The Melding of Pagan Philosophy With Christian Claims
Instructions: The teachings of both Augustine and Aquinas are an attempt to meld the teachings of “pagan” philosophy with the precepts of Christianity. (Discuss)
Please use one page to discuss Augustine’s arguments or points, and use one page to discuss Aquinas’s arguments or points.
Please use your own words to discuss their points, show more details, and provide a clear reference.
The Melding of Pagan Philosophy With Christian Claims
The Christian faith and pagan philosophy were initially distinct in terms of their approach to human understanding and intellect. As such, the Christian teachings exclusively believed in the need for faith for one to fully understand what such teachings claim. On the other hand, pagan philosophers believed that the human mind held the ultimate capacity of understanding and that any form of phenomenon could be explained using scientific approaches. Nevertheless, St. Augustine and St. Aquinas attempted to merge the two approaches, arguing that in as much as pagan philosophy could be used to provide an abstract understanding of the Christian claims, faith was highly important in developing an in-depth understanding of such claims.
St. Augustine’s teachings were based on Isiah 7:9, which says that “Unless you will have believed, you will not understand” (Jones). In his interpretation of this task, he maintained that faith precedes an individual’s understanding, and that if in any case it does not, then the individual’s understanding is without substance or flawed. He was a compatibilist, who believed that reason was important in seeking understanding of faith. According to Augustine, believing is thinking with assent, and that it is a will-based as opposed to a reason-based act of the intellect (Marenbon 64). Augustine emphasized the importance of pagan thinking being applied by Christian teachers in interpreting scripture. He attempted to meld pagan philosophy with Christian claims by suggesting that the former was important in understanding the latter. In his view, considering the fact that the unchanging and external is studied by pagan science, then such science can be used to illuminate and clarify the Christian faith. As such, natural pagan sciences, logic, and history can be can be highly important in interpreting symbols that are unknown or ambiguous in the scriptures (Dockery 147).
Augustine’s efforts to meld ancient pagan philosophy with Christianity proved a success when he developed a new perspective from which traditional philosophy approaches could be used to explore Christianity further. Pagan philosophy already attempted to explain the very essence of life and the duality of the person, an aspect that reveals the Christian defined spiritual man and the man in the flesh. Nevertheless, it is clear that in as much as pagan philosophy may be used to explain the physical man, there is need to embrace Christianity, which provides a higher level of understanding that cannot be simply generated by the human mind, in order to understand the spiritual man and spirituality.
Thomas Aquinas went a step further, in his attempt to meld pagan philosophy with Christianity, and developed a theory of theological reasoning. St. Aquinas believed that it was possible for one to gain truths concerning religious claims without the need for faith, but with an exploration of the pagan philosophical approaches (Decosimo 141). Nevertheless, just like Augustine, he believed that the level of understanding that would be gained in such a case would only be abstract and that which concerns the physical man, and that there was need for individuals have faith in order to have a better understanding of their spirituality and God. As such, in as much as pagan philosophy may be used to explain theological truths, such truths would not be complete without having faith in eternal salvation (Dockery 151). Nevertheless, such truths would not be complete. As such, Aquinas established a twofold truth concerning religious truths. On one hand is the type of inquiry that can be reached through human reason that is based on pagan philosophy, while on the other is that which goes beyond human reason. He argued that the two truths could not contradict each other and that it was important if both would be considered alongside each other in explaining Christian claims.
Just like Augustine, Aquinas believed that pagan
philosophy had developed to a level that it could be used to gain an insight in
the theological teachings of Christianity. He emphasized a twofold approach
towards understanding Christian teachings, with one being philosophy based,
while the other being faith based. The approach tends to uphold the fact that
one can be able to understand the Christian claims from any point of view, one
of reason, especially for those who still do not have much belief, and one of
faith, for the believers who seek more spiritual understanding of such claims
Decosimo, David. Ethics as a Work of Charity: Thomas Aquinas and Pagan Virtue. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2014.
Dockery, David S. Faith and Learning: A Handbook for Christian Higher Education. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2012.
Jones, Susan, ed. The New Jerusalem Bible. New York: Doubleday, 1985. Print.
Marenbon, John. Pagans and Philosophers: The Problem of Paganism from Augustine to Leibniz. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015.