Thomas H. Olbricht
The question of early Christianity’s relationship to Classical culture is an ancient one that historically has been answered in a variety of ways. Some observers have stressed the differences, whereas others have emphasized the similarities, yet most agree that the correct answer to the question depends not only on various temporal and geographical factors involved in making the assessment but also on the individuals and institutions compared. The early Christians themselves were well aware of both the similarities and the differences. Tertullian, for example, in battling against heretics who supported their theological claims with arguments drawn from philosophy, can contrast Christian and pagan thought, asking, “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church?”1 Yet in a different context he himself freely admits the similarity between Christian and pagan thought on certain subjects and can unhesitatingly refer to the Stoic philosopher Seneca as “ever our Seneca.”2
The essays in this volume thus take up an old question but attempt to examine it in new ways.3 They originated in part from a special session of the 1998 SBL International Meeting in Krakow, Poland, devoted to the topic of Christianity and Classical Culture. The occasion was particularly auspicious, since it afforded scholars from Europe, Africa, and North America the opportunity to revisit an old issue in a fresh setting. John Fitzgerald was the organizer of the program, and one of the issues that emerged from the beginning stages was the degree
1De praescriptione haereticorum 7.
2De anima 20.
3 Previous attempts to address various aspects of the complex relationship between early Christianity and Classical culture include the following: Charles N. Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture: A Study of Thought and Action from Augustus to Augustine (Oxford: Clarendon, 1940); William R. Schoedel and Robert L. Wilken (eds.), Early Christian Literature and the Classical Intellectual Tradition: In Honorem Robert M. Grant (Théologie historique 54; Paris: Éditions Beauchesne, 1979); Jaroslav J. Pelikan, Christianity and Classical Culture: The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Hellenism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993). See also E. G. VVeitlin, Athens and Jerusalem: An Interpretative Essay on Christianity and Classical Culture (American Academy of Religion Studies in Religion 49; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987).