Christian Philosophy


Western Philosophy
in the Christian Tradition

Key Movements

  • The Early Church
  • The Greek Fathers
  • The Latin Fathers
  • The Scholastics
  • The Humanists
  • The Protestant Reformers
  • The Rationalists & Idealists
  • The Late Modern Tradition
  • The Social Justice Critics

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. (Proverbs 9:9)













The Greek Fathers
Clement, Origen, and the Cappadocian Fathers

Catholic historians regard St. Peter, a disciple of Jesus, as the first head of the Church (i.e. Pope). He served in this capacity until his martyrdom in 66. Depending on the source, Pope Clement then served as the second, third, or fourth Bishop of Rome and is the first Apostolic Father of Christianity. 

The earliest Christian texts were written in Greek, so these earliest Christian theologians are known as the Greek Fathers. Clement wrote one of the earliest Christian texts outside of what will later become the New Testament. In his work, he defends Church elders who were unjustly removed from office. A century later, the Greek-Egyptian Origen will write the first Christian philosophical treatise, called First Principles. Origen was a Neoplatonist and a Stoic. He tended to interpret scripture allegorically. He taught that God was the First Principle (c.f. Aristotle) and that Jesus, the Logos (c.f. Plato), was subordinate to God. 

The Cappadocian Fathers furthered the view that Christianity ought to be understood in the light of Greek philosophy. They championed the Catholic view of the Trinity (against Arianism). And they taught an Apophatic theological viewpoint: that we ultimately cannot understand God’s essence, but can only discern God indirectly through His actions. One of the Cappadocian Fathers, St. Gregory, became a Doctor of the Church. 

The Latin Fathers
Tertullian, Ambrose, and Augustine of Hippo

Like Origen, Tertullian was also from North Africa. Born in Carthage in the 150s, the son of a Roman centurion, Tertullian was the first Christian philosopher to write in Latin. He was the first to use the concept of the Trinity to describe God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit — which he famously called “three persons, one substance.” He is also the first person to use the terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament,” and was the first person to refer to Christianity as a religion (“vera religio”).

Between Tertullian and Ambrose, in 325, the Roman Emperor Constantine called on all the Christian bishops to meet together to define Christian doctrine. This historic meeting is known as the Council of Nicea. Several theological controversies were decided on at this council, including the nature of the Trinity, the relationship between God and Jesus, and the metaphysical nature of Jesus. The results of this Council became Catholic doctrine (c.f. the Nicene Creed). Anyone outside of Nicene doctrine became known as a heretic.

St. Ambrose, along with St. Gregory, became a Doctor of the Church. He served as Bishop of Milan in the late 300s. His theological views are remembered in the famous phrase, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” By which he meant that local Christian communities ought to have the freedom to worship as they like, within reason. When in Rome, St. Ambrose would fast on Saturday because that was the Roman custom. But in Milan he would not fast.

St. Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose. Today, St. Augustine is remembered as the preminent philosopher of Christianity. Like Tertullian, he was a North African Roman and Neoplatonist. As a Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine developed the Christian theology of Original Sin and the theory of the Just War. He wrote extensively of his conversion to Christianity in his book The Confessions. And, as Rome was falling, he wrote The City of God as a defence of Christian government in the face of pagan criticism. In 380, the Roman Emperor (having moved from Rome to Constantinople) declared that all Roman subjects must be Catholic Christians.

The Scholastics
Peter Abelard, Anselm of Canterbury, and Thomas Aquinas

Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. 

The Humanists
Petrarch, Jean Bodin, and Erasmus

Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. 

The Protestant Reformers
Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jakob Arminius, and Zwingli

Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. 

The Modern Rationalists & Idealists

René Descartes, GWF Hegel, and George Berkeley

Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. 

The Late Modern Tradition

Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, Albert Schweitzer, and Paul Tillich

Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. 

The Social Justice Critics

Leo Tolstoy, Reinhold Niebuhr, Martin Luther King, and Cornel West

Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.