Revista Studii Teologice


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Se poate vorbi astăzi despre o filosofie bizantină? Interpretări noi la o temă veche

Can We Speak Today about a Byzantine Philosophy? New Interpretations to an Old Topic

Autor(i): Vasile Adrian CARABĂ

Many are now taken aback by the notion of „Byzantine philosophy”, because histories of philosophy seldom consecrate a chapter to Byzantine philosophical thought. It was only in 1949 that Basile Tatakis’ Byzantine Philosophy, a supplement to the History of Philosophy issued by Émile Bréhier, put forth the first such tenet, an extraordinary enterprise since the times’ scholarly circles, especially the French ones, would not deem justified the collocation „Christian philosophy”. This denial obviously included Byzantium. We may wonder why this phrase could be perceived as self-contradictory and who might be entitled to produce a definitive definition of philosophy, since according to Günther Patzig, „philosophy changes its substance” in time, by „circulating” the various trends and sub-trends of philosophy?
The main argument in support of such denial of „Christian philosophy”, in particular the Byzantine one, is that it juxtaposes two contradictory notions: philoso-phy is rational par excellence, whereas Christianity operates with the revealed and the irrational. Martin Heidegger’s question, in his lecture entitled „What is philoso-phy?”: „Has reason declared itself to be the master of philosophy? If so, by which right?” can be reversed: since when is philosophy the absolute master of reason, and by which right? Christianity does not exclude reason in the process of gaining knowledge, but rather reason is paralleled by faith. It is about the relationship be-tween immediate and mediated knowledge. In the absence of faith, the rational man is „blind to everything”, for only „the man who sees the One also sees it all”, St Symeon the New Theologian states in neo-Platonic terms.
Byzantine thought distinguished between „our philosophy” (ἡ ἡμετέρα φιλοσοφία), revealed and understood through reason informed by faith, and „outer wisdom” (ἔξω σοφία), namely the philosophy of Antiquity, that stops short of mys-tery, which the Byzantines also called „worldly philosophy” (κοσμικὴ φιλοσοφία) opposing it to the divine one (ἡ κατὰ θεὸν φιλοσοφία). However the Byzantines, through St John Damascene, took over and sanctioned the six definitions of philoso-phy, whose Neoplatonic-Alexandrine paternity is temporarily accepted until older origins are proven: 1) knowledge of existing things as such; 2) knowledge of things divine and human; 3) concern for death; 4) likeness to God; 5) the art of arts and science of sciences; 6) love for wisdom. Thus philosophy is not merely theoretical but also practical. It entails a manner of living, a philosophical lifestyle (τρόπος φιλόσοφος), as happens with the monks who in Byzantium were dubbed philoso-phers. The main themes of Greek classical philosophy are not lost but rather devel-oped in Byzantium, which critically reconsiders them from a Christian standpoint, leading to a reconfiguration of philosophy at large.
To scholars such as Klaus Oehler, Byzantine philosophy is nothing but the medieval outlook on ancient philosophy. This inevitably raises the issue of the rela-tionship between originality and autonomy. It is common knowledge that Byzantium did not produce any new philosophical movements; „the formal philosophy of Antiqui-ty was first given a Christian direction, to be followed by the extensive interpretation and definition of this legacy” (K. Krumbacher). Fidelity in the Byzantine philosophy, a matter less investigated today, does not have exclusively Christian roots. The Byzan-tines adopted the methodology of their predecessors, but regarding philosophical content, their perspective was „theological”, for „what matters is […] to interpret truth as uttered some time, not conquer it yourself as a novelty” (C. Noica). Not absolute novelty: for instance theophany, understood „in the sense of authentic divine revela-tion” joins „Plato’s agathophany and Plotinus’ henophany” (P. Joannou). Absolute novelty would, of course, lend autonomy from Christian theological thought bringing philosophy in conflict with theology and the Church. Therefore, to the Byzantines and during the Byzantine era, philosophy can only have a Christian character, as a fulfillment of ancient Greek philosophy

Pagini: 15-28