipers were “disgraced by the objects of their worship” rather than ennobled as they should have been, polytheism was to be repudiated because it presented a distorted picture of divine reality. Its corrupting effect on human morality was likewise inseparable from its deadly combination of irrationality and blasphemy. In a grotesque counterpart to the sublime process oftheosis, through which those who...

    • CHAPTER 7 Space, Time, and Deity
      (pp. 107-119)

      When Basil of Caesarea, rehearsing the traditional cosmological argument for the existence of God on the basis of the standard proof text from the Epistle to the Romans, declared that “the sight of visible and empirical realities” was able to “lead the mind, as by a hand, to the contemplation of invisible realities,” he was, by the use of that plural, “invisible realities [aorata],” referring not only to the reality of the one invisible God but to the reality of the entire invisible realm of the spirit, with its countless inhabitants. When his brother Gregory of Nyssa, having established “the...

    • CHAPTER 8 The Image of God
      (pp. 120-135)

      The Cappadocians recognized that in Christian theology no less than in Classical culture, no discussion of the nature of the world as a cosmos existing in space and time, whether as a scientific and philosophical construct of natural theology or as an article of faith in revealed theology, could be complete without a consideration of the nature of man. There was for all of them, as has been pointed out for Gregory of Nyssa, an identifiable correlation between cosmology and anthropology in any philosophical or theological system, Classical or Christian. But the relation ran deeper: the very capacity to formulate...

    • CHAPTER 9 The Source of All Good
      (pp. 136-151)

      Of all the titles that the Cappadocians themselves used for what we have been calling here their “natural theology,” the nearest approximation to that concept may well be the term employed by Gregory of Nyssa when he spoke of “moral and natural philosophy [hē ēthikē te kai physikē philosophia]”; he identified this as the product of natural reason, which was to be “joined to the more sublime life [tōi hypsēloterōi biōi syzygos]” of supernatural revelation. Therefore he could speak, also in an address to Christians, about “not sinning against natural law [mēden eis ton tēs physeōs nomon examartanein].” Analyzing such...

    • CHAPTER 10 From Tyche to Telos
      (pp. 152-166)

      The full meaning of the natural theology of the Cappadocians as a system of apologetics became evident only in their antithesis betweentycheandtelos, and therefore in their corresponding positive correlation betweenarcheandtelos, as they strove to draw out the ultimate implications of the purpose in creation that they believed to be discernible also to the natural mind. Addressing that antithesis and that correlation simultaneously, Macrina maintained: “If life begins in consequence of an accident oftyche, the whole course of it becomes at once a chapter of such accidents oftychefrom beginning to end.” The...

  7. PART TWO Natural Theology as Presupposition
    • CHAPTER 11 Christian Theology and Classical Culture
      (pp. 169-183)

      The fourth century has been identified by Gilbert Highet, author ofThe Classical Tradition, as preeminently “the vital period for the synthesis of Greco-Roman philosophy and Christian thought.” But in the history of that century, the most overt forces determining the synthesis, through the relation between Christianity and Classical culture and through the Christian encounter with Hellenism, were not those of the three Cappadocian fathers in the Greek East, nor yet those of the corresponding (and slightly later) theological triad of Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine in the Latin West, but, in both East and West, the forces of quite another...

    • CHAPTER 12 Natural Theology as Presupposition
      (pp. 184-199)

      “When you are criticizing the philosophy of an epoch,” Alfred North Whitehead (Gifford Lecturer at Edinburgh in 1927–1928) once warned, “do not chiefly direct your attention to those intellectual positions which its exponents feel it necessary explicitly to defend. There will be some fundamental assumptions which adherents of all the variant systems within the epoch unconsciously presuppose. Such assumptions appear so obvious that people do not know what they are assuming because no other way of putting things has ever occurred to them. With these assumptions a certain limited number of types of philosophic systems are possible, and this...

    • CHAPTER 13 The Lexicon of Transcendence
      (pp. 200-214)

      The most fundamental of the presuppositions of natural theology to come out of the Cappadocian enterprise of apologetics and into the Cappadocian enterprise of dogmatics wasapophasis, the language of negation, which underlay and permeated all the other themes of the Cappadocian system. There is much to be said in favor of the historical thesis that, coming at the point where they did in the history of thought, the Cappadocians made even more extensive use ofapophasisin their dogmatics than they did in their apologetics. Hence, a principle that functioned as a defense of all Christian teaching, whether heretical...

    • CHAPTER 14 Faith as the Fulfillment of Reason
      (pp. 215-230)

      Although the lexicon of divine transcendence according to the Cappadocians was based onapophasis, the language of negation, it may be surprising to discover that the Nicene Creed—the most authoritative and ecumenical of all statements of the orthodox Christian faith in the transcendent God and the document that Basil of Caesarea called “the doctrine of truth, the faith written down by the blessed fathers in the council that met at Nicaea”—was in fact almost completely devoid of such language. In its articles of faith, the only alpha privative came in the coordination of “visible and invisible [oratōn te...

    • CHAPTER 15 The One and the Three
      (pp. 231-247)

      When the doctrine of God as one, articulated in the context of natural theology as the center of the apologetic case of the Cappadocians against Classical polytheism, became in turn the presupposition for the center of all revealed teaching, the orthodox dogma of the Trinity articulated in the confession of the Council of Nicaea as, in Basil’s words, the “chief dogma,” its critics interpreted this as some kind of relapse into polytheism. Such allegations had arisen already in response to the theology of Athanasius, in which the interrelation between apologetics and presupposition set up many of same the tensions between...

    • CHAPTER 16 Cosmos as Contingent Creation
      (pp. 248-262)

      The definitive affirmation of the orthodox Christian faith in the One and the Three, formulated at the Council of Nicaea in 325, opened with the declaration: “We believe in one God, Father, all-sovereign Maker of all things, both of those that are visible and of those that are invisible [pantōn horatōn te kai aoratōn poiētēn].” That affirmation is still authoritative and binding upon most of Christendom, albeit in the slightly different formulation that was adopted at the First Council of Constantinople in 381: “We believe in one God, Father, all-sovereign Maker of heaven and earth, of all things, both of...

    • CHAPTER 17 The Economy of Salvation
      (pp. 263-279)

      An essential component of the Cappadocians’ definition of the cosmos as contingent creation was their affirmation, based on that of the New Testament, that the Christ who became incarnate in time and history was “the true head of the universe.” Even as they presented their doctrine of the creation, they were pointing toward their presentation of the doctrine of the incarnation: “That the omnipotent nature was capable of descending to man’s lowly position is a clearer evidence of power than are great and supernatural miracles. For it somehow accords with God’s nature, and is consistent with it, to do great...

    • CHAPTER 18 The Metamorphosis of Human Nature
      (pp. 280-295)

      When the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed articulated the eschatological hope of the church in the sentence, “We await the resurrection of the dead [prosdokōmen anastasin nekrōn],” the relation between this expectation and the doctrine of the immortality of the soul in the theology of the Cappadocians was a documentation of the complexity of the relations between the various Classical and Christian definitions of the image of God. The complexity made itself no less evident when they took it upon themselves, without embarrassment or even without ascription, to appropriate the Classical definition of human nature as a microcosm, which at least sometimes they...

    • CHAPTER 19 The Worship Offered by Rational Creatures
      (pp. 296-310)

      In 362, Gregory of Nazianzus, who had always preferred the “mountain” of asceticism to the “throne” of the episcopacy, attempted to return to monastic seclusion. This brought upon him the accusation of having disgraced the priesthood of the church by desertion. In the peroration of his defense against that charge in the second of his orations, after having summarized the requirement of ritual purity that had been imposed on Levitical worship in the Old Testament, he proceeded to characterize the distinctive requirements of Christian worship in a periodic sentence that employed a catena of passages from Scripture to clothe Christian...

    • CHAPTER 20 The Life of the Aeon to Come
      (pp. 311-326)

      The conclusion and climax of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed affirmed: “We await . . . the life of theaeonto come.” The human condition in the life to come was specified in Cappadocian thought by the doctrine of the immortality of the soul in combination with the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. They found that the first of these doctrines was common to natural theology and to revealed theology, but that the second was principally the domain of revealed theology. But Gregory of Nyssa did claim to be able to show, by means of natural theology, that the...

    (pp. 327-334)
    (pp. 335-351)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 352-368)