Christian Philosophy? I

I’m going to conduct an experiment of sorts here: I’m going to think out loud on my blog. I have recently begun reading a book by B. N. Tatakis entitled Christian Philosophy in the Patristic and Byzantine Tradition (tr George Dragas, Orthodox Research Institute 2007), in which, in the first chapter, Tatakis asks the question, “Is there a Christian philosophy?” There is no doubt that this question will be answered more fully as the book proceeds, but I find myself dissatisfied with what I take to be Tatakis’ answer. And yet I cannot get a grasp on my dissatisfaction.

First of all, let’s note that this work was published in the early 50s, and that Dr. Tatakis has an extensive ouerve on Hellenistic and Byzantine philosophy. There may well be other insights gained from his other writings.

But it seems to me that he gives the question something of short shrift. In a chapter that numbers only 14 pages in English translation, he spends nearly all of it offering the critical views of those opposed to the notion of a Christian philosophy (as distinguishable as a philosophy), and some oblique criticisms of those criticisms, teases out some Gilson, and then suddenly wraps up the chapter with his conclusion:

Since, therefore, there is a philosophy in the work of Christian philosophers and since Christianity continues to influence, even today and to inspire the thought of many philosophers, the notion of Christian philosophy, in spite of the objections of the rationalists, is not contradictory, but has a meaning which expresses a particular historical fact. As long as a faithful Christian establishes his conviction on the inner persuasion which is offered to him by the faith, he is a pure believer who has not yet entered into the sphere of philosophy, but from the moment when he can distinguish among his convictions truths, which can become the object of science, he becomes a philosopher. These new lights he owes to the Christian religion, and therefore, it is right that he is called a Christian philosopher. (pp 13-14)

And it’s on to Christian metaphysics in the next chapter.

But this seems a sleight of hand to me. While he offers some comments on the uniqueness of Christian convictions, I do not detect a definition of philosophy. He seems to simply accept what the “rationalists” (those who oppose the view that there is a Christian philosophy) understand philosophy is, and moves on. Philosophy, then, is something of a critical science, which elicits truths that are objects of inquiry.

I’m not sure this is even philosophy. And I have a very strong suspicion this is not even the Christian view of truth.

But I’ve still not yet got a handle on this question. At this point, I’m going to use Tatakis as a jumping off point (though I’ll refer back to the paragraph cited above), and worry the matter out from here. More to come as the inclination energizes a motivation for my thinking on the matter.

2 thoughts on “Christian Philosophy? I

  1. Thank you for this series of posts. I have only read your first post, but the Tatakis book is one that I have been thinking about working through in the next few years, and I look forward to hearing your take on it.

    I find it incredibly difficult to orient myself as an Orthodox Christians vis-a-vis Western philosophy. This is one of the books that I have hoped would help me to get a handle on this.

  2. Tatakis’ book will not provide you a metaphilosophy, if you will, by which to orient yourself. He will highlight distinctly Orthodox “data” upon which to found philosophical reasoning, but it is my view (and I am still working through the book) that Tatakis’ subsumes Orthodox belief into a paradigmatic modernist philosphical project. That is to say, he takes as his presupposition an modernist understanding of philosophy, then infuses Orthodox belief into it.

    So, it is helpful in that regard. But I do not find it helpful in constructing a uniquely Orthodox (Christian) philosophy. I may say more about Tatakis in this regard as I think further through his books.

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