Is Eastern Orthodoxy Greek Platonism? A simple look
Is Eastern Orthodoxy Greek Platonism?
Every so often, it is said that Eastern Orthodoxy is just rehashed Greek philosophy, mixed with Christianity. This argument works on some people, and for two reasons:
1- The general population is not well read on Greek philosophy
2- The general population isn’t familiar with church history
It is easy for this argument to poison the well – sorta speak- because it just isn’t feasible to expect the house wife to go and examine the texts, but then must rely on her pastor for the answers. It also is a sneaky tactic, because it can make church history sound complicated, and not even worth the time to investigate. I for one, think a basic reading of the major church fathers is enough to conclude that there is a serious issues with Western rooted Christianity.
The best way to tackle such objections, is to dive into the big heresies, and learn about what it was that fueled the heretical thought of the declared heretics. It might bring about some clarity within these claims, and it might also show that heresy is easy to fall into. It is striking how easy it was for someone such as Nestorius to think the way he did, and we can even come to the conclusion that with his views on philosophy, that it made sense for him to think the way he did. The Monothelites, likewise, were attempting to do the right thing, but ended up with theology that denied Christ, all the while they were attempting to preserve Christ, but their philosophical commitments confused their thinking.
What we must also consider when this argument is made, is what it means for Christianity as a whole. Is it possible to label one set part of the early church as influenced by Greek philosophy, and yet, say that Jesus wasn’t also an invention of Greek philosophy? This is exactly what the Jews argue to this day, so why would a Protestant argument against the early church, not carry over into the New Testament church? So, before one throws out the early church because such a claim has been made, one should consider what this does to Christianity as a whole, because once I am convinced that the early church is just a heretical group of platonists, what stops me from believing Jesus wasn’t just a creation of Greek speaking Jews, who had a Greek version of the Old Testement, that turned the Messiah into a super Socrates? Heck, Plato even seems to talk about Jesus hundreds of years before Christ was born:
’The just man then, as we have pictured him, will be scourged, tortured, and imprisoned, his eyes will be put out, and after enduring every humiliation he will be crucified…”
Plato here is talking about Socrates, who was the just man, but was killed by society, which some determine as “good”..yet, Socrates was good, yet killed. So for Plato, the only way to be truly “just” is to be killed by the government, or society.
Is this where erroneous Jews conjured up the idea of Jesus? It goes without saying, that any argument posed against Christianity, labeled as heretical Platonism, must then be coupled with Jewish arguments as well. However, how do we then only place one foot into the argument, without going all the way, as some Protestants do?
The answer to this, is that we need to understand that Greek philosophy was the language of the day. The NT is written in Greek, and the Old Testament that Jesus and the apostles used was Greek, and was translated using Greek words, that were laden with Greek philosophy, just as English is laden with Latin thoughts. When we “speak frankly” to someone, we assume it to mean, speak plainly, and honestly, but this word in the Latin history, was derived from the Franks propaganda against the Greeks, to promote the Frankish takeover, and to define the Franks as the good, vs the bad. However, when we use such a term, we are not using it in such a way, as to promote such an idea.
The same goes for the use of certain terms, and certain themes. It is impossible for a world that is built on Greek language to overcome the use of a language impregnated with Greek philosophy.
The use of Greek words, doesn’t equate to the endorsement of Greek philosophy. However, for someone like Nestorius, to use the Greek philosophy of mixtures, and apply that to how he understood Jesus is wrong, and is why he was heretical. For the Monothelites to use the Greek philosophical view of opposites, and apply that to Jesus, lead their theology to be deemed heretical.
What one might even come to find out, is that the ones making the argument against Eastern Orthodoxy, might even be a product of the very thing they seem to be arguing against.