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Science and Eastern Orthodoxy

From the Greek Fathers to the Age of Globalization

Efthymios Nicolaidis translated by Susan Emanuel

Publication Year: 2011

People have pondered conflicts between science and religion since at least the time of Christ. The millennial-long debate is well documented in the literature in the history and philosophy of science and religion in Western civilization. Science and Eastern Orthodoxy is a departure from that vast body of work, providing the first general overview of the relationship between science and Christian Orthodoxy, the official church of the Oriental Roman Empire. This pioneering study traces a rich history over an impressive span of time, from Saint Basil’s Hexameron of the fourth century to the globalization of scientific debates in the twentieth century. Efthymios Nicolaidis argues that conflicts between science and Greek Orthodoxy—when they existed—were not science versus Christianity, but rather ecclesiastical debates that traversed the whole of society. Nicolaidis explains that during the Byzantine period, the Greek fathers of the church and their Byzantine followers wrestled passionately with how to reconcile their religious beliefs with the pagan science of their ancient ancestors. What, they repeatedly asked, should be the church’s official attitude toward secular knowledge? From the rise of the Ottoman Empire in the fifteenth century to its dismantlement in the nineteenth century, the patriarchate of Constantinople attempted to control the scientific education of its Christian subjects, an effort complicated by the introduction of European science in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Science and Eastern Orthodoxy provides a wealth of new information concerning Orthodoxy and secular knowledge—and the reactions of the Orthodox Church to modern sciences.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Medicine, Science, and Religion in Historical Context


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

Sometime around the year 49 CE, a Jewish tent maker and itinerant preacher, Paul of Tarsus, later known as Saint Paul, born in the first decade of the current era, paid a visit to Philippi in northern Greece. There he established the first Christian church on European soil. Paul had grown up in Tarsus, a largely Greek-speaking cultural center in present-day Turkey, near the Mediterranean Sea. As ...


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pp. xiii-xviii

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1. The Activist and the Philosopher: The Hexaemerons of Basil and of Gregory of Nyssa

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pp. 1-23

During the early centuries of Orthodoxy, discussions of nature focused almost exclusively on explaining the events associated with the six days of Creation described in the first chapter of Genesis. This interest resulted in a series of exegetical texts called the Hexaemerons, that is, the six days during which God created the world and living things. These commentaries sought to explain what God ...

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2. Two Conceptions of the World: The Schools of Antioch and Alexandria

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pp. 24-39

Historians have identified two currents of biblical interpretation among the early fathers of Eastern Orthodoxy: the school of Alexandria and the school of Antioch. The former was developed in the second and third centuries by Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–c. 215) and his student Origen, and leaned toward an allegorical interpretation that left great freedom of thought in reading biblical texts. ...

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3. No Icons, No Science: The End of a Tradition?

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pp. 40-54

Natural philosophy may have flourished in the sixth century, especially at the famous school of Alexandria, but the tradition of cultivating Hellenic scientific knowledge quickly came to an end. Various factors, many not yet fully studied, led by the end of that century to this reversal. Thereafter, Christianity, the dominant ideology of the Eastern Roman Empire, would demonstrate almost total ...

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4. The Return of Greek Science: The First Byzantine Humanism

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pp. 55-68

Science and religion in Byzantium entered a new phase in the ninth century, characterized by a revival of Greek science. Two of the most visible faces of this revival were John the Grammarian and Leo the Mathematician. John was born sometime during the last quarter of the eighth century. A brilliant student, he became a professor, hence the nickname Grammatikos (grammarian). He then ...

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5. Struggle for Heritage: Science in Nicaea and the Byzantine Renaissance

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pp. 69-80

On 12 April 1204, Christian crusaders from western Europe, thwarted in their effort to recapture Jerusalem from the Muslims, instead attacked their fellow religionists in the East and sacked the city of Constantinople. Thousands of combatants of the Cross, dazzled by the riches of the most splendid city of Europe, threw themselves on its treasures. Needless to say, this attack during the so-called ...

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6. Political Debates Become Scientific: The Era of the Palaiologos

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pp. 81-92

The usurper of the throne of Nicaea, Michael Palaiologos (c. 1224–82), proved to be the last great Byzantine emperor. Three years after Michael dethroned the legitimate John IV Laskaris and assumed the title of emperor of Nicaea, in 1258, his army managed unexpectedly to retake Constantinople (on 25 July 1261) and oust the Latin emperor, Baudouin II. As emperor, Michael VIII deployed all his ...

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7. True Knowledge and Ephemeral Knowledge: The Hesychast Debate

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pp. 93-105

... wrote the great Byzantine historian John Meyendorff , in describing the so-called Hesychast debate that began in the fourteenth century. “This was a veritable drama within Byzantine civilization.”1 As we have seen, this conflict had already run for several centuries and pitted the ruling class, represented by the court and the upper clergy, against the monks, the lower clergy, and most of the ...

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8. Ancients versus Moderns: Byzantium and Persian, Latin, and Jewish Sciences

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pp. 106-118

As we have seen, Byzantine scholars constantly taught, studied, and commentated on Greek science. However, the direct connection between ancient and Byzantine scholarship had been broken during the iconoclast period, which marked the entry of the Byzantine sciences into the Middle Ages. Stephen of Alexandria, the empire’s oecumenic philosopher in the seventh century, was ...

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9. The Fall of the Empire and the Exodus to Italy

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pp. 119-129

In its final effort to survive the irresistible Ottoman advance, the feeble and impoverished Byzantine Empire turned to the West. The Byzantine emperors sent to Italy the finest flower of Byzantine intellectuals to take part in negotiations about uniting Orthodox and Catholic churches. The endless discussions about matters of dogma brought together Greek scholars and those of Latin Europe. ...

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10. A Rebel Patriarch: Cyril Lucaris and Orthodox Humanism in Science

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pp. 130-139

The sciences and secular learning in general did not figure among the preoccupations of the Orthodox Church from the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 to the start of the seventeenth century. In fact, for a century and a half, the Patriarchate of Constantinople had a policy of teaching only what was useful for the renewal of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. The only organized Orthodox school in ...

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11. Toward Russia: The Slavo-Greco-Latin Academy and the Patriarchate of Jerusalem

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pp. 140-150

Since the formation of the Slavic alphabet by Cyril and Methodius in the ninth century and the Christianization of the Rus in the tenth century, the intellectual influence of Byzantium on Russian culture had been primary. One might therefore expect that, along with other cultural and religious aspects, the Russians would be influenced by Byzantine science throughout centuries of relations with ...

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12. Who Were the Heirs of the Hellenes? Science and the Greek Enlightenment

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pp. 151-168

In 1697, some years aft er his mission to Moscow, Chrysanthos Notaras, a monk, was sent by his uncle Dositheos, patriarch of Jerusalem, to Padua in order to complete his education. The curriculum of the University of Padua included theology courses that were attended not only by Catholics but also by Orthodox students such as Chrysanthos. This might appear to contradict the hatred of Catholics felt ...

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13. The Scientific Modernization of an Orthodox State: Greece from Independence to the European Union

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pp. 169-179

The rise of nationalism at the start of the nineteenth century upset the unity of the Orthodox Church and at the same time changed the cultural landscape for Christians of the Ottoman Empire. Each nation-state that emerged sought to establish its own autonomous church and its own educational structures in its own language. And so the Patriarchate of Constantinople lost the decisive role it ...

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14. Science and Religion in the Greek State: Materialism and Darwinism

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pp. 193-196

Between 1804 and 1827, no fewer than six Greek students audited the lectures offered by the notorious evolutionist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744–1829), professor of zoology at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. However, none of them returned home to spread the French naturalist’s theory. Thus, it was left to Alexander Theotokis (1822–1904), a student of Henri Ducrotay de Blainville’s ...

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pp. 193-196

By 2009, “the year of Darwin and Galileo,” 1,631 years had passed since Basil of Caesarea, a founding father of Orthodoxy, composed his Homilies on the Hexaemeron, in which he spelled out the relations between the sciences and Eastern Christianity. Since Basil’s day, the sciences—once the speculative occupation of a tiny minority of scholars and philosophers—have become ...

A Note on Secondary Sources

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pp. 197-202


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pp. 203-228

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 229-240


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pp. 241-252


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pp. 124

E-ISBN-13: 9781421404264
E-ISBN-10: 1421404265
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421402987
Print-ISBN-10: 142140298X

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 10 color illus., 4 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Medicine, Science, and Religion in Historical Context