Despite its many strengths, Engelhardt’s After God displays two surprising features: an affinity for voluntaristic ethics and a tendency to oppose Eastern Orthodoxy to philosophy. Neither of these is in keeping with the mainstream of Eastern Orthodox tradition. Here, I offer a modest corrective. I begin with the figure of Socrates as presented in the Apology and Phaedo, highlighting the role that faith plays for Socrates and the reasons why he was widely admired by the early Church. I then describe (...) more broadly the attitude of the Greek Church Fathers to philosophy, showing that, although they were cautious of its potential errors, they nonetheless embraced the ideal of philosophy as a way of life dedicated to the pursuit of wisdom. For many, in fact, Christianity is itself simply the true philosophy, an attitude that led many of the most eminent patristic and Byzantine theologians to draw extensively on philosophical sources. Finally, I discuss the Euthyphro dilemma, contrasting the voluntaristic approach favored by Engelhardt with the Platonic approach adopted by the mainstream of Orthodox tradition. (shrink)
This book traces the development of conceptions of God and the relationship between God's being and activity from Aristotle, through the pagan Neoplatonists, to thinkers such as Augustine, Boethius and Aquinas and Dionysius the Areopagite, Maximus the Confessor and Gregory Palamas. The result is a comparative history of philosophical thought in the two halves of Christendom, providing a philosophical backdrop to the schism between the Eastern and Western Churches.
Most characterizations of mystical experience emphasize its private, esoteric, and non-sensory nature. Such an understanding is far removed from the original meaning of the term mystikos. For the ancient Greeks, the ”mystical’ was that which led participants into the awareness of a higher reality, as in the initiatory rites of the ancient mystery cults. This usage was taken over by the early Church, which similarly designated the Christian sacraments and their rites as ”mystical’ because they draw participants into a higher (...) level of reality. I argue that the Divine Liturgy is a form of ”mystical experience’ in this sense, and that philosophers have missed a great deal by excluding such communal acts from the scope of mystical experience. (shrink)
The distinction between the divine essence and energies has long been recognized as a characteristic feature of Eastern Orthodox theology, one sharply at odds with traditional Western understandings of divine simplicity. Yet attempts by Orthodox theologians to explain the distinction have sometimes exaggerated its distinctively Orthodox character by a failure to attend to its historical sources. This paper argues that the distinction was a natural and reasonable consequence of the synthesis between Greek philosophy and Biblical thought executed by the Church (...) Fathers, particularly the Cappadocians of the fourth century. (shrink)
From the standpoint of belief in divine freedom , the medieval Aristotelian understanding of divine simplicity is deeply problematic. This is for two reasons. First, if the divine will and wisdom are identical, it would seem that God’s action must be wholly determined by His rational apprehension of the good. Second, if the divine will is identical with the divine essence, it would seem that for God to be able to do other than He does would mean that the divine (...) essence could be different. This paper focuses on two leading medieval Jewish Aristotelians, Maimonides and Gersonides, to ascertain their approach to these issues. (shrink)
IN A WELL-KNOWN ESSAY, Charles Kahn has addressed the question of “why existence does not emerge as a distinct concept in ancient Greek philosophy.” The assumption that gives rise to this question— namely, that the Greeks did not distinctly address the concept of existence—may seem puzzling. After all, οὐσία is one of the central terms of ancient metaphysics, and the Greeks engaged in endless wrangles over what deserves to be honored by that term and on what grounds the distinction is (...) to be awarded. Aristotle goes so far as to call the οὐσία of each thing the “cause of its being” and to argue on this basis that the οὐσία of a thing must be its form. Far from proving that there is no such lacuna in Greek metaphysics, however, Aristotle’s argument actually illustrates it. Form is the cause of the being of something only in the sense that it makes the thing to be that thing, rather than something else; it is the source of the thing’s specificity, of its existence qua entity of that type. Kahn’s point is that the Greeks do not address the nature of existence as such, as opposed to the existence qua a particular type of thing that is imparted by form. (shrink)
One of the most intriguing features of Eastern Orthodoxy is its understanding of the mind and the heart. Orthodox authors such as St. Gregory Palamas speak of “drawing the mind into the heart” through prayer. What does this mean, and what does it indicate about the eastern Christian understanding of the human person? This essay attempts to answer such questions through a comparative study of the eastern and western views of the mind and the heart, beginning with their common origin (...) in the Bible and continuing through their later divergence. (shrink)
From the standpoint of belief in divine freedom, the medieval Aristotelian understanding of divine simplicity is deeply problematic. This is for two reasons. First, if the divine will and wisdom are identical, it would seem that God’s action must be wholly determined by His rational apprehension of the good. Second, if the divine will is identical with the divine essence, it would seem that for God to be able to do other than He does would mean that the divine essence (...) could be different. This paper focuses on two leading medieval Jewish Aristotelians, Maimonides and Gersonides, to ascertain their approach to these issues. (shrink)