Hellenism refers to the spread of Greek culture through the Mediterranean region after the fourth century B.C. Language and philosophy were both exports from Greece at this time, and soon polytheistic Hellenism came into conflict with Christianity. A key factor in the confluence of Hellenism and Christianity came in the first century, with the apostolic church's shift of focus "from the closed world of the Synagogue and the Law to the cosmopolitan society of the Roman-Hellenistic world," writes Christopher Dawson in "The Formation of Christendom."
Hellenistic Christianity is notable for its combination of Greek philosophy, ethics and morality with Christian belief. Justin Martyr was a key figure during this period who helped reconcile Hellenism with Christian teachings. Martyr was an early apologist, explaining Christianity to this new Greek flock within their own system of philosophy. In particular, Martyr used the Greek concept of internal and external thought to illustrate Jesus Christ's relationship with God, and thus Christ's messiah status.
Polytheism vs. Monotheism
Hellenistic religion was based on a polytheistic tradition of hundreds of Greek gods, conflicting with Christianity's adherence to belief in one God. But by this point in Greek philosophy, according to Harold W. Attridge of Yale Divinity School, there was a "growing appreciation...for the notion that there may be a single simple divine principle underlying all things." Martyr guided this Hellenistic philosophical trend toward the monotheism of Christianity.
Nature of God
The nature of God was another tricky bridge between two schools of thought for Hellenistic Christianity to overcome. The Greeks saw God as transcendent, present in everyday life and accessible to everyone, while Christianity's Saint Paul preached that "the power of God was made to work through human flesh," the savior Jesus Christ. While many Hellenistic Christians accepted Christ, it was difficult for some to accept the idea of Jesus as intermediary between God and the people.
Hellenism in Modern Christianity
Today, much of modern Christianity has become inseparable from Greek philosophy and thought. The New Testament and other parts of the Bible are considered Hellenistic in form, and much of Christian art throughout the centuries has been based on a Greek artistic and sculptural sensibility. In Dawson's words, this "synthesis has remained the foundation of Western culture and has never been destroyed."
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