Although Socrates lived long before Christ, there are many indications of the philosopher’s ideas being close to those of Christianity. To some extent, Socrates was God’s prophet who proclaimed the things commanded by the Holy Spirit. There are three ways in which Socrates may be considered a Christian thinker. Firstly, as well as Christ, Socrates disapproved of unfairness and the division of the population in classes. Secondly, he proclaimed the need for reflection in order to find the essence of things. And lastly, Socrates was truly devoted to his people and refused to escape from death, to which he was condemned by those dissatisfied with his preaching.
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Socrates’s attitude towards the government had much in common with Christian beliefs. In his dialogues, Socrates discussed the idea of confronting the government. In the philosopher’s understanding, the one who opposed the many and tried to prevent “unjust and illegal behavior” would not survive (Kraut 198). Socrates considered that democracy was vital for the successful existence of people and their good relationships. Also, he defended the idea of justice and thought that “injustice must never be done” (Kraut 198). These ideas are also reflected in Christianity, which makes it possible to regard Socrates as a Christian thinker.
Jesus Christ also defended the rights of the poor and encouraged everyone to be considerate and helpful, especially to the less fortunate individuals. In Christianity, a large role was given to charity and the need for structural changes in society (Stefon 222). Christ tried to persuade his contemporaries that people should not strive to gain much wealth or power. Rather, they should live in peace with one another and offer support to those who could not earn enough to buy food or provide for their families.
Similarities between Socrates’s and Christ’s ideas can also be traced to what concerns charity. In Christianity, it was believed that the division of people in classes had a negative impact on the welfare of some of the citizens (Stefon 222). Socrates, in his turn, argued that democracy was not the best way to develop the world into becoming a better place (Kraut 199). What is more, the philosopher was convinced that moral beliefs were passed to the next generations by their parents, who were responsible for the children’s moral education (Kraut 198). One more concept to be mentioned in this relation is that of charity.
In Christianity, charity was believed to have “remedial” power and to be able to change the injustice in society (Stefon 222). Socrates also considered that fairness and charity could alter the state of affairs and could eliminate class biases (Kraut 200). Thus, it is possible to consider that Socrates was a Christian thinker in that both philosophies found it crucial that the society should be democratic and that all people should have equal access to resources.
The next important aspect of the comparison between Socrates’s beliefs and Christianity is the attitude towards thinking. According to Keats and Shelley, the “complete disinterestedness of Mind” had been reached “perhaps only by Socrates and Christ” (qt. in Clubbe and Lovell 148). According to Socrates, people required reflection to find the true essence of things. The teachings of both Christ and Socrates quickly earned popularity with the young audience, which led to the dissatisfaction of the government. Because the state had always tried to govern the activity of the people, especially young ones, Socrates’s ideas were not gladly accepted.
He was the prophet of his time, just as Christ was the prophet of his. Even though some considered that Socrates had some “air of superiority,” he was always willing to learn from his audience, even if it was young (Scott 143). Socrates can be regarded as a Christian thinker because he taught others to be kind and generous. Similar to Christ, the philosopher “tested and strengthened” his beliefs and character through communicating with others (Scott 27). Thus, it is possible to note that Socrates’s approaches to learning and understanding things allow treating him as a Christian thinker.
The third argument that can be employed to discuss whether Socrates was a Christian thinker is the philosopher’s loyalty to his people. As well as Christ, Socrates was sentenced to death and accepted his fate. In Wilson’s analysis of similarities between the two deaths, it is mentioned that both Socrates and Jesus “turned the other cheek and forgave the enemies” (141). This major similarity testifies that Socrates lived by Christ’s rules long before Jesus was born.
Even more, Socrates appears to have been the predecessor of these rules. Many people called Socrates “the Jesus Christ of Greece,” and Voltaire even said that Jesus was “the Socrates of Palestine” (Wilson 141). The decision of Socrates to stay in Greece even though he knew that he would be executed reminds of Christ’s acceptance of his death through crucifixion. Both knew that they had an opportunity to escape, but both were too firm in their beliefs to run away. Thus, the acceptance of one’s punishment, though not a fair one, was another aspect of Socrates’s relation to Christianity.
The notion of loyalty incorporates the idea of sacrifice, which reinforces the role of Socrates as a Christian thinker. This concept involves the Christian demand “to love one’s enemies” (Stefon 231). In the time of Socrates, there was no understanding of love to one’s enemy as “the immediate emission of God’s love” (Stefon 231); the philosopher was living by that rule. An important aspect of understanding sacrifice is that it is “self-sacrifice” (Nancy and Livingston 22).
As Nancy and Livingston note, the cases of Socrates’s and Christ’s death are the outcome of “iniquitous condemnation” that is represented as a sacrifice neither by executioners nor by victims (22). However, the process of carrying out the sacrifice is, in both situations, represented as a “desired sacrifice” (Nancy and Livingston 22). Thus, Socrates’s loyalty to his people, which was reflected in his agreement to die rather than leave the country, is the third substantial argument for considering him as a Christian thinker.
Despite the fact that Socrates lived before Christ, it is possible to find evidence of his being a Christian thinker. The primary argument to defend this position is that Socrates disapproved of dividing people into classes and supported justice. The second idea is that the philosopher endorsed the need for reflecting as a means of searching the essence of things. The third substantial argument is that Socrates, as well as Christ, was loyal to his land and people and did not run away from the death sentence even though it was not justified. In these three ways, it is possible to explain how Socrates was a Christian thinker.
Clubbe, John, and Ernest J. Lovell. English Romanticism: The Grounds of Belief. The Macmillan Press, 1983.
Kraut, Richard. Socrates and the State. Princeton University Press, 1984.
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Nancy, Jean-Luc, and Richard Livingston. “The Unsacrificeable.” Yale French Studies, vol. 79, 1991, pp. 20-38.
Scott, Gary Allan. Plato’s Socrates as Educator. State University of New York Press, 2000.
Stefon, Matt, editor. Christianity: History, Belief, and Practice. Britannica Educational Publishing, 2012.
Wilson, Emily. The Death of Socrates: Hero, Villain, Chatterbox, Saint. Profile Books, 2007.