Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What Medieval Christianity Liked, and Disliked About Greek Philosophy

The religion of Christ was born amongst Judaism and Hellenism.  The monotheism inherited from Judaism whilst embracing the international language of Greek positioned Christianity in a unique position.  

The reconciliation of profane science with theology would flavor Christian history.  The emphasis on science / cosmology by Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle would bring about a synthesis made possible by a Christian tradition devoted to God.

While the history of Christian doctrine is impossible to summarize quickly, there are a few things medieval Christian theologians liked, and disliked about Greek science / cosmology.

The medieval theologian found certain aspects of Plato's philosophy very attractive.  For instance:

  1. The attribution of creation and ordering of the cosmos to divine providence, 
  2. alongside the hierarchical order according to inner dignity and perfection, lent Platonism to an easy assimilation into medieval Christianity.
  3. The ordered connections of creation was determined by the order in which they have been received by God's wisdom.
  4. The sight of the sky at night was a source of religious emotion.  Religious sentiment presents itself in the study of the cosmos, as is present in Ptolemy's epigram:

Mortal though I be, yea ephemeral, if but a moment I
gaze up to the night's starry domain of heaven, Then
no longer on earth I stand; I touch the Creator, And
my lively spirit drinketh immortality.

The ancient Greeks were not perfect though.  Medieval theologians did not like:

  1. For, no matter how gifted the eminent scholars of antiquity were, they nevertheless had had no share in the light of revelation.
  2. Pagan philosophers who criticised creation, Providence, and free will on the basis of the negative aspects of the prevailing cosmology.
  3. World was made from a pre-existent matter.
  4. Theological errors in the Greek world picture.