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Monday, August 14, 2017

On Syncretism And the Synthetic Church - Part III

By the Late Fourth century, when Saint Jerome issued his famous question, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” he was looking back on 350 years of Christian syncretization with the categories of Hellenistic philosophy, and calling the Church out for what he perceived to be its failing in this regard, criticizing it, and admonishing it, calling it back to what he believed was its true locus, the Jewish faith of 1st century CE.

Saint Jerome was mistaken.

There was no pure form of Christianity true to its Jewish antecedents.  The movement to syncretize the Jewish, and then the Christian tradition with the work of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and others began at the beginning. It was contemporaneous with the ministry of Jesus. This movement had its finest, most articulate pre-Christian proponent in the person of Philo of Alexandria, in many way, the Christian movement was an extension of Philo’s work.

Philo, a contemporary of Jesus, developed a scheme by which he demonstrated that the figure of Wisdom in the Jewish cannon was analogous to the Word or “rational soul” of Hellenistic philosophy.[i]

In the New Testament, Jesus is depicted as being both Wisdom and Word. Philo shared the Stoic and Platonic view that all rational beings share in a part of the “rational soul.”[ii] In the cannon of Hellenic philosophy, this teaching goes back to Socrates, and Pythagoras.

In the first century of the common era, just after the death of Jesus, after Saint Paul had written his letters and was martyred, but while the books of the Gospel were still being written, the Stoic philosopher turned Christian, Saint Justin the Martyr developed his theology of the Spermatikos Logos.

Saint Justin carried on the work of Philo and the Stoics. He described a system in which Jesus was identified as the Word of God, as the complete and perfect Word. He taught that the Word of God was disseminated into every rational creature. He taught that the principle that we are crated in the Divine Image was this, that each of us bears within us a seed of the Word, and that this seed is the house of reason, and rationality.

Saint Justin syncretized the work of his predecessors with the teaching and traditions of the Church, utilizing the Hellenistic philosophical categories to augment the emerging narrative of sin, the fall, and redemption through the death of Jesus into his schema.

Saint Justin taught, that as rational beings we share not only a similarity to, but in the actual being of God, the creator of the universe. And that despite this fact, nevertheless, sin has corrupted our nature, and cut us off from God who is the source of our being, and therby sin has limited the full development of our potential.

Saint Justin taught that despite our vitiated nature, the seed of the word endures in us, like a seed that lies dormant. People are still able to live rationally, and come into the knowledge truth, but it is a difficult and uncertain process.

Through the categories of Hellenistic philosophy Saint Justin established the foundation of sacramental theology. He taught that we encounter Jesus (The Word) through the sacraments in a mysterious way that activates our true nature.

Like a dormant seed, made to germinate, we are enlivened by the Holy Spirit.

In this way, Saint Justin Christianized those categories of Hellenistic philosophy, while simultaneously Hellenizing the narrative of the early Church.




[i] The Oxford Companion to the Bible, Philo, 592; also, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Philo, 1297, for a list of his writings.
[ii] Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, v.1, 13.

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