Biblical Faith, Classical Thought, and the Offspring of Their Mixing

I have a love for the biblical (Judeo-Christian) texts and also for classical (Greco-Roman) literature, and I sometimes feel a desire to explain why I think this pair of traditions is genuinely important. The other day, though, it occurred to me that whether or not a person appreciates the texts themselves, these two historic starting points have, in combination, certainly shaped our history and our entire world, in a profound way.

It seems to me that it is possible to treat all these things as results of the tension that exists between the heritage of biblical faith and that of classical civilization:

  • The medieval world
  • The Renaissance
  • The Protestant Reformations
  • Modern philosophy
  • The French Revolution and its successors
  • The Industrial Revolution
  • Capitalism
  • Modern liberal representative democracies
  • Socialism and the welfare state
  • Communism (as inspired by Marx and Engels)
  • And perhaps postmodern philosophy as well, as inspired by Nietzsche and Heidegger, though I am much less knowledgeable about that chapter of philosophical history, so this point is only an intuition on my part.

Although I didn’t include it on the list, I think a case could even be made that we should include late pagan classical civilization here as well, insofar as it was influenced by or responding to Jewish or Christian thought. How far back that goes, is hard to say. Certainly after Constantine the classical pagan world was responding vigorously to Christian claims. But maybe as far back as Aristotle, who apparently knew of and was impressed by the beliefs of a Jewish man, or even earlier, we could begin to draw connections.

Indeed, there are many other things I could have added to the list — Islam, for instance, Rabbinic Judaism, the Church Fathers, the New Testament, the canon of the Hebrew Bible even. The list goes on.

To say that the biblical and/or classical traditions are not praiseworthy or admirable, is the right of any poor soul. To say that they are negligible, forgettable, unimportant, minor — is simply impossible.

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