A working list of some dates and details about the lives and thought of influential theologians, philosophers, and other leaders who crop up in the literature. Something I recommend, though I did not do it here for you, is that you create your own document(s) containing quotes from and about these figures, so that you build up a well-rounded view of their thinking. (Texts that have enjoyably informed me include Jonathan Hill’s History of Christian Thought, Mark Noll’s Turning Points, and Henry Chadwick’s The Early Church.)
Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)
– First of great Medieval philosopher-theologians
– Born in Italy, hiked to Bec in Normandy & became monk, prior, and abbot there
– William the Conqueror brought him over to England to be archbishop of Canterbury in 1093
– Wrote Cur Deus Homo (“Why God Became Man”) — sets out the doctrine of the atonement that sees Christ’s death as the satisfaction of the debt of human sin
– Prominent defender of Trinity in Arian conflict – Nicene Creed: the Son is wholly divine
– Alexandria – bishop there from 328 (but his right to be a bishop was often questioned)
Clement of Alexandria (c.150-220)
– Church father who had positive attitude towards Greek philosophy. Wrote Stromata, 8 books on relationship between philosophy and theology. Philosophy prepared the Greeks for Christ as the Mosaic Law prepared the Jews for the Messiah. Christ was the perfection and fulfillment of both. Clement uses the same word, “custodian” (epaidagogei), to describe the role of philosophy, that Paul uses in Gal. 3:23-4.
– Clement was also known to stress that a true Christian would pursue spiritual rather than material existence, putting off desire and becoming godly.
– Head of catechetical school in Alexandria that instructed those preparing for baptism; influenced Origen.
Iranaeus of Lyons (c.120-202)
– Wrote Against Heresies; spoke against Gnosticism
– Realized that Christians needed a more coherent understanding of redemption
– ALL of Jesus’ life is necessary for our salvation, esp. temptation in the wilderness
– Believed in restoring creation, not escaping it
Justin Martyr (c.100-c.165)
– 2nd c. apologist – particularly concerned to “exploit the parallels between Christianity and Platonism as a means of communicating the gospel” (McGrath, p.16)
– Logos: God’s preexistent Spirit, which became incarnate; analogy of fire
– Logos spermatikos: in every human being – God’s truth might even be found in the philosophers.
– “Whatever all people have said well belongs to us Christians.” In other words, Christians may make use of philosophy / secular culture to further the gospel. (But Justin martyr failed to delineate adequate grounds for distinguishing between the two cultures.)
Nietzsche, Friedrich (1844-1900)
German philosopher. Announced the “death of God” and declared that all religious thinking was just about the “will to power.” Nihilist: rejected objective moral values.
Origen (c. AD 185 – c. AD 254)
– Alexandria, then Caesarea (when excommunicated from Alexandria)
– Incredibly prolific writer – 800 known titles, estimated 6,000 items total (letters thru commentaries)
– On First Principles – first work of systematic Christian theology ever written
– Promoted allegorical interpretation of difficult passages
– Western contemporary of Irenaeus
– From Carthage; wrote in Latin – “Father of Latin Theology”
– Gave a defense against Marcion re. OT & NT
– Defended doctrine of Trinity — used this word for the first time
– Denounced extrabiblical sources of interpretation, especially Hellenistic philosophy – “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”
Wright, N. T. (b.1948)
Anglican scholar and Bishop of Durham (since 2003). Prolific and versatile, writing with equal ease for popular and scholarly audiences. Highly critical of Reformational categories of thought and well-read in Second-Temple literature, Wright urges “critical realism” in our approach to the New Testament, so that we are careful to understand writers such as Paul in their specific historical context(s). Fat books include The New Testament and the People of God and Paul and the Faithfulness of God. More accessible works include Simply Christian, Surprised by Hope, Hebrews for Everyone (& etc., commentary series).