Academic journal article Cithara

Christianity and Classical Culture

Academic journal article Cithara

Christianity and Classical Culture

Article excerpt

In its various permutations the question regarding the relationship between Christianity and classical culture endures. The intrepid Canadian classicist, Charles Norris Cochrane, titled his bold venture Christianity and Classical Culture (Oxford, 1940). The same title reappeared in the late Jaroslav Pelikan's published Gifford Lectures (Yale, 1993). Both texts were agile attempts to rewrite the received narrative of this relationship, which was propounded above all by the towering nineteenth-century scion of liberal Protestantism, Adolf Von Harnack, in his multivolume study, The History of Dogma (1886-1889). For Harnack, the purity of the primitive gospel was occluded in its initial encounter with the classical world. Tracing the development of Christian doctrine, for Harnack, amounted to the discovery of the "Hellenization of Christianity." The accretions of dogma (including doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity) were a perversion of the earliest, distilled, non-dogmatic apostolic kerygma: the Fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of men, and the infinite value of the human soul. Both Cochrane's and Pelikan's Christianity and Classical Culture suggestHamack's Hellenization thesis has it backwards. It is, in fact, more accurate to speak of the "Christianization of Hellenism." Early Christianity, inextricably steeped in Greco-Roman patterns of thought (metaphysical, moral, historical, literary, legal, economic, etc. …

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