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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

On Syncretism And the Synthetic Church - Part IV

These philosophical systems were used with remarkable effect to fend of rival interpretations of Christianity, loosely referred to as “Gnostic,” and thereby to set standards for what must be considered orthodox, and normative. Saint Irenaeus was the greatest champion of these efforts.

The Gnostic interpretations of Christianity he struggled with, were themselves the product of a different trend in the ongoing process of Christian syncretization with the broader Hellenistic and Near Eastern world, such as the so-called “mystery traditions” and the traditions at the root of the Hebrew Qabalah.  

To put it simply:

What prevailed as Orthodox and Catholic Christianity syncretized itself according to the mainstream schools of Greek philosophy.

What was condemned as Gnostic and Heterodox, either took the categories of Hellenic philosophy too far, which was a problem with the popular work of Origin, or they were syncretized in the direction of the Greco-Roman and Persian mystery cults.

While these were the main dividing lines in the Church in that era, every faction influenced every other faction. These thought systems were living traditions of belief. They were dynamic and evolving.

There was a push and a pull, what emerged from the dialog was a compromise, and as with all compromise, it did not fully satisfy anyone.

Hellenistic Philosophy was used by Christians to defend itself from heterodox interpretations of its tradition. They were also used to provide a rational explanation of the Christian movement to the Roman Empire.

Christians adopted the prevalent language and thought system of their day in order to demonstrate that neither Christianity nor Christians themselves posed a threat to the stability of society. Such was the motive behind Saint Justin’s 1st & 2nd Apologies.

In this way, the Church was protected and preserved through its syncretic use of the categories Hellenistic philosophy, even as it was transformed by them.

By the time of Saint Jerome, the Christian Church had so completely identified itself with the categories of Hellenistic philosophy that those categories precipitated major conflict in the Church over the use of single words, such as homoousious vs. homoiousious or Theotokos vs. Christotokos, which were at the epicenter of the Arian and Nestorian schism.

These conflicts led to centuries of bloody warfare, and the breaches in the unity of the Church never healed. 

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