April 7, 2019

1. The Vine and the Post

Beginning in late antiquity, philosophers focused on interpreting sacred books, rather than pursuing truth. The Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who lived around 25 AD, argued that the Old Testament wasn’t literally true, it was allegory. The Christian philosopher Origen, who lived around 200 AD, wrote lengthy commentaries on the Bible, arguing that Bible stories had three layers of meaning — literal, historical, and spiritual. Islamic philosophers looked for allegories in the Koran. Some scholars looked for allegories in Homer and Vergil. Philosophers no longer sought truth in the world around them, they believed that truth was in the holy book.

The search for allegories was a consequence of intellectual development: people could no longer accept the old stories as literally true. But to reject the stories as primitive superstitions would have meant amputating your heritage. Werner Jaeger said that the search for allegories begins

at that moment of intellectual development when the literal meaning of the sacred books had become questionable but when the giving up of those forms was out of the question, because that would have been a kind of suicide. The reason for their continuation, but with a different meaning [was] a sociological necessity.1

Perhaps philosophy can now abandon the search for allegories, and focus on pursuing truth rather than interpreting sacred books. Just as literal meanings become suspect, so too allegorical meanings become suspect. Keeping the sacred books may have been a “sociological necessity” at one time, but perhaps we’ve outgrown that necessity. Perhaps we can leave the sacred books behind, like a child removing the “training wheels” from his bicycle.

Christian philosophers like Origen built arguments in support of Christianity. For a thousand years or more, philosophers tried to explain a religion that had come to them in a holy book. Religion should grow out of a philosophical search for truth. But instead, religion came first, and philosophy had to adjust to it, explain it, etc.

Isn’t it time to start fresh, to build a religion out of an unrestricted search for truth? Isn’t it time to let religion and art and fiction grow up around philosophy, rather than asking philosophy to find hidden meanings in ancient texts? Let the vine coil around the post, don’t try to coil the post around the vine.

Throughout most of human history, religion reflected society’s knowledge. Why can’t religion again be based on science, on philosophy, on knowledge in general? Such a religion would not be aridly intellectual — it could answer emotional needs, address the need for community, and speak to different sections of society. Such a religion wouldn’t necessarily have churches, clergy, Sunday services, etc. It might be as informal as a book group or a yoga class or a BoyScout troop or a movie. It’s difficult to predict what forms a new religion would take. It may not take any form, it may be formless.

2. Werner Jaeger

A. Introduction

Like Nietzsche, Werner Jaeger was a star in the German academic world at a young age. In 1914, at age 26, Jaeger was given the same professorial chair at Basel that Nietzsche had once occupied. Nietzsche soon drifted away from studying ancient literature, distracted by his enthusiasm for Wagner’s operas, by his poor health, and by his ambition to write philosophy. But Jaeger worked in the field of ancient letters until he died in 1961, spending the first half of his career in Germany, the second half in the U.S.2

Jaeger wrote his dissertation on Aristotle’s Metaphysics. He wrote two versions of his dissertation — one German, one Latin. Its impact in scholarly circles was said to be “seismic.”3 It was the beginning of his lifelong interest in metaphysics and theology. In 1923, Jaeger published Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of His Development, a well-regarded book that solidified Jaeger’s star status. In 1925, Jaeger founded two journals: Die Antike, which lasted until 1944, and Gnomon, which is still going. In 1933, Jaeger began publishing his 3-volume work Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture (Paideia: die Formung des Griechischen Menschen). In 1936, Jaeger wrote The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers. During his years in the U.S., Jaeger spent most of his time working on a 10-volume edition of the works of Gregory of Nyssa, one of the early Church Fathers, one of the “Cappadocian Fathers.”

Paideia is the work for which Jaeger is best known. Paideia deals with a broad range of Greek poetry and prose; Jaeger called it his “history of the Greek mind.”4 Each of the three volumes is about 320 pages, so the total number of pages is less than 1,000. Paideia discusses Plato at length, and devotes far fewer pages to Aristotle, perhaps because Jaeger had discussed Aristotle in earlier books.

Paideia wasn’t intended to be a 3-volume work; Jaeger planned to write a fourth volume on Greek paideia in early Christianity. Though this fourth volume was never written, Jaeger did write a short version of it, Early Christianity and Greek Paideia (1961). Wikipedia describes this short book thus:

Jaeger’s last lecture [is] a very impressive summary of his life’s work covering nearly one thousand years of Greek philology, philosophy and theology from Homer, the Presocratic philosophers, Plato up to and including several Church Fathers.

After reading this, I decided to take a look at Early Christianity and Greek Paideia. I was much impressed with Jaeger’s writing: his thinking is profound, his knowledge extensive, his prose lively. Jaeger is passionate about his subject, and he communicates that passion to the reader. Throughout my life, I’ve been trying to learn about antiquity, and Jaeger is the best writer on antiquity that I’ve found.

Early Christianity and Greek Paideia is 100 pages long, plus 40 pages of footnotes; the footnotes are as valuable as the text. Wikipedia’s description of the book isn’t completely accurate: it doesn’t summarize all of Jaeger’s work, and it doesn’t replace Paideia. If you want to try Jaeger, I recommend that you read the first volume of Paideia, rather than Early Christianity and Greek Paideia.

B. Learning and Living

What is “paideia”? Paideia is usually translated “education,” but it can also mean “culture” — not culture as mere entertainment, but culture as the development of personality, the forming (morphosis) of man. Recall Jaeger’s German subtitle: die Formung des Griechischen Menschen. Paideia is the enrichment of personality, the enrichment of life. Not art for art’s sake, not knowledge for knowledge’s sake, but art and knowledge for the enrichment of life.

As Kierkegaard said, “Only the truth that edifies is truth for you.” Culture-as-edification is a key element in the Western tradition. “The root of what we call ‘humanism’,” wrote Jaeger, “[is] the problem of the morphosis of man.”5 At the risk of over-simplifying Jaeger’s argument, we can summarize it thus:

paideia = education = culture = edification = humanism

The Greeks couldn’t conceive of culture apart from its effect on the audience, apart from its capacity to educate/inspire. The Greeks had no word for “literature,” Jaeger says.

The word paideia meant Greek literature as a whole.... For them it was most natural to regard that which we nowadays call literature from the viewpoint of the social function it had fulfilled throughout their history.6

I’ve often argued that literature has a moral aspect; I quoted F. R. Leavis’ remark that great writers have a “marked moral intensity,” and I discussed Mark Edmundson’s view that literature should change the reader.

Jaeger wasn’t a fan of Nietzsche. Jaeger didn’t share Nietzsche’s animosities; Jaeger wasn’t anti-Plato or anti-Christ or anti-morality. Nietzsche called Christianity “Platonism for the masses,” and Nietzsche was critical of both Christianity and Plato. Jaeger, on the other hand, admires both Christianity and Plato, he may have been a Christian himself.7

But despite these differences between Jaeger and Nietzsche, I think Nietzsche would like Jaeger, I think he’d credit Jaeger with appreciating the inner spirit of Greek culture. Jaeger understands that the Greeks united living and learning, and Nietzsche often argues that culture should be connected to life. Nietzsche would agree with Kierkegaard that “Only the truth that edifies is truth for you.” In his essay “Schopenhauer As Educator,” Nietzsche wrote,

I get profit from a philosopher, just so far as he can be an example to me.... This example must exist in his outward life, not merely in his books; it must follow the way of the Greek philosophers, whose doctrine was in their dress and bearing and general manner of life rather than in their speech or writing.

Jaeger emphasizes the link between learning and living, and Nietzsche would approve of this. Jaeger says, for example, that “Philosophy was for Origen both logos and bios, as it was for all ancient philosophers.”8 For the Greeks, Jaeger says, “theory and life must always go together, and only when they are understood in this way can the philosopher maintain his claim of imparting the true paideia.”9

Jaeger says that the Stoic philosopher Zeno conceived of the world united in one universal state. Plutarch compared Zeno to Alexander the Great, since Alexander united the known world, and thus realized Zeno’s dream.

The real meaning of Plutarch’s comparison [Jaeger writes] is that Alexander was something greater than a mere theoretical philosopher when by his deeds he brought into existence what Zeno had conceived only in theory. Plutarch believes that the realization of a great idea is even more philosophical than its theoretical conception. For the Greeks in general the perfect philosopher is the man who not only possesses true knowledge but who makes practical application of it in his life. From this point of view, Alexander, the man of action, could be called an even greater philosopher than Zeno.10

I find Jaeger congenial because I, too, have tried to connect learning and living. I’ve praised the Zen masters who burned the classics lest their students become engrossed in intellectual questions, engrossed in books. Nowadays, most fans of ancient culture say, “Study the language of ancient Greece, then read the Greek classics in the original.” I’ve pointed out that this isn’t what the ancient Greeks themselves would do; they placed little emphasis on book-learning, and very little emphasis on studying foreign languages. Perhaps my approach is more faithful to the spirit of the ancient Greeks than the bookish approach.

In the time of Pericles (c. 450 BC), the Greeks had paideia without having a theory of paideia, just as they had grammar without a theory of grammar. In the time of Plato (c. 375 BC), a theory of paideia developed, and people from around the Greek world were attracted to the ideal of paideia. Jaeger calls paideia,

an ideal of human existence to which every educated man and woman and every civilized nation had aspired ever since the idea was launched by the century that produced Plato and Isocrates.11

Isocrates was a teacher of rhetoric. In a speech called Panegyricus, he “attributes to Athens what he calls ‘philosophia’ and ‘paideia,’ the ceaseless striving for wisdom and knowledge, and the higher education or culture that is the result of it.”12

As with any ideal, the ideal of paideia often proved hollow, especially after several centuries had passed. Synesius, who lived around 400 AD, complains about those who return to North Africa from Athens:

They differ in no wise from us ordinary mortals. They do not understand Aristotle and Plato better than we, but nevertheless they go about among us like demigods among mules, because they have seen the Academy, the Lyceum, and the Stoa.13

C. Platonic Paideia

At first, paideia was Homer. Then it became Greek poetry in general. Then the arts of the Sophists were added, such as rhetoric. Finally, Plato argued that philosophy was the ultimate paideia. For Plato, philosophy meant following the path of God, philosophy meant the development of personality in the direction of the divine, the assimilation to God. Early Christian writers could repeat Plato’s arguments with little variation (as Nietzsche said, Christianity is “Platonism for the masses”).14

While Protagoras had said, “Man is the measure of all things,” Plato said “God is the measure of all things.”15 Plato’s focus on God made him popular in late antiquity. Around 200 AD, Plato’s popularity gave birth to a new philosophical school, NeoPlatonism. Plato’s famous Ideas, which might be viewed as templates or archetypes, were viewed as the thoughts of God.16 When the Roman Empire was declining, and it seemed that the world was coming apart, “Plato stood like a rock with his conviction that the seed of the good is to be found in everything and in the nature of being itself.”17

Under the Roman Empire, there was no political freedom, so “the individual found an expression of his inner life and personal liberty only in religion.”18 Where once people had been willing to die for their political convictions, now they were willing to die for their religious convictions. It can be argued that Christianity came to Greco-Roman civilization when that civilization was ready for it, when that civilization had an inner need for it. “When the student is ready, the master appears.”

Pagan philosophy had been moving toward monotheism since the days of Pericles, so the pagans respected Jewish monotheism, they regarded the Jews as a philosophical race. Around 250 BC, the Greeks encountered Jews in Alexandria.

Invariably [the Greeks] speak of the Jews as a ‘philosophical race.’ What they mean of course is that the Jews had always held certain views about the oneness of the divine principle of the world at which Greek philosophers had arrived only quite recently.19

D. Christian Paideia

In the Book of Genesis, God had said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Man should develop in the direction of the divine; we should imitate Christ (imitatio Christi). For Church Fathers like Gregory of Nyssa, “Christianity was not a mere set of dogmas but the perfect life based on the theoria or contemplation of God and on ever more perfect union with Him. It is deificatio, and paideia is the path.”

As Homer had been at the center of Greek paideia, the Bible was at the center of Christian paideia. Like one of the Greek philosophies, Christianity claimed to possess truth, and claimed to point the way to happiness; Christ was the teacher/educator.20 The Bible was the word of God, and the actions of God; it showed you how to imitate Christ, how to become like God. The Bible was literature-as-edification, not literature-as-entertainment or literature-as-knowledge.

Christian thinkers decided that the best way to become like God was to become a monk. Gregory of Nyssa encouraged “the ascetic movement that originated during his time in Asia Minor and the Near East and that soon was to display an undreamed-of power of attraction.”21

* * * * *

When Christianity first became popular, it was savagely persecuted, and the first Christian writers tried to defend Christianity from its persecutors. These persecutors had been raised on Greek culture, they respected Greek culture. “The resistance to Christianity [was] a cultural issue. The tradition of their classical education had become for them a religion and had considerable power.”22

So the Christians tried to win over educated Romans by developing their own culture. “Christians had to show the formative power of their spirit in works of superior intellectual and artistic caliber and to carry the contemporary mind along in their enthusiasm.”23 Christians developed their own rhetoric and philosophy.24

One of the earliest Christian philosophers was Origen, who lived about 200 AD. Origen used “the traditional forms of Greek scholarship, such as critical edition, commentary, scholion, scientific treatise, dialogue.”25 Jaeger calls Origen “a late heir of the Greek scientific spirit, the spirit of profound research and dedication to a life of theoria.”26

Origen was from Alexandria, one of the centers of Greek culture. In the Western Empire, where Latin was used instead of Greek, there was less respect for pure theory. St. Jerome felt that Origen might not appeal to readers in the West, “where people admire and desire a display of declamatory eloquence and nothing else.”27

One of the Western writers was Tertullian, who lived around 200 AD. Tertullian argued that Christianity isn’t a philosophy, it has a supra-rational character.28 “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” he asked. “What the Academy with the Church?”29 The difference between Tertullian and Origen may go back to a fundamental difference between the Roman mind and the Greek mind, the practical mind and the theoretical mind.

We think of Christianity spreading among the lower classes, a “slave morality” (to use Nietzsche’s phrase) that appealed to slaves, but Jaeger says that to become a world religion, Christianity needed to win over the educated classes, the ruling classes, it needed an intellectual/cultural victory. Hence St. Paul preached in Athens, the center of Greek culture, and tried to win over the pagan philosophers.

That was the decisive moment in the encounter of Greeks and Christians. The future of Christianity as a world religion depended on it. The author of Acts saw this clearly when he let the apostle Paul visit Athens... and preach on that venerable spot, the Areopagus, to an audience of Stoic and Epicurean philosophers, about the unknown God.30

Likewise, we may think that Communism appealed chiefly to the lower classes, but perhaps Communism triumphed in countries like Russia and China because it persuaded educated people, it won an intellectual victory.

Jaeger has a special interest in the three Cappadocian Fathers, Gregory Nazianzus, his friend Basil, and Basil’s younger brother Gregory of Nyssa. He praises their broad culture and their literary talent.

Gregory of Nazianzus has told the moving story of his studies at Alexandria and Athens in his poetic autobiography, in which his friendship with Basil plays a great role. They went through the regular curriculum, which included the liberal arts, rhetoric, and philosophy, all based on an extensive reading of the ancients. As Christians they stood somewhat apart socially from the other students, but that made them all the more serious about their friendship and their studies. The provincial mind had a greater receptivity than that of the normal student, and Basil’s and Gregory’s writings bear witness to the amazing breadth of their interests, which extended to the sciences and medicine. All this knowledge was of importance for the church later when they were the spiritual leaders of their age. They never taught these subjects, but they enlarged their intellectual horizon and raised the level of their minds.31

Jaeger says that Gregory’s autobiography introduces new themes to Greco-Roman literature, Christian themes:

In the autobiographic poem of Gregory Nazianzen... the interest of that lonely soul in its own spiritual growth and progress have found expression, and enriched classical literature by a new genre; it is epoch-making in the history of the literary self-manifestation of human personality, though to a lesser degree than St. Augustine’s Confessions.32

But while the Cappadocians introduced Christian themes, they also recommended the study of the pagan classics.

We cannot here omit consideration of Basil’s famous oration on the study of Greek literature and poetry and its value for the education of Christian youth. This document was the charter of all Christian higher education for centuries to come. In it the moral and religious content of ancient poetry is rejected, but its form is praised. This distinction has kept its validity for all later Christian humanism.33

When one reads Jaeger, one begins to view Christian civilization not as a rejection of pagan civilization, but as a continuation, a further development, of pagan civilization.

E. Political Paideia

We associate the word “conversion” with religion; we speak of people being “converted” to a religion. For the Greeks, philosophy was a way of living, a way to achieve happiness, so the Greeks spoke of converting to a philosophy. “The word ‘conversion’ stems from Plato, for adopting a philosophy meant a change of life in the first place.”34

Nietzsche could view Christianity as Platonism for the masses because Platonism was akin to a religion. With Plato, paideia becomes philosophy, and philosophy approaches religion. Today we often forget the close link between philosophy and religion because Protestantism has taught us that religion is about faith, religion is irrational and unintellectual.35

As Greek paideia had a moral aspect and a religious aspect, so too it had a political aspect. Laws were concerned not just with the smooth functioning of society, but with the cultivation of virtue, the forming of character. Hence philosophers like Plato were interested in laws, and designed legal systems.

The Greeks of the ancient city-state saw their paideia embodied in the Nomos [Law] of the polis. Plato... wrote his Nomoi [Laws] as an expression of his philosophical idea of paideia, as he states in his work.36

The Greeks felt that laws should be edifying, character-forming, just as culture should be edifying.

F. The Sympathy of All Things

Jaeger discusses the idea of sympathy, perhaps the most important of all ideas. He starts at the most basic level, the level of a single organism, and he says that an organism is held together by sympathy — the various parts of an organism share a common feeling or soul. Then we can go to a higher level, the level of society, and say that society is an organism, and the various classes should work together.37 And finally, we can say that the whole universe is an organism, everything is connected — the sympathy of all things.

The prefix “sym” means together or common, while “pneuma” means breath or spirit.

The verb sympneo means having a common pneuma or spirit.... One pneuma permeates and animates the whole organism of the body. This idea came from Greek medicine and from there was taken over by Stoic philosophy. What was meant originally as an explanation of organic life in the human body was now transferred to the life in the universe: it was all permeated by the life-giving pneuma, according to the Stoic theory of physis. The sympnoia of the parts [was] made the principle of the living universe and became a sympnoia panton [sympathy of all things].38

I first put my theory of history on paper in the fall of 1984. I wrote,

According to the organic theory of society, a society is an organic whole; though it is not actually an organism, it behaves like an organism. A society is not composed of separate individuals, as a pile of rocks is, but rather of inter-connected individuals, individuals whose instincts are determined by the instincts of their society.

The Greeks used the term krasis to mean “a special kind of mixture,” not “a mere juxtaposition of mixed elements without their mutual penetration.”39 If a Greek writer wanted to stress the idea of mutual penetration, he could use the word synkrasis (syn-krasis). It is this synkrasis, this mutual penetration, that unifies the various organs of the body, turns a society into an organic whole, and makes the whole universe into an organism.

3. Miscellaneous

A. One characteristic of my philosophy is that I don’t have the traditional admiration for Plato and Aristotle. I arraign them on two counts, one Nietzschean, one Jungian.

  1. I agree with Nietzsche that Plato and Aristotle don’t represent the high point of Greek culture, but rather a declining period. They have a certain decadence. They don’t embrace life as a whole, or human nature as a whole. Instead, they separate reason from feeling, mind from body, conscious from unconscious, and they praise the former over the latter (reason over feeling, etc.). They rationalize, they moralize.
  2. I agree with Jung, who had more interest in the Gnostic/Hermetic Tradition than in Plato and Aristotle. Dream and intuition are better roads to truth than logical argument and the Socratic method. Plato and Aristotle don’t emphasize the connectedness of the universe; they have little to contribute with respect to synchronicity, the occult, etc. Aristotle emphasizes linear causality rather than Mutual Arising.

B. What inspired the first monotheist to conceive of one God? An intellectual impulse toward simplicity? An emotional connection — feeling loved by one God, and returning that love? An occult experience suggesting that everything is connected, and therefore one God must be controlling everything?

© L. James Hammond 2019
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1. Early Christianity and Greek Paideia, Oxford University Press paperback 1969, Ch. 5, footnote 6, p. 127 back
2. Jaeger came to the U.S. in 1936. According to Wikipedia, “he emigrated to the United States because he was unhappy with the rise of National Socialism. Jaeger expressed his veiled disapproval in 1937 with Humanist Talks and Lectures, and his book on Demosthenes (1938).... Jaeger’s messages were fully understood in German university circles; the ardent Nazi followers sharply attacked Jaeger.”

Another website takes a different tack; it speaks of Jaeger’s “attempts to accommodate humanism to Hitler’s regime, even acting as spokesperson for the Third Reich within the classics field.” Wikipedia’s view seems more probable. back

3. giffordlectures.org/lecturers/werner-jaeger back
4. giffordlectures.org/lecturers/werner-jaeger
Paideia is sometimes described as part of a cultural movement called the “Third Humanism.” The first humanism was Erasmus & Co., the second Goethe. The term “Third Humanism” was tainted by its similarity to “Third Reich.” But it seems to have been a laudable effort to revive earlier cultures, and to integrate culture with life.

Paideia was translated by Gilbert Highet, a Columbia professor. Highet’s best-known book is The Classical Tradition: Greek and Roman Influences on Western Literature. Highet said, “The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning.” This approach to education is too intellectual, in my view; it emphasizes learning too much. Education should deal with the whole person.

I think Jaeger would agree with me. He didn’t think that paideia/culture should be equated with learning. Jaeger wrote, “Even in Matthew Arnold’s definition of culture as ‘the best that has been thought and said in all ages,’ the original (paideutic) sense of the word (as the ideal of man’s perfection) is obscured. It tends to make culture into a kind of museum, i.e. ‘paideia’ in the sense of the Alexandrian period when it came to designate learning.” back

5. footnote 1 of ch. 7, pp. 140, 141 back
6. ch. 7, p. 91. “Literature is paideia, in so far as it contains the highest norms of human life, which in it have taken on their lasting and most impressive form. It is the ideal picture of man, the great paradigm.” (Ch. 7, p. 92)

Jaeger doesn’t deal with visual art, in this book or in Paideia. He thinks that Greek art belonged to “the sphere of religion.” (Paideia, p. xxvii) Greek poetry, on the other hand, has “educational energy” and “its roots were deeply sunk in the soil of social and political life.” The Greeks believed that the soul is moved, not by visual art, but by “words and sounds... rhythm and harmony... for the decisive factor in all paideia is active energy.” back

7. The best period of Greek culture, for Nietzsche, was just before Socrates. Jaeger, on the other hand, admires the post-Socratic philosophers: “The evolution of the Greek mind [Jaeger writes] from the earliest time reveals, after an initial period of mythological thinking, a growing tendency toward rationalization of all forms of human activity and thought. As its supreme manifestation it produced philosophy, the most characteristic and unique form of the Greek genius and one of its foremost titles to historical greatness. The climax of this progressive development was reached in the schools of Plato and Aristotle.” (Ch. 4, p. 41) back
8. Oxford University Press paperback 1969, footnote 10 of Ch. 5, p. 130 back
9. Ch. 2, pp. 18, 19 back
10. footnote 14 of ch. 3, pp. 119, 120 back
11. footnote 29 of ch. 5, p. 133 back
12. footnote 34 of ch. 5, p. 134 back
13. Ch. 6, p. 76 back
14. Plato’s teaching didn’t reach the masses, at least not directly. Philosophy was only taught in philosophical schools like Plato’s Academy, “the average person was not affected by it.” (footnote 19 of ch. 6, p. 139) For the average person, paideia still meant poetry, and perhaps rhetoric.

Plato equated philosophy with assimilation to God, as Christian writers equated Christianity with assimilation to God. Gregory of Nyssa called Christianity “the philosophic life.” (Ch. 7, p. 90)

For Origen, “Plato and philosophy [were] the most powerful allies of Christianity.” (ch. 5, p. 65) back

15. Ch. 5, p. 66. Beginning with Plato, philosophy became more and more focused on God. “Aristotle, following the strong tendencies of the late Plato, had conceived his ‘first philosophy’ as theology.” (ch. 3, p. 31) back
16. Ch. 4, p. 45 back
17. Ch. 5, p. 64 back
18. Footnote 7 of Ch. 4, p. 124 back
19. When Paul visited Athens, he found “a god-fearing people.... Monotheistic ideas had crept into the old faith via a philosophical discussion that at Paul’s time had already been going on for centuries and had reached even the ears of the common man.” (ch. 4, pp. 38, 39)

If Greco-Roman civilization had an inner need for Christianity, it also had some resistance to Christianity. Around 175 AD, the philosopher/physician Galen criticized the Christians for their reliance on faith, “which to him represents mere subjective evidence.” (ch. 3, p. 32) Lucian and Celsus also argued against a reliance on faith (footnote 26 of ch. 3, p. 121).

Some intellectuals went even further, and condemned the attempt to reach ultimate truth.

The spirit of cool research and critical analysis of the cognitive faculties of the human mind was still strong enough for the greatest assault ever made by a Greek thinker on this kind of salvational knowledge as principle, and the result was that Greek philosophical thought ended in a heroic skepticism that radically denied all dogmatic philosophy of past and present and, going far beyond that, declared its complete abstention from any positive statement about true and false, not only with regard to metaphysical speculation but with regard to mathematical and physical science as well.(ch. 4, p. 42)

One wishes that Jaeger had mentioned at least one name. Perhaps he’s thinking of Pyrrho, who lived about 300 BC.

The Greek mind in a way never recovered from the blow, and it did not produce a great philosophy in the old sense after the rise of this skepsis. (ch. 4, p. 42)

Is the modern mind threatened by a similar danger from a postmodern skepsis? back

20. “Like all philosophies, [Christianity] referred to a master and teacher who possessed and revealed the truth.” (Ch. 1, p. 10) Greek philosophers and Christian missionaries were in a “parallel situation.” (Ch. 1, p. 10) Each philosophical school (like each religion) “recommended their philosophical knowledge or dogma as the only way to happiness.”(Ch. 1, p. 10) back
21. Ch. 7, p. 100 back
22. Ch. 6, pp. 70, 71. The emperor Julian, known as Julian the Apostate, persecuted Christianity and supported “a cultural and political classicism, including the old religious cults of the pagan gods; in other words, the Greek paideia became a religion and an article of faith.” (ch. 6, p. 72) back
23. Ch. 6, p. 73 back
24. “By the end of the fourth century AD Christian rhetoric and philosophy dominated the scene.” (Ch. 6, p. 78) An intellectual victory. back
25. Ch. 5, p. 57. Origen believed that Christianity “was in essential agreement with Plato and philosophy.” (Ch. 5, p. 65)

Philosophers debated the merits of Christianity. Origen wrote a defense of Christianity called Contra Celsum, while Porphyry wrote Against the Christians. (ch. 4, pp. 37, 38)

“Origen had given the Christian religion its own theology in the style of the Greek philosophical tradition, but what the Cappadocians had in mind was a whole Christian civilization. They brought to that task a broad culture that is manifest everywhere in their writings.... They do not conceal their high esteem for the cultural heritage of ancient Greece.” (Ch. 6, p. 74) back

26. Ch. 5, p. 58. Jaeger sees early Christianity as a kind of renaissance: “We have in the fourth century AD, the age of the great fathers of the church, a true renaissance that has given Greco-Roman literature some of its greatest personalities, figures who have exercised a lasting influence on the history and culture of later centuries down to the present day.” (Ch. 6, p. 75) These remarks seem applicable to St. Augustine, but Jaeger has little to say about Augustine, he’s preoccupied with the Cappadocians.

Jaeger notes that the Cappadocians had a talent for belles-lettres. Gregory of Nazianzus discusses the art of letter-writing. “There is no doubt that his rich epistolographic production was an essential part of his literary ambition, meant, like that of a Pliny, more for posterity than for the addressee.” (ch. 6, p. 79) back

27. Ch. 5, p. 58. In his book On Famous Men (De viris illustribus), Jerome tells how he met Gregory of Nyssa at the Council of Constantinople, and Gregory read part of his new book to him and to Gregory Nazianzen. (footnote 32 of ch. 7, p. 144) back
28. Ch. 3, p. 33 back
29. footnote 27 of Ch. 3, p. 122. Jaeger says that Tertullian “foreshadows developments of the Latin form of Christianity, of great importance and quite different from the Greek interpretation. The Greeks always welcome the support of reason.”(Ch. 3, p. 33) back
30. Ch. 1, p. 11. Jaeger says that Gregory Nazianzen created “a Christian literature able to compete with the best products of contemporary pagan writing and even to surpass them in vitality and power of expression.”(ch. 6, p. 83)

“Paul’s speech in Athens has only typical verisimilitude, but is not a historical document. The author, who wrote it to serve as the dramatic climax of his whole book, had not only studied Greek historical works but was himself a man of true historical vision, as is obvious from the sovereign manner in which he handles his material and skillfully balances its parts.” (footnote 29 of ch. 1, p. 112) back

31. Ch. 6, p. 77. Note that phrase, “The provincial mind had a greater receptivity than that of the normal student.” Could it be an advantage for Americans, Australians, etc. that they’re “provincial,” that they don’t live in the old centers of civilization, such as Paris and London? back
32. ch. 6, p. 80 back
33. ch. 6, p. 81 back
34. Ch. 1, p. 10 back
35. See footnote 10 of Ch. 5, p. 131. True, this view isn’t exclusively Protestant, we saw it earlier in Tertullian. But I still believe that the normal and healthy situation is for philosophy and religion to be allies. back
36. footnote 18 of ch. 6, p. 142. Jews also saw law as character-forming; “Jewish paideia is identical with the Law.” back
37. “Greek political thought [had an] organic conception of society” (Ch. 2, p. 19) Pagan thinkers argued that society is an organism, so society should be united. Likewise, Christian thinkers argued that the church is an organism (the body of Christ), so the church should be united.

Thus, the organic theory has a normative aspect — society should have a common goal. My organic theory, on the other hand, is descriptive, not normative; I argue that society has a common spirit or instinct, whether it should or not.

Nicholas Christakis, a Yale professor, has argued that a network of people is a “super-organism.” Within a network, emotions spread, emotions are contagious. Christakis wrote a book called Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks. His theory, like mine, is descriptive, not normative.

When we discuss the organic theory, we see that Greek philosophy sometimes drew on Greek medicine, just as medical writers like Galen sometimes ventured into philosophy.

The idea that the church is an organism may lead to the suppression of dissent. Discussing Clement of Rome, Jaeger says that his goal was “establishing firmly in the rapidly growing church the ideal of an ordo Christianus, which assigns to each member of this community his own place and way of cooperating according to his ability.” (Ch. 2, p. 23) Clement admired the “exemplary discipline” and the “hierarchic discipline” of the Roman army. (Ch. 2, pp. 15, 19) One wonders if this conception of the church leaves room for individuality, for following one’s inner voice. back

38. Ch. 2, p. 20. “From the Stoic cosmology we can trace this idea through the philosophy of Neoplatonism down to Leibniz.” Perhaps Hegel’s organic theory of society comes from the ancients, or from a philosopher like Leibniz who was influenced by the ancients.

Jaeger fails to connect the idea of sympathy to the occult or the Hermetic or the Jungian. He’s scornful of the Hermetic Tradition, describing it as “this strange sort of religious ersatz.” (Ch. 5, p. 54) Perhaps we need a new Jaeger to write a new history of the Greek mind, a history that will deal with the Hermetic/occult aspects of Greek culture.

Jaeger says that Gnostic Christians tried “to find a secret in the Scriptures.” (Ch. 5, p. 53) An Alexandrian sect called the Carpocratians “boasted of the possession of a secret version of the Gospel of Mark that contained their doctrine but was allegedly withheld by the church and reserved for the few who were permitted to read it.” Sounds like The Da Vinci Code! back

39. Ch. 2, p. 20 back