The Impact of Christianity on Philosophy

It would seem that not only Christianity’s impact on philosophy should be examined, but also philosophy’s impact on Christianity. The Platonic, Neo-Platonic and Aristotelian philosophical traditions were already firmly grounded when the great Christian philosophers lived. Consequently St. Augustine “borrowed” heavily from Plato’s works and one of the other great philosophers, St. Thomas Aquinas “borrowed” from Aristotle’s works. Even Hypatia “borrowed” and amended much of Ptolemy’s theory of the universe. All three philosophers used the same method to develop their philosophies; namely, they adapted well known, traditional philosophies to current day philosophical issues. All three built upon the teachings of the great ancient philosophers.

 Both St. Augustine and Hypatia lived while the Christian Church was still growing in the Roman Empire, during the third and fourth centuries. St. Thomas, however, lived right after the dark ages, during the 12th and 13th centuries.

St. Augustine developed many philosophical/theological arguments that are taken for granted by the bulk of Christian’s today. Firstly, that God is not restrained by time; not only that but that God created time. This philosophical understanding helps us to understand the Biblical understanding of ex nihilo, or creation from nothing. By understanding that God may not be constrained by time then the question of, “Why did God choose to create the world at the time he did and not at some other?” is irrelevant because God does not adhere to the laws of time.

To understand Hypatia it is important to understand Ptolemy. Ptolemy was a second-century scholar who hypothesized that the earth was the center of the solar system. The only way he could do this was to invent elaborate equations and astronomical observations to explain the movements of the stars. Hypatia found errors in Ptolemy’s equations that explained that the sun revolves around the earth. She revised to update and sometimes amended Ptolemy’s observations to better explain how the universe works. Her findings had an impact on the pagans and Christians at the time because if the earth, and by that token humanity, was not the center of the universe then the current philosophies were all wrong in their understandings.

Lastly St. Thomas grafted Aristotelian philosophies into the Christian understanding of the world in an attempt to better describe the world through Christian theology. The Christian Church even acknowledged St. Thomas’s theology as the official theology of the Church and is still taught as such today. St. Thomas differed from the Skeptics in that he believed that knowledge of the world could be attained. St. Thomas ascribed to the Aristotelian understanding of Change, which includes the four-cause theory. St. Thomas did not believe in the Platonic understand of forms; however, he did believe that forms existed. St. Thomas held that the form, the matter, the essence, and its existence all make up a thing. St. Thomas postulated that it is possible to know of God and know characteristics of God, but that some parts of God’s being are inaccessible but through faith. That is where he drew the line between philosophy and theology. He believed that it was possible to know things about the universe and about God, but that theology must be employed to understand the essence of God.      

In conclusion, St. Augustine, Hypatia, and St. Augustine contributed much to the current Christian understand of the universe and God. If it were not for them, we might still think that the universe revolves around us.  

References

Bruder, K., & Moore, B. N. (2002). Philosophy: The power of ideas (6th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

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