For the branch of theology which uses philosophical methods to analyze theological concepts, see Philosophical theology. For the branch of theology which aims to present a rational defense for the Christian faith, often using philosophical methods, see Christian apologetics.
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There is no record of any written works produced by Jesus. Nor is there a record of any systematic philosophy or theology written by him. Several accounts of his life and many of his teachings are recorded in the New Testament. Those records form the basis for some Christian philosophies, such as Jesusism.
Saul of Tarsus (later Paul the Apostle or St. Paul) was a Jewish Roman citizen who persecuted the early Christian church and who helped to facilitate the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, a Greek-speaking Jewish Christian. Saul underwent a dramatic conversion, becoming a Christian leader who wrote a number of epistles, or letters, to early churches in which he taught doctrine and theology. In some ways he functioned in the manner of the popular marketplace philosophers of his day (Cynics, Skeptics, and some Stoics). A number of his speeches and debates with Greek philosophers are recorded in the Biblical Book of Acts, and his epistles became a significant source for later Christian philosophies.
Hellenistic Christian philosophy and early Christian philosophy
Hellenism is the traditional designation for the Greek culture of the Roman Empire in the days of Jesus, Paul, and for centuries after. Classical philosophies of the Greeks had already expired and diluted beyond recognition except for small bands of continuators of the traditions of the Pythagoreans, of Plato, and Aristotle (whose library was lost for centuries). The new philosophies of the Hellenistic world were those of the Cynics, Skeptics, and increasingly the Stoics; it's these philosophers who bring us into the world of Hellenistic philosophy. Slowly, a more integral and rounded tendency emerged within Hellenism, but also in certain respects in opposition at times to it in regard to one philosophical problem or another, or an ensemble of problems. Here are some of those thinkers most closely associated with Hellenistic Christian philosophies, listed more or less in chronological order:
Justin Martyr: Christian apologist and philosopher whose work often focused on the doctrine of the Logos and argued that many Stoic and Platonic philosophical ideas were similar to ideas in the Old Testament
Tertullian: Tertullian was a philosopher before he converted to Christianity; after that change of direction he remained a prolific writer in the second century A.D., and is commonly called the "Father of the Western Church." He was the first church father to use the term Trinitas in reference to the Godhead and developed the doctrine of traducianism, or the idea that the soul was inherited from the parents, the idea that God had corporeal (although not fleshly) existence, and the doctrine of the authority of the gospels. He fought voraciously against Marcionism, and considered Greek philosophy to be incompatible with Christian wisdom. Toward the end of his life, he joined the heterodox sect of Montanism, and thus has not been canonized by the Catholic Church.
Irenaeus of Lyons: Irenaeus is best known for his writings arguing for the unity of God, and against Gnosticism. He argued that original sin is latent in humanity, and that it was by Jesus' incarnation as a man that he "undid" the original sin of Adam, thus sanctifying life for all mankind. Irenaeus maintained the view that Christ is the Teacher of the human race through whom wisdom would be made accessible to all.
Clement of Alexandria: Theologian and apologist who wrote on Greek philosophy, using ideas from pagan literature, Stoic and Platonic philosophy, and Gnosticism to argue for Christianity
Origen: Origen was influential in integrating elements of Platonism into Christianity. He incorporated Platonic idealism into his conceptions of the Logos, and the two churches, one ideal and one real. He also held a strongly Platonic view of God, describing him as the perfect, incorporeal ideal. He was later declared a heretic for subscribing to the "too Platonistic" doctrine of the preexistence of the soul.
Athanasius of Alexandria: father of trinitarian orthodoxy involved in the formation of the Nicene Creed, who vehemently opposed Arius, the bishop of Alexandria who held that Christ was a created being, and his following.
Anselm of Canterbury: Anselm is best known for the ontological argument for God's existence, i.e.: God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived. But to exist is greater than not to exist. If God does not exist then he wouldn't be "that than which nothing greater can be conceived." Therefore, God exists. Anselm's argumentation was used as a theological directive for conceptualizing divine perfection. He was one of the first Western thinkers to directly engage the reintroduction of Aristotle to the West. However, he didn't have all of Aristotle's works and those he had access to were from Arabic translations and Islamic commentaries. Also developed the satisfaction theory of atonement.
Thomas Aquinas: Aquinas was the student of Albert the Great, a brilliant Dominican experimentalist, much like the Franciscan, Roger Bacon, of Oxford in the 13th century. Aquinas synthesized Aristotelian philosophy with Christianity. He believed that there was no contradiction between faith and secular reason, but that they complemented each other epistemically. He thought Aristotle had achieved the pinnacle of human striving for truth apart from divine revelation and thus adopted Aristotle's philosophy as a framework in constructing his theological and philosophical outlook. Thomas Aquinas was a professor at the prestigious University of Paris, a contemporary of Bonaventure, a Franciscan Professor at the University of Paris whose approach differed significantly from Aquinas' in favor of the more traditional Augustinian Platonism. Widely-accepted as one of the most influential figures in the history of philosophy, his philosophy is the foundation for Thomism. His most famous work is Summa Theologica
William of Ockham: philosopher and theologian who developed Ockham's razor and wrote extensively on metaphysics, ontology, epistemology, theology, logic, and politics
John Duns Scotus: John Duns Scotus is known as the "subtle doctor" whose hair-splitting distinctions were important contributions in scholastic thought and the modern development of logic. Scotus was also a Professor at the University of Paris, but not at the same time as Aquinas. Along with Aquinas, he is one of the two giants of Scholastic philosophy
Jacobus Arminius (1560–1609) A preacher, theologian, and church court operative.
Jean Bodin (1530–1596) French legal scholar and political philosopher, he wrote widely in a number of areas
Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536) was not a philosopher strictly speaking; indeed, he wrote excoriatingly about philosophers. He consolidated the space of Humanism in the late Medieval scholarship of letters, and came to represent its acme. He was a leader of the development of the humanities into a department of European scholarly activities. He bent his studies to recovery and exegesis of the Hebrew Bible's ancient languages and began building the first critical text, and the New Testament became a formal scholarly text. He wrote about issues relevant to the Catholic Church and its ignorance. He spent six years in an Augustinian monastery; he was a joyful satirist; and became most famous for his book The Praise of Folly.
Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) His early work on the law of the seas was outdistanced by On the law of war and peace (1625).
Martin Luther (1483–1546) -- also not strictly a philosopher, although he knew something of William of Occam and nominalist epistemology), from an earlier era of European thought. He had also studied some philosophical materials of Augustine of Hippo, and did not follow Thomas Aquinas. Luther followed Erasmus in developing a critical text of the Biblical manuscripts. Luther went a step beyond Erasmus in actually translating the Bible into the vernacular. Luther's German Bible had a tremendous impact on the development of the German language and its literature.
John Calvin (1509–1564). Calvin was a dogmatician (systematic theology), as exhibited in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, and an exegete who over time translated the Bible from the "original languages" in the form of his grand series of Commentaries on all but one of its books (the Book of Revelation, which provided a problem to him in its metaphory, not yielding robustly to his binomial formula of letter and spirit: either literal, or figurative). He courageously tried to avoid allegorizing, which had had a long history ever since Philo of Alexandria had interpreted the Pentateuch in an allegorical fashion that de-literalized and over-metaphorized (into symbolic systems) many passages of the ancient manuscripts of the Bible (now and developingly a critical text itself). Calvin tried to distance himself from the allegorical method of Christian interpretation of the Bible, attempted distance certainly from the method's primacy, while facing in the Gospels "the parabolic message of the Cross" (Leon Morris, etc.). Not strictly a philosopher, he had a major impact on the quest for a Protestant philosophy (see Jacob Klapwijk, "John Calvin" in the volume he edited with Griffioen and Groenewoud, Bringing into Captivity Every Thought (Eng trans 1991; pp 241–266)). Calvin's seed begat Reformational philosophy 450 years after he planted it.
Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499) Influential Italian humanist philosopher who revived Neoplatonism and was a leader in the Renaissance; translated all of Plato's and Plotinus' works into Latin, as well as many Neoplatonic authors and the Corpus Hermeticum. He also wrote many commentaries on Plato and Christian authors as Pseudo Dyonisius.
Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531) was a leading Reformer who was influenced by a party in his church congregation to de-metaphorize the understanding of the Lord's Supper into a memorial only (no real presence, and no communion of saints, therefore no eschatological community of saints composed of the believers at the Communion Table).
In most cases, these writers reference something in an earlier philosopher, without adding to the ongoing problem-historical shape of Western philosophical knowledge. Between Calvin, and Arminius, born four years before Calvin's death, a Protestant Scholasticism took from various loci and authorities of the Western Middle Ages. It begins already with Luther's colleague Philip Melancthon, who turned from Luther's sola Scriptura to philosophical theology; but Protestant Scholasticism's Reformed variants are diverse. There were no real alternatives until Herman Dooyeweerd and D. H. Th. Vollenhoven in the last century.
John Locke (1632–1704) Extremely influential political philosopher often dubbed "The Father of Classical Liberalism"; many of his philosophical concepts were developed from his religious beliefs, which included his development of the social contract theory
Isaac Newton (1642–1727) English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian who was one of the leading figures of the Scientific Revolution, he wrote often about religious and theological issues; authored Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica; considered by some to be the most influential scientist of all-time.
Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) French mathematician, physicist, inventor, and philosopher who wrote widely on religion and Catholic theology. Pensées is considered a masterpiece of theological thought and Will Durant hailed it as "the most eloquent book in French prose." Also developed Pascal's Wager to argue for belief in Christianity.
George Berkeley Influential Anglo-Irish philosopher who developed the theory of subjective idealism and who wrote prolifically in a number of areas, such as metaphysics, epistemology, the philosophy of language and the philosophy of mathematics
Karl Barth: a Swiss Reformed neo-orthodox theologian, he wrote the massive Church Dogmatics (German, Kirchliche Dogmatik)—unfinished at about six million words by his death in 1968. Barth emphasized the distinction between human thought and divine reality, and that while humans may attempt to understand the divine, our concepts of the divine are never precisely aligned from the divine reality itself, although God reveals his reality in part through human language and culture. Barth strenuously disavowed being a philosopher; he considered himself a dogmatician of the Church and a preacher. The Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary holds the world's most extensive collection of his works.
G. K. Chesterton: a British Catholic author, art and literary critic and philosopher, he applied Christian thought in the form of non-fiction, fiction, and poems addressing a variety of theological, moral, political, and economic issues, particularly the importance of seeking truth, distributism, and opposition to eugenics.
Pavel Florensky, Russian Orthodox theologian, philosopher, priest, mathematician, and inventor
William K. Frankena, American philosopher who was a professor at the University of Michigan for over forty years; he specialized in moral philosophy, writing extensively about the relationship between Christianity and ethics
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Preeminent German philosopher who was a leading figure in German Idealism and whose thought created the philosophical school known as Hegelianism, his philosophy was influenced greatly by his Lutheran religious beliefs; also wrote a number of works regarding the philosophy of religion
C. S. Lewis, a massively influential literary critic and medievalist, and mythologist, a mythographer in his children's fantasies, and an apologist for the Christian faith to which he adhered in the latter half of his life. He claimed not to be a philosopher, but his apologetics are foundational to the formation of a Christian worldview for many modern readers.
Marilyn McCord Adams, philosopher of religion and philosophical theologian who is also a leading authority on medieval philosophy
Robert Merrihew Adams, analytic philosopher specializing in metaphysics, morality, and the philosophy of religion who taught at Yale, UCLA, and Oxford; husband of Marilyn McCord Adams (see directly above)
Diogenes Allen, philosopher of religion who spent most of his career at Princeton Theological Seminary
Rubem Alves, philosopher, psychoanalyst, and theologian
Robert Audi, philosopher whose work focuses on epistemology and ethics who has also written on the relationship between church and state
C. Anthony Anderson, philosopher who specializes in the philosophy of religion, philosophy of language, and philosophy of logic
G. E. M. Anscombe, British analytic philosopher who was a close friend and student of Ludwig Wittgenstein; influential in the fields of the philosophy of logic, philosophy of action, and philosophy of the mind, and ethics, writing from the perspective of Analytical Thomism
Craig Bartholomew, philosopher dealing with biblical hermeneutics, postmodernism, and deconstruction
William Lane Craig, Evangelical apologist, philosopher and theologian; frequently participates in debate on topics related to Christianity and theism. He is known especially for his methodical presentation as well as his articulation and defense of the kalam cosmological argument.
Keith DeRose, philosopher of language and epistemologist at Yale University.
Herman Dooyeweerd, Reformational philosopher and legal scholar; brother-in-law of D.H. Th. Vollenhoven
Terry Eagleton, Not a philosopher by vocation, he is a leading British literary critic and important figure in contemporary social philosophy, often addressing religious issues from a Christian Marxist perspective
C. Stephen Evans, American historian and philosopher teaching at Baylor University
Jacques Ellul, French philosopher, legal scholar, sociologist, and legal scholar who was a leading Christian anarchist who wrote prolifically on topics such as technology, propaganda, and justice
John Frame: an American Calvinist philosopher focused in the areas of epistemology and ethics
Étienne Gilson, who wrote The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, The Spirit of Thomism, Being and Some Philosophers, and many other works. In the field of Thomism he is considered one of the main figures credited with starting the movement within Thomism known as Existential Thomism, which emphasis the primacy of the act of Being (Esse) in understanding everything else that is.
René Girard, French philosopher of social science, anthropologist, historian and literary critic who developed the idea of mimetic desire and wrote on scapegoating, reinterpreting the atonement as an mechanism for overcoming human violence and the sacrifice system
Josef Pieper, a German Catholic philosopher whose work concentrates particularly on Plato and Thomas Aquinas
Alvin Plantinga. moderately Calvinist American philosopher, one of the key figures in the movement of Reformed epistemology, which synthesizes Analytical Philosophy and Christian philosophical concerns. He is professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame.
Vern Poythress, Calvinist philosopher and New Testament scholar who advocates multiperspectivalism and specializes in the philosophy of science, philosophy of mathematics, linguistics, and hermeneutics
Stephen G. Post, American ethicist and interdisciplinary scholar specializing in the study of altruism, bioethics, and compassion
Alex Pruss, metaphysician at Baylor University
Michael C. Rea, analytic philosopher specializing in metaphysics and the philosophy of religion who teaches at the University of Notre Dame
Paul Ricouer: philosopher who wrote written widely in the areas of hermeneutics, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, political philosophy, ethics, and the philosophy of language
Hans Rookmaaker, philosopher specializing in art theory, art history, and music; friend of Francis Schaeffer
Pope Shenouda III, (b. Nazeer Gayed, 1923) Pope of Alexandria (1971–2012) has written on almost every aspect of Oriental Orthodox Christianity. Has pioneered Christian ecumenism and written over 150 books on many topics including theology, dogma, comparative theology, spiritual theology, and church history.
Melville Y. Stewart, editor, author of books in philosophy of religion, and a Series on Science and Religion 科学与宗教 (5-volume Series in Chinese, and 2-volume Series in English). Visiting Philosopher at various universities in China.
James K.A. Smith: a Canadian-American philosopher who draws on three different traditions of Christian thought (Pentecostalism, Calvinism, and Radical Orthodoxy) in dialogue with deconstruction and phenomenology to create practical works for broad, general audiences
Paul Tillich Rather than beginning his philosophical work with questions of God or gods, Tillich began with a "phenomenology of the Holy." His basic thesis is that religion is Ultimate Concern. What a person is Ultimately Concerned with in regard to their Ultimate meaning and being can be understood as religion because, "There is nobody to whom nothing is sacred because no one can rid themselves of their humanity no matter how desperately they may try" (Young-Ho Chun, Tillich and Religion, 1998, pg. 14.
Denys Turner: British philosopher and theologian teaching at Yale University whose work focuses on political philosophy, social theory, and mystical theology
Nick Trakakis: Australian philosopher who specializes in the philosophy of religion and theodicy
D. H. Th. Vollenhoven: Vollenhoven's Calvinism and the Reformation of Philosophy (Dutch, 1933) launched a philosophical movement that, after the massive re-inforcing effect of his brother-in-law Herman Dooyeweerd's first trilogy, Philosophy of the Law-Idea (1935–36), led to the formation of the Association for Calvinist Philosophy in 1936. For decades, Vollenhoven served as president of the aforementioned association, which has become the Association for Reformational Philosophy/ Vereniging voor Reformatorische Wijsbegeerte (VRW), still based in the Netherlands but with ever-enlarging interest in the rest of the world. It is disputed whether Vollenhoven's, his colleague Herman Dooyeweerd's, and many among the subsequent generations of philosophers in the Reformational philosophy movement are best described as "modern" or "postmodern," since they anticipated numerous themes that resurfaced in postmodernism, yet remain steadfastly and would-be distinctively Christian and non-Roman.
Keith Ward: British philosopher, theologian, and pastor who has written widely in the areas of the philosophy of religion and comparative theology, has also made major contributions related to the relationship between science and religion; advocates for open theism
Simone Weil: French philosopher, mystic, and social activist
Cornel West, Philosopher, writer, public speaker and political activist who argues for Christian Socialism; has taught at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Union Theological Seminary in New York
Dallas Willard: notable Christian philosopher at the University of Southern California. Willard has written extensively in philosophy but also in practical Christian theology with an emphasis in Christian spiritual formation.
Nicholas Wolterstorff: American philosopher at Yale University associated with Reformed epistemology who has written on epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, political philosophy, and the philosophy of religion