In praise of Greek philosophy!

It is regretfully common nowadays to see Protestants rejecting the intermingling of Christian theology and Greek philosophy but the Greek philosophical traditions have a lot to praise for in the Christian theological tradition. Without them, Christianity wouldn’t be Christianity! Take the Platonic theology for instance. Plato drove himself into rejection of the mythologies of the poets in his days and and would not teach them to children “since they depict[ed] the gods as indulging in gross immorality” (Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. 1: Greece and Rome, 226). Imagine the church without the influence of the Platonic negative theology. We are left investigating God based on the way he is described in scriptures. So when God has Israel go to war, his justice is painted exactly like our justice! Auntie’s beloved St. Isaac of Nineveh writes:

Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you. And if David calls Him just and upright (cf. Ps. 24:8, 144:17), His Son revealed to us that He is good and kind. ‘He is good,’ He says, ‘to the evil and to the impious’ (cf. Luke 6:35). How can you call God just when you come across the Scriptural passage on the wage given to the workers? ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong: I will give unto this last even as unto thee. Is thine eye evil because I am good?’ (Matt. 20:12-15). How can a man call God just when he comes across the passage on the prodigal son who wasted his wealth with riotous living, how for the compunction alone which he showed, the father ran and fell upon his neck and gave him authority over all his wealth? (Luke 15:11 ff.). None other but His very Son said these things concerning Him, lest we doubt it; and thus He bare witness concerning Him. Where, then, is God’s justice, for whilst we are sinners Christ died for us! (cf. Rom. 5:8). But if here He is merciful, we may believe that He will not change [re: the state after death, as St. Isaac mentions below]. (Homily 51)

We are left viewing God as wrathful, moody, and angry. This is how far I got trying to reconcile the “God is love” with “God is also wrathful”. Should we really be forced to adopt the entire Biblical descriptions of God into our theologies? Or should we maybe look for a better way to comment on those passages that start from within the human experience? Which should we do? The Platonic theology isn’t evil because it’s of Plato. Indeed, the Platonic theology points us away from the idea of a wrathful God and toward a God who is love. The God of the Bible. It points us toward it in such a way that the fathers even argued that Plato had even read Moses and that Philo traced Greek doctrines to Biblical origin (Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), 33)!

But that’s not all that Plato has to offer Christianity. We might be able to argue that Pauline theology is heavily influenced by the Platonic philosophy of the soul.
“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Rom. 7:15, RSV-CE)
Compare to what Plato says in the Phaedo:
“do we not find the soul acting in just the opposite way, and leading all the elements of which she is said to consist, and opposing them in almost everything all through life” (Stewart,
Exploring the Philosophy of Religion 7th ed., 92)

It is even widely acknowledged by scholars that in the book of Acts, Paul borrows language from the Greek philosophers and uses it to evangelise pagans to the truth of the Christian tradition. The NAB commentary reads:

In Paul’s appearance at the Areopagus he preaches his climactic speech to Gentiles in the cultural center of the ancient world. The speech is more theological than christological. Paul’s discourse appeals to the Greek world’s belief in divinity as responsible for the origin and existence of the universe. … ‘In him we live and move and have our being’: some scholars understand this saying to be based on an earlier saying of Epimenides of Knossos (6th century B.C.). ‘For we too are his offspring’: here Paul is quoting Aratus of Soli, a third-century B.C. poet from Cilicia.

Another interesting fact is that in Orthodox churches, Plato and Aristotle are sometimes depicted in the narthex! Plato and Aristotle are considered by the Eastern Orthodox to be forerunners to Christianity. Thus, all Protestant objections to the intermingling of Greek philosophy and Christian theology are baseless and have more to do with objecting to a God who is love. I would rather the Platonic negative theology than to try and reconcile a wrathful deity with a loving deity! Praise to Greek philosophy! It isn’t evil! It’s Biblical!

About Emperor Thomas I

Catholic monarch of the New Roman Coalition. Consecrated to the Apostle Thomas, the Holy Martyr Sigismund, and the Holy Martyr Olaf II.
This entry was posted in Bible, History, Metaphysics, Philosophical, Philosophy, Religious. Bookmark the permalink.

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