Christian philosophy

Christian philosophy
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Christian philosophy may refer to any development in philosophy that is characterised by coming from a Christian tradition.


Origins of Christian philosophy

  • Jesus: The life and teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels form the basis of Christianity, see also Ministry of Jesus.

In the case of Reformational philosophy the law-idea of Creation in relation to Fall and Redemption clarifies the understanding of the exceptional role of Jesus the Christ in Creation through the law-modalities that set the conditions of existence for all creatures. There is no record of any writing by Jesus, nor of any systematic philosophy or theology in the formal sense. Several accounts of his life and many of his teachings are recorded in the New Testament, and form the basis for some Christian philosophies, such as Jesusism.

  • St. Paul: Saul of Tarsus was a Jew who persecuted the early Christian church and who helped to facilitate the martyrdom of St Stephen, a Greek-speaking Jewish-Christian. Saul underwent a dramatic conversion. He became a Christian leader who wrote a number of epistles, or letters, to early churches, in which he taught doctrine and theology. In some ways he functioned in the manner of the popular marketplace philosophers of his day (Cynics, Skeptics, and some Stoics). A number of his speeches and debates with Greek philosophers are recorded in the Biblical book of Acts. His letters became a significant source for later Christian philosophies. See also Paul of Tarsus and Judaism.

List of Christian philosophers

Hellenistic Christian philosophers

Hellenism is the traditional designation for the Greek culture of the Roman Empire in the days of Jesus, Paul, and for centuries after. Classical philosophies of the Greeks had already expired and diluted beyond recognition except for small bands of continuators of the traditions of the Pythagoreans, of Plato, and Aristotle (whose library was lost for centuries). The new philosophies of the Hellenistic world were those of the Cynics, Skeptics, and increasingly the Stoics; it's these thinkers and ranters who bring us into the world of Hellenistic philosophy. Slowly, a more integral and rounded tendency emerged within Hellenism, but also in certain respects in opposition at times to it in regard to one philosophical problem or another, or an ensemble of problems. Here are some of those thinkers most closely associated with Hellenistic Christian philosophies, listed more or less in chronological order:

  • Justin Martyr
  • Tertullian: Tertullian was a philosopher before he converted to Christ; after that change of direction he remained a prolific writer in the second century A.D., and is commonly called the "Father of the Western Church." He was the first church father to use the term Trinitas in reference to the Godhead and developed the doctrine of traducianism, or the idea that the soul was inherited from the parents, the idea that God had corporeal (although not fleshly) existence, and the doctrine of the authority of the gospels. He fought voraciously against Marcionism, and considered Greek philosophy to be incompatible with Christian wisdom. Toward the end of his life, he joined the heterodox sect of Montanism, and thus has not been canonized by the Catholic Church.
  • Irenaeus of Lyons: Irenaeus is best known for his writings arguing for the unity of God, and against Gnosticism. He argued that original sin is latent in humanity, and that it was by Jesus' incarnation as a man that he "undid" the original sin of Adam, thus sanctifying life for all mankind. Irenaeus maintained the view that Christ is the Teacher of the human race through whom wisdom would be made accessible to all.
  • Clement of Alexandria
  • Origen: Origen was influential in integrating elements of Platonism into Christianity. He incorporated Platonic idealism into his conceptions of the Logos, and the two churches, one ideal and one real. He also held a strongly Platonic view of God, describing him as the perfect, incorporeal ideal. He was later declared a heretic for subscribing to the "too Platonistic" doctrine of the preexistence of the soul.
  • Augustine of Hippo: Augustine developed classical Christian philosophy, and the whole of Western thought, largely by synthesizing Hebrew and Greek thought. He drew particularly from Plato, the Neoplatonism of Plotinus, and Stoicism, which he altered and refined in light of divine revelation of Christian teaching and the Scriptures. Augustine wrote extensively on many religious and philosophical topics; he employed an allegorical method of reading the Bible, further developed the doctrine of hell as endless punishment, original sin as inherited guilt, divine grace as the necessary remedy for original sin, baptismal regeneration and consequently infant baptism, inner experience and the concept of "self", the moral necessity of human free will, and individual election to salvation by eternal predestination. He was a key influence in the development of Western Catholic theology as well as Protestant Reformed theology, particularly that of French theologian, John Calvin.
  • Athanasius of Alexandria: father of trinitarian orthodoxy involved in the formation of the Nicene Creed, who vehemently opposed Arius, the bishop of Alexandria who held that Christ was a created being, and his following.
  • John Chrysostom
  • The Cappadocian Fathers: Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Basil the Great.

Medieval Christian philosophers

  • Boëthius
  • Johannes Scotus Eriugena
  • Anselm of Canterbury: Anselm is best known for the Ontological Argument for God's existence, i.e.: God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived. But to exist is greater than not to exist. If God does not exist then he wouldn't be "that than which nothing greater can be conceived." Therefore, God exists. Anselm's argumentation was used as a theological directive for conceptualizing divine perfection. He was one of the first Western thinkers to directly engage the reintroduction of Aristotle to the West. However, he didn't have all of Aristotle's works and those he had access to were from Arabic translations and Islamic commentaries.
  • Thomas Aquinas: Aquinas was the student of Albert the Great, a brilliant Dominican experimentalist, much like the Franciscan, Roger Bacon, of Oxford in the 13th century. Aquinas synthesized Aristotelian philosophy with Christianity. He believed that there was no contradiction between faith and secular reason, but that they complemented each other epistemically. He thought Aristotle had achieved the pinnacle of human striving for truth apart from divine revelation and thus adopted Aristotle's philosophy as a framework in constructing his theological and philosophical outlook. Thomas Aquinas was a professor at the prestigious University of Paris, a contemporary of Bonaventure, a Franciscan Professor at the University of Paris whose approach differed significantly from Aquinas' in favor of the more traditional Augustinian Platonism.
  • John Duns Scotus: John Duns Scotus is known as the "subtle doctor" whose hair-splitting distinctions were important contributions in scholastic thought and the modern development of logic. Scotus was also a Professor at the University of Paris, but not at the same time as Aquinas. Along with Aquinas, he is one of the two giants of Scholastic philosophy, which led ultimately to the thought of
  • William of Ockham

Renaissance and Reformation Christian philosophers

  • Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536, originally of Rotterdam, Netherlands) was not a philosopher strictly speaking; indeed, he wrote excoriatingly about philosophers. He consolidated the space of "Humanism" in the late Medieval scholarship of letters, and came to represent its acme. He was a leader of the development of the humanities into a department of European scholarly activities. He bent his studies to recovery and exegesis of the Hebrew Bible's ancient languages and began building the first critical text, and the New Testament became a formal scholarly text. He wrote astutely about issues relevant to the Catholic Church and its ignorance. He spent six years in an Augustinian monastery; he was a joyful satirist; and became most famous for his book The Praise of Folly.
  • Martin Luther (1483–1546, Augustinian monk, later of Wittenburg) -- also not strictly a philosopher, although he knew something of William of Occam and nominalist epistemology), from an earlier era of European thought. He had also studied some philosophical materials of Augustine of Hippo, and did not follow Thomas Aquinas. Luther followed Erasmus in developing a critical text of the Biblical manuscripts. Luther went a step beyond Erasmus in actually translating the Bible into the vernacular. His next step was to encourage literacy in the Lutheran kingdoms. Luther's German Bible had a tremendous impact on the development of the German language and its literature.
  • John Calvin (1509–1564, Paris, Strasbourg, Geneva; real name Jean Cauvin). Le pasteur grise was a dogmatician (systematic theology), as exhibited in his Institutes (several original editions were published before his death), and an exegete who over time translated the Bible from the "original languages" in the form of his grand series of Commentaries on all but one of its books (the Book of Revelation, which provided a problem to him in its metaphory, not yielding robustly to his binomial formula of letter and spirit: either literal, or figurative). He courageously tried to avoid allegorizing, which had had a long history ever since Philo of Alexandria had interpreted "The Book of Moses" (Pentateuch) in an allegorical fashion that de-literalized and over-metaphorized (into symbolic systems) many passages of the ancient manuscripts of the Bible (now and developingly a critical text itself). Calvin tried to distance himself from the allegorical method of Christian interpretation of the Bible, attempted distance certainly from the method's primacy, while facing in the Gospels "the parabolic message of the Cross" (Leon Morris, etc.). Not strictly a philosopher, he had a major impact on the quest for a Protestant philosophy (see Jacob Klapwijk, "John Calvin" in the volume he edited with Griffioen and Groenewoud, Bringing into Captivity Every Thought (Eng trans 1991; pp 241–266)). Calvin's seed begat Reformational philosophy 450 years after he planted it.
  • Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531, Zurich) was a leading Reformer who was influenced by a party in his church congregation to de-metaphorize the understanding of the Lord's Supper into a memorial only (no real presence, and no communion of saints, therefore no eschatological community of saints composed of the believers at the Communion Table).

In most cases, these writers reference something in an earlier philosopher, without adding to the ongoing problem-historical shape of Western philosophical knowledge. Between Calvin, and Arminius, born four years before Calvin's death, a Protestant Scholasticism took from various loci and authorities of the Western Middle Ages. It begins already with Luther's colleague Philip Melancthon, who turned from Luther's sola Scriptura to philosophical theology; but Protestant Scholasticism's Reformed variants are diverse. There were no real alternatives until Herman Dooyeweerd and D. H. Th. Vollenhoven in the last century.

  • Jacobus Arminius (real name Jacob Harmenszoon, 1560–1609, the Netherlands). A preacher, theologian, and church court operative.
  • Hugo Grotius (1583–1645, the Netherlands). His early work on the law of the seas was outdistanced by On the law of war and peace (1625).

Modern and Contemporary Christian philosophers

An alphabetical listing:

  • Karl Barth: a Swiss Reformed neo-orthodox theologian, he wrote the massive Church Dogmatics (German, Kirchliche Dogmatik)—unfinished at about six million words by his death in 1968. Barth emphasized the distinction between human thought and divine reality, and that while humans may attempt to understand the divine, our concepts of the divine are never precisely aligned from the divine reality itself, although God reveals his reality in part through human language and culture. Barth strenuously disavowed being a philosopher; he considered himself a dogmatician of the Church and a preacher.
  • Jay Budziszewski, a political philosopher who develops the natural law ethical tradition.
  • Joseph Butler
  • John D. Caputo: American Catholic deconstructionist theologian; most famous for his development of weak theology
  • G. K. Chesterton: a British Catholic author, he applied Christian thought in the form of non-fiction, fiction, and poems addressing a variety of theological, moral, political, and economic issues, particularly the importance of seeking truth, distributism, and opposition to eugenics.
  • Gordon Clark, American Calvinist philosopher, polemicist, and staunch defender of Platonic realism. He developed a strictly rationalist variety of presuppositional apologetics in contrast to Van Til's fideistic approach.
  • William Lane Craig, Evangelical apologist, philosopher and theologian; frequently participates in debate on topics related to Christianity and theism. He is known especially for his methodical presentation as well as his articulation and defense of the kalam cosmological argument.
  • Herman Dooyeweerd, who wrote the monumental trilogy, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought[1][2]
  • Mary Baker Eddy: author of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Eddy's "Christian Science" teaching is described in the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy as a renewal of ancient Oriental panpsychism, the most radical form of philosophical idealism.
  • Jacques Ellul
  • John Frame: an American Calvinist philosopher focused in the areas of epistemology and ethics
  • Étienne Gilson, who wrote The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, The Spirit of Thomism, Being and Some Philosophers, and many other works. In the field of Thomism he is considered one of the main figures credited with starting the movement within Thomism known as Existential Thomism, which emphasis the primacy of the act of Being (Esse) in understanding everything else that is.
  • Luigi Giussani, an Italian priest of 1922-2005, who wrote the Why the Church?
  • Francis Hutcheson
  • Immanuel Kant, a theistic Prussian philosopher whose religious orientation is a matter of dispute, known for his critical philosophy in which he addressed the question of the possibility of synthetic a priori judgements.
  • Søren Kierkegaard, a Danish Lutheran philosopher, the father of existentialist philosophy and particularly the school of Christian existentialism.
  • Peter Kreeft, an American Catholic philosopher and Christian apologist at Boston College
  • C. S. Lewis, a literary critic of the first order, a mythographer in his children's fantasies, and an apologist for the Christian faith to which he adhered in the latter half of his life. He claimed not to be a philosopher, but his apologetics are foundational to the formation of a Christian worldview for many modern readers.
  • Knud Ejler Løgstrup
  • Bernard Lonergan: He was a Canadian Jesuit. Lonergan Institute is a center specializing in his works.
  • Gabriel Marcel
  • Jacques Maritain, a French philosopher in the Thomistic tradition
  • John Henry Newman, a Catholic philosopher, converted from Anglicanism
  • Pope John Paul II, who wrote Fides et Ratio
  • Craig J. N. de Paulo, Historian of Philosophy, wrote on the influence of St. Augustine of Hippo on Martin Heidegger.
  • Josef Pieper, a German Catholic philosopher whose work concentrates particularly on Plato and Thomas Aquinas
  • Alvin Plantinga. moderately Calvinist American philosopher, one of the key figures in the movement of Reformed epistemology, which synthesizes Analytical Philosophy and Christian philosophical concerns. He is professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame.
  • Michael C. Rea
  • Peter Rollins: an Irish philosopher whose work brings together the deconstruction of Jacques Derrida, the "religious turn" of recent works by Slavoj Zizek, and traditions of apophatic theology within Christian mysticism.
  • Egbert Schuurman, the leading philosopher of technology who actively espouses a Christian philosophical approach
  • Pope Shenouda III, (b. Nazeer Gayed, 1923) Pope of Alexandria (1971-present) has written on almost every aspect of Oriental Orthodox Christianity. Has pioneered Christian ecumenism and written over 150 books on many topics including theology, dogma, comparative theology, spiritual theology, and church history.
  • Melville Y. Stewart, editor, author of books in philosophy of religion, and a Series on Science and Religion 科学与宗教 (5-volume Series in Chinese, and 2-volume Series in English). Visiting Philosopher at various universities in China.
  • Paul Tillich Rather than beginning his philosophical work with questions of God or gods, Tillich began with a "phenomenology of the Holy." His basic thesis is that religion is Ultimate Concern. What a person is Ultimately Concerned with in regard to their Ultimate meaning and being can be understood as religion because, "There is nobody to whom nothing is sacred because no one can rid themselves of their humanity no matter how desperately they may try" (Young-Ho Chun, Tillich and Religion, 1998, pg. 14.
  • James K.A. Smith: a Canadian-American philosopher who draws on three different traditions of Christian thought (Pentecostalism, Calvinism, and Radical Orthodoxy) in dialogue with deconstruction and phenomenology to create practical works for broad, general audiences
  • Richard Swinburne
  • Peter van Inwagen, a metaphysician who is one of the leading figures in contemporary philosophy of religion
  • Cornelius Van Til: Dutch-American Calvinist philosopher, who contributed especially in epistemology and developed one variety of philosophical apologetics known as presuppositional apologetics.
  • D. H. Th. Vollenhoven: Vollenhoven's Calvinism and the Reformation of Philosophy (Dutch, 1933) launched a philosophical movement that, after the massive re-inforcing effect of his brother-in-law Herman Dooyeweerd's first trilogy, Philosophy of the Law-Idea (1935–36), led to the formation of the Association for Calvinist Philosophy in 1936. For decades, Vollenhoven served as president of the aforementioned association, which has become the Association for Reformational Philosophy / Vereniging voor Reformatorische Wijsbegeerte (VRW), still based in the Netherlands but with ever-enlarging interest in the rest of the world. It is disputed whether Vollenhoven's, his colleague Herman Dooyeweerd's, and many among the subsequent generations of philosophers in the Reformational philosophy movement are best described as "modern" or "postmodern," since they anticipated numerous themes that resurfaced in postmodernism, yet remain steadfastly and would-be distinctively Christian and non-Roman.
  • Ravi Zacharias: an Indian-Canadian Christian apologist. He is currently the president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, an apologetic evangelistic ministry that reaches out mainly to intellectuals and university students. His method is mildly presuppositional, his style conversational. Through his rich literature, broadcast, and record ministry, he has addressed millions of people all over the world. Most of his books and lectures address the present condition of the Western man which he diagnoses as caused by the invasion of rationalistic atheism and secularism in the once Christian societies.[3] .
  • Dallas Willard: notable Christian philosopher at the University of Southern California. Willard has written extensively in philosophy but also in practical Christian theology with an emphasis in Christian spiritual formation.

Reconciling Christianity with philosophy

Some people feel that Christianity and some philosophy or another must be 'reconciled' in some way.[citation needed] Obviously such a reconciliation is effected if someone is able to argue from the religion to the philosophy or vice versa, as many Christian philosophers have done. Apologetics is the evangelistic enterprise of rationally defending the faith against criticism, and is found not only in Christianity but in Judaism and Islam, as well as in atheism and secular humanism. Lutheran scholasticism endeavors to 'organize' Lutheran religion by philosophy. Some Christian philosophers do not believe they must reconcile their religion and their philosophy.

Interaction between Christian and non-Christian philosophers

There has been considerable interaction between Christian philosophy, Jewish philosophy and Islamic philosophy. Many Christian philosophers are well read in the works of their Jewish and Islamic counterparts, and arguments developed in one faith often make their way into the arguments of another faith. For example, Christian philosopher William Lane Craig is a popular proponent of the Islamic Kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God, which although initially formulated by Christian thinkers enjoyed its greatest popularity in the medieval Islamic world.

Some modern day Islamic philosophers explore issues in common with modern Catholic philosophers. Reformational philosophy dialogues across acknowledged differences with many other approaches to philosophizing—with Christian synthetist views of many kinds, also with some Jewish schools of philosophical thought, as well as some secular philosophies such as Neo-Marxism along with other atheistic philosophical systems; whereas the dialogue with Islamic philosophies is just beginning.

It is worth noting that there is not one single philosophy embraced by all philosophers in any of the great religious traditions. Not all are dialogical, and secular-atheistic schools of philosophy are as much in conflict among themselves as are Christian and other self-acknowledged religious schools of philosophy.

See also


  • Baird, Forrest E.; Walter Kaufmann (2008). From Plato to Derrida. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-158591-6. 

External links

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