Monday, March 23, 2015

The Church and Hellenism

The Hellenic world has played a major role in the formation of the Church as we know it today. It gave its language to the New Testament and to a number of books of the Old Testament, whilst also allowing to understand the deep meanings of Theology through its words. Without the Hellenic language, philosophy, theology and world (in general), the Church would have been very different. Below, Dr Nicolas Zernov explains the relationship between the Church and Hellenism, explaining:

‘God is love, but the burning flame of divine compassion consumes all that is impure. This and other fundamental convictions borrowed from the Jews gave the Church its stability and enormous power of resistance. But its ability to expand, to penetrate into new fields, to meet the variety of human needs, and to satisfy very different requirements and aspirations the Christians learned through their contacts with the Hellenistic world. The greatest of its contributions was the Greek language. It is of the utmost importance in the history of the Church that, though its founder spoke in Aramaic, his voice reached the wider circle of mankind in Greek, for in that tongue the books of the New Testament and many of the Patristic commentaries on them were written. No other language could have served this purpose so well, for it was able to express philosophical concepts with a vigour and subtlety unattainable elsewhere, and at the same time to convey the profoundest religious feelings with poetry and grace. The Hellenized world also helped the Church to see the unity of mankind, and the fundamental similarity of men’s intellectual and spiritual problems. From the Greek philosophers and writers the Church learned the art of logical thinking and scientific speculation. The Greek was not only a worshipping creature, like the Jew; he was also a thinker and an artist, and the Christian Church found an honoured place for these types of human activity. The Greeks provided the Church with its theologians, with men who critically examined the text of the Holy Scriptures, who interpreted it in the light of contemporary thought, and formulated its main doctrines with the help of philosophical terms. Thus the Church was fertilized by two Eastern traditions, Judaism and Hellenism, the latter of which had already combined Greek philosophy with oriental mystic religions.[1]

[1] Zernov, Nicolas, Eastern Christendom, (London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1961), p.22. 

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