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Hellenistic Philosophy

The religion of many in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, especially among the educated, was philosophy. Philosophy at that time was not the critical discipline it is in our day nor the theoretical and metaphysical study it has been through much of its history; it was a way of life. Philosophy provided a criticism or reinterpretation of traditional religion and offered its own moral and spiritual direction. Each philosophical school had its own way of Life (agoge) with distinctive beliefs and practices. Ethics was the principal concern of the leading Hellenistic philosophies. The various schools of philosophy formed communities of "believers" around a revered master and his teachings. They had their "interdenominational" rivalries and conversion stories. Philosophy even had its holy men ("saints") and martyrs. The various schools provided the worldview and practical guidance for life that religion does for many today. The popular religion did not give much ethical guidance, but philosophy provided a conscience for the age. Some even saw philosophy as bringing a kind of conversion and cleaning of the soul,' although it was a redemption worked by one's own strength. Philosophy contributed to the impulse toward mono.theism, but in general the god of Hellenistic.Roman philosophy was impersonal.

The aim of the Hellenistic philosophies was to teach people how to live. For all of them this meant a detachment (in varying degrees) from the affairs and concerns of this life.a self.sufficiency with regard to all external circumstances. "If you become a philosopher, you will live not unpleasantly, but you will learn to subsist pleasantly anywhere and with any resources.

Philosophers developed significant criticisms of the popular religion. It was not uncommon to criticize the anthropomorphism and immorality of the traditional myth.ology, polytheism, superstitious religious practices, and the grosser features of sacrifice. In turn, an emphasis was placed on the proper attitudes in sacrifice, worthy conceptions of the gods, rational worship, and upright conduct. Such material could be, and was, appropriated by Jewish and Chris.tian writers in the early centuries in their attack on the established pagan religion.

Sources utilized in these pages may include:
  • Everett Ferguson's: Backgrounds of Early Christianity
  • Walker's: History of Christianity (out of print)

    (These links will take you to book detail pages at

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