To lately I have been trudging my way though a book entitled Liberty: The God That Failed by Christopher A. Ferrara. I highly recommend this book. As of now it is one of the best books I have ever picked up.
Within the first chapter of the book Ferrara goes into detail about the foundations of the Christian Commonwealth in Greek Philosophy. Its a fantastic and detailed account of how this Greco-Catholic Synthesis gave rise to Christendom and the proper ordering of man in regards to the State (referring to the Civitas, not the modern concept of the nation-state.)
What follows is a brief summary of Ferrara’s explanation of the Greco-Catholic Synthesis,
There arose a synthesis of the two great elements of the Western theologico-political tradition that began in Athens after its fall in the 4th century BC. It began when Socrates claimed to men that they must “care for their souls”. This turned the mind of Greece toward a higher ideal of state and society which led to a search for a new God. The Platonic-Aristotelian system developed for the time a philosophical realism. Ethics and politics based on the view of man as a creature possessed of a rational and immortal soul who inhabits an orderly universe which has a fixed and knowable essence. For Plato it was the Forms. For Aristotle, his “hylomorphism”, which became the Christian philosophical doctrine of matter and form. Every being in this universe is a substance, a unity of matter and the form that determines its nature. With the soul, as Christianity would teach, being the form of man. The Greeks viewed that the rational soul is ordered by nature to the practice of virtues (this was later assimilated into the Christian view in light of revelation). Mans happiness consists of an activity of the soul in accordance to virtue. The highest state of such virtue for Plato was the communion with God, and for Aristotle it was the contemplation of God for those who are capable. For the Greeks this was the summum bonum (Highest Good) through which the Greeks sought with unaided reason prior to the revelation of the New Testament.
This leads us into the political thought that began to develop under the Greeks and was later assimilated into the Christian Commonwealth. Man, being an ensouled creature whose purpose is a life of virtue and an encounter with God, led both Plato and Aristotle to teach that mans perfection requires life in the “State” which originates with the family. Aristotle claims the State is “a creation of nature” and “man by nature is a political animal.” So for the Greeks, along with the Christian leaders that followed them, a good State is one whose laws and institutions take care of the soul by promoting and protecting both virtue and religion over and above mere security of temporal things such as property. For the Greeks, along with the Catholics that followed, religion was not simply a private thing but a public honoring of the divine. The bedrock of the State from the view of the Greeks which was further defended under Christendom is summarized in Aristotle’s Politics:
But a state exists for the sake of the good life; and not for the sake of life only… It is clear then that the state is not a mere society, having a common place, established for the prevention of mutual crime, and for the sake of exchange. These are conditions without which a state cannot exist; but all of them together do not constitute a state, which is a community of families and aggregations of families in well-being for the sake of a perfect and self-sufficing life… by which we mean a happy and Honorable life…. Political society exists for the sake of noble actions, and not of living together.
The Greeks viewed man and the State as the politics of the soul. Greek philosophy produced a new order of values which helped pave the way for the universal religion of Christianity. Copleston in his book A History of Philosophy stated, “It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of Plato in the intellectual preparatio evangelica of the pagan world” and “the natural theology of Aristotle was a preparation for the acceptance of Christianity.”
The Greek foundations of natural theology, ethics and political philosophy along with the structure of the philosophy and theology of Christianity created the “synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church” (As Benedict XVI puts it). This reached its pinnacle under Thomistic philosophy. Which all comes together under the Greco-Catholic Sythesis: Which is summed up nicely by Ferrara in his book Liberty: The God That Failed,
-reveals the God for which the Greeks were seeking;
-explains man’s tendency to commit evil, and the fact of evil in the world, as consequences of the Fall of man on account of the original sin of our first parents;
-offers fallen man redemption through the grace won by the Redeemer, which repairs the defects of the rational soul clouded by Original Sin;
-completes (in the Aristotelian-Thomistic system of Thomas Aquinas and other medieval scholastics) the Greek picture of philosophical realism- a hierarchically ordered universe of divinely created and fixed natures of substances, with man and his rational soul at its visible summit and God at its highest good;
-adds the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity) to the cardinal virtues explored by Plato and Aristotle (prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude), and the concept of punishable transgressions against divine law- sin – to offenses against the natural order, concerning which there had been no explicit divine “ought” or divine prohibition in Greek philosophy.
This Greco-Catholic synthesis creates an understanding of human freedom as not only the practice of virtue, but liberation of the soul from the effects of sin.
So there you have it, a basic summary of the Greco-Catholic Synthesis. As I work my way though this wonderful book I plan on further summarizing topics of interest for my readers. I also highly recommend the purchase of this book. It is a great addition to the book collection of Catholics and Reactionaries.