What is Aristotelianism? Did it influence Christianity?


Aristotelianism is the philosophical system of Aristotle (384-322 BC) who, along with Plato, is considered a “Father of Western Philosophy.” In its modern sense Aristotelianism also includes the later philosophical movements based upon his works and thought.

The main strand of Aristotelianism was the Greek line which lasted for some 2,000 years. In the centuries since, it has given rise to numerous other traditions with world-wide impact from Rome, to Constantinople, to the western Arabic schools, Italy, France, and the British Isles. Later it reached both Germany and North America.

Aristotle, a student of Plato, developed the philosophical work of his mentor. While he rejected the rationalism and idealism of Plato, his philosophical system was rather comprehensive, encompassing aesthetics, epistemology, ethics, logic, mathematics, metaphysics, morality, politics, and science. It is therefore nearly impossible for a simple description such as offered here to do justice to this philosophical tradition. Even so, it can be said that he influenced the thought of many, including Thomas Aquinas and others since him.

Briefly, Aristotle believed all bodies have a natural way of moving. In other words, all forms of change is the result of some pure intellectual abstract reality (i.e, not the person of God). He believed that purpose, or some kind of ultimate end-goal, was innate or essential in the changes experienced by all things. In time Aristotle came to believe that there must be a single “uncaused cause” or an "unmoved mover." He then suggested that there was a chain of causality from the prime mover downward.

Although there’s no record of Aristotle recognizing God in his thought, Aristotelianism does help to explain how general revelation (see below) demonstrates the existence of God but is not sufficient revelation for becoming a Christian. It is the God of Christianity who is the one and only eternal sovereign “unmoved mover.”

While not being the source of faith or theology, Aristotelianism was the language through which many early theologians spoke. For instance, Thomas Aquinas laid out five arguments for the existence of God (see below). He characterized one of them as "the first and more manifest way" (Summa Theologicae). With regard to motion, he argued: 1) things move —> 2) since nothing moves itself, everything that is moved must be moved by another —> 3) if that which causes the motion is itself being moved, then it must be moved by yet another —> 4) since this process cannot go on into infinity, there must exist a first unmoved mover; —> 5) he is God.

Related Topics

What are special and general revelation?
What are St. Aquinas Five Proofs of the existence of God?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).