The presence of Aristotle in byzantine theology

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Any attempt to survey the place of Aristotle within Byzantine theology must begin by recognizing that the category of “Byzantine theology” is itself a modern construction. The Byzantines did not think of themselves as Byzantines, but as Romans. This fact is not merely a matter of nomenclature, but a reminder of their strong sense of continuity with the classical and early Christian past. As regards theology, in particular, the Byzantines saw no sharp line dividing their own times from the foundational era of Christianity. Although they recognized the authority of the Church Fathers, they did not think in terms of a closed and completed “age of the Fathers.” The holy and God-bearing Fathers (as the Byzantines would have called them) were not limited to a particular time or place, but included all who had faithfully received and expounded the True Faith, particularly in response to heresy. From the Byzantine standpoint - which remains that of the Eastern Orthodox Church today - such persons will never cease to be found within the Church, for they constitute the living seal of its guidance by the Holy Spirit. To understand the role of Aristotle within Byzantine theology, then, one must begin with some sense of his place within early Christian thought. At one level this was rather minimal. Aristotle was never regarded, by either Christians or pagans, as a guide to the spiritual life of the order of Pythagoras or Plato. Several of the Church Fathers found the writings of these latter two so impressive that they supposed these authors must have read the books of Moses during their travels in Egypt. No one ever made a similar suggestion about Aristotle. When Aristotle is mentioned by the Fathers, it is often for the purpose of denouncing certain of his teachings that they regard as impious, such as the mortality of the soul, the restriction of divine providence to the heavens, and the view that human happiness depends upon external goods. Occasionally he was also criticized for holding that the universe is eternal and uncreated, although since this view was widespread in antiquity it was not always associated specifically with Aristotle.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Intellectual History of Byzantium
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781107300859
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (all)


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