Greek EmpireGreece’s rise to prominence started after the defeat of the Persian Empire which attacked Athens in 480 BC. Then followed the Golden Age of Greece, in which there were great advances in the fields of government, art, philosophy, drama and literature. Great thinkers of that time included Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. A form of governance known as “democracy” became established in Athens and other city states. King Philip of Macedon, from the kindred kingdom just north of Greece which is today known as Macedonia, took control of all Greece following the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC. He developed what is known as the Macedonian phalanx, an infantry formation which proved to be lethal on the battlefield. Philip had had a thoroughly good Greek education and he ensured his son Alexander also received the same. After his conquest of Greece, he set his sights on Persia but was assassinated. It’s rumoured his wife, Queen Olympias, was jealous Philip had married a second wife and secretly conspired to kill him.
Alexander ascended the throne, and in 334 BC crossed into Asia, defeated a not much bigger Persian army and captured a number of cities in Asia Minor. In 332 BC he took Egypt from the Persians and built great cities at Alexandretta and Alexandria. In 331 BC he marched into Babylon and at Arbela, near the ruins of Nineveh, he defeated the Persian emperor Darius III. Then Alexandar made a military parade of Central Asia, going all the way to northern India. There he fought a great battle on the Indus against the Indian King Porus. The Macedonian troops encountered war elephants, which terrified them, but eventually they emerged as victors.
Alexander was forced to head back west when his troops refused to go further into India. He sought to win over his new subjects and assumed the robes and tiara of a Persian king. He arranged a number of marriages between his Macedonian officers and Persian and Babylonian women - the famous "Marriage of East and West" meant to symbolize the new racial unity he was hoping to create. He did not achieve the integration he planned, and he died in 323 BC when a fever seized him after a drinking bout in Babylon. Immediately his vast dominion fell to pieces, and the heady days of Alexander came to an end.
Early ChurchThe result of Alexander’s conquests and his policies was that elements of Greek civilization combined, in various forms and degrees, with other elements taken from conquered civilisations. This was known as Hellenism. Although the nature of Hellenism varied from place to place, it did provide the Eastern Mediterranean with a certain degree of unity that opened the way to Roman conquest, and then the preaching of the gospel. Roman law and Hellenistic culture were the context in which the early church took shape.
The Romans were not great thinkers like the Greeks, but they were very pragmatic people. They built well paved and well guarded roads that connected distant provinces, and since trade flourished travel was constant. The circumstances in the first century favoured the spread of Christianity. In other aspects the circumstances were a threat to Christianity. To communicate their faith in the midst of this Hellenistic culture, Christians found two philosophical traditions particularly attractive and helpful: Platonism and Stoicism.
Platonism is the philosophy associated with Plato, who criticized the ancient gods and taught about a perfect and immutable supreme being. Plato believed in the immortality of the soul, and he affirmed that far above this world of fleeting things there was a higher world of abiding truth.Stoicism is a school of philosophy founded by Zenon. It teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions; becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason (logos). A primary aspect of Stoicism involves improving one’s ethical and moral well-being.
Defence of the faithThe objection to Christianity on the part of many cultured pagans was not purely an intellectual matter, but it was deeply rooted in class prejudice. The majority of early Christian converts in the Roman World were from the lower sections of society. The cultured pagans could not conceive the possibility that this Christian rabble were more enlightened than them. To them Christianity was the religion of a peasant from Galilee. Jewish teachers had never risen to the level of Greek philosophers; so if anything good is found in Jewish Scripture, this was because the Jews copied the Greeks.
Some Christians, such as Tertullian, believed many of the heresies that circulated in their time were the result of mixing pagan philosophy with Christian doctrine, and they insisted on a radical opposition to pagan culture. Tertullian’s “Address to the Greeks” is an attack on everything the Greeks considered valuable, and a defence of the “barbaric” Christians. Since the writings of the Jewish prophets such as Moses are much older than those of Plato or Homer, any agreement between Greek philosophy and the religion of the Christian “barbarians” is because the Greeks derived their wisdom from the barbarians.
Other Christians took a different stance. On becoming a Christian, Justin Martyr did not cease being a philosopher, but rather took upon himself the task of doing “Christian philosophy”. He claimed that there were several points of contact between Christianity and pagan philosophy. For instance, Plato and Socrates believed in a Supreme Being and life after death. The partial agreement between the philosophers and Christianity could be explained by the doctrine of the Logos, a Greek word meaning “word” and “reason”. The Gospel of John affirms that in Jesus the logos or “word” was made flesh. Thus, according to Justin, what happened in the incarnation was that the underlying reason of the universe, the logos or Word of God, was made flesh. Other early Christian intellectuals such as Augustine and Origen also drew on Greek philosophy to explain and defend Christian doctrine. While accepting truths found in the philosophers, they insisted on the superiority of the Christian revelation.Other Greek influences
All the New Testament gospels were written in Greek. The word “Christ” is the English translation of the Greek word Khristós meaning "the anointed one"; and “Christian” means “belonging to Christ”. The ancient Greek word “Ichthus” means "fish". It was used by early Christians as an acronym for "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior": I=Jesus, Ch=Christ, Th=Theou (God's), U=Uios (Son), S=Soter (Savior).In the first few centuries after Christ, when the early Christians faced persecution in the Roman Empire, they used the fish symbol as a secret symbol to identify safe meeting places and tombs as well as a fellow believer in Christ:
—Christianity Today, Elesha Coffman, "Ask the Editors".
"…when a Christian met a stranger in the road, the Christian sometimes drew one arc of the simple fish outline in the dirt. If the stranger drew the other arc, both believers knew they were in good company. Current bumper-sticker and business-card uses of the fish hearken back to this practice. The symbol is still used today to show that the bearer is a practicing Christian."
SummaryEmpires never last but their legacies often do. However miserable the situation is in Greece today, there’s no doubt that the creative output of its brief Golden Age of antiquity still endures with us. Probably the biggest contribution of ancient Greece to our modern world is democracy. Greek philosophy also had a profound influence on man and still continues to provoke intellectual thought. It was often used by pagans to attack Christianity, but many early Christians also embraced it to show that Christians too could do philosophy. Any shortcomings in Greek philosophy, they said, could be answered by the fullness and superiority of the Christian doctrine.