If one wants to determine whether there is such a thing as “Christian philosophy,” one must be clear on what one means by both “Christian” and by “philosophy.” In the previous post, we noted the difficulty with the term “Christian” and its resistance to a generally agreed reduction. We will have to come back to this question, because while we delimit the term “Christian,” we will at the same time have to perform a similar operation for “philosophy.” And here we are in almost the same quandary, for there is no simple agreed definition of the term either.
It all depends upon which end of the historical spectrum with which one wishes to start. If one wishes to start with “modern” philosophy, say from the time of Kant, or even edging a bit further back to Descartes, it is not clear, upon reflection, that one is discussing the same enterprise as one might if one started with Pythagoras, or Socrates, or Plato and Aristotle. There are, of course, similarities, but the differences run much deeper.
Kant, for example, might journey no further than his Koenigsberg and lay out his architectonic of reason. Aristotle, on the other hand, or his followers in any case, must personally observe and investigate. Descartes may meditate by his stove. Marcus Aurelius, however, must philosophize while running an empire. I am intentionally exaggerating, but not by much I do not think, these distinctions. Modern philosophy might exercise itself with the life of the mind, but classical philosophy could not but exercise itself with a way of living. Marxist activists may argue the pragmatic application of their philosophy, but it is inherently a deconstructive one, which does not build a way of life so much as demolish another. One is otherwise hard pressed to find such Kantian activists or Cartesian lobbyists, and the latter even have the benefit of positing the existence of the soul, however glandular.
No, the ancient philosophers were of a different breed. Here I am unabashedly in the camp of one Pierre Hadot. However heuristic may be his device, it certainly manifests the evidence far better than any other version I’ve seen. The six classical schools of philosophy had their own set of core convictions, their own correlative discourses, their fundamental texts, and their particular disciplines for shaping the lives (we would do well to say, the souls) of their adherents. They distinguished themselves not alone for their respective lives of the mind, but also by their diet (Pythagoreans were vegetarians) and their dress (witness, for example, St Justin the Philosopher’s “philosopher’s cloak” which he wore even after his conversion to Christianity), as well as in other ways. It is no coincidence that Marcus Aurelius wrote down his meditations. This was a practice by which he sought to bring his Stoical convictions into his thoughts and actions while he administered the Roman Empire. He was not, for goodness’ sake, writing a diary.
Whether or not there are any other ways of “doing philosophy” is for others to say. I, however, do not see any possible spectrum between these two possibilities. One may allow for variations and gradations, but not intercommunication it does not appear. That said, whether or not one may reconcile a life of the mind with a way of living, seems to me quite possible. For the life of the mind is only lacking flesh and bone to make it a way of living. Some lives of the mind may be nothing but stillborn babies, incapable of living, but theoretically the possibility remains.
This being so (and not all will admit it is so), then, it seems to me that nothing Christian can align itself essentially with any other philosophy than that which can be called a way of living. The life of the mind has a logic all its own which ultimately distorts and deforms the experience of God which is the way of life that is Christian. Christianity is, inescapably, a way of living.
That said, then, not all things Christian can be called a philosophy, a way of living. To this I will turn next.
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