Augustine Popularised The Mixing Of Biblical And Plato’s Teaching In The Church

Bishop Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) was one of the early church leaders who popularized the mixing by church leaders and churchgoers of the teachings of the Bible with those of the pagan Greek philosopher Plato (approx 427-347 B.C.). Augustine’s veneration of Plato can be seen in his following words: “Concerning Plato, the chief among the disciples of Socrates, and his threefold division of philosophy.

But, among the disciples of Socrates, Plato was the one who shone with a glory which far excelled that of the others, and who not unjustly eclipsed them all. By birth, an Athenian of honorable parentage, he far surpassed his fellow-disciples in natural endowments, of which he was possessed in a wonderful degree. Yet, deeming himself and the Socratic discipline far from sufficient for bringing philosophy to perfection, he traveled as extensively as he was able, going to every place famed for the cultivation of any science of which he could make himself master. Thus he learned from the Egyptians whatever they held and taught as important; and from Egypt, passing into those parts of Italy which were filled with fame of the Pythagoreans, he mastered, with the greatest facility, and under the eminent teachers. all the Italic philosophy which was then in vogue. And, as he had a peculiar love for his master Socrates, he made him the speaker in all his dialogues, putting in his mouth whatever he had learned, either from others, or from the efforts of his own powerful intellect, tempering even his moral disputations with the grace and politeness of the Socratic style.” [1]

Augustine gave his Chapter 11 of Book 8 of his writing “City of God” the title “How Plato has been able to approach so nearly to Christian knowledge.”[2]

Augustine’s mixing or syncretising of the teachings of the Bible with the teachings of Plato can be seen in his Letter 6 “To Augustine Nebridus sends greeting” written by Augustine in 389 A.D.: “Your letters I have great pleasure in keeping as carefully as my own eyes. For they are great, not indeed in length, but in the greatness of the subjects discussed in them, and in the great ability with which the truth in regard to these subjects is demonstrated. They shall bring to my ear the voice of Christ, and the teaching of Plato and of Plotinus. To me, therefore, they shall ever be pleasant Lo hear, because of their eloquent style; easy to read, because of their brevity; and profitable to understand, because of the wisdom which they contain.”[3]

Plotinus (205-270 A.D.) was an Egyptian who founded a pagan school pf philosophy in Rome about 244 A.D. Plotinus was one of the main leaders of the neo-Platonist movement, a mixture of Plato’s philosophy with elements of the pagan philosophies of Pythagoras, Aristotle and the Stoics. Neo-Platonism was the most popular pagan philosophy in the Roman Empire in the 200’s to 500’s A.D. Plotinus’ pupil Porphyry collected Plotinus’ writings and published them shortly after 300 A.D.

Prior to becoming a Christian, Augustine followed the teachings of Plotinus.

Over the last 1600 years, Augustine’s writings have been very popular among many Protestant and Roman Catholic theologians. As a result, many of his part-Biblical, part-pagan neo-Platonic ideas have been spread throughout the Church over these many centuries.

Other early church leaders whose writings express many elements of neo-Platonism were Bishop Gregory of Nyssa (approx. 335-394 A.D.), Victorinus, Bishop Ambrose of Milan (approx. 340-397 A.D.) and Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite (lived approx. 500’s A.D.).[4] Gregory of Nyssa was very influential in the Eastern churches and Ambrose in the Western churches. Dionysius influenced both the Eastern and Western churches.[5]


 

[1] Augustine of Hippo, “City of God”, Book 8, Chapter 4.

[2] Ibid, Book 8, Chapter 11.

[3] Augustine of Hippo, “Letter 6”, 1

[4] Ibid, page 757.

[5] Ibid, page 318.

 

 


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