Eastern Christianity and Philosophy

I’ve noticed there seems to be a distaste for philosophy amongst eastern Christians, including some saints. Can anyone explain this to me? Are there any eastern Catholic or Orthodox philosophers?

Ours is a faith of revelation of God.

Philosophy is the fruit of human mental exercise. It has it’s place, but is not a source of doctrine.

As Hesychios said, philosophy has its place, but it has been the source of so much heresy in the past that it needs to be approached cautiously, and should never be allowed to contradict what we do know, which if you pontificate long enough, it inevitably will.

There are indeed eastern philosophers.

[LIST]
*]It would be hard to say that Dostoevsky wasn’t a philosopher.
*]Gregory Palamas certainly received classical (likely Neoplatonic) philosophical training, and it shows.
*]Gregory Nazianzus infused his theology with his understanding of philosophy.
*]I don’t know that Clement of Alexandria was a saint (neither was Dostoevsky), but he was eastern and the influence of his philosophy is unmistakable.
*]Eusebius of Caesarea[/LIST]

There have been a lot more than that, and a lot with influence. In the beginning of Christian history, the line between philosophy and theology was not as great as it is now. Read Plotinus and try to figure out whether it is philosophical or theological in content. Similarly, read St. Thomas’ treatise on law (ST I-II, Q90 - 97;100;105).

This small paragraph is completely “on the spot”. I don’t intend to misrepresent anything through this simplification, and I admit that I may be misunderstanding the role of the will in hesychasm:

A better question might be why the west seems to have a heavier focus on the role of the intellect while the east has an equally heavy focus on the role of the will. Exercising reason through philosophy is a huge part of western spirituality, while the volitional aspects of hesychasm are in the east. Each has its own pitfalls- sophisticated heresy seems to be a possibility when reason is unchecked by faith, while prelest occurs when one thinks too highly of the will used to focus on the name of God.

St. Gregory Palamas did not receive training in Neo-platonic metaphysics. Though all clergy in the Byzantine Empire did so, Palamas received a secular education (Aristotle) as he was initially destined for secular service until he felt God’s calling to the monastic life.

Philosophy is important in the Eastern tradition. St. (Psuedo) Dionysios could never have written his influential works on spirituality without his neo-platonist training.

A brief look into the history of the use of “homoousios” in the Creed will reveal to you that philosophy most certainly did/does have its place in Eastern theology. As in the West, however, philosophy is always used with caution as the “handmaid of theology”. The majority of the great Church Fathers of the East were trained in philosophy.

One of the important things to not is that which was said by the Western Satin Thomas More:
“Reason is servant to faith and not lord over it.”
Once sight of this is lost, then philosophy can definitely turn into a heresy, as Hesychios implied and Nine_Two said.

Jerome had training in Philosophy-----He was a Ciceronian. :stuck_out_tongue:

Origen had strong Neo-Platonic leanings. He even was a Student of Ammonius Saccas, who would go on to leave Christianity and become the Teacher of Plotinus. :thumbsup:

One or two of the Desert Fathers were Philosophers and Rhetoricians before becoming desert hermits. :slight_smile:

St. Arsenius the Great most certainly had a philosophical background (having once been the Imperial tutor), however he admitted that when it came to the faith, all his learnedness was worthless next to the lessons learned through hard work of the peasants.

Indeed. :slight_smile:

Richard Swinburne is quite a philosopher (he teaches at Oxford), and he is Eastern Orthodox to my knowledge.

Let’s be clear, though.

Philosophy simply assisted in providing more exact terminology to safeguard against error. That is, it helped to express a truth which pre-existed it.

The Eastern Church is entirely correct in asserting that philosophy in no way establishes doctrine (though it may aid our formulations of such doctrine).

As is evidenced by the fate of Protestantism, philosophy is a wonderful servant, but a poor master.

In Christ,
FCCopleston

So true, although I wonder if philosophy really provided more exact terminology to safeguard against error. Perhaps in the Western cultures that have been dominated by Greek philosophy, yes. But other cultures that were not affected by Greek philosophy simply find an expression of the Faith in Greek philosophical terms to be completely foreign to them and their traditional ways of thinking. But I digress. We must also remember however that the use of philosophy for the sake of forming a more “exact” expression of the Faith has also been accompanied by a great deal of heresy. That’s why a good number of the Church Fathers, particularly the monks, disdained the use of philosophy to do theology.

All this being said, philosophy has always had a very important role in our speculation on the Divine Mysteries that have been handed down to us. I wouldn’t say that we are necessarily seeking a more “exact” or “accurate” expression of our Faith. What we are seeking is exactly what the Church Fathers sough, an adequate expression of our Faith in the language and for the mindset of the times in which we live.

It is possible for philosophy to obscure or clarify the meaning of a theological proposition.

This is precisely why philosophy is not determinative of theological meaning, but only serves to either elucidate or obfuscate such meaning.

Of course, the degree of linguistic precision will be relative to the culture and acceptance of such language. However, it should always be noted that it is the object that we are seeking to articulate, not our subjective interpretations of that object, which ultimately determines the validity of our interpretations, as well as our attempts at philosophical “accuracy.”

In Christ,
FCCopleston

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