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English Bible Dictionary

Philosophy

 

It is the object of the following article to give some account

(I.) of that development of thought among the Jews which answered to the philosophy of the West;

(II.) of the systematic progress of Greek philosophy as forming a complete whole; and (III.) of the contact of Christianity with philosophy.

I. THE PHILOSOPHIC DISCIPLINE OF THE JEWS:

Philosophy, if we limit the word strictly to describe the free pursuit of knowledge of which truth is the one complete end is essentially of western growth. In the East the search after wisdom has always been connected with practice. The history of the Jews offers no exception to this remark: there is no Jewish philosophy, properly so called. The method of Greece was to proceed from life to God; the method of Israel (so to speak) was to proceed from God to life. The axioms of one system are the conclusions of the other. The one led to the successive abandonment of the noblest domains of science which man had claimed originally as his own, till it left bare systems of morality; the other, in the fullness of time, prepared many to welcome the Christ--the Truth. The philosophy of the Jews, using the word in a large sense, is to be sought for rather in the progress of the national life than in special books. Step by step the idea of the family was raised into that of the people; and the kingdom furnished the basis of those wider promises which included all nations in one kingdom of heaven. The social, the political, the cosmical relations of man were traced out gradually in relation to God. The philosophy of the Jews is thus essentially a moral philosophy, resting on a definite connection with God. The doctrines of Creation and Providence, of an infinite divine person and of a responsible human will, which elsewhere form the ultimate limits of speculation, are here assumed at the outset. The Psalms, which, among the other infinite lessons which they convey, give a deep insight into the need of a personal apprehension of truth, everywhere declare the absolute sovereignty of God over the material and the moral world, and you can find more about that here on st-takla.org on other commentaries and dictionary entries. One man among all is distinguished among the Jews as "the wise man". The description which is given of his writings serves as a commentary on the national view of philosophy (1 Kings 4:30-33) The lesson of practical duty, the full utterance of "a large heart," ibid. 29, the careful study of God's creatures,--this is the sum of wisdom. Yet in fact the very practical aim of this philosophy leads to the revelation of the most sublime truth. Wisdom was gradually felt to be a person, throned by God and holding converse with men. (Proverbs 8:1)... She was seen to stand in open enmity with "the strange woman"), who sought to draw them aside by sensuous attractions; and thus a new step was made toward the central doctrine of Christianity:--the incarnation of the Word. Two books of the Bible, Job and Ecclesiastes, of which the latter at any rate belongs to the period of the close of the kingdom, approach more nearly than any others to the type of philosophical discussions. But in both the problem is moral and not metaphysical. The one deals with the evils which afflict "the perfect and upright;" the other with the vanity of all the pursuits and pleasures of earth. The captivity necessarily exercised a profound influence. The teaching of Persia Jewish thought. The teaching of Persia seems to have been designed to supply important elements in the education of the chosen people. But it did yet more than this. The contact of the Jews with Persia thus gave rise to a traditional mysticism. Their contact with Greece was marked by the rise of distinct sects. In the third century B.C. the great Doctor Antigonus of Socho bears a Greek name, and popular belief pointed to him as the teacher of Sadoc and Boethus the supposed founders of Jewish rationalism. At any rate we may date from this time the twofold division of Jewish speculation, The Sadducees appear as the supporters of human freedom in its widest scope; the Pharisees of a religious Stoicism. At a later time the cycle of doctrine was completed, when by a natural reaction the Essenes established as mystic Asceticism.

 

II. THE DEVELOPMENT OF GREEK PHILOSOPHY:

The various attempts which have been made to derive western philosophy from eastern sources have signally failed. It is true that in some degree the character of Greek speculation may have been influenced, at least in its earliest-stages, by religious ideas which were originally introduced from the East; but this indirect influence does hot affect the real originality of the Greek teachers. The very value of Greek teaching lies in the fact that it was, as far as is possible, a result of simple reason, or, if faith asserts ifs prerogative, the distinction is sharply marked, and you can find more about that here on st-takla.org on other commentaries and dictionary entries. of the various classifications of the Greek schools which have been proposed, the simplest and truest seems to be that which divides the history of philosophy into three great periods, the first reaching to the era of the Sophists, the next to the death of Aristotle, the third to the Christian era. In the first period the world objectively is the great centre of inquiry; in the second, the "ideas" of things, truth, and being; in the third, the chief interest of philosophy falls back upon the practical conduct of life. After the Christian era philosophy ceased to have any true vitality in Greece, but it made fresh efforts to meet the conditions of life at Alexandria and Rome.

 

III. CHRISTIANITY IN CONTACT WITH ANCIENT PHILOSOPHY:

The only direct trace of the contact of Christianity with western philosophy in the New Testament is in the account of St. Paul's visit to Athens, (Acts 17:18) and there is nothing in the apostolic writings to show that it exercised any important influence upon the early Church. Comp. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24) But it was otherwise with eastern speculation, which penetrated more deeply through the mass of the people. The "philosophy" against which the Colossians were warned, (Colossians 2:8) seems undoubtedly to have been of eastern origin, containing elements similar to those which were afterward embodied in various shapes of Gnosticism, as a selfish asceticism, and a superstitions reverence for angels, (Colossians 2:16-23) and in the Epistles to Timothy, addressed to Ephesians, in which city St. Paul anticipated the rise of false teaching, (Acts 20:30) two distinct forms of error may be traced in addition to Judaism, due more or less to the same influence, and you can find more about that here on st-takla.org on other commentaries and dictionary entries. The writings of the sub-apostolic age, with the exception of the famous anecdote of Justin Martyr (Dial. 2--1), throw little light upon the relations of Christianity and philosophy. Christian philosophy may be in one sense a contradiction in terms, for Christianity confessedly derives its first principles from revelation, and not from simple reason; but there is no less a true philosophy of Christianity, which aims to show how completely these meet the instincts and aspirations of all ages. The exposition of such a philosophy would be the work of a modern Origen.

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