Frame: Early Christian Philosophy

I’m more critical on Frame on this section.  I am not a specialist in patristic literature, but I think I am close.  Still, Frame has a number of incisive points that are worth mentioning.

Justin Martyr

Logos is logos spermatikos, the seed of reason in all peoples.   Justin tends to ignore the principle that men suppress the truth in unrighteousness (91).

Via Negativa

Justin says we should prefer negative descriptions of God.  This isn’t biblical.  Scripture doesn’t hesitate to ascribe positive names to God.  Differerence here between covenantal thinking.

Creation

Borderline Gnostic.  God doesn’t create directly “but brings forth subordinate beings to the task” (92).  For a great survey see Colin Gunton’s The Triune Creator.

Irenaeus

rule of faith:  early baptismal creed (Frame 95).

Tertullian:

Stronger doctrine of the antithesis and a development in Christian epistemology (98).  Tertullian was a traducianist.  Tended to confuse metaphysical and ethical categories.

Athanasius

Decent summary of Nicene controversy.  The reader is encouraged to seek out Torrance on Athanasius.  Frame hints that Athanasius was present at Nicea and made speeches (106).  This is highly doubtful.

Augustine

Good survey of Augustine’s epistemology. I can doubt but I can never doubt my doubting.  Truth by nature is imperishable.  If truth passes away, then it is true that truth passes away.  Therefore, truth didn’t pass away.

My criticisms of Frame in this chapter

*He faults Irenaeus for holding to recapitulation (96), thinking it leads to Eastern Orthodoxy.  Well, but what about Ephesians 1:10?

Frame: The Greeks

This is where neo-Puritans and Scholastics of all stripes will get mad.  Rebutting any form (or perceived form) of Harnack’s charge on Hellenism is the new sexy in theology today.

But there is a Hellenism.  And it isn’t good.   Frame does a pretty good job summarizing different Greek thinkers, but I want to pay attention to the larger picture:

Major Premise: “The Biblical God tolerates no Rivals.”  What makes Zeus less offensive than Moloch? Aphrodite than Ashteroth?

There is no way to reduce “Greek thought” to any one position.  Some thinkers were monists, others atomists.  But there are patterns that overlap and are not compatible with biblical revelation.  Here are some unifying (oops, is that a Greek concept?) principles:

  1. None of them believed in Yahweh.
  2. None believed that a personal God (absolute personality) created the cosmos.
  3. “The dictates of fate might  agree with those of morality, but not necessarily” (Frame 49).
  4. Form-matter dialectic.
  5. The gods were personifications of nature (this is clearer by the time of Plotinus).
  6. Rejected wisdom of the past; reason is now the measure.  Not only is this a break with biblical tradition, but with most other human tradition.
  7. Reason, not the fear of the Lord, is the beginning of wisdom.

General Moments

Frame does a decent job summarizing the pre-Socratics, Plato, etc.  No need to spend time on it here.

The Greeks weren’t “children looking on the world in wonder,” but “as those without the biblical God suppressing the truth in unrighteousness” (53).

Man is the measure of all things = reality is what man says it is = irrationality (62).