Why “Hellenistic Christendom?”

Sounds like a strange name, doesn’t it? What does it mean? Quite simply, I had inspiration for the name of this blog in my junior year of high school when I first began my study of philosophy in September of 2011. The inspiration primarily came from Diogenes Allen who once wrote about the relationship between classical culture and Christian theology. In his book Philosophy for Understanding Theology (1985), he writes: “Christian theology is nonetheless inherently hellenic. I use the word ‘hellenic’ instead of ‘Greek’ to refer to the spread of Greek culture and ways of thinking to non-Greek peoples, an influence which received powerful impetus from the conquests of Alexander the Great and Rome” (Allen, 14. emphasis added).

This was particularly encouraging to me and even led  to a very devout interest into the relationship between Greek philosophy and Christian theology over the next 4 years. Scholars, theologians, and historians of philosophy alike have dealt with the relationship (and antithesis) between hellenic culture and Christianity. One example can be found in Jaroslav Pelikan’s Christianity and Classical Culture (1993) where he writes that it “… remains one of the most momentous linguistic convergences in the entire history of the human mind and spirit that the New Testament happens to be written in Greek – not in the Hebrew of Moses and the prophets, nor in the Aramaic of Jesus and his disciples… but in the Greek of Socrates and Plato… disguised and even disfigured though this was in the Koine by intervening centuries of Hellenistic usage” (Pelikan, 3).

Greek words were distributed throughout the Septuagint (Greek translation of the New Testament manuscripts) and Christian vocabulary alike. In the first chapter of John we see the word logos used to refer to the deity of Jesus and even hypostasis in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews – both words having precedent in Greek thought. Furthermore, even the opening salutation in the book of Revelation John writes, “Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come…” (Rev. 1:4). In the Greek, the verse runs something like this: [charis hymin kai eirênê apo ôn kai ho ên kai ho erchomenos]. Not only does “ho ôn” have to do with the “he who is” from Exodus 3 with Moses and the burning bush, but also the metaphysical “ho ôn” seen in classical Greek ontology.

To conclude with a quote from Allen, he discusses how Christians without the “hellenic attitude” wouldn’t have been able to discern between other forms of knowledge that is contrary to revealed truth. It was particularly towards the end of the second century that Christians began to discuss and seek harmony between the “… the religion of Jesus and Paul with the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle” (Kenny, 110). To finish with Allen:

 … likewise we would not have the discipline of theology without the hellenic attitude in Christians that leads them to press questions about the Bible and the relations of the Bible to other knowledge. Thus when people call for purging Greek philosophy from Christian theology, unless they are referring to specific ideas or concepts, they are really calling for the end of the discipline of theology itself, though they may not realize it. (Allen, 5)


Works Cited

Allen, Diogenes. Philosophy for Understanding Theology. 1985. Westminister: John Knox Press.

Kenny, Anthony. Ancient Philosophy. 2004. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. Christianity and Classical Culture. 1993. Binghamton, NY: Yale University Press.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s