Reference address :

ELPENOR - Home of the Greek Word

Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Demetrios Constantelos

Greek Orthodoxy - From Apostolic Times to the Present Day













Page 3

Christianity is Greek not only in form but to great degree in content as well. As we have seen, Greek religious and philosophical thought had penetrated into the mind and thought of later Judaism and Greek thought had thoroughly imbued the whole of the Roman Empire. The fusion of Greek classical and religious material was present not only in theological and philosophical writing but also in mystical and spiritual. Christian thinkers were in constant dialogue with ancient Greek thought and religious experience. Hellenization affected every aspect of early Christianity including worship.
For several centuries the worship of the Christian Church in the Roman Empire including the Latin speaking West was in Greek. Writing about the Roman Liturgy, C.E. Hammond, a renown liturgiologist of the last century adds: "it is, we believe, acknowledged on all sides [history, archeology, literature and criticism] that the language of the early Roman Church, i.e. of the first three centuries, was Greek." In full agreement he cites his contemporary ecclesiastical historian Henry Hart Milman who writes: "For some considerable (it cannot but be an undefinable) part of three first centuries, the Church of Rome, and most, if not all the Churches of the West, were, if we may so speak, Greek religious colonies. Their language was Greek, their organization Greek, their writers Greek, their scriptures Greek; and many vestiges and traditions show that their ritual, their Liturgy, was Greek."
The tremendous progress in various theological disciplines in the twentieth century, confirms the views of their colleagues of the previous century. Concerning the Hellenization of Christianity, scholars of different fields (history, philosophy, patristics and biblical studies) seem to agree that far from being a corruption of Christianity, Hellenization secured its survival and universality. In a recent scholarly review of Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Jesus – God and Man and Revelation as History, David W. Tracy has summarized the scholarly opinion of recent years as follows: "In fact, Pannenberg’s position not only allows, but also insists, that the Hellenistic tradition provided the necessary conditions of possibility for a clearer affirmation of the divinity of Jesus Christ and the universality of the eschatological self-revelation of God in the face of Jesus."
  In Rome and throughout Italy Christianity at first spread among the Greek population and retained Greek as its language. Even Hippolytus, who belonged to the Roman church and died -circa 235 A.D., wrote exclusively in Greek ; and the first author to employ the Latin tongue in letters, so far as I know, is the Roman bishop Victor (189-199). The episcopal list of the Roman church down to Victor contains only a couple of Latin names. When Polycarp of Smyrna reached Rome in 154 he conducted public worship there (i.e., in Greek), and it was in Greek that the ancient Roman symbol was composed (about the middle of the second century, or, as some hold, later). The Roman clergy did not become predominantly Latin till the episcopate of Fabian (shortly before the middle of the third century), and then it was that the church acquired her first Latin writer of importance in the indefatigable presbyter Novatian.

Adolph Harnack, The Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries
Orthodox and other leading non-Orthodox Christian theologians agree on the close relationship between Christianity and Greek thought. The late Russian-American theologian Georges Florovsky observes that "Hellenism has placed its eternal character upon the Church. It has become an inseparable part of her very being and as such every Christian is, to some extent, a Hellene. Hellenism is not simply a phase in the history of Christianity but a cornerstone in its life… There is no Catholic Christian theology outside of Hellenism." Florovsky refers, of course, to the period of Christian antiquity, which developed under the influence of the Greek language, thought, piety, mysticism, and ethos. Christianity and Hellenism emerged as new synthesis in the Greek East and the Latin West of the Roman Empire.
A. Cleveland Coxe, editor of the American edition of the Ante-Nicene Fathers Series, wrote about the Greek character of early Christianity: "Primitive Christianity was Greek in form and character, Greek from first to last, Greek in all its forms of dogma, worship and policy."
Arthur P. Stanley, a distinguished professor of ecclesiastical history at Oxford, some hundred years ago wrote in even more lively terms:
The Greek Church reminds us of the time when the tongue, not of Rome, but of Greece, was the sacred language of Christendom. It was a striking remark of the Emperor Napoleon that the introduction of Christianity itself was, in a certain sense, the triumph of Greece over Rome; the last and most signal instance of the maxim of Horace, Graecia capla ferum victorem cepit (captive Greece took its rude captor captive). The early Roman Church was but a colony of Greek Christians or Grecized Jews. The earliest Father of the Western Church wrote in Greek. The early popes were not Italians but Greeks. The name of the pope is not Latin, but Greek, the common and now despised name of every pastor in the Eastern Church. …. She is the mother and Rome the daughter. It is her privilege to claim a direct continuity of speech with the earliest times; to boast of reading the whole code of Scripture, Old as well as New, in the language in which it was read and spoken by the Apostles. The humblest peasant who reads his Septuagint or Greek Testament in his mother-tongue on the hills of Boeotia may proudly feel that he has access tot he original oracles of divine truth which pope and cardinal reach by a barbarous and imperfect translation; that he has a key of knowledge which in the West is only to be found in the hands of the learned classes.
Previous Page / First / Next

Cf.  Books for getting closer to Orthodox Christianity ||| Orthodox Images of the Christ ||| Byzantium : The Alternative History of Europe ||| The pulse of Ancient Rome was driven by a Greek heart ||| Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire ||| Schmemann, A History of the Orthodox Church ||| Videos about Byzantium and Orthodoxy ||| Aspects of Byzantium in Modern Popular Music ||| 3 Posts on the Fall of Byzantium  ||| Greek Literature / The New Testament

On Line Resources for Constantinople * On the future of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

Greek Forum : Make a question / Start a Discussion 

Promote Greek Learning

Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Learned Freeware


Reference address :