12 steven p. marrone
and third centuries
, philosophy, as practiced by Stoics, Platonists,andEpicureans,andChristianity,asprofessedamongeducatedGreekand Roman converts, were beginning to look very much alike.Philosophy had come, in E. R. Dodds’s words, “increasingly to
the quest for God.”
In such a world, it was easy for a person likeJustin (d.
), searching among the philosophers for an answerto the riddle of life, to end up a Christian, and ultimately a mar-tyr. As an apologist for his faith he continued to wear the philoso-pher’s distinctive garb and advertised Christianity as philosophy inthe fullest sense of the word (
Dialogue with Trypho
b).There was, to be sure, a literature of controversy pitting Christianagainst pagan thinker, but the sometimes bitter tone of this writ-ing was partly due to the fact that the antagonists were fightingover common intellectual ground. The third-century Christian writ-ers and teachers Clement of Alexandria and his pupil, Origen, andtheir pagan counterparts Plotinus and his disciple, Porphyry, spokethe same philosophical language, drew from the single conceptualreservoir of emergent Neoplatonism, and even traveled in the samecircles.
Medieval philosophy was born in precisely this intellectual set-ting. Not by coincidence, these were also the circumstances underwhich Christianity came to be the official religion of the RomanEmpire. It is indeed only a slight exaggeration to characterize thelegal conversion initiated in the early fourth century by the emperorConstantine as an epiphenomenon arising out of this more generalcultural milieu. The way had already been prepared by the spreadof Jewish communities and their religion throughout the Mediter-ranean, with a corresponding Hellenization of Jewish thought fromacquaintance with Greek philosophical ideas. By the third century acommon currency of learned discourse flourished among the elite –pagan,Jewish,andChristian.Constantine’scontributionwassimplyto make the Christian variant of this discourse the dominant one,eventually oppressively so, from the fourth century on. But the con-ceptual apparatus, intellectual inclinations, and interpretative toolsthat were used in the course of this process were neither specificallyChristian nor very new. In other words, the conversion simply en-suredthatthephilosophizingofChristianthinkingpreviouslyunder-wayshouldcontinueapaceandcometotypifythecultureoflearningin late Rome. It likewise inaugurated the first of three phases in thecareer of medieval philosophy.