Or philosophy vs. theology.
"Philosophy and Martyrdom Tertullian and Justin Martyr," by Jean-Luc Marion (video). I was offered this video via email. In it, Marion presents the case that the distinction of reason vs. faith or philosophy vs. theology is an improper distinction. The earliest Christian apologists argued philosophically, just as their non-Christian counterparts did.
This distinction is very much questionable. Until the twelfth century, no Christian thinker has ever called what he is doing “theology.”
The word theology began to be imposed only the time of Abelard and Aquinas. Why? The word “philosophy” had begun to be used to distinguish from what we now call theology. This can be tied to the rediscovery of Aristotle, among other reasons.
Marion looks at the intellectual strategy of Christians during the first centuries, in the time until Constantine. Although Paul, in Romans and 1 Corinthians, offers that there is a distinction of what appears right to God vs. what appears right to man, this was not the strategy used by Christians in these early centuries when arguing regarding Christianity. For this Marion looks to Justin Martyr in the mid-second century (who wrote in Greek) and Tertullian at the end of the second century (in Latin).
These early Christians used rational arguments in defense of Christians and Christianity. This accords with Paul’s actions in Acts 17, when engaging with Epicureans and Stoics. Marion cites a portion of 1 Peter 3:15, “…be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you…” but he then offers a better translation from the Greek: be ready for the apology (i.e. the argumentation) to anyone asking you for the logos (the reason) for the hope that is in you. Christians are called to respond with rationality and reason.
What a Christian is supposed to do is to argue in favor of the logos.
Logos is translated into many words, among these “reason,” and “word.” In the beginning was the logos – Jesus Christ. It is fundamental to Christianity that Christians argue (offer apology) via the written and spoken word, based on reason.
Marion offers: a Christian, when under threat of persecution, is not to scream and yell, but to meekly offer: please let us discuss and be rational. He comes to his first example, Justin Martyr. He was born in Palestine; he was not a Jew, but a Greek and a Christian. He made his living teaching philosophy, first in Nablus, Palestine, then in Rome.
Justin offered to argue with the emperor, Marcus Aurelius – described by Marion as “a bad philosopher who wrote in bad Greek and who slaughtered Christians. He is not a good guy for me!” Justin argued: you claim to be a philosopher; I am a professional philosopher. Let us discuss in a serious way why you put to trial the Christians.
Right off the bat, he boxed Marcus in – flattering him as a philosopher king, in the tradition of Plato. Further, it was clear that proper philosophy must be pious (moral, ethical) and be aimed at justice. A crucial question even today: should philosophy be ethical or not? What does it mean to have an ethical philosophy? On what basis do we determine ethics?
So, Justin proceeded: we, the Christians, are sent to trial because we are said to be atheists. But even before Christians, you accused someone to death for the crime of atheism: Socrates. It was said that he has corrupted the youth – as you say about us – and because he was not paying his respect by sacrificing to the god of the city, as you also accuse us.
Plato, speaking for Socrates, offered: it is this accusation that has condemned many good men in the past and will also condemn many other good men in the future. In other words, Christians are the new Socrates. (This reference to Plato was apparently not made by Justin, but would have been known to Marcus.) But we tell the truth; we are rational, you are not.
You are in the process of committing the same blunder: when you condemn Christians, you are again condemning Socrates. When you condemn Christians without good reasons – and you do not have good reasons – you condemn yourself. So, we (the Christians) are the real heirs of Socrates: we tell the truth, we are more rational. We are the keepers of rationality; you are not rational.
Robert Wilken comments on Justin, in his book The Christians as the Romans Saw Them; Justin is replying to the idea that Christianity was being viewed as a superstition, when he wrote:
“We cultivate piety, justice, philanthropy, faith and hope.” This passage could have been written by the Roman moralist and philosopher Seneca. From the side of philosophy, “religion never departs, nor piety, nor justice, nor any of the whole company of virtues which cling together in close united fellowship.”
Philosophy must be ethical, and is not separate from religion. Justin Martyr goes further, presenting his conversion to Christianity as a conversion to philosophy. Having examined the Stoics, Peripatetics, Platonists, etc., it was only when he met a man who introduced him to the Hebrew prophets that he found “this philosophy [Christianity] alone to be sure and profitable.”
Returning to Marion: Tertullian made similar arguments, but also advances his arguments into legal procedure. He was a philosopher and a jurist. Christians are the followers of the law, yet are being condemned just for being Christian – and for nothing else: as if to say “it is not legal that people like you be.”
The modern equivalent is the idea of crimes against humanity: where people are prosecuted just for what they are, not what they do. You know, where men are judged by the color of their skin, but not by the content of their character. And where men are condemned simply for being…men.
But I digress. Continuing with Tertullian: all that was necessary was for a Christian to admit he was a Christian; thereafter, he was sentenced to death. Or, looked at the other way: you torture criminals to make them admit guilt; you torture Christians to make them deny guilt – the guilt of being Christian.
Wilken also comments on Tertullian, who argued that Christianity was a collegium, an association not devoted to political maneuvering or clandestine activities, but devoted to moral principles and training toward living a life of virtue. Tertullian writes:
We are an association (corpus) bound together by our religious profession, by the unity of our way of life and the bond of our common hope… We meet together as an assembly and as a society… We pray for the emperors… We gather together to read our sacred writing… With the holy words we nourish our faith… After the gathering is over the Christians go out as though they had come from a “school of virtue.”
No one suffers harm from these gatherings, he concludes. In his apology, he uses many technical and legal terms – reflecting his profession. It was language that would be familiar to anyone in the Greco-Roman world – Christian or not.
Marion concludes: most arguments in the public square are not rational. They are not arguments in search of truth. They represent ideological points of view. Truth need not be represented by either side, and often truth will not be accepted by either side.
It is quite possible that a rational position can be under attack from both sides.
Which returns us to the earlier questions: should philosophy be ethical or not? What does it mean to have an ethical philosophy? One can ask, on what basis is this to be determined? Which brings us back to a standard, a foundation, a basis for objective law. Which is relevant for anyone concerned with moving toward liberty.
As God is the author of reason and faith, philosophy and theology, why would any Christian agree to live with such distinctions? It seems reasonable to suggest that one reason Christianity has lost its way (and has lost many in the West) is precisely because Christian leaders have accepted and even emphasized this difference. “Oh, you just have to believe by faith; don’t ask questions.” This is too often heard.
It is interesting that non-Christian intellectuals are making this connection once again. I am thinking of Jordan Peterson and John Vervaeke. It is also interesting that this has led to an increase in interest in Christianity – although I think neither of these two have ever intended to increase church attendance.
It is the case: God moves in mysterious ways….