4/14/2012

Many philosophers in the Medieval period aimed to reconcile theistic belief with pagan philosophy. Describe and then critically assess how successful you consider such attempts to be.

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“Knowing what a thing is” and “knowing that a thing exists” are fundamentally distinct truths (Exodus 14).


Introduction


Many philosophers believe that first century Christianity and the New Testament were heavily influenced by pagan philosophical systems. Nearly all of the medieval thinkers, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim were pre-occupied with some version of the attempt to amalgamate philosophy with religion. For example Philo Judaeus (Philo of Alexandria) (0 B.C.E.-50 C.E.) was an Alexandrian Jewish philosopher who tried to integrate Greek philosophy with Judaism by means of an mythical interpretation of the scripture. According to Philo, the personal God of scripture is identical with the Form of the Good in Plato. Accessed http//www.philosophypages.com/ph/plat.htm


As the concept and practice of mysticism developed through the early centuries of church history, it took on a very different form in the West than it did in the East. While Eastern orthodoxy focused on the divinization of man and the spread of the holy spirit within the believer’s soul (as cited “Mystical Forms in Eastern Orthodoxy”, Affirmation & Critique. Vol. III, No. 4 October 18) a different type of mysticism emerged in the West in which Greek philosophy was integrated into selected theistic ideas. Shortly after the death and resurrection of Christ, some in the ancient world who were philosophers also became Christians, while others who were Christians would eventually become philosophers. Already by the second century an attempt to reconcile Christian faith and pre-Christian learning had been undertaken. Church leaders such as Justin Martyr (executed in Rome, 165), Origen and Gregory of Nyssa (ordained Bishop of Nyssa, 7) are examples of prominent thinkers who tried to understand the relationship between Christian enlightenment and Greek philosophy. They then tried to articulate this relationship into a unified concept.


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They argue that the Christian Scripture, offered a rational understanding of the nature of divinity, the meaning of history, and the end of humanity in a way, which exceeded any previous natural philosophy. Since the beginning of the Christian era some have been convinced that Christianity answers questions raised by reason, but more comprehensively than philosophy has been able to. However, it was during the Middle Ages, in the thirteenth century, in the latin-speaking West that Christian philosophy found its most complete enunciation.


Regarding the relationship between faith and reason in the Middle Ages, medieval philosophers did not believe that you could start from belief and then somehow arrive at knowledge. On the contrary, none taught that one could begin at knowledge and end at faith. No theologian seriously considered that there was such a thing as Christian reason or a mystical reason. This doesn’t mean that medieval theologians did not think that man could reason with out the divine intervention of God but rather that God gave to all people the natural capability of acquiring a true, although limited, knowledge of the first principles and causes of things.


The medievals argued in accord with the psalmist and the apostle Paul that the existence of God ought to be comprehensible by the powers of the natural intellect alone (cf. Pss. 14, 1; Rom. 10).


Augustine of Hippo (54-40), was the first great medieval philosopher and he was a follower of Manichaeanism who then converted to Christianity. Augustine developed a system of thought that incorporated Neoplatonic elements through which later amendments and elaborations, eventually became the authoritative doctrine of Christianity. He argued that religious faith and philosophical understanding should complement one another rather than become enemies of one another. After his conversion from Manicheism to Neoplatonism, Augustine learned to draw a distinction between the material world and the intelligible world. The former is sense-perceptible, unsteady and perishable, whereas the latter is intellectually apprehendable, immutable and eternal.


In this essay, I will attempt to defend the possibility of a distinctively Christian practice of philosophy in which faith and reason are united. First, I present the rational method introduced and developed by Greek philosophers, and the distinction between philosophy and theology. Next, I consider some objections to a synthesis of faith and reason. Third, I note some historical precedents to a medieval Christian synthesis, beginning with the early church. Finally, I argue for the coherence of the idea of a distinctively Christian practice of philosophy, taking as my model the integration envisioned by the medieval theologian St. Thomas Aquinas (15-175)


Augustine (54-40) provided a philosophical basis for faith in Western Christianity. God was regarded as eternal, unchangeable,. omniscient, omnipotent, a being of supreme goodness, supreme love, and supreme beauty, and the Creator of the universe.


In contrast with Plato, who regarded the world of Ideas as independent in itself, Augustine held that Ideas exist within the mind of God, and stated that everything was created with Ideas as the originals. In opposition to Neoplatonism, which held that the world necessarily originated from God, Augustine advocated creation theory, saying that God freely created the world from nothing, not using any material. Then, why is the human being sinful? For Augustine, the reason is that Adam, the first human ancestor, misused freedom and betrayed God. Fallen people can be saved only through Gods grace. Augustine said that faith in God, hope for salvation, and love for God and ones neighbors are the way to true happiness, and recommended the three virtues of faith, hope, and love.


Firstly, it is claimed that elements of Platos philosophy appear in the New Testament; secondly the New Testament reflects the influence of Stoicism; and thirdly the ancient Jewish philosopher Philo was a source of St Johns use of the Greek word logos as a description of Jesus. In this essay I will attempt to argue for each of these claims and analyze and critically assess each one in turn.


When trying to determine whether Christianity of the first century A.D. borrowed any of its essential beliefs from the pagan philosophical systems of that time; one must look at whether first century Christianity was reflected in the pages of the New Testament. Is Christianity a religion; which fused elements of differing belief systems?


Prior to the introduction of Aristotle’s texts into western Europe, there existed no definitive demarcation between the realms of faith and reason in Latin Christian theology. St. Anselm (10-110) was the most prominent Christian theologian-philosopher of the twelfth century. His understanding of faith and reason represents an alternative to St. Thomas Aquinas’s division of the relationship between the two realms of knowledge. See G. R. Evans’ study, Anselm and Talking about God (Oxford Clarendon Press, 178).


But it is Plato who utilizes this kind of religious tradition in such a way that it makes its greatest contribution to philosophy. In many places, for example in the myth of the Phaedrus, he presents a similar view of the souls nature, its origin and its destiny, but always carefully adapted to serve his own purposes. Man cannot be looked on in the mechanistic way of the atomists, but must be thought to possess within himself a principle of human personality which is more truly himself than the body is.


From the time of Plato and Aristotle (84- B.C.) to the Neoplatonists, to Jewish and Muslim philosophers of the tenth and eleventh centuries, there has existed a strong belief within Western philosophy that the existence of a single God is provable by rational means. “For those who lived this tradition, denying the existence of God shows itself to be irrational, a sign of an intellectual and moral deficiency and an offense against reason. Hence in Psalm 14 it is, finally, only the “fool” who can utter in his heart “there is no God.” All this is to say that for the medieval theologians the existence of God was not an article of faith but of rational demonstration”.


Neoplatonism


Greek philosophy continued into the Roman period, which followed the Hellenistic period. The culmination of the philosophy of the Hellenistic-Roman period was Neoplatonism, a philosophical viewpoint whose most eminent proponent was Plotinus (A. D. 05-70). Neoplatonism was a derivative of ancient Platonic philosophy, it was popular from the third through to the sixth centuries and came in two forms, Hellenic and Christian. The main sources of Christian Neoplatonism consisted of the dialogues of Plato, the writings of Aristotle and the Bible. It differs from Hellenic Platonism because of it’s religious orientation.


In the past, Greek philosophy had suggested a dualism that regarded God and matter as conflicting with each other. In contrast, Plotinus advocated monism, claiming that God is everything. “The human soul flows out into the sensual material world, and at the same time seeks to return to nous (reason) and to God”.


Basically people should not be governed by material things and their souls should rise to the level of understanding and perceiving God and as a result of this perception, become united with Him. Such an achievement was regarded as the supreme virtue. Plotinus said that the human being becomes completely united with God in ecstasy, which he regarded as the highest state of mind.


Hellenistic philosophy culminated with Plotinus and Neoplatonism had a great impact on Christian philosophy, which was to emerge next.





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