In my previous remarks, it will certainly be felt that I did not actually make a case for philosophy as a way of life over philosophy as a life of the mind. I simply asserted, however obliquely, that the ancient understanding of philosophy as a way of life is that which best comports with Christianity and that view of philosophy as a life of the mind is necessarily distortive of Christianity. My intent was not to argue that one or the other form of philosophy was better per se, but, rather, to note the distinction as a preparation for discussing what, if there is one, a Christian philosophy might look like. As I’ve tried to indicate, the difficulty is that one is necessarily required to define both terms in relation to the other. That is to say, one cannot define Christian philosophy without also at the same time defining both terms in view of the other.
Having asserted that philosophy understood as the life of the mind is distortive of Christianity, and conversely that philosophy understood as a way of life best comports with Christianity, let me begun to offer something like an argument for the compound thesis. But let me also offer some qualifications at the outset.
I am not here offering an argument for which sort of Christianity is to be preferred. I do, however, want to lay out the parameters for which sort of Christianity might lend itself to the philosophy I affirm. And, conversely, why the philosophy I affirm is the only one which may be Christian. This will have to be unpacked in more than just this post.
But let’s go back a bit to Tatakis’ quote from which we’ve jumped into these “out loud” thoughts.
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.
It seems clear from this quote (and continued reading of Dr. Tatakis’ book confirms this I believe), that the view expressed here of Christian philosophy is more of the sort of “life of the mind” than it is exhibited in a “way of life.” Dr. Tatakis seems to conceptualize both Christianity (at least insofar as it is subsumable to philosophical enterprise) as discrete items of truth (derived from his religious convictions) which are then integrated into philosophical activity. And thus Christian philosophy is intellectual philosophizing on the matter of Christian data.
We of course do not deny that Christianity asserts facts, nor that certain propositions are derivable from its core assumptions, nor further that such facts and propositions may be the subjects of philosophical inquiry and evaluation. But Christianity itself is not simply facts and propositions formed together into a coherent whole. Christianity is first of all a revealed religion. A certain subset of first century Judaism did not sit around in the Jerusalem equivalent of the Stoa and ruminate on certain facts and propositions contained in the Jewish religion and sought to reach a new set of conclusions. Christianity is a religion that is first and foremost the community experience of the encounter with the God-man. The great Councils of the Church were not occasions for a sort of late antique gathering of the central division of the Middle-East Philosophical Association. Rather they were occasions for reflecting on how best to articulate a common experience of the encounter with Christ. The life came prior to the philosophy, if you will.
Christianity did not derive a way of living from a set of timeless principles or a philosophical paradigm. The living established the paradigm, the encounter provided the propositions. Indeed, many of the facts and propositions were provided by the divine in whom was anchored the communal encounter.
Christianity is not a philosophy. That is to say, it is not a philosophy in the modern sense of that term. To claim such is to distort Christianity, though it may serve to renew and revive philosophy.
So any philosophy that is not anchored in and constitutive of a way of living is not a philosophy that can be called Christian. Unless one wants to traffic in inherent contradictions.
We may, then, now be ready to discern what interplay philosophy as a way of life has with Christianity, and whether than can be anything like a Christian philosophy. But at the risk of worrying a dessicated bone, we would do well to go over some terminological considerations. Words like truth and faith and reason suffer an equivocation prohibitive of understanding unless we can clarify, if we cannot come to agreement, on what those terms mean in relation to a Christian philosophy.