Thursday, April 26, 2007

(5) Assimilation

This encyclopedic item addresses the linkage between ancient
Stoic and Christian thought.
"The assimilation of Stoic elements by the Church Fathers was
generally better understood by the 4th century c.e. Stoic influence
can be seen, for example, in the relation between reason and the
passions in the works of St. Ambrose...and of Marcus Minucius Felix,
a Christian Apologist. Each took a wealth of ideas from Stoic
morality as Cicero had interpreted it in De Officiis. In general,
whereas the emerging Christian morality affirmed its originality,
it also assimilated much of the pagan literature, the more congenial
elements of which were essentially Stoic.

"Earlier, in the 3rd century, Quintus Tertullian, often called the
father of Latin Christian literature, seems to have been versed in
Stoic philosophy; e.g., in his theory of the agreement between the
supernatural and the human soul, in his use of the Stoic tenet that
from a truth there follow truths, and in his employment of the idea of
universal consent...Tertullian showed a fundamental grasp and
appreciation of such themes as the word 'logos' and the relation
of body to soul.

"Also, St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in the 3rd century revealed
the currency of Stoic views: e.g., in his Ad Demetrianum, a
denunciation of an enemy to Christianity, in which Cyprian
castigates the ill treatment of slaves, who no less than their masters,
are formed of the same matter and endowed with the same soul and
live according to the same law. The beliefs in the brotherhood
of man and in the world as a great city, commonly found in early
Christian literature, were current Stoic themes."
[Encyclopedia Britannica, Philosophical Schools and Doctrines, p. 607.]

"Stoicism influenced Christianity in many respects. Christians
converted from Stoicism expressed their ideas in Stoic terms. Thus
the term 'logos' found in the first verse of St. John's Gospel where
it is translated as 'Word'...[And, also,] the Stoics had emphasized the
essential similarity of all men and the moral responsibility of each man
to provide for the basic need of other men. They had insisted on
simplicity and frugality and on the independence of the individual
in the face of evil and hostile society. All these teachings were in
harmony with Christianity. It is not surprising, therefore, to find traces
of Stoic philosophy in Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen,
Lactantius, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and other Christian writers."
[Encyclopedia Americana, Stoicism, p. 736.]

"Much controversy has arrisen as to the origin of the terms 'the Word'
and 'the Holy Spirit' in Christian theology, and here we can only note
that both terms were in familiar use in the Stoic school at the same
epoch. They cannot, however, be claimed as distinctively Stoic.
But the way of thinking according to which God is at the same time
one and many belongs to the very core of Stoicism. Therefore,
whilst the doctrine of the Trinity is somewhat dimly adumbrated by
St. Paul, it has long ago been noted that its principle finds full
expression in the earlier writings of Seneca.

"From the 3rd century onwards Stoicism was rapidly absorbed in
Christianity...[Indeed] Stoic converts brought with them their scientific
methods and even their school text-books; the De Officiis and the
Discourses of Epictetus became for all practical purposes Christian
manuals. It is greatly to be desired that modern theologians should
be equipped with a better knowledge of the philosophy which more
than any other was a nursing-mother to the Church."
[Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stoics, p. 864.]

"Stoicism expounded a new outlook on personal dignity and on
the nature of law, together with a new conception of the state as
reflecting world order and as leading men of all origins and classes
to personal fulfillment. It may be said that this philosophy not only
presented a moral alternative to Christianity, but also that it helped
develop a climate in which Christian teaching could take
hold more firmly. Many of its doctrines were transposed into
Christian thought by the Fathers of the Church...

"Early Patristic Thought. In the patristic era the influence of this
philosophy was pronounced unto about 230 c.e., and became
sporadic thereafter. In bk. 2 of his Paidagogos, Clement of
Alexandria made at least 15 textual borrowings from Musonius.
In the same work he sometimes used the text of Epictetus. Seneca
provided lines for St. Cyprian and Minucius Felix, but the effect of
Stoicism is clearly noticeable in the thesis they elaborated.

"Man. The anthropology of all the Fathers had Stoic elements,
although none omitted the presence of a supernatural reality in man.
Almost all divided the human composite into body and soul in Stoic
fashion, and Tertullian saw in it a 'mixture' of two elements. The soul
itself was considered corporeal by Iranaeus and Tertullian, the latter
supporting his position with the Stoic principle: nihi si non corpus.
The psychology of Clement of Alexandria had a materialistic bent,
especially that in the Excerpta ex Theodoto. Finally Tatian and
Irenaeus noted in the soul an element shared with universal life
and thus reattached man to the cosmos.

"Ethics was frequently related to Stoicism in its terminology and
in certain of its themes: indifference (Justin Martyr, Athenagoras,
Tatian, Minucius Felix, Tertullian, and with some variations, Clement
of Alexandria); apatheia and intellectualism (Justin, Athenagoras,
Irenaeus and especially Clement of Alexandria); conformity to the
'logos,' and to nature (Clement of Alexandria); natural law (Justin,
the Apostolic Constitutions, Clement of Alexandria, and particularly
Tertullian); equality of man and cosmopolitanism (particularly
Tertullian, Cyprian, and Minucius Felix); the model of the wise
man (Tatian and Clement of Alexandria, for whom the wise man
became the gnostic); and all the of the themes of the diatribe.

"There was less Stoic influence on matters relating to God. Some
Fathers emphasized God's rational nature (Athenagoras, Minucius
Felix, and Tertullian), others His material nature (Tertullian). Almost
all, and especially Clement of Alexandria, noted His impassibility.
All proved His existence rationally, taking the order of the universe
as their point of departure. Their theories of the 'logos-pneuma' also
exhibited a Stoic aspect, and this apart from the terminology used:
e.g., God's corporeal nature (Tertullian and the Excerpta ex Theodoto)
and His cyclic unfolding in the Incarnation (the paschal homily
attributed to Hippolytus). One may even detect an animistic concept
of the world in Tatian and Theoplhilus of Antioch, and secondarily
in Tertullian, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Novatian, and Clement of Alexandria,
but for all these thinkers the pneuma of the world, instead of being God,
because of some ill-defined intermediate. Finally, Minucius Felix and
Clement of Alexandria made the 'logos' the law and order of the world.
In all this God was viewed more as present in the universe than as
function in his redemptive work.

"The World. Despite their theses about the initial creation, the Fathers
sometimes saw the world as undergoing a cyclic evolution. They
unanimously praised its beauty, order, and harmony, from Pope
St. Clement I of Rome all the way to Clement of Alexandria, who
was filled with wonder at the cosmos. The imperfection of detail in
the universe contributes to the perfection of the All (Tertullian
and Clement of Alexandria) which perfection results from the
complementarity of opposites (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Novatian,
and Clement of Alexandria).

"For these writers, as for the Stoics, the world was at the disposal
of man and was explained in anthropomorphic terms with a
disconcerting optimism. Finally, the universe itself constituted
a great All (Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Novatian), one 'vast body'
(Tatian and Tertullian)...and the meeting of body and spirit
(in anthropology, the Incarnation, grace,and the matter of the
Sacraments presented no difficulty for any of them.

"Finally, everything was conceived in a spatio-temporal framework,
even man, who was seen as subject to a uniform law of the cosmos.
This law was seen variously as a 'sympathy' among all
spirits (Athenagoras and Clement of Alexandria), an essential
connection (Tertullian and particularly Minucius Felix), and a
combined effort united in harmony (Novatian).

"A brief account does not permit the necessary references or
useful precisions, but the fact is that a Stoic current ran through
Christian thought before 250."
[New Catholic Encyclopedia, Stoicism, pp. 719-720.]