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Philological Apologetics: Hellenization and Festugière

Renaud Gagné

Cambridge University

Christianity's long ambivalence about the legacy of Hellenism and the extent of its reach into the formative stages of the new religion written in Greek continued to generate an immense amount of involved research throughout the 20th century. The intense debates that investigated the Hellenism of Early Christianity were first and foremost concerned with issues of language. What do the forms of syntax and vocabulary carry into the ideas they shape and their resonance? How "Greek" is the ontology of the Septuagint that echoes in phrases like ᾿Εγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν, or the Logos of John, the asphaleia of Luke, and even the words of Christ himself. How "Greek" is the development of Early Christianity in the centuries of post-Apostolic expansion? A close imbrication of philology and theology characterizes the flurry of scholarly activity that attempted to assess the respective parts of the Jewish and the Greek heritage in the constitution of Christian specificity, and that struggled to define the categories and the antecedents that can be placed at the root of the movement. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the work of Harnack, and the apologetic philology it deployed in tracking and isolating the effects of Hellenisierung. It is no exaggeration to say that much of the following research on the topic has been one long reaction to that radical challenge. Key fundamental disagreements that opposed the approaches of Bultmann and Hengel and the many who followed them revolved around the issues of Hellenisierung, and the apologetic aims of both schools went far beyond the confines of standard Lutheran confessional positions. Deep reflexes of antisemitism are intertwined with ancient anxieties about idolatry in the search for the original essence of Christianity. Needless to say, such interrogations about Hellenism were not limited to Protestant academic theology. When, much more recently, Pope Benedict XVI described the encounter between the faith (Glaube) of Judaism and the rationality (Vernunft) of Hellenism as the kernel of Christianity in his highly controversial 2006 Regensburg Address, and warned against the imminent danger of a new "De-Hellenization", he was channeling a long tradition of Catholic scholarship.

            This paper will be concerned with one landmark of that tradition, the work of the leading Dominican scholar André-Jean Festugière. It will look at the dialogue between philology and theology that coursed throughout his extended and productive engagement with the Hellenism of Early Christianity. The focus will be placed on three books, which all address the issue head-on and illustrate different moments of his reflection. First is L'idéal religieux des Grecs et l'Évangile, written at the École Biblique de Jérusalem under the guidance of Father Lagrange and published in 1932. Second, Personal Religion among the Greeks, Festugière's Sather Lectures, published in 1954. And third, La Vie spirituelle en Grèce à l'époque hellénistique, which came out more than twenty years later in 1977 and reframed the debates for a more popular audience. These three books will be used to show how Festugière situated his understanding of early Christian Hellenism in relation to the behemoth of Lutheran theology, the evolution of Catholic Modernism beyond the provocations of Loisy, and the fundamental transformations that were taking place in the comparative study of ancient religions at the École pratique des hautes études in Paris, where he taught from 1942 to 1968. A rich web of tensions between the contemporary imperatives of theology and philology can be observed in this record.

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Philology's Shadow II

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