This is the only blog site where you will get a comprehensive and integrated perspective on how Greek philosophy and Jewish revelation came together to form the Christian Church and thus Western Civilization.
A remarkable thing started to happen in the 6th century B.C. – a great awakening that would continue through the 5th century. As if on cue, other ancient cultures, aside from the Greeks, were starting to awaken to the fact that there was an overarching order to the world.1 The Greeks called it “Logos” and the Chinese philosophers dubbed it “Tao.” Regardless of the name, the idea was the same – that of an incredible unity and order to the cosmos. This new enlightenment was occurring throughout the world, both East and West, from Greece to China to India. The amazing thing is that all of this occurred simultaneously, without these various cultures communicating with each other.
Just like with Heraclitus and other Greek philosophers, various peoples throughout the world were starting to see that there was an order to the universe. Not only was it ordered in a profound way, but it was beautiful as well. What could account for this order and beauty? Chinese philosophers, such as Confucius and others, reasoned that there must be an all wise Supreme Being responsible for this.
If we examine other ancient cultures such as those in Africa and the Americas, we will find that over and above their polytheism, they too believed in a Supreme Being. The Indians called him the “Great Spirit,” and the Africans had various names for him among the different tribes.
Father Seraphim of Sarov (1759-1833), a Greek Orthodox priest who was later beatified, said:
“In the historyof ancient China, there are moments when it is absolutely incredible how the same things happened in Chinese life as happened in the West, even though there was no outward connection between the two civilizations. The first of the Greek philosophers – Thales and so forth – lived about the sixth century B.C., just about the time Confucius was in China and Buddha was in India. It is though there really was a spirit of the times.”2
Well, we have finally come to the end of this miniseries on Logos that started in post 32 with Heraclitus and will end with the life of Justin Martyr in this post. The operative question we’re asking in this post is why Justin Martyr is so important in exploring the relationship between reason and revelation, faith and philosophy.
Life and Death
Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.) was born in Flavia Neapolis, Palestine (modern day Nablus)1, located in Samaria near Jacob’s well. This would make Justin a Samaritan by birth. If tradition holds true, he could have been born in the same year that St. John the Apostle died, a symbolic passing of the baton.
The purpose of this post is to explore the relationship between Greek reason and Hebrew revelation in the Catholic Church, which is where Justin Martyr comes in. Unlike Tertullian, who was opposed to Greek philosophy and viewed it as a dangerous pagan influence, Justin Martyr took a more optimistic approach. He saw Greek philosophy in more of a positive light and saw the synthesis between the two as a beneficial thing for Christianity.
When John called Jesus “the Logos” in chapter 1 of his Gospel, did he have the Greek philosophical term in mind, or was he simply using the Greek generic term for “word” as he uses in other places in his New Testament writings? This is the operative question.
Scholars debate just how much the Greek philosophical concept of logos he had in mind when he used the term to describe Jesus Christ.1 In this post, I aim to show that in calling Jesus the Logos, John had both the Old Testament idea of God’s Word and the Greek idea of Logos in mind, especially as developed by the Stoics and Philo of Alexandria.
We are almost at the end of a series of posts with the theme “logos” that started in Post 33. Next, I will be discussing Justin Martyr’s use of the idea of logos. After that, I will either pick up where I left off with the Presocratic philosophers, namely Parmenides. In the meantime, I went down the logos rabbit hole in Post 33 and came up five posts later in the Gospel of St. John. It’s a funny thing where Greek philosophy can lead. And we are only at the beginning of our journey. So, please enjoy this post.
In this post, I will discuss how Philo of Alexandria put Hebrew flesh and bone on the Greek abstract concept of logos. This made the idea of the logos so significant that, I would argue, it was the only word John could have used in chapter 1 of his Gospel. (Please see the previous post as background for this one.)
Greek as the Bridge Between Judaism and Christianity
It is no accident that the New Testament was written in Greek. Greek was the language of philosophy. It came loaded with philosophical terms and ideas that the Greeks had been developing for over 400 years. And thus it leant itself to eventually being used by the Church fathers to develop Christian theology.
Paradoxically, the type of Greek in which the New Testament was written was Koine Greek. Koine (κοινή) Greek was “street Greek,” the parlance of the common person.1 It replaced the older Attic Greek or Classical Greek and was spoken widely throughout the world. But at the same time, the same philosophical terms found in classical Greek were also found in Koine Greek. Koine Greek reflected God – it was at the same time a transcendent and an immanent language.
Philo of Alexandria’s Concept of Logos and God’s Word
By attempting to bride Hebrew and Greek thinking, Philo laid the foundation for Christian theology and philosophy.2 And his logos was the intermediary between the two. In order to bridge the Hebrew and Greek world, he introduced the Greek concept of logos conceived by Heraclitus and the Stoics into Judaism.
Let’s continue our journey from Heraclitus’ idea of Logos to St. John’s application of the Logos to the Son of God.
In post 35, I discussed how the Stoics took Heraclitus’ idea of the logos and expanded it to include the idea of eternal recurrence – the continual destruction and rebirth of the entire universe.1 The logos, a physical entity, was the ordering principle that guided this process.
So much did logos order the universe, that the Stoics saw a strong determinism woven into its fabric.2 In summary, the Stoics handed down a logos that was reformulated from what they received from Heraclitus. Their logos was a strongly rational principle that guided the entire universe in a deterministic manner.
The Nature of the Universe
The Stoics believed in the eternality of the universe and the logos was a part of that universe. Since, as Parmenides said, something cannot come from nothing, that left no other option than the universe had always existed, albeit in continual cycles of destruction and rebirth (i.e., eternal recurrence).
What unifies a universe made up of individual and diverse things?
As I previously stated, the main philosophical problem to be solved – throughout history but especially in ancient Greek philosophy – is that of universals also known as the problem of the one and the many.1 (Please read the preceding posts if you haven’t already, starting with post 32, as background to this post.) Because Heraclitus took elements of Eastern or Persian thinking and combined them with Western Greek thinking in developing his concept of logos,2 Western Civilization became one step closer to solving this problem. Eastern thinking tends to emphasize the one, and Western, the many.
After Heraclitus, other Presocratic philosophers would continue to make important contributions to philosophy. But eventually, Presocratic philosophy went into the doldrums, hamstrung by its failure to find the unifying principle of the universe in a material cause. Sound thinking was replaced by the rise of sophistry and the superstitious worship of the Greek pantheon of gods…that was, until Socrates.
Well, I must confess that I lied. In post 32, I said that I would cover Heraclitus in two posts, but I could not do it. In fact, I don’t think three posts are enough, but we will see. Truth be told, I could probably write at least a dozen more posts on Heraclitus. If any of you feel that I have left out something important or have a question on what I’ve discussed so far, leave it in the comment section below. Please read post 32 and post 33 as background to this post if you haven’t already.
The Meaning of Logos
Heraclitus took a common word, logos, which originally meant “word” or “speech,” and revolutionized the philosophical world.1 In fact, after Heraclitus, ancient philosophers (and more recent ones, too) would fill pages and pages with discussion on the meaning of logos.
From its original meaning, it evolved into what speech represented – rationality or reason. And from there, it blossomed like a tree to take on a whole host of meanings. It is where we get the suffix -logy where we get words like biology, anthropology, and zoology. From logos we also get words like logical, logistics, eulogy, prologue, and catalog.
The meaning of logos could be described in many ways, including the order of the cosmos, as wisdom or universal consciousness, a logos of nature, and something boundless within the soul to be found by oneself.
As portrayed above, Heraclitus is an aged and weary man as compared with the resolute and determined Heraclitus in the previous post. His hands are clasped and his head is bowed as if in prayer. He seems to be either meditating as he awaits some profound insight or resigning himself to the pessimistic fate of humanity.
In the book of Acts,St. Paul was humbled by a divine voice and a bright light on the road to Damascus.1 But Heraclitus encountered divinity through a glass, darkly, as he heard the voice of the logos speak to him from within.
Heraclitus is, for me, the most difficult of the Presocratic thinkers to write about. This heavyweight of Greek philosophy had gravitas – he was a deep, complex, enigmatic figure, and a brooding thinker.
Heraclitus’ Logos – A Redefinition in Greek Philosophy
One of Heraclitus’ main accomplishments was that he redefined the concept of logos which had, prior to him, been an amorphous concept in Greek philosophy. Heraclitus’ logos would reverberate throughout Western civilization. And all of this came from a man who engaged his audience from a distance due to his critical eye toward humanity in general.1
Because of his complexity, I will devote two posts to him: the first discussing his life and ideas in general, and the second discussing his development of the concept of logos.
He was, yet again, a son of the Ionian Enlightenment, having come from the famous city of Ephesus in Ionia.2 Ephesus was close to Miletus, the home of other Presocratic thinkers, namely Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes. He was born around 535 BC and lived at the time of Persian domination of Ionia, yet he did not flee to the West like other Greeks in Ionia.
Heraclitus the Hermit
The Ionians gave Heraclitus the honorary title of “King of the Ionians” but he pawned that off on his brother and went to live the life of a recluse.3 He only returned to the city just before he died at the age of 60. Just as I view Pythagoras as the founder of the first proto-monastery, so I consider Heraclitus the first hermit.
Xenophanes could be considered the roving vagabond of the Presocratic philosophers. Like the others discussed earlier, he came from Ionia.1 He was from the Ionian city of Colophon which was near Miletus, home of the Milesian Presocratic philosophers Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes. There was something about Ionia that lent itself to producing great thinkers and Xenophanes was no exception. Thales would have said that whatever it was, it was probably in the water.
He left his homeland abruptly at the age of 25 after Cyrus, king of the Persians, invaded Ionia in 550 BC. King Cyrus had the Jews, the people of faith, under his dominion at this time, and now he had the philosophers as well – a prefiguration that one day faith and reason would be united under one head, Jesus Christ. King Cyrus is a prefiguration and a type of Christ, even being called the “messiah” in the Old Testament book of Isaiah.
After leaving Ionia, along with other Greek compatriots, he made his way through the Greek colonies in Sicily. He did not settle in any one place for long, but spent his life moving from town to town.2