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Christianity marks the most profound division in the history of philosophy; it separates the two great phases of Western thought. However, it would be wrong to think of Christianity as a philosophy; it is something quite different—a religion. The only philosophy that we can call Christian philosophy is the philosophy of Christians as Christians ; that is, that philosophy which is shaped by the Christian situation from which a particular philosopher begins to philosophize.

I n this sense Christianity has played a decisive role in the history of metaphysics, because it has essentially altered the presuppositions upon which man bases his thought and actions and, therefore, the situation from which he must philosophize. The Christian is different and therefore his philosophy is also different; for example, different from Greek philosophy.

Christianity introduces an entirely new idea to interpret the existence of the world and man: the idea of the Creation. Beginning with the Christian era it is nothingness , the void, that menaces being. The Greek did not question the existence of all things, whereas this is exactly what the Christian finds strange and in need of explanation.

It is possible that things might not have existed; and so their very existence—and not what they are—requires justification. The European of the Christian era is alienated by its nullity or, better yet, its nihility …. For the Greek, the world is something that changes; for the man of the Christian era it is a nothingness that seems to be or exist….

With this change of perspective being comes to mean something different from what it meant in Greece: for a Greek, being means to be there, at hand; for the Western European, being means, first of all , not being nothingness …. In a certain sense, then, the Greek still philosophizes from the point of reference of being , and the Western European philosophizes from the point of reference of nothingness. This basic difference separates the two great phases of philosophy. The problem is stated in two essentially different ways: it becomes a new problem.

The concept of the Creation allows the being of the world to be interpreted through the being of God. Thus Christianity, which is not philosophy, affects philosophy in a decisive way; and the philosophy that arises from the basic situation of the Christian is what may with precision be called Christian philosophy.

The thought of the Fathers of the Church in the first centuries of the Christian era is called Patristic speculation. In spite of the extraordinary profundity of their writings, St.

John and St. Paul do not intend to create a philosophy; i t is another matter that philosophy must inevitably concern itself with them. But, little by little, speculative themes acquire a place in Christianity. This is brought about particularly by two stimuli of a polemical nature: heresies and the intellectual reaction of paganism. Religious truths are interpreted, elaborated on, and formulated into dogma. The first centuries of the Christian era are those of the establishment of Christian dogma.

Orthodox interpretation is accompanied by many heresies, which call for greater conceptual precision if the Church is to discuss them, repel them and convince the faithful of the authentic truth.

Dogma is formulated all during the struggle against the numerous heretical movements. On the other hand, the pagans pay belated attention to the religion of Christ. At first it seemed to them to be a strange and absurd sect, one which they did not clearly distinguish from Judaism; they considered it a religion made up by men who were almost insane, who worshipped a dead—and crucified—God, a religion of people who related the most surprising and disagreeable stories.

When St. Paul speaks on the Areopagus to the refined and curious Athenians of the first century, who are only interested in saying or hearing something new, they listen attentively and courteously while he speaks of the unknown God whom he has come to announce; but when he mentions the resurrection of the dead, some laugh and others say that they will listen to him speak of that some other time, and almost all of them leave him.

The almost total ignorance of Christianity on the part of even such a man as Tacitus is well known. Later, Christianity acquires greater influence; it reaches the higher classes, and paganism begins to take notice of it. Then the intellectual attacks begin, and the new religion must defend itself from them in like manner; to effect this it must make use of the intellectual instruments which it has at its command: the Greek philosophical concepts.

In this way Christianity, which shows a total hostility toward reason in many of its earliest figures the most famous example is Tertullian , ends by assimilating Greek philosophy in order to use it, in Apologist writings, in defending itself against attacks based on the point of view of Greek philosophy.

Thus, Christianity sees itself committed, first, to the intellectual formulation of dogma and, secondly, to a rational discussion with its heretical or pagan enemies. This is the origin of Patristic speculation, the purpose of which, I repeat, is not philosophical, and which can be considered philosophical only i n a limited sense. They take from Hellenic thought the elements which they need at that particular moment.

One must also bear in mind that their knowledge of Greek philosophy is very incomplete and faulty. In general, they are eclectics: they select from all the pagan schools what seems to them most useful i n obtaining their goals.

We find a formal declaration of eclecticism in the writings of Clement of Alexandria. The Fathers come to know Plato in a rather imprecise way through the Neo-Platonic philosophers Plotinus, Porphyry, etc. They do not know very much about Aristotle; the Roman philosophers—Seneca, Cicero—are better known to them, and in these figures they find a repertory of ideas which stems from the whole range of Greek philosophy. As a general rule, philosophic problems are created by religious, revealed truths which require rational interpretation, and this is the case in the Middle Ages.

Thus, reason is used to clarify and formulate dogma, or to defend it. And alongside these problems we find strictly theological questions, such as those that refer to the essence of God, the Trinity of divine persons, and so on. These problems are dealt with by a whole series of thinkers who are frequently of the first rank but who do not always remain orthodox; they sometimes fall into heresies. We will briefly consider the most important moments in the evolution which culminates in the brilliant thought of St.

Augustine: the Gnostics, the Apologists, St. It is related to Greek philosophy of the final epoch, particularly to Neo-Platonic ideas, and also to the thought of Philo, the Hellenized Jew who interpreted the Bible allegorically.

Gnosticism, a Christian heresy, is also closely linked with all the syncretism of the Oriental religions which was so complex and intricate at the beginning of the Christian era. The Gnostic problem concerns the reality of the world and, more particularly, of evil; it is a dualism between good God and evil matter.

This system allows the essential features of Christianity—such as the creation of the world and the redemption of man—t o acquire a natural character, as simple moments of the great struggle between the elements of the dualism, between what is divine and what is material. A fundamental Gnostic idea is that of the restoration of all things to their proper places. Gnostic knowledge is not knowledge in the usual sense of the word, nor is it revelation; it is a special, superior illumination or intelligence, the so-called gnosis.

Obviously, these ideas can be reconciled with the sacred Christian texts only by resorting to very forced allegorical interpretations, and the Gnostics therefore become heretics.

Closely related to them is a movement that has been called Christian gnosis, which opposes the Gnostics with great acuity. The importance of Gnosticism, which almost became a marginal, heterodox church, was very great, especially until the First Council of Nicaea in the year The two most important Apologists are Justin, who suffered martyrdom and was canonized, and Tertullian. Later and less important Apologists are St. Cyprian, Arnobius and Lactantius, who lived in the third to fourth centuries.

Augustine later. There is a profound difference between Justin and Tertullian in their attitude toward Greek culture and, especially, philosophy. Justin came out of that culture; he knew it and studied it before his conversion to Christianity.

He uses this background in his exposition of the truth of Christianity, making constant reference to Hellenic ideas; he tries to show that these ideas are in agreement with Christian revelation. Tertullian A. He was a passionate enemy of Gnosticism and the entire pagan culture, including the very concept of rational knowledge.

In his attacks on the Gnostics, who resorted to philosophic methods, he attacks philosophy itself. There is a whole group of famous sayings of Tertullian that affirm the certainty of revelation on the very basis of its incomprehensibility, its rational impossibility. Outstanding among these sayings is an expression traditionally attributed to him, although not found in his writings: I believe because it is absurd.

But this opinion, strictly examined, is inadmissible in Christian thinking, and the doctrines of Tertullian— a fiery, severe and eloquent Apologist—are not always irreproachable. Irenaeus second century A. Irenaeus, one of the earliest formulators of dogma in the East, uses faith to oppose the special illumination of the Gnostics. This is a highly significant moment: the return to the security of revealed tradition, to the continuity of the Church, which had been menaced by the Gnostic movement.

Clement of Alexandria, who died at the beginning of the third century, wrote the Miscellanies, an eclectic book full of Greek philosophic ideas. He places an immense value on reason and philosophy, aiming to achieve a comprehension, a true albeit a Christian gnosis, which will be subordinate to revealed faith. Such a gnosis would be the supreme criterion of truth, and philosophy a preliminary stage for arriving at that unsurpassable knowledge. Origen, a pupil of Clement who lived from to A.

He gathers together the whole world of ideas that were in ferment in third century Alexandria. The doctrine of Creation has a particular significance in his writings. This doctrine, decisive for all later philosophy, interprets the Creation rigorously as the production of the world from nothingness by an act of free will of God. Creation is thereby clearly contrasted with every type of generation or emanation, and the separation between Greek and Christian thinking is sharply demarcated.

But not even Origen was completely free from heterodoxy, which was a constant menace in those first centuries of Christianity when dogma was not yet sufficiently precise and when the Church did not yet possess the mature body of doctrine that began to exist only with the theology of St.

After Alexandria, Antioch and Cappadocia were the centres in which Eastern theology most flourished. A series of heresies, primarily Arianism, Nestorianism and Pelagianism, occasioned a series of controversies—Trinitarian, Christological and anthropological, respectively.

Arianism was combated by St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria fourth century , and by the three Cappadocian Fathers, St. Gregory of Nyssa, his brother St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory of Nazianzus, who were of extraordinary importance in the formation of Christian dogma and ethics.

I n the West, Arianism was combated by St. Ambrose, the famous bishop of Milan. Patristic thought attains its full maturity in the fourth century, at the moment when the heretical attacks become most acute. The three heresies mentioned above, together with the great Manichaean movement extending from East to West, are, on the one hand, threatening the Church.

On the other hand, Christian thought has acquired profundity and clarity, as well as social validity within the Roma n Empire. The ancient world is in its last stage. For some time the barbarians have been clamouring at all the gates of the Empire. Above all, paganism has ceased to exist. Roma n culture wears itself out in labours of commentary, and goes on deriving its nourishment, after so many centuries, from a philosophy—Greek philosophy-—that is incapable of renewal.


A Biography of Philosophy

If in its outward manifestations philosophy seems to be mainly a history of ideas as is quite widely supposed today, this is only because men have confronted certain problems that have remained more or less constant throughout great spans of time. Ideas themselves are endued with a life and history of their own only insofar as they partake of human life. The real problems of philosophy belong to real men. For this reason philosophy cannot simply be interpreted as doctrine; it must first be understood as a human activity. This means that in order to understand a philosophy, or better, a philosopher, insofar as possible we must first understand the problems and conditions that created both the possibility and need of that particular mode of thought.


History of Philosophy

If we ignore the obscure problem of Oriental Indian, Chinese philosophy, in which what is most problematic is the meaning of the word "philosophy" itself, and focus our attention on what philosophy has been in the West, we will find that its first stage is the philosophy of the Greeks. This initial phase, which lasted for more than a millennium, differs from all later phases in that it does not have a philosophic tradition behind it; that is, Greek philosophy emerges from a concrete human situation—that of "ancient" man—which contains no philosophical element or ingredient. This circumstance has two important consequences: in the first place, the birth of philosophy in Greece has a purity and originality superior to all that is to come later; secondly, ancient man's vital and historical situation directly conditions Hellenic speculation to the point that the major theme of the history of Greek philosophy consists in determining why man, upon reaching a certain stage in his development, found himself compelled to fulfill a completely new and unknown need, which today we call philosophizing. We cannot discuss this problem here, but we must at least point out some of the historic suppositions which made philosophy possible and necessary in the Hellenic world.

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