Friday, May 6, 2011

Socrates and Christianity

What, exactly, did Socrates teach? Well, among other things, he
fervently believed that everyone should be serious about the
question as to what sort of life a person should live. Plato
recorded the teachings of Socrates in his DIALOGUES. At the very
end of GORGIAS, one of these dialogues, Socrates said, "You may
let anyone despise you as a fool and do you outrage, if he
wishes, yes, and you may cheerfully let him strike you with that
humiliating blow, for you will suffer no harm thereby if you
really are a good man and an honorable, and pursue virtue. . . .
This is the best way of life--to live and die in the pursuit of
righteousness and all other virtues. Let us follow this, I say,
inviting others to join us." Socrates lived these truths and he
did so even unto death, thereby causing the truths which he
taught to make an indelible impression upon his society, and upon
all future societies that would be influenced by Hellenistic
culture.

The story of the life and death of Socrates, as described by
Plato, Xenophon, and others, was therefore of vital importance in
shaping the values of Western civilization. Justin Martyr, the
ancient Christian Father who had been a student of philosophy
before he became a Christian, continued to wear the pallium, the
philosopher's cloak, for the rest of his life, because he saw in
Christianity the fulfillment of the very things that Socrates had
stood for. By the time of the Renaissance, people were still
talking about the life, trial, and death of Socrates as though
these were among the most important events of history. Northern
Renaissance Humanism placed a high premium upon these values, and
for that reason, sought to collect, study, preserve, and publish
the manuscripts of ancient Greek philosophy, of the New
Testament, and of the early church fathers. The primary concern
of these scholars was to return to the high values of ancient
classical civilization, and to the teachings of the Bible. The
work of these humanists laid the groundwork for the Protestant
Reformation in such an obvious way that it was soon said of one
of them, Erasmus of Rotterdam, that he had laid the egg that
Luther hatched.