Monday, March 05, 2007

Class Notes on Christianity and Philosophy

I. Christianity and Philosophy
Although many of the issues we encountered in Ancient Greek philosophy are still issues for us today, two major developments have come onto the intellectual map since then. One is monotheistic religion, represented primarily in Europe by Christianity. The other is modern science.
The Growth of Christianity
Christianity began as a small Jewish sect, grew extensively through the first 3 centuries of the Church without the support of political institutions. Then, in the fourth century, it became legal to engage in Christian worship publicly, and finally Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire.
Athens and Jerusalem
Inevitably, Christianity and philosophy came into contact with one another. The first time that happened was recorded in the Book of Acts chapter 17, when the Apostle Paul preaches to the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers at the Areopagus.
Christianity is a revealed religion. It claims that certain truths have been revealed to us by God. This is delivered to us through the Bible and the Church.
Philosophy is an enterprise that attempts to discover truths on our own steam, without God revealing them to us.
So inevitably there were issues as to what Christianity should make of philosophy, and vice versa.

Christian responses to philosophy
One response is the hostile response of Tertullian of Carthage. He said asked “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” implying that the correct answer is “nothing.” One should accept the truths of Christianity, not raise philosophical questions about them.
Others, like Clement of Alexandria, made extensive use of philosophy to understand Christian truths. Considered especially friendly to Christianity was Platonic and Neo-Platonic philosophy.
St. Augustine was a Christian convert relatively late in life, who became perhaps the most influential Christian philosopher and theologian of all time.
A period of accepting Neoplatonism played a role in Augustine’s rejection of materialism and moved him closer to conversion.
So he maintained that Platonic philosophy was good as far as it went, but that it needed to be supplemented and corrected by revealed Christian truth.
Medieval Philosophy
In the Middle Ages prior to the time of St. Thomas Aquinas, Christian philosophy was extensively informed by Platonic philosophy.
Aristotle’s writings became known to the West due to the impact of the Crusades
The Impact of Aristotle
Many people found Aristotle’s arguments persuasive, but a number of teaching seemed to contradict Christian doctrine.
Aristotle taught that the world was eternal and uncreated, and he seemed to deny personal immortality.

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