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Many historians agree that the philosophical systems of Platonism and Stoicism had an important role in the efforts of the early Church to communicate the message of the Gospel to unbelievers, and even in informing some early Christians' interpretations of the writings of Paul and others.

Did any other philosophical systems have a similar level of influence early in the life of the Church?

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Gnosticism and Docetism come to mind. –  Jas 3.1 Jul 10 '13 at 1:27
Also the Nicolaitans, whatever their beliefs were. Augustine was enamored with Manicheeism for a while. I suppose that was a gnostic branch, so Jas 3.1 already covered that. –  Adrian Keister Jul 10 '13 at 15:59
@Jas3.1, Gnosticism and Docetism are not philosophical systems. Both are religions, or religious doctrines. Docetism is a product of the early church, not an influence on it. Most probably Gnosticism as well. –  Greg Bala Jul 11 '13 at 13:34
The philosophy of Aristotle had a profound impact on the later church, not sure how much on the early church however, but something to look into –  Greg Bala Jul 11 '13 at 13:36

4 Answers 4

Neo-Platonism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoplatonism_and_Christianity). Augustine was influenced by Neo-Platonism, as well as other Christian writers. I think you will find Neo-Platonism to be more more influential than Platonism.

I am not expert in Philosophy enough to provide my own explanation. All I can do is provide some references. From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (http://plato.stanford.edu/), Augustine is described as a Christian Neoplatonist. Augustine is highly influential in later times as well and, as stated in the below, also being a main figure in the merging of Greek philosophical tradition and the Judeo-Christian religious and scriptural traditions. So, this would show influence of Neoplatonism on the early Church.

From the Stanford Enclcyclopedia of Philosophy (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/augustine/) (note that I have added boldface type): "Aurelius Augustinus [more commonly “St. Augustine of Hippo,” often simply “Augustine”] (354–430 C.E.): rhetor, Christian Neoplatonist, North African Bishop, Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church. One of the decisive developments in the western philosophical tradition was the eventually widespread merging of the Greek philosophical tradition and the Judeo-Christian religious and scriptural traditions. Augustine is one of the main figures through and by whom this merging was accomplished. He is, as well, one of the towering figures of medieval philosophy whose authority and thought came to exert a pervasive and enduring influence well into the modern period (e.g. Descartes and especially Malebranche), and even up to the present day, especially among those sympathetic to the religious tradition which he helped to shape (e.g. Plantinga 1992; Adams 1999).

Plotinus is generally regarded as the founder of Neoplatonism. For more about him see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plotinus/ From this article you can begin to get an idea of what Neoplatonism is: "The term ‘Neoplatonism’ is an invention of early 19th century European scholarship and indicates the penchant of historians for dividing ‘periods’ in history. In this case, the term was intended to indicate that Plotinus initiated a new phase in the development of the Platonic tradition. What this ‘newness’ amounted to, if anything, is controversial, largely because one’s assessment of it depends upon one's assessment of what Platonism is. In fact, Plotinus (like all his successors) regarded himself simply as a Platonist, that is, as an expositor and defender of the philosophical position whose greatest exponent was Plato himself. Originality was thus not held as a premium by Plotinus. Nevertheless, Plotinus realized that Plato needed to be interpreted. In addition, between Plato and himself, Plotinus found roughly 600 years of philosophical writing, much of it reflecting engagement with Plato and the tradition of philosophy he initiated. Consequently, there were at least two avenues for originality open to Plotinus, even if it was not his intention to say fundamentally new things"

Also from the same article: "The three basic principles of Plotinus' metaphysics are called by him ‘the One’ (or, equivalently, ‘the Good’), Intellect, and Soul (see V 1; V 9.). These principles are both ultimate ontological realities and explanatory principles. Plotinus believed that they were recognized by Plato as such, as well as by the entire subsequent Platonic tradition."

More about Plotinus here (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) http://www.iep.utm.edu/neoplato/ This except shows Plotinus to be a synthesizer of various philosophical schools.

"In the last analysis, what stands as the most important and impressive accomplishment of Plotinus is the manner in which he synthesized the pure, ‘semi-mythical’ expression of Plato with the logical rigors of the Peripatetic and Stoic schools, yet without losing sight of philosophy’s most important task: of rendering the human experience in intelligible and analyzable terms. That Plotinus’ thought had to take the ‘detour’ through such wildly mystical and speculative paths as Gnosticism and Christian salvation theology is only proof of his clear-sightedness, thoroughness, and admirable humanism. For all of his dialectical difficulties and perambulations, Plotinus’ sole concern is with the well-being (eudaimonia) of the human soul. This is, of course, to be understood as an intellectual, as opposed to a merely physical or even emotional well-being, for Plotinus was not concerned with the temporary or the temporal. The striving of the human mind for a mode of existence more suited to its intuited potential than the ephemeral possibilities of this material realm, while admittedly a striving born of temporality, is nonetheless directed toward atemporal and divine perfection."

Another description of Neoplatonism can be found at New Advent (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10742b.htm).

"A system of idealistic, spiritualistic philosophy, tending towards mysticism, which flourished in the pagan world of Greece and Rome during the first centuries of the Christian era. It is of interest and importance, not merely because it is the last attempt of Greek thought to rehabilitate itself and restore its exhausted vitality by recourse to Oriental religious ideas, but also because it definitely entered the service of pagan polytheism and was used as a weapon against Christianity. It derives its name from the fact that its first representatives drew their inspiration from Plato's doctrines, although it is well known that many of the treatises on which they relied are not genuine works of Plato. It originated in Egypt, a circumstance which would, of itself, indicate that while the system was a characteristic product of the Hellenistic spirit, it was largely influenced by the religious ideals and mystic tendencies of Oriental thought."

Hopefully, the above will provide and idea that Neo-Platonism is not Platonism and that it had influence on early Christian writers most notably Augustine.

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See here for formatting help. You can make inline links and all kinds of cool stuff. –  fredsbend Jul 14 '14 at 23:15
Great answer. Keep it coming. –  fredsbend Jul 16 '14 at 5:58
On the Neoplatonist side, we can add the Cappadocian Fathers (St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and especially St. Gregory of Nyssa). Another hugely influential Neoplatonist writer is Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (just a couple of generations after Augustine). Naturally, all of the Fathers took pains to purify what was unacceptable in Neoplatonist doctrine. –  AthanasiusOfAlex Oct 19 '14 at 11:25

To add to Matthew's answer regarding Neoplatonism, the early Church was also influenced by Aristotle.

I should point out that Plotinus and his followers attempted a reconciliation of Plato with Aristotle, with differing degrees of success. There is, therefore, some influence of Aristotle indirectly through the Neoplatonists.

However, the terminology used for the great Trinitarian and Christological dogmas can be traced more properly to Aristotle: ousia (substance or essence), hypostasis (concrete substance), physis (nature), energeia (act or activity), dynamis (power or potency).

Clearly, the Fathers, especially the Cappadocian Fathers (Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa) gave these terms a new interpretation, inspired in part on Neoplatonism, but their usage of the terms is fundamentally Aristotelian.

(For example, Plato uses the word "ousia" too, but he does not make a science "ousia" the way Aristotle does. For Plato, "ousia" is not such a central topic, since Plato is more concerned with "eidos," the separate forms or ideas.)

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Did any other philosophical systems have as much influence on the early Church as Platonism and Stoicism?

When someone attempts to make Christianity into a system, it can be made to reflect or include various philosophic perspectives. More significantly you would find the imprint of a culture such as Hellenism. The derivation of catechetical schools from the concept of the Greek academy might be a more direct imprint than something as ephemeral as a philosophic perspective.

When philosophy gets more down to earth such as with sophistry, its manifestation can be more discernible. Clever and gifted speakers would naturally rise to the top of church systems.

Men of intellectual ability who see Christianity some deep mystery that only they can unfold are more likely to contribute their various philosophies to their descriptions of Christianity and they can easily be passed on as the doctrines of the church. However, this may not be the significant influence that it might at first appear.

Christianity has suffered at the hands of many who would systematize it, redirect it, redefine it, and even bury it. However, at its core it has never been so much about about teachings or doctrines, but about "Christ in you, the hope of glory".

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Is this the belief of a particular group or denomination of Christianity? That's the kind of answer we're looking for on this site. –  Matt Gutting Jan 9 at 16:00
This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. –  Matt Gutting Jan 9 at 16:00
@MattGutting and flaggers: Addressing premises of questions (esp. if that means setting the record straight on how Christianity sees the world that is different that assumptions in the question) is typically something we do allow on this sort of question. This may or may not be a good answer or even right, but my take on it is that it's not a NAA candidate. –  Caleb Jan 9 at 18:07
As for the content of the answer, by personal observation is that there are bits in here that may be true, but it also mixes in a specific agenda that isn't an accurate representation of Christianity. It's a mixed bag but to some extent I think this ends up addressing a true premise behind the question as if it was false. Case in point: do you seriously think that less "intellectual" people bring any less philosophical/world view baggage with them? Do you think Christianity hasn't also suffered at the hands of lay people that would strip it of its actual tenets in favor of folk doctrines? –  Caleb Jan 9 at 18:15
@Caleb The question is, "Did any other philosophical systems have as much influence on the early Church as Platonism and Stoicism?" The answer seems to say, "Maybe." Then it goes on to say why philosophical systems shouldn't influence the church, utilizing personal opinion only. That doesn't seem to me to answer the question at all. –  Mr. Bultitude Jan 9 at 20:04

Philosophy is divided into several major branches ranging from metaphysics to aesthetics I list the major influences from the prominent branches both those which helped and hindered the progress of Christianity which I was able to identify in order bellow.

Act 22:3 I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.

The ethics teachings of Gamaliel and Hillel the Elder were common during the early Church. The Master's Two Commandments as encompassing the Law and the prophets is a similar interpretation as Hillel the Jewish elder.

Rev 2:15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.

1Co 5:1 It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife.

The anti-ethical teachings of the Hedonism and Gnosticism (the philosophy of the Nicolaitans) (both antinomian) also are mentioned in scripture

1Co 15:16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:

Materialism as metaphysics, the idea that that there is no spiritual realm and the dead be not raised is mentioned in scripture.

1Pe 2:17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.

Rom 13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

Theocracy the political philosophy as taught in the New Testament also predates Christianity though its difficult to say who started this ideal as something similar is in Old Testament literature.

Rom 2:14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:

1Co 11:14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?

The philosophy of natural law and doing things in accordance with nature also was common in the church but it is a less centralized philosophy and is not part of any main doctrines.

Luk 14:13 But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: Luk 14:14 And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.

I mentioned the hedonist in a negative light but the concept of a feast as a social gathering for enjoyment and other Epicurean ideals are praised and taught (the whole book of Philippians) in the New Testament just not the excess and rioting.

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What is the basis for assuming that the Nicoliatans were Gnostic? –  Affable Geek Jul 12 '13 at 22:34
@AffableGeek en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolaism its a very common idea –  caseyr547 Jul 12 '13 at 22:35
So, in the question, I tried to first name the two philosophical systems, then relate that some historians say that they may have influenced early (ie, ante-Nicene) Christian thought more than any others, and then asked whether there is any reason to think that other system(s) may have had a greater influence. This post then seems to list about a half-dozen thought systems - some of which may be plainly relevant to the Biblical text, others of which are perhaps less so - and then offers no particular analysis of any of them. That is to say, this post doesn't really seem to answer the question. –  Philip Schaff Jul 13 '13 at 5:16
@PhilipSchaff i'm sorry you feel that way but both Jas3.1 and I agree the Epicurean influenced as much as the stoics and likewise the House of Hital influence on early Christianity is equally well documented and at least as great as the greek influence. The other philosophies play a lesser but equally necessary role in Christianity. Perhaps if you wait longer someone else will answer to your satisfaction or you could always go to philosophy se. –  caseyr547 Jul 13 '13 at 6:32
@PhilipSchaff i added an introduction sentence to help you understand why i list different branches of philosophy –  caseyr547 Jul 13 '13 at 6:56

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