Make your own free website on Tripod.com

Platonism, Paganism and Early Christianity

 

Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.)

Saint Augustine made no secret of his admiration for Plato; In his work entitled The City of God (Book 8), Augustine wrote:

Among the disciples of Socrates, Plato was the one who shone with a glory which far excelled that of the others, and who not unjustly eclipsed them all.  ...   For those who are praised as having most closely followed Plato, who is justly preferred to all the other philosophers of the Gentiles ... Of which three things, the first is understood to pertain to the natural, the second to the rational, and the third to the moral part of philosophy.  For if man has been so created as to attain, through that which is most excellent in him, to that which excels all things,—that is, to the one true and absolutely good God, without whom no nature exists, no doctrine instructs, no exercise profits,—let Him be sought in whom all things are secure to us, let Him be discovered in whom all truth becomes certain to us, let Him be loved in whom all becomes right to us. ...

 ... It is evident that none come nearer to us than the Platonists.  ... The Platonic philosophers ... have recognized the true God as the author of all things, the source of the light of truth, and the bountiful bestower of all blessedness.  And not these only, but to these great acknowledgers of so great a God, those philosophers must yield who, having their mind enslaved to their body, supposed the principles of all things to be material; as Thales, who held that the first principle of all things was water; Anaximenes, that it was air; the Stoics, that it was fire; Epicurus, who affirmed that it consisted of atoms, that is to say, of minute corpuscles; and many others whom it is needless to enumerate, but who believed that bodies, simple or compound, animate or inanimate, but nevertheless bodies, were the cause and principle of all things. ...

... Whatever philosophers, therefore, thought concerning the supreme God, that He is both the maker of all created things, the light by which things are known, and the good in reference to which things are to be done; that we have in Him the first principle of nature, the truth of doctrine, and the happiness of life,—whether these philosophers may be more suitably called Platonists, or whether they may give some other name to their sect; whether, we say, that only the chief men of the Ionic school, such as Plato himself, and they who have well understood him, have thought thus; or whether we also include the Italic school, on account of Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans, and all who may have held like opinions; and, lastly, whether also we include all who have been held wise men and philosophers among all nations who are discovered to have seen and taught this, be they Atlantics, Libyans, Egyptians, Indians, Persians, Chaldeans, Scythians, Gauls, Spaniards, or of other nations,—we prefer these to all other philosophers, and confess that they approach nearest to us. ...

... Certain partakers with us in the grace of Christ, wonder when they hear and read that Plato had conceptions concerning God, in which they recognize considerable agreement with the truth of our religion.  ... What warrants this supposition are the opening verses of Genesis:  "In the beginning God made the heaven and earth.  And the earth was invisible, and without order; and darkness was over the abyss:  and the Spirit of God moved over the waters." [Genesis 1:1-2 ]  For in the Timćus, when writing on the formation of the world, he says that God first united earth and fire; from which it is evident that he assigns to fire a place in heaven.  This opinion bears a certain resemblance to the statement, "In the beginning God made heaven and earth."  Plato next speaks of those two intermediary elements, water and air, by which the other two extremes, namely, earth and fire, were mutually united; from which circumstance he is thought to have so understood the words, "The Spirit of God moved over the waters."  For, not paying sufficient attention to the designations given by those scriptures to the Spirit of God, he may have thought that the four elements are spoken of in that place, because the air also is called spirit.  Then, as to Plato's saying that the philosopher is a lover of God, nothing shines forth more conspicuously in those sacred writings. 

Thus, the greatest of the Church Fathers marvels that the belief system espoused by Plato and certain other Greek philosophers was so closely aligned with Christian beliefs.  In my view, this similarity is to be expected. Augustine seems not to have recognized the strong possibility that the influx of so many Hellenized Jews and Greek speaking gentiles during the period from the late first century through the third century A.D. may have gradually altered Christian beliefs to be consistent with the prevailing Greek philosophical ideas of that timeframe.

horizontal rule

Home Philo of Alexandria Clement of Alexandria Origen of Alexandria Saint Augustine Pseudo-Dionysius Serapis Religion Liberal Arts Giorgio de Santillana Tilton Family