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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The empire from Constantine the Great to Justinian

Literature, learning, education, and art 


Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader

The developments in literature, learning, and education during the period from the fourth to the beginning of the sixth century are closely connected with the relations established between Christianity and the ancient pagan world with its great culture. The debates of the Christian apologists of the second and third centuries on the question of whether or not it was permissible for a Christian to use pagan materials brought no definite conclusion. While some of the apologists found merit in Greek culture and considered it reconcilable with Christianity, others denied that pagan antiquity was of any significance to the Christian and repudiated it. A different attitude prevailed in Alexandria, the old center of heated philosophic and religious disputes, where discussions on the compatibility of ancient paganism with Christianity tended to draw together these two seemingly irreconcilable elements. Clement of Alexandria, for example, the famous writer of the late second century, said: Philosophy, serving as a guide, prepares those who are called by Christ to perfection. Still, the problem of the relation between pagan culture and Christianity was by no means settled by the debates of the first three centuries of the Christian era.

But life did its work, and pagan society was gradually being converted to Christianity, which received a particularly great impetus in the fourth century. It was aided on the one hand by the protection of the government, and on the other by the numerous so-called heresies, which awakened intellectual disputes, aroused passionate discussions, and created a series of new and important questions. Meanwhile Christianity was gradually absorbing many of the elements of pagan culture, so that, according to Krumbacher, Christian topics were being unconsciously clothed in pagan garb. Christian literature of the fourth and fifth centuries was enriched by the works of great writers in the field of prose as well as that of poetry. At the same time the pagan traditions were continued and developed by representatives of pagan thought.

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