Patrology and Greek Philosophy

For those just beginning the journey in Patristics, it is recommended that one not only learn either Greek or Latin, but immerse themselves in Greek philosophy. One doesn’t have to agree with the Greek philosophical framework, many of the Patristic authors even rally against it, but it is a prerequisite for the entrance into the Patristic world.

The author and scholar Panagiotes K. Chrestou made this point early on in his helpful book, Greek Orthodox Patrology: an introduction to the Study of the Church Fathers.

“…we shall note the great contribution of Greek philosophy in the elaboration and construction of Christian theology. On this account, the study of Greek philosophy is in this case not simply useful but necessary, even when the influence is only negative. But this, of course, goes hand in hand with the totality of the Classical and Greek literature.” (Page 8).

Years back when I first started translating Patristics, which began with Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, the Greek philosophical underpinning was a difficult task that went beyond language. Then as I moved on to Gregory Nazianzus, Didymus Alexandrini, Gregory of Nyssa, Origen, Theophylacti of Ohrid, Thomas Aquinas, etc., the usage of a Greek philosophical framework became a normative reading experience.

Then the realization came that none could not be properly translated without a thorough understanding of neo-Platonism, Plato and Aristotle.

It actually took me just as much time to familiarize myself with Greek philosophy as it did with the languages themselves.

Many theological passages cannot be understood outside this context.

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