Monday, December 31, 2012

Clement: Philosophy & Science, Tools for the Church

I found this interesting quotation in a blog on Apologetics Alliance and thought it worth sharing. It was written by Clement of Alexandria in the late second century and it describes the value placed on philosophy among early Christians.

”Some, who think themselves naturally gifted, do not wish to touch either philosophy or logic; nay more, they do not wish to learn natural science. They demand bare faith alone, as if they wished, without bestowing any care on the vine, straightway to gather clusters from the first. Now the Lord is figuratively described as the vine, from which, with pains and the art of husbandry, according to the word, the fruit is to be gathered.

We must lop, dig, bind, and perform the other operations. The pruning-knife, I should think, and the pick-axe, and the other agricultural implements, are necessary for the culture of the vine, so that it may produce eatable fruit. And as in husbandry, so also in medicine: he has learned to purpose, who has practiced the various lessons, so as to be able to cultivate and to heal. So also here, I call him truly learned who brings everything to bear on the truth; so that, from geometry, and music, and grammar, and philosophy itself, culling what is useful, he guards the faith against assault.”

Warning against such "syncretism," Tertullian would no doubt counter, "What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?" The early Christians were not always in agreement on the use of philosophy. Some Christians, such as Origen, who incidentally, is thought to have studied under Clement of Alexandria, were highly educated and trained in philosophy prior to their conversion. It would be impossible for this to not influence their understanding and interpretation of Scripture and even God. The important thing that I think is noteworthy is that rather than being hostile toward philosophy as a whole, the prophets and apostles do in fact make certain valid philosophical assumptions and arguments, which I think validates it's use for Christians following their footsteps. They also choose to step carefully, recognizing it's inherent propensity for errors, as a cautionary tale for others. The Apostle Paul, both appealed to philosophy and ridiculed it. May we be wise enough to know when, where and how to do the same.