Were the Church Fathers ‘Corrupted’ by Greek Philosophy?

That’s the question I ask and answer today at Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy. (Short answer: “No.”)

Excerpt:

[D]espite what some would like to claim, the extent of the Hellenization of Jewish life and thought by the first century AD should not be limited to the Diaspora (i.e., Jewish communities outside of Judea). In fact, some, such as historian Martin Hengel, have demonstrated the thorough infiltration of Hellenism into Palestine from the third century BC onward. By the first century AD, Greek language and culture had affected literally every level of Jewish society. Furthermore, we even find that in cases of the most extreme opposition to Hellenization, such as the Maccabees, 1 Enoch, and Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus), there still exist elements of Greek language, culture, and thought, even in the midst of anti-Hellenist polemics.

Furthermore, the significant influence of Hellenism on the Jews of the Diaspora is well established since the attitude among such Jews towards Greek philosophy was much more favorable. As Harry Austryn Wolfson, a scholar of the works of the ancient Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, put it, “The Scripture-trained Jew unconsciously approached other gods with the attitude of a student of comparative religion.” None of this is meant to portray Second Temple Judaism (515 BC – 70 AD) as syncretistic but merely to demonstrate that Jews of this time period, whether consciously or unconsciously, acknowledged that the light of God’s truth had shone among the Greeks as well, albeit in a somewhat diminished form.

Additionally, we must consider the significant force of Jewish and other Semitic influence on Hellenistic culture, as well as the growing Greek fascination with “barbarian wisdom” in the centuries preceding the birth of the Christian Church. In fact, New Testament scholar Dale B. Martin has noted, “Most scholars nowadays agree… that all forms of Greek culture in the same period had been influenced by ‘oriental’ cultures, to ask whether something is Hellenistic or Jewish would seem to be a misleading question.”

Read the whole essay here.

St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly: A Theology of Asceticism

This week I received two copies of the most recent issue of the St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Vol. 60, no. 4 (2016), which contains an article by me offering a theological and philosophical analysis of Christian asceticism. In particular, my concern in this paper is asceticism and personal identity. A full philosophy or theology of asceticism should account for its social and communal dynamics as well (inter alia), which I have explored in other academic work.

Excerpt:

This paper examines the compatibility between ancient and modern, East and West, through a philosophical and theological analysis of asceticism. Drawing upon Hegel’s dialectic of self-consciousness, I bring together Vladimir Solovyov’s account of the ascetic principle in morality and Pavel Florensky’s dynamic, non-essentialist understanding of personhood to argue that the logic of asceticism follows a dialectic of awareness — denial — transformation or, in Christian theological terms, life — death — resurrection. This modern perspective is then compared to and supplemented by Patristic accounts of the nature and goal of asceticism that generally rest upon Stoic axiology, (broadly) Neoplatonic metaphysics, and the specifically Christian themes of self-denial and divine grace. This synthesis of modern philosophical and ancient Christian understandings of asceticism is offered as an example of how, in this instance, such narratives of incompatibility are both unfounded and unhelpful. In addition, this dialectic of asceticism is offered as a paradigm for further study of asceticism in both theology and philosophy.

Be sure to pick up a copy of the new issue and check out my article here.