Because I am trying to work my way through the ANF, and because the task of blogging my way through City of God was so useful, I thought I'd give blogging on through the Fathers a go as well. I make no promise to keep this up--and certainly not with the depth, detail, or attention I gave Augustine, but I do hope to be somewhat faithful at it. [shrug] We'll see how it goes.
Without further ado:
Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5
Hippolytus: The Refutation of All Heresies
Hippolytus outlines his planned work, wherein he will explain what false teachers believe and why they are wrong. In this book, it will include "natural" philosophers (Thales, Pythagoras, etc., whom we would call the "Pre-Socratics, though they are by no means chronologically before Socrates); "moral" philosophers (Socrates and Plato); and the "logicians" (Aristotle and the Stoics). He will also mention Epicurus, Pyrrho (the Skeptic), the Buddhists, the Druids, and Hesoid.
We have to undertake a work like this because the thought of these philosophers looks like truth and is very seductive to Christians, but in reality is atheist and leads only to heresy. In fact, we can see exactly where the heretics are lifting from pagan thinkers.
The Natural Philosophers
Thales believed that all is in flux and fluid (water), while Pythagoras taught that numbers could sum up existence and that mysticism and magic were the logical outgrowth of combining mathematical principles and the immortality of the human soul. Empedocles was a sort of proto-Stoic, and believed that fire would someday consume all, until then reincarnation and transmigration of souls was the order of the day. Heraclitus builds on this, adding a doctrine of evil to the fiery flux of the world. Thales' student Anaximader asserted that all is stability and order, earthy in nature. Anaximenes holds that air and space is the fundamental principle of existence, and that conflict (as that between hot and cold) is what drives creation. Anaxagoras admits an infinity of matter, but notes that we must also account for the mind--even an infinite mind shepherding material existence. Archelaus is similar in that he saw space for intellect in matter--which inspired his student Socrates. Parmenides held to a doctrine of existence as a balance between stability and flux, albeit one that continues in an eternal cycle. Leucippus holds a similar belief, adding that change and motion are the source of stability. Both Parmenides and Leucippus believe in necessity, though neither defines it. Drawing on Eastern wisdom, Democritus develops the theory of different amounts of space between objects, whether objects the size of hte sun or the size of things so small they cannot be physically experienced. Xenophanes believed that change was an illusion, and that as a result growth in knowledge--and hence any knowledge at all--was impossible. Ecphantus agreed in the impossibility of true knowledge, but held that the earth was at the center of the universe and was rotating from east to west. Hippo holds the mix of the elements and their conflicts as the source of both body and mind.
The Moral Philosophers
Socrates left no writings himself, studied under Archelaus, and held to the maxim "know thyself." But for us to know him, we must turn to Plato. Plato taught "that there are three originating principle of the universe, (namely) God, and matter, and exemplar." That is, God is the Creator, and his object of creation is matter, which is composed of and is the source of the four elements so thought about by the natural philosophers--"fire, air, earth, and water, from which all the rest of what are denominated concrete substances... have been formed." The "exemplar" is the "intelligence of the Deity, to which, as to an image in the soul, the Deity attending, fabricated all things."
Thus, the idea of God (both our ideas about God and God's idea of Himself) become central to Plato's thought. God, as a Spirit, takes matter and shapes it into what was previously only potential. The means by which God shapes and the pattern according to which God shapes is His own Idea.
Plato's followers often disagree over what Plato actually meant--where do natural change and flux fit in? Is Plato a monotheist, or does he have room for multiple created lesser deities? What is going on with the lesser demons Plato talks about? Does Plato hold to the immortality of the soul? Or to some form of reincarnation? Is his view of virtue close to Aristotle's--that is, as a "mean between extremes"? Or is it something else? Is Plato a relativist or not? And how may the virtues be used for happiness and fellowship with God?
Plato argues that the virtues exist in a hierarchy, while the vices are chaotic. He also holds to a view of fate, but likewise believes human beings are responsible moral creatures.