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Late pagan alternatives: Plotinus and the Christian gospel

  • STEPHEN R. L. CLARK (a1) (a2)

Abstract

Philosophical pagans in late antiquity charged Christians with believing ‘without evidence’, but were themselves accused of arbitrariness in their initial choice of philosophical school. Stoics and Platonists in particular adopted a form of cosmic religion that Christians criticized on rationalistic as well as sectarian grounds. The other charge levelled against Christians was that they had abandoned ancestral creeds in arrogant disregard of an earlier consensus, and of the world as pagans themselves conceived it. A clearer understanding of the dispute can be gained from a comparison of Heracles and Christ as divinized ‘sons of God’. The hope on both sides was that we might become, or somehow join with, God. Both sought an escape from the image of a pointless, heartless universe – an image that even moderns find difficult to accept and live by. The notion that pagans and Christians had of God, and of the divine life we might hope to share, was almost identical – up to the point, at least, where both philosophical and common pagans conceived God as Pheidias had depicted him (the crowned Master), and Christians rather as the Crucified, ‘risen against the world’.

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References

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