An early sign that the Apostasy was afoot was the rise of Gnosticism during the late first century. Gnostics, as they were called, were largely concerned with esoteric and mystical explanations about an unknowable god, who we are, where we came from, and how we got here. Gnostic metaphysical speculations on these and other matters drew criticism from Christian traditionalists such as Irenaeus and Tertullian (2nd century AD), who accused the gnostics of polluting church doctrine with philosophy and mysticism. Despite the noble efforts of Irenaeus, Tertullian, and others to protect Christianity from outside influences, philosophy and mysticism eventually infiltrated Christian doctrine. Efforts to combine Christianity and philosophy surprisingly came from within.
The introduction of philosophy into Christianity was largely the work
of scholars who, after converting to Christianity, combined religion and
philosophy in an attempt to make Christianity more appealing to nonbelievers,
especially the Romans who were persecuting Christians. One Greek scholar who devoted himself to this task was Clement of Alexandria (circa ad 150–215). As a theologian and head of the catechetical school of Alexandria in Egypt, Clement promulgated the belief that the Church would be held in higher regard and gain more converts if its beliefs were blended with ancient Greek philosophy. He therefore set out to “Hellenize” Christianity by combining Church doctrine with Greek philosophy, particularly that of Plato.
After Clement died, his student, Origen (circa 185–254 ad), continued
the effort to infuse Church doctrine with Greek philosophy. Origen was a
highly respected theologian and scholar in his day. Amid the confusion over
doctrinal issues that prevailed during the third century, Origen observed
that “there are many who profess to believe in Christ who disagree among
themselves not only in small and minor matters, but rather about the great
and the greatest matters.” These disagreements largely centered on the
nature of the soul, resurrection, Holy Spirit, and incarnation of Christ.
Origen believed that doctrinal truths could be discovered through intellectual
study and reasoning, and thus set out to resolve doctrinal disagreements
through personal study and theological discussions.
Origen’s efforts to settle doctrinal disputes through study and discussion
produced less than satisfactory results. Admitting defeat, he declared,
“If anyone can find out anything better, or confirm by more evident proofs
the assertions he makes concerning the Holy Scriptures, let such conclusions
be accepted in preference to [mine].” Thus we see how, as the spiritual
apostasy was taking hold, “the foundations of doctrine had shifted
from prophetic revelation to human reason.” This shift from prophetic
authority to human reason was inevitable, given that priesthood authority
to speak and act in the name of the Lord was taken from the earth. Without
spiritual guidance from prophets and apostles, people began to rely on
human reasoning to find answers to doctrinal questions.
Christian beliefs were gradually transformed as scholars and theologians
infused church doctrine with philosophy. Nineteenth century Greek
historian Edwin Hatch remarked, “It is therefore the more remarkable
that within a century and a half after Christianity and philosophy first
came into close contact, the ideas and methods of philosophy had flowed
in such mass into Christianity, and filled so large a place in it, as to have
made it no less a philosophy than a religion.” This influx of philosophy
transformed many of the fundamental truths of the gospel into mystical
and confusing doctrine.
Take, for example, the basic principle of faith. According to Hatch, “under the influence of contemporary Greek thought, the word Faith came to be transferred from simple trust in God to mean the acceptance of a series of . . . propositions in abstract metaphysics . . . concerning Him, His nature, relations, and actions.” Indeed this was a time when many plain and precious truths of the gospel were being lost (1 Nephi 13:26) and people were seeking the word of the Lord, but not finding it (Amos 8:13).
(Source: Truth & Science)