Its universities and temples e. Necessarily, the Christian city was opposed to the pagan city and its unredeemed culture, which pretended to reflect the ideal state of nature, sought to make men rational not holy. The Existence of the first is proven, mainly by the power of the soul, that is, by virtue of its immateriality, its ability to transcend the realm of phenomena, of the mind to probe the higher realm of necessary and changeless truths, of super-sensible reality, or, more precisely, the intelligible world, the world of Ideas, towards which the highest activities of reason are directed The human ability to know and the things it knows depends on the amount of light our moral and intellectual condition permits to enter.
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The knowledge of eternal things is sapientia, and of temporal things, scientia De Trin. XII, iii, 2 PL 42 There is no greater experience, no higher sapientia than the visio Dei, whether in this world or in the next. I, vi, The realization of this end, so it seems, is possible only for the predestined. They tell us, among other things, that he was not the climax of the patristic tradition, but the founder of another: a religio-philosophical tradition which will eventually redirect the course of Western culture and contribute mightily to the separation of East and West.
Though there seems to be much in common between Augustine and the Fathers, Greek as well as Latin, much in their concepts and vocabulary; even access to the same Tradition, but the common mind is missing. But here the similarity ends. The philosopher, Augustine said, pursued the understanding of God and the soul by rational means. The motive for the philosophical enterprise is the life of virtue. The Fathers would have agreed. Significant, however, is the fact that Augustine produced no work on virginity, or the lives of monastics, as did Ambrose, Jerome, John Cassian and Pope Gregory the Great.
Also, looking at his schools in North Africa and Cassisiacum near Milan , it is difficult to think of them as monasteries they were rather study centers ; and, consequently, to consider him and his students as ascetic strugglers for perfection through purging the heart of the passions.
According to the patristic tradition, the greatest Christian philosophers have always been the ascetics. I, 10 PG 36 24B—25A.
These are of interest the Christian philosopher largely in his refutation of error and his defense of the divine truth. To those Fathers who won their fame as teachers of Christian theology i. The knowledge and experience of these matters all derived from the Word Himself, the Wisdom of God, Who guided and sustained the race of men before and after His Incarnation.
Knowledge which does not, sooner or later, lead to love of God and fellowship with Him is vain and, as the history of modern philosophy clearly shows, repetitive, contradictory and self-destructive. The study of philosophy is one and the same Without mortification of our fallen human nature, all knowledge is uncertain, inadequate and even harmful.
Without regeneration in Christ, man and his knowledge remain in an unnatural condition. Each city has its own culture, the wisdom which is its foundation. So it is that St Basil the Great, addressing a group of young monks, cautioned them concerning worldly learning. The pagan city, the city of the fallen creation, is the rival of the Church, the Christian city. The profane philosophy, which lay at the heart of the pagan paideia, contains much good; but also is a temptation, and the spiritually untutored and unlearned Christian, is easily seduced by it.
Hilary continues,. Therefore, we must beat down the insolent arguments raised against God, and destroy the fastness of false reasoning, crushing the cunning of impious minds with weapons not carnal but spiritual, not with earthly learning but heavenly wisdom; so that in proportion as divine things differ from human, so the heavenly philosophy surpasses its worldly rival. It would be easy to fill a book with such quotes from the Fathers, but redundancy would not make the point any clearer than has St Hilary. He says in another place De Trin.
The true religion is not without rational power The natural man, still subject to the devil through death, fails to achieve his ideals, even though he has organized himself 47 to promote them. From the time of Augustine until the present day, Neoplatonism has always been at home in the Christian Church.
St. Gregory of Nyssa and the tradition of the Fathers
Of greater interest, however, is the fact that there is a necessary opposition between Neo-Platonism and Christianity on a fundamental level For this Greek, the Divine is impersonal, and remote, which externalizes into equally loveless, relentless manifestations. Christianity declares that God so loved the world that He took flesh and dwelt among us. He became true man, as He was true God. He came to die for His creation, to destroy death by His death, whereby He restored it to fellowship with Himself.
The Scriptures and the Fathers have a different understanding of time and history than Neo-Platonism. They have another ethic and spirituality. Historians, in general, argue that the evidence indicates a substantial influence of Plotinus on the philosophia of St Gregory of Nyssa and other Fathers. They are certain that Christian theology would not be what it is without him. At the same time, they have been unable to determine the extent to which the Fathers are indebted to him, albeit often satisfied, so it would seem, with verbal and phraseological similarities.
They seemed to have been circulated in separate treatises, even fragments, rather than in the organized manner imposed upon them by his disciple and biographer, Prophyry. His works show familiarity with the Plotinus and Greeks, but it cannot be said that, like Augustine, St Gregory cited them as theological authorities Thus, he produced no filioque nor a model of the Trinity consistent with it. Thomas Aquinas is the acme of the Augustinian tradition.
That tradition is syncretic, which explains its departure from the patristic mind. And although they wrongly pictured the soul as wholly spiritual, it was not for them an indirect emanation from the One. It would seem almost gratuitous to mention the bodily resurrection, sin and grace, ideas to which Augustine and Aquinas were devoted, but for which Plotinus had no sympathy.
Ultimately, Plotinus was a rationalist On the other hand, St Gregory of Nyssa, often accused of the same rationalism along with Augustine and Aquinas , had far less to say about the blessed Trinity.
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Not because he failed to discover more, but because there was nothing revealed on those matters about which he was silent. Flights of speculative fancy were constrained by the Apostolic Tradition, especially the holy Scriptures, if not simply his own piety.
If, indeed, St Gregory read the Enneads, and if he took anything from them, it was not the ontology of Plotinus; and, therefore, it was not his triadology. Hypostasis is a Person in the thinking of St Gregory; it is not for Plotinus.
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X, 8 b The fruit of his labors, he brings to earth, to his fellows, as the Promethean fire, to the polis, whether a city like Athens or a city like Platonopolis When the Fathers of the Church looked upon the classical city and the culture at the heart of which lay philosophia , they found it and the wisdom by which to erect it, radically flawed. Secondly, the truth of its sophia was vouchsafed them by the divine Logos, the Word of God in creation. That wisdom was never intended to be final; and the years of pagan impiety have perverted it.
In any case, the Word has become flesh and dwelt among us; therefore, the wisdom of the ancients, having served its purpose, is now superfluous. For this very reason, Hellenism i. On account of the antithesis between the Church and Hellenism, one must not infer that Christians could find nothing of value in the Greek wisdom.
Riddled with error and perversity, it was not without truth — truth planted everywhere in the world by the very Logos Who created it, guides it, and became incarnate for its salvation. It was this truth which the Saints of old discovered in the cultures which flourished before the Birth of Christ, observed St Gregory. Nevertheless, the sophia of those civilizations, whatever good they possessed, could not produce righteousness.
St. Gregory of Nyssa and the tradition of the Fathers
What palpable fruits does this philosophy produce despite so long a time in labor? De Vit.
PG 44 B. PG 44 BC. At the same time, reason, however helpful, is not the source of Christian doctrine. If the foreign philosophy — which treats the subject most skillfully — provided a truly sufficient demonstration, our discourse on the soul would be superfluous.
Necessarily, then, we recognize and receive only that which falls within the scope of those writings. Disdaining, therefore, the Platonic chariot and the team of horses, each pulling at its own pace, and the charioteer, by whose lead Plato allegorically philosophized about the soul; and, after him, Aristotle who, according to his empirical method, determined that the soul was mortal Rejecting all those before and after him in time, whether they philosophized in verse or prose, the validity of our discourse depends upon the God-inspired Scriptures which decrees that we discount any notion which denies that the soul reflects the divine Nature.
Their pages tell us that the soul was created in the likeness of God and whatever is alien to God is beyond the limit of the soul. Nothing can be different from it and yet preserve its divine likeness. PG 46 64B. The Scriptures are not ordinary literature; they are inspired by God; they stand at the heart of the Christian paideia ; and, hence, their special place in the worship of the Christian community.
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PG 46 B. PG 46 D. Consequently, the Greeks have been unable to achieve a true and useful concept of the Deity. Ill PG 45 D.
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