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.

Public Discourse: No, Early Christians Did Not Think Wealth is Intrinsically Evil

Today at Public Discourse, I respond to a recent Commonweal article by Orthodox philosopher David Bentley Hart, in which he claims the New Testament and other early Christians believed wealth was intrinsically evil, that property is theft, and that Christ’s command to the rich young man to sell everything and possess nothing was meant to be applied to universally to all Christians.

I disagree. There is a lot more I could have said, but here is an excerpt:

As for what the desert fathers themselves taught, we may note the teaching of Abba Theodore, recorded in the Conferences of St. John Cassian: “Altogether there are three kinds of things in the world; viz., good, bad, and indifferent.” He identifies virtue as the only true good and sin as the only true evil. “But those things are indifferent,” he says, “which can be appropriated to either side according to the fancy or wish of their owner, as for instance riches…”

According to Hart, “it was … the Desert Fathers, who took the Gospel at its word.” Will he take Abba Theodore and St. John Cassian at their word? Or did they not understand the New Testament or ancient Christianity either?

Read the whole article here.