“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” Tertullian famously asked. In Greek Myths and Christian Mystery, Hugo Rahner, S.J., offers an illuminating response in terms of anthropology, of what it means to be imago dei. For the Greeks, mythology operated as the primary factor in the development of their culture. Then, through Christ, arrives “the turning-point of human civilization; God spoke his revelation into the world of the Greek spirit… That is why the Church will continue to speak Greek even if, in a world that is dead to the things of the mind, Hellas descend into the abyss of utter oblivion.” Eschewing reductive extremes of analysis, Rahner shows how the early Church received, interpreted, and corrected the Greek mysteries. Part One explores the mystery of the Cross, Baptism, and the sun-and-moon mythos; Part Two delves into the interplay of psychagogy and botany; and Part Three examines the rich symbolism which the Church Fathers derived from the Odyssey.
Come, I will show you the Word and the mysteries of the Word, and I will give you understanding of them by means of images familiar to you. (St. Clement of Alexandria)
The myths of the Greeks laid bare the human soul; only the Church, as Rahner writes at the close of his Preface, “through the light of the Logos, knows the measure of the heights and depths of the human soul.” At the juncture of myth and mystery, then, does the answer to Tertullian’s query come to light.
Hugo Rahner, S.J., (1900–1968) was a Catholic priest, theologian, and Church historian. Professor of theology at the University of Innsbruck, he became Dean and then President of the University following World War II. His works in English include Man at Play and Our Lady and the Church.