DESULTORY THOUGHTS, PART TWO: EARLY CHURCH FATHERS, HELLENIC WISDOM, AND “PLATONIC ORIENTALISM”

In some early writers like Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and even St. Justin Martyr, we find the idea that the Logos Christ is the completion of a truth that was available in a smaller dose to everyone through reason and through culture. It is obvious to an Orthodox person reading Origen, Clement and the Apologists that one has to stratify these ecclesiastical figures’ writings into acceptable and unacceptable strands. Justin is a saint because he is believed to have achieved illumination of the heart either before or during his martyrdom; it does not follow that every word he wrote is free from error, especially when he professes belief in some kind of subordinationism in the Holy Trinity. We have to read these early Christian writers as the Cappadocian Fathers read them—we ignore the dross and hold up the gold for all the world to see.

This leads us to the question of the relationship between Orthodox theology and philosophy. The Orthodox Fathers of the Church saw Hellenic culture in general and Hellenic philosophy in particular as a Gentile analogue to the election of the Jews as the ethnos that would culminate in the Theotokos and the Incarnation. But we must be very careful here. There is no favoritism toward the Greek people implied here: God loves all men and He calls all to salvation through his Providence, which preordained the Incarnation and also preordained the terminology that the Greek Fathers would use. However, this preordaining of theological terms does not mean that God took over the Apostles’, Patriarchs’, and Saints’ minds and put words in their mouths. 

The Fathers viewed certain aspects or teachings of Greek philosophy as unreconstructed fragments of the teaching that Moses received on Mt. Sinai, where God showed him the patterns of the Temple. According to what one scholar calls “Platonic Orientalism,” the Greek Christians believed that certain doctrines of the Middle Platonists are obscured and degraded remnants of Jewish teachings about Christ the Lord of Glory that Abraham and/or Moses taught to the Egyptians (other lines of transmission are also proposed by some Church writers), the latter then teaching them to Greeks, who thus knew about the “Unknown God” when St Paul arrived at the Athenian agora. What are some examples of this “Greek-Christian wisdom”?

a) There is a “highest God” who is mediated to the world by His Logos, and also

b) In God’s Logos are all of God’s logoi, or “predeterminations.” Thus God knows what is going to happen before is happens though without predetermining human destinies; and

c) all beings are created, sustained, and guided to deification in the one Logos, the Son of God.

IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, AMEN.

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This entry was posted in Apostolic Fathers, Christology, Clement of Alexandria, Early Church Fathers, Eastern Orthodox Theology, Eastern Religions; Orthodoxy; Eastern Orthodox Theology, Greeks, Hellenes, Hellenic Wisdom, Logos, Origen, Orthodoxy, patristics, perennialism, philosophy, Platonic Orientalism, Soteriology, St Justin Martyr, Uncategorized, Western esotericism and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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