THE SCHOOL OF ALEXANDRIA
ALEXANDRIA AND HELLENIC CULTURE
In Alexandria, Greek thought exercised its strongest influence on the Hebrew mind. According to Jewish tradition, the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) was realized in Alexandria, by 72 elder Jews, by the order of Ptolemy Philadelphus (B.C 285-246) for his famous library. This work constitutes the beginning of Jewish-Hellenistic literature. Philo (c. B.C 20 - c. 50 A.D), the Jewish thinker and exegete in whom that literature flourished, also lived in Alexandria. He belonged to a prosperous priestly family of Alexandria, and was firmly convinced that the teaching of the Old Testament could be combined with Greek speculation. His philosophy of religion embodies such a synthesis.
To understand the relationship between the School of Alexandria and Hellenic philosophy we must view the role of the latter in the lives of well-educated men in the beginning of the Christian Church. The most important influence within the Roman empire came not from the Romans but from the Greeks. Roman power and Roman law controlled the military, political, social, and economic life of the empire; Greek thinking controlled the minds of men. Greek philosophy tried to build a world on the meaning of life and the world to come, to affect the practical life of men in all realms: in politics, law, art, social relations, knowledge, religion, etc. Thus the Greek philosophers were not people sitting behind their desks writing philosophical books. If they had done nothing but philosophize about philosophy, we would have forgotten their names long ago.
The School of Alexandria and Philosophy
Many scholars believe that Hellenic philosophy, especially Platonism, had its effect on the Alexandrians, and consider some leaders of the Alexandrian Christians as Platonist or Neo-platonist. F. L. Cross states that beginnings of the interweaving Platonism with Christian thought go back to St. Clement of Alexandria and Origen. Origen himself states that the use of philosophy by Christian leaders dates back to St. Pantaenus, the teacher of St. Clement. Even before St. Pantaenus, Athenagoras was a philosopher whose strong perseverance, in the School qualified him to become the dean of the theological School of Alexandria without undressing the pallium of philosophers. Athenagoras is considered the first known Christian who with his faith, carried a tendency towards philosophy.
Now, I give answers to the following questions:
a. What is the view of the early Alexandrians, especially St. Clement and Origen, on Greek philosophy?
b. Why did the School of Alexandria use Philosophy?
And to what extent?
a. St. Clements view on Greek Philosophy
In his speech on the effect of St. Clement on his disciple Origen, Joseph Wilson Trigg says,
Like Clement, Origen believed that diligent study can enable us, with God's aid to pass from mere faith in the essential doctrines of Christianity to an intimate knowledge of God, and no one is more likely to have mediated this optimism to Origen than Clement. It seems likely, as well, that it was Clement who showed Origen the possibility of a reasoned defense of the ecclesiastical tradition against heretical Gnostics and fired Origen with the desire to produce the theological system he himself hoped to achieve. Clement may have been more systematic than he appears to have been, his baffling and diffuse style only a subterfuge to protect profound teaching from the vulgar and them from it, but it seems more likely that Clement's style mirrored his mind better than he would himself have cared to admit.
The writings of St. Clement prove how steeped his thought was in the Greek classics. His works contain over 700 quotations from some 300 pagan authors, an achievement which well justifies Cayre's remark that his prodigious erudition was unsurpassed even by that of Origen.
John Ferguson states,
At the time when Clement was growing up there were four main schools of Greek philosophy, Platonist, Aristotelian or Peripatetic, Stoic, and Epicurean; Marcus Aurelius had established chairs of these four in Athens.
Behind all four, however, lay the tradition of Ionian natural philosophy. This began with a group in Miletus somewhere about 600 B.C. Mythical elements remained in their work, but fundamentally they were asking new questions and giving a new sort of answer. They were examining the natural world, trying to reduce it to its simplest terms, to understand its structure, and the process of change by which presumably simple elements might produce the extraordinarily varied and complex world we know. Clement perhaps knew their work only or mainly at second hand. So do we, and Clement remains one of our more important sources for these early thinkers. Their answers moved from the simple to the complex, from the isolation of a single element such as water, to a fully fledged atomic theory, though on speculative rather than on experimental grounds. In between had appeared two towering figures, Parmenides and Heraclitus.
St. Clement's virtue is in his courage, his fearless approach into dialogue with Hellenic philosophy and culture. He realized that his missionary task would be hopeless unless he was able to interpret Christian truth in terms which educated inquirers could accept. His aim, however, was to convert members of the community of educated Alexandrian Greeks, some of whom previously might have been attracted to a Judaism of the type represented by Philo. Just as Philo had presented Judaism as the highest form of wisdom and the means by which humankind would come to "see God,'' so St. Clement urged that Christianity was the end to which all current philosophy had been moving. Some scholars call him a Christian Philo. He opens his Exhortation to the Greeks with a fine, challenging passage in which he compares the music of Amphion and Orpheus (which according to legend charmed the animals) with the true music of heavenly Christianity. Christianity was the new melody superior to that of Orpheus. Christ is the incarnate God, ''becoming man in order that such as you [Gentiles] may learn from man how it is even possible for man to become a god [theos].'' Elsewhere (Stromata), he encourages Christians to become missionaries themselves. ''The word of our Teacher did not stay in Palestine as philosophy stayed in Greece, but was poured out over all the world persuading Greeks and barbarians alike." To be a Christian and not to try to influence one's neighbor was to be an unprofitable servant. Christians should become preachers and writers of the word.
He sometimes affirms that the philosophers took their best ideas from the Hebrews. But he also asserts that they knew truth by a direct action of God, in a fashion similar to that by which the Jews received the Law.
As many men drawing down the ship, cannot be called many causes, but one cause consisting of many; - for each individual by himself is not the cause of the ship being drawn, but along with the rest; - so also philosophy, being the search for truth, contributes to the comprehension of truth; not as being the cause of comprehension, but a cause along with other things, and cooperator; perhaps also a joint cause. And as the several virtues are causes of the happiness of one individual; and as both the sun, and the fire, and the bath, and clothing are of one getting warm: so while truth is one, many things contribute to its investigation. But its discovery is by the Son.
Therefore "the same God that furnished both Covenants that of the Law and that of Philosophy was the giver of Greek philosophy to the Greeks, by which the Almighty is glorified among the Greeks."
W.H.C. Frend says,
Early in the Stromata, he admits that there were coincidences between Christian truth and the beliefs of Greek philosophers. Even if these hit on the truth accidentally, this suggested that God had revealed Himself to them also. His wisdom was not confined to the Hebrews. No race was deprived of the opportunity of apprehending God, and so philosophy must be God-given. It ranked ''among the good things of Providence.'' Plato, plagiarist though he may have been, also prepared the way for the Greeks to accept the Christian faith. Philosophy shared with the Law "in making ready the way for him who is perfected in Christ." Its role, however essential, was still merely preparatory. Of itself it was "too weak to do God's commands." Its duty was ''to prepare the way for the teaching that is royal in the highest sense of the word, by making men self controlled, by moulding character and making them ready to receive the truth.''
Some scholars believe that St. Clement was himself an electic in philosophy, but his master St. Pantenaeus was if anything a Stoic. St. Clement tried to pick the best from Stoicism and from the Platonic system, and it looks very much as if he owed much of his Platonic borrowings to Athenagoras.
Joseph Wilson Trigg says,
Philosophers, beginning with Aristotle, had composed "Exhortations" to adopt the philosophic way of life as practiced in their schools...
Clement, by this choice of literary form, advertised Christianity as a philosophy consistent with the ideals of Hellenism. The Logos who became incarnate... spoke most clearly, he claimed, through Moses and Isaiah, but the Logos also spoke through Euripides and Plato.
Clement knew the classics of Greek literature and the Bible equally well, and he wove them together artfully in the Exhortation. Thus the legendary poet Orpheus became a symbol of Jesus, whose "new song" of salvation charmed, in Clement's presentation, even "the offspring of vipers" and "sheep in wolves" clothing." "Imitate Odysseus," he said in considerably more words, "ignore the siren-song of customary pagan religious practices so that you may arrive at the safe haven of the Logos." Especially since Clement was probably himself a convert, the Exhortation illustrates the factors that could lead a cultivated pagan to Christianity as well as the ways a Christian could assimilate Hellenism.
J. Quasten says,
Thus Clement goes far beyond Justin Martyr, who speaks of the seeds of the Logos to be found in the philosophy of the Greeks. He compares it to the Old Testament in so far as it trained mankind for the coming of Christ. On the other hand, Clement is anxious to stress the fact that philosophy can never take the place of divine revelation. It can only prepare for the acceptance of the faith. Thus, in the second book, he defends faith against the philosophers.
St. Clement places himself squarely within the tradition of Justin and Athenagoras, and against the attitude of Tatian and Tertullian. Unlike them, he did not use his learning to batter down the ideals of contemporary society but used the writings of poets and philosophers constructively to build his case for Christianity. He was inclined, however, to parade his knowledge artlessly like a collector, and was ready to draw some new, Christian significance from their works.
It is worthy to note that St. Clement saw, it is true, the great danger of a Hellenization of Christianity, as did St. Irenaeus, and, with him, fought against the false and heretical Gnosis. But St. Clement's distinction is that he did not remain merely negative in his attitude but over against the false gnosis set up a true and Christian gnosis, which placed in the service of the faith the treasure of truth to be found in the various systems of philosophy.
The Hellenic philosophy does not, by its approach, make the truth more powerful; but by rendering powerless the assault of sophistry against it, and frustrating the treacherous plots laid against the truth, is said to be the proper fence and wall of the vineyard.
b. Origens view on Greek Philosophy
According to Origen, the Bible does not discourage the pursuit of philosophy. Logic is of great utility in defending Christianity, though the greatest arguments establishing the truth of the Gospel are not natural but the supernatural guarantees of miracle, fulfilled prophecy and the miraculous expansion of the Church in face of powerful prejudice and governmental opposition. He writes that "philosophy and the Word of God are not always at loggerheads, neither are they always in harmony. For philosophy is neither in all things contrary to God's law nor is it in all respects consonant." He proceeds in this passage to list some of the points of agreement and disagreement. 'Many philosophers say there is one God who created the world; some have added that God both made and rules all things by his Logos. Again, in ethics and in their account of the natural world they almost all agree with us. But they disagree when they assert that matter is co-eternal with God, when they deny that providence extends below the moon, when they imagine that the power of the stars determines our lives or that the world will never come to an end.
Sometimes Origen praises philosophy and sciences. According to him, "all wisdom is from God," whether it be knowledge of philosophy, of geometry, of medicine or music. We can use philosophy as Moses had the advantage of the advice of Jethron, his father-in-law.
He deals with many philosophical problems, such as man's free-will, the divine Providence, the relationship between God and man etc... He does not believe in a certain philosophy, but chose what is good in every theory. He states that Platonism contained truths present in the biblical account about reality.
According to Origen, knowledge inflames our love, grants us perfection of the soul, its purification, and thus attains likeness to the Son of God.
Like St. Clement, Origen attacks the Stoics for their materialism, pantheism and deterministic doctrine of world-cycles. He distinguishes the Christian doctrine of God's providential care from the Stoic idea of God as a material immanent force. The Stoic doctrine of natural law and of 'universal notions' of God and conscience he accepts without the least demur.
Rowan A. Greer says,
We are left in a circle. On the one hand, Origen begins with scripture, and his careful reading of it yields the theological conclusions that comprise his views as a whole. From this point of view he is certainly a Christian and, indeed, a Biblical theologian. On the other hand, Origen approaches scripture with preconceptions that are in great part determined by his philosophical training and bent of mind. At this level it is possible to charge him with simply importing Greek philosophy into his interpretation of scripture. The resulting puzzle is not easily solved...
In the first instance Origen's importance lies in bridging the gap between Christianity and the Graeco-Roman world. He was able to expound the Gospel in terms meaningful to his pagan contemporaries and perhaps more important, to Christians who retain that culture even upon conversion...
This was Origen's point of view and his conviction was that Christianity had the power to transform the old culture and make it fruitful.
In his eleventh homily on Exodus, Origen says, "If we too ever find evidence of wisdom in a pagan writer, we should not automatically reject his ideas just because of his name. The fact that the law we follow was given us by God does not entitle us to swell with pride and refuse to listen to the wise. No; as the Apostle says (I Thess. 5:21), we should 'scrutinize it all carefully, retaining only what is good.'"
At the same time, Origen was not like his teacher St. Clement, a philosopher who was converted to Christianity, therefore he was not in sympathy with Greek philosophy. Jaroslav Pelikan says, "One of the most decisive differences between a theologian and a philosopher is that the former understands himself as, in Origen's classic phrase, 'a man of the church,' a spokesman for the Christian community." The only master he ever acknowledges is the Logos speaking through the Scriptures.
Origen warns us from philosophy, for the pagans abused it by mixing there own errors with the truth, and thus it cannot teach the will of God. He also declares that philosophy has no power to renew our nature.
He concentrated on assuring its falseness and insufficiency, because he was afraid of the beauty of philosophical expressions that may deceive believers. In his letter to St. Gregory Thaumataurgus he states that philosophy looks like gold which the Hebrews took from Egypt, instead of using it in establishing the Tabernacle they made the golden bull.
Origen condemns philosophy as he says, "Do not covert the deceptive food philosophy provides, it may turn you away from the truth," it is because the pagans spoiled it by introducing their errors, that it teaches nothing of God's will. He indicates the errors in philosophical systems, and endeavors to preserve his disciples from them, but above all he is anxious lest they should be led astray by a strange master, who would lead them to forget Christ, or at least might lessen the exclusive fidelity which they owe to him. His ideal is St. Pauls, and he wished to say in his turn. "Who shall separate us from the Charity of Christ?." He added, "I can say this in all confidence: neither the love of profane letters, nor the sophisms of philosophers, nor the frauds of astrologers concerning the supposed courses of the stars, nor the divination of demons, full of lies, nor any other science of the future sought by evil artifices, will be able to separate us from the Charity of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
His system in teaching philosophy and pagan leanings can be summarized in two points:
I. Origen used to start his teaching with "rhetoric," then some scientific knowledge such as physics, mathematics, geometry and astronomy. This was only a preparation, followed by the study of philosophy.
II. He wished his disciples to know something about all the philosophical theories except that of Abecareans, and not to stress on one of them. St. Gregory the Wonder-maker gives an account of this system by saying, "In every philosophy he picked out what was true and useful and set it before us, while what was erroneous he rejected ... He advised us not to give our allegiance to any one philosopher even though he should be universally acclaimed as perfect in wisdom, but to cleave to God alone and His prophets."
Origen was a student of Ammonius Saccas, who was an unorthodox electic Platonist... What could have persuaded Origen to follow such an orthodox Platonism? Perhaps, because Origen did not agree with the Stoics that the divine ousia was material, that knowledge of God and reality rested on a materialist epistemology alone, and that everything was determined by fate. Origen desired to use Platonism to refute arguments made by Gnostic and Stoic Christians concerning the relationship between deity and creation, fate, and free-will. His criticisms of Gnosis and the Stoa on first principles and creation precisely indicates at what point Origen found himself obliged to follow Ammonius, Maximus, Pantaenus, and Clement. Each viewed both Platonists and Aristotelians as allies in their attempt to correct falsehoods of Gnosis and Stoicism. Maximus, Pantaenus, and Clement concurred that Hellenic Platonists possessed incomplete knowledge about first principles and the world. They argued that the Christian had the duty to complete the incomplete truths pronounced by Platonists by testing their postulates on the basis of biblical knowledge.
c. Why did the School of Alexandria use Philosophy?And to what extent?
1. The School of Alexandria did not aim to separate believers, especially the leaders of the church, from contemporary cultures, as long as these cultures helped them progress in all or some aspects of life. Its interest in science and philosophy is very clear from its encyclopedic teachings. Studying philosophy and rhetoric were considered the two principal ways to a complete education at that time, and studying philosophy was less likely to offend Christians than the study of literature.
Philip Schaff states that the Alexandrians as well-educated persons made much freer use of the Greek philosophy. For Origen philosophy is the jewels which the Israelites took with them from Egypt and turned into ornaments for their sanctuary, though they also wrought them into the golden calf. Philosophy is not necessarily an enemy to truth, but may and should be its handmaid, and neutralize the attacks against it.
In one of his letters, St. Dionysius encourages believers to read philosophical books, even the unorthodox ones. He states that God revealed Himself to him through his extensive readings, saying to him: "Study anything you lay your hand on; you are competent to examine and prove everything - this gift was from the start the cause of your faith." He accepted the vision and never abandoned the desire of reading. This enabled him to carry the attack into the enemys country.
Origen studied philosophy not out of love, but to preach those who had a philosophical education. He gained many students from the Museum. In this he initiates St. Pantenaus, and St. Clement. W. Volker, the German theologian, states that St. Clement is nothing if not a Christian, who likes to present himself under the guise of a Platonic or Stoic philosopher in order to speak the same philosophical language as the heathens and to convert them to Christianity by showing them that a Christian is not forbidden to express himself in terms of Greek philosophy. Accordingly, the borrowing of elements of Greek philosophy has only an instrumental importance: they are purely exterior terms, covering an orthodox and genuine Christian thought, which, however, is not substantiated by them.
2. The Platonist considered the Bible as not worthy of serious consideration, because it was written in highly unliterary Greek and none of its books conformed to accepted genres. The School of Alexandria undertook the task of reconciling the Bible to Hellenism, particularly the philosophy of Plato.
The Alexandrian leaders adopted philosophy, perhaps as a positive answer against those who criticized the Christian faith as if it prevented men from philosophical education. Celsus, in the second century says that while indeed there are some educated Christians, the majority commonly say, "Do not ask questions, only believe. Faith will save you. Wisdom is an evil thing and foolishness good." Galen, the distinguished medical writer of this time, caustically remarks, "If I had in mind people who taught their pupils in the same way as the followers of Moses and Christ teach theirs - for they order them to accept everything on faith - I should not have given you a definition."
3. The Alexandrians found in some philosophical statements great usefulness as an immunization or an antidote against the heresy of Gnosticism. The Gnostics had done what St. Paul said he was not going to do (Gal. 1:11, 12; 1 Cor. 1:17); they adorned the faith of the New Testament with "persuasive words of wisdom." St. Clement undertook to set up a new Christian philosophy in opposition to that of the Gnostics, a philosophy based at once upon what they considered the true principles of the Greek philosophers and upon the traditional beliefs of the Church. He confronted the heretical Gnostics with Plato's belief that we must look after the needs of the body for the sake of the harmony of the soul, citing Plato Republic. St. Clement also clarified that in asceticism, the genuine Gnostic does not neglect the body's legitimate needs since he considers the body a part of God's good creation.
Origen aimed to refute the first principles of Christian Gnosticism and Stoicism. Joseph Wilson Trigg concluded that, in Origens view, Plato and the Bible were in profound agreement in rejecting the Gnostics, but there was far more to their compatibility than simply agreement on the goodness of the world and its Creator:
The Christianity of Origens time, even as it rejected the Gnostics hatred of the world, taught its followers to despise the fundamental cravings for comfort, sex, and the continuation of life itself that tie us to the world. Platos dictum that we should take flight from this world to become like the divine, so far as we can, found its echo in Paul's "Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth" (Col. 3:2). If Plato complained that the body was a prison house in which the soul was tightly bound like an oyster in its shell, Paul asked who would deliver him from this body of death (Rom. 7:24).
Ammonius may have made a particular point of the incompatibility between Plato and the Gnostics. Certainly no one more fully agreed with Origen in this regard than Plotinus. Plotinus unambiguously affirmed the goodness of the created order while being aware of its limitations.
4. Alexandria, with its scientific tradition and the interest generally shown by its educated upper classes in religious and philosophical questions, was to prove the most favorable soil for the development of a Christian theology utilizing a learned intellectual basis.
5. The Alexandrians adopted philosophy, perhaps because they acknowledged that some well-educated people who accepted philosophy were free of pagan mythology and despised pagan worship. Plotinus' reply to a student who invited him to a festival is famous, "It is for these beings to come to me, not for me to go to them."
6. The Alexandrians adopted some philosophers, such as Plato to their Christian needs. They used some philosophical terms, statements and ideas which are in harmony with the biblical concepts, but they did not depend on their philosophical basis and concepts. They almost use philosophical language to express their faith and Christian doctrines and concepts, without deviating from the Christian truth.
Philip Schaff says,
The Platonic philosophy offered many points of resemblance to Christianity. It is spiritual and idealistic, maintaining the supremacy of the spirit over matter, of eternal ideas over all temporary phenomena, and the pre-existence and immortality of the soul; it is theistic, making the supreme God above all the secondary deities, the beginning, middle, and end of all things; it is ethical, looking towards present and future rewards and punishments; it is religious, basing ethics, politics, and physics upon the authority of the Lawgiver and Ruler of the universe; it leads thus to the very threshold of the revelation of God in Christ, though it knows not this blessed name nor his saving grace, and obscures its glimpses of truth by serious errors. Upon the whole the influence of Platonism, especially as represented in the moral essays of Plutarch, has been and is to this day elevating, stimulating, and healthy, calling the mind away from the vanities of earth to the contemplation of eternal truth, beauty, and goodness.
For example, Salvatore R.C. Lilla states that many modern theologians believe that St. Clement of Alexandria, as the first Christian philosopher and writer, was not a Platonic, a Stoic or an Aristotelian, but an eclectic. He believes that Christianity is perfect in itself, needs no help from profane culture; it can only deign to borrow a few elements or terms from the philosophical systems which are not so removed from the truth it represents, provided that this does not contaminate its purity and causes no prejudice to its originality. St. Clement appears, in this way, as a wise Christian philosopher who, being already enlightened by the truth of his own religion, is able to judge what is right and what is wrong in the heathen philosophy, and deems it worthy to borrow from it elements which are not in disagreement with his religious principles.
St. Gregory the Wonder-worker tells us how Origen took his disciples through all the different systems of Greek philosophy, omitting nothing and advising them not to devote themselves exclusively to any master, even if they found one universally regarded as perfect in wisdom, but to "cleave to God alone and his prophets." This is the view of the Alexandrians who were not Platonists nor Neo-Platonists but they were theologians and churchmen, even when they were in sympathy with Greek philosophy, especially Platonism.
Here we give some examples of how Christianity used the Hellenic culture in a biblical way:
a. The Platonic dual world: Some scholars see the Alexandrian eschatological attitude as an effect of the Platonic dual world: the world of senses and that of "Ideas." Plato spoke of essential reality, of "ideas" (ousia) as the true essences of things. At the same time we find in Plato, and even stronger in later Platonism and Neo-Platonism, a trend toward the devaluation of existence. The material world has no ultimate value in comparison with the essential world. The Alexandrians concentrated on the world to come, or heavenly life, and looked to the present life as a temporary one. St. Clement states that the earthly Church is a copy of the heavenly one, that is why we say that God's will may be accomplished on earth as it is in heaven. He also wrote, "If you enroll yourself as one of God's people, heaven is your country, God your legislation." It is not a Platonic view but a biblical one. The Old Testament concentrates on God's blessing in this world, for believers at that time were like children, in their dealing with the heavenly God and eternal life. The heavenly Logos came to raise up our hearts to heaven, asking us to start our prayer by addressing it to our heavenly Father. He directed our sight to the heavenly kingdom which He establishes within us, as a pledge of eternal life, at the same time He presents Himself as the "Resurrection," and "Eternal Life." St. Paul considered himself an ambassador of the heavenly Christ for he acknowledged that Christ raised him as from the dead, and granted him to sit with Him in heaven (Eph. 2:6).
It is also not a Platonic view but a biblical one when St. Clement exalts martyrdom as the culmination of Christian perfection, transforming a way of death into a way of life. We depend on the words of our Lord, "He who loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 10:39). St. Clement explained that we may lose our life when we expose it to physical danger, but overcoming daily the soul's habitual attraction to immoderate pleasures is also a "practice of death."
b. Nevertheless, there are certain points where Origen has substantial disagreements (with Platonism). He rejects the doctrine of the Timaeus that the Creator God made souls but delegated the making of bodies to inferior powers. He will not admit that the cosmos is divine or that the stars are gods (though he believes the stars probably have souls). He unambiguously teaches creation ex nihilo: creation is not out of relative but out of absolute non-being. "I cannot understand how so many eminent men have imagined matter to be uncreated." Origen also rejects the view that this material world will never come to an end. Plato's doctrine that, although the cosmos is created and so is in principle corruptible, yet by God's will it will never in fact be destroyed. This holds good in Origen's view not of the sensible world, but of the higher world, the heavenly realm of ideas lest anyone suppose that it exists only in our minds as a metaphysical hypothesis.
c. Paul Tillich states, "Also in Plato the inner aim of human existence is described - somewhere in the Philebus, but also practically everywhere in Plato - as becoming similar to God as much as possible. God is the spiritual sphere. The inner telos of human existence is participation in the spiritual, divine sphere as much as possible..." Again it is a biblical trend to discover the kingdom of God within us (Luke 17: 21), and to participate in the divine nature as St. Peter tells us (2 Peter 1:4). The Alexandrians' view of man's deification is based on the Old and New Testaments. St. Clement says, "The Word of God became Man (John 1:14) just that you may learn from a man how it may be that man should become god," and "It is possible for the Gnostic already to have become god, 'I said, you are gods, and sons of the Highest' (Ps. 132:6)". I will speak in more detail of the Alexandrian deification as a divine grace in the next chapter.
d. It has been said, "When the church Fathers 'think' their mysticism, they Platonize." Christian mysticism has a biblical basis, as our Lord directs our sight towards our inner man (Luke 17:12) to discover His kingdom there. The Alexandrians always strongly emphasized that biblical mysticism is closely related to the work of the Holy Spirit, especially the illumination, purification and perfection of the believers' souls. St. Anthony the Great, as the father of the monastic family, was the first saint called "the bearer of the Spirit" (pneumataphoras). St. Athanasius says, "We need the Spirit's grace in our sanctification."
e. Paul Tillich views providence as the fourth point in which the Platonic tradition was important:
In the late ancient world the anxiety of accident and necessity, or fate, as we would call it today, represented by the Greek goddesses Tyche and Haimarmene, was a very powerful thing. In Romans 8, where we have the greatest hymn of triumph in the New Testament, we hear that it is the function of Christ to overcome the demonic forces of fate. The fact that Plato anticipated this situation by his doctrine of providence is one of his greatest contributions. This providence, coming from the highest god, gives us the courage to escape the vicissitudes of fate.
J.W. Trigg adds, "Another area where Origen found Platonism and Christianity singularly compatible was in their simultaneous insistence on the activity of divine providence and human freedom and moral responsibility."
It was impossible for the Alexandrians to ignore the "divine Providence" for two reasons: it was an essential Biblical teaching, and it was one of the chief subjects of discussion among philosophers at that time. Jean Daniélou states "The major characteristic of philosophical speculation in the second century was that it was all directed to the problem of the relationship between God and man" , i.e. to the problem of Providence philosophers. They were divided into two groups: the atheists - Epicureans and Aristotelians - denied Providence or limited its scope; the others - Stoics, Platonists and Pythagoreans - defended it, each in a slightly different way. The problem of Providence was a topic that philosophers were mostly interested in the second and third centuries.
According to St. Paul "in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28), and according to Plato "all things that come from the gods work together for the best for him that is dear to the gods." Here I repeat what I have written as an introduction to my book, The Divine Providence.
Many of the ancient philosophers, such as Philo, Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius and others, contemplated the universe, its mighty laws, its capabilities, its beauty etc. They believed in God's providence as a fact, but frequently, they limited it to the creation of the universe with its laws; believing that God left the universe after its creation, and the control of its laws. The Alexandrian Fathers looked upon philosophy as a divine gift that partially revealed the truth but not with a full view. They believed in God's providence in its biblical sense; namely it embraced all creation in general and man in particular. It surpassed time and space, for it was concerned with man even before his creation, i.e., before the time when he was in the Divine Mind, and it still takes care of him on earth and will continue acting into eternal life, or in the world to come. Divine Providence cares for believers, unbelievers and irrational creatures. This is revealed through God's tender mercies, kindness and chastening; through the pleasant events, and through the evil (sorrowful) ones.
f. Paul Tillich sees the fifth element that was added to the Platonic tradition as coming from Aristotle:
The divine is a form without matter, perfect in itself. This is the profoundest idea in Aristotle. This highest form, called "God," is moving the world, not causally by pushing it from the outside, but by driving everything finite toward him by means of love... He said that God,...moves everything by being loved by everything. Everything has the desire to unite itself with the highest form, to get rid of the lower forms in which it lives, where it is in the bondage of matter.
Christianity offers The Incarnate Logos, who manifests Himself as true love. He loved us firstly, and grants us Himself as the source of love.
g. For the Stoics, logos means man's ability to recognize reality; we could call it "theoretical reason." It is man's ability to reason. Because man has the logos in himself, he can discover it in nature and history. From this it follows for Stoicism that the man who is determined by the natural law, the Logos, is the logikos, the wise Man. Originally the Stoics were Greeks; later they were Romans. Some of the most famous Stoics were Roman emperors, for example, Marcus Aurelius. They conceived of the idea of a state embracing the whole world, based on the common rationality of everybody. Some see that this was something which Christianity could take up and develop. There is a difference, however because the Stoics did not have the concept of sin. They had the concept of foolishness, but not sin. Therefore, salvation in Stoicism is a salvation through reaching wisdom. In Christianity salvation is brought about by divine grace. These two approaches are in conflict with each other to the present day.
h. Some scholars believe that the allegorical interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, which the Alexandrians adopted, is one of the principal effects of the Hellenic culture on some Jews and Christians, especially, Philo of Alexandria, and the early Alexandrian Fathers.
Joseph Wilson Trigg says,
According to Clement, the biblical authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, used allegory for much the same purpose he had set himself in the composition of the Stromateis: allegory keeps simple Christians from doctrines they are not mature enough to handle and piques the curiosity of the more intelligent and spiritually advanced. Finding the deeper meaning is thus the process by which God gradually, by means of parable and metaphor, leads those to whom God would reveal himself from the sensible to the intelligible world. In this way the genuine Gnostic, pondering the obscurer passages of the Bible, takes flight from this world to the other and becomes like God. Such an understanding of the Bible and how it is interpreted easily enabled Clement to reconcile it to Platonism.... Frequently he borrowed, without necessarily acknowledging them, the Platonizing interpretations of Philo.
In fact the Alexandrian Fathers used the allegorical interpretation and were affected by Philo, but they added to him or corrected him, using a Christian basis.
i. Athenagoras' technique in developing argument is manifestly Platonic: there is the analogy from agriculture and the manual arts besought to suggest lines of thought; the derivation game is played in the manner of the Cratylus. It does not mean that he was Platonic. His firm rejection of the transmigration of souls is proof enough of that.
j. Paul Tillich believes that Greek philosophy and Christianity do agree in revealing the need of a savior:
What was said about the character of the founders of these philosophical schools was very similar to what the Christians also said about the founder of their church. It is interesting that a man like Epicurus - who later was so much attacked by the Christians that only some of his fragments remain - was called soter by his pupils. This is the Greek word which the New Testament uses and which we translate as "savior." Epicurus the philosopher was called a savior. What does this mean? He is usually regarded as a man who always had a good time in his beautiful gardens and who taught an anti-Christian hedonistic philosophy. The ancient world thought quite differently about Epicurus. He was called soter because he did the greatest thing anyone could do for his followers - he liberated them from anxiety. Epicurus, with his materialistic system of atoms, liberated them from the fear of demons which permeated the whole life of the ancient world. This shows what a serious thing philosophy was at that time.
I think there is no need to explain that there is no link between the Stoics' concept of the savior and that of Christians, the only possible link is that all human beings feel in need of a Savior.
Christians recognize that the Savior can't be other than God Himself or the Word of God, of whom the prophets foretold for many centuries before His coming, who alone is the divine Teacher and the Creator who grants us new life. He renews our nature, joins us with Himself, accomplishes the divine sentence of death against us by sacrificing Himself on our behalf as a Priest and Victim at the same time, conquers death and grants us the risen life, conquers our enemy Satan, raises us up to heaven, and grants us divine knowledge.
St. Clement explains in his writings,
The Word... has appeared as our Teacher, He by whom the universe was created. The Word who in the beginning gave us life when He fashioned us as Creator, has taught us the good life as our Teacher, that He may afterwards, as God, provide us with eternal life. Not that He now has for the first time pitied us for our wandering; He pitied us from old, from the beginning,. But now, when we were perishing, He has appeared and has saved us.
k. Paul Tillich also sees that Greek philosophy and Christianity agree in revealing the need for wisdom, as he says, "Another consequence of this skeptical mood was what the Stoics called apatheia (apathy), which means being without feelings toward the vital drives of life such as desires, joys, pains, and instead being beyond all these in the state of wisdom." The Alexandrians in a biblical concept reveal the divine Logos Himself as the Wisdom, who offers Himself to His believers that they may receive Him.
l. Some scholars see that St. Clement and Origen distinguish between simple believers who accept the Christian faith on authority and the tiny elite group of spiritual Christians who seek to know the deep things of God. For Plato, the intellectual elite is the spiritual elite because the intellect is the faculty of the soul which alone can attain to the vision of true being.
m. David N. Bell says, "Just as Platonism laid great stress on the spiritual side of things, so too, the Christian Platonists of Alexandria were far happier when dealing with the spiritual world than with the material one. Thus, they tended to stress the divinity of Christ at the expense of His humanity..."
To clarify the Alexandrian view on this matter we notice the following points:
I. The Alexandrians faced two serious attitudes: the Gnostic and the Arian. The former denies the body of Christ and the latter denies His divinity. In facing the Gnostics, the Alexandrians emphasized the true Body of Christ. For example, St. Athanasius, in his letter to Adelphius, states:
Let them learn from your piety that this error of theirs belongs to Valentinus and Marcion, and to Manichaeus, of whom some substituted (the idea of) Appearance for Reality, while the others, dividing what is indivisible, denied the truth that "the Word was made Flesh, and dwelt among us" John 1:14. . . .
We do not worship a creature. Forbid the thought. For such an error belongs to heathens and Arians. But we worship the Lord of creation, Incarnate, the Word of God. For the flesh also is in itself a part of the created world, yet it has become God's body. And we neither divide the body, being such, from the Word, and worship it by itself, nor when we wish to worship the Word do we set Him far apart from the Flesh, but knowing, as we said above, that "the Word was made flesh", we recognize Him as God also, after having come in the flesh. Who, accordingly, is so senseless as to say to the Lord: "Leave the Body that I may worship You"....?
But the leper was not one of this sort, for he worshipped God in the Body, and recognized that He was God, saying: "Lord, if You will, You can make me clean" (Matt. 8:2). Neither by reason of the flesh did he think the Word of God a creature; nor because the Word was the maker of all creation did he despise the Flesh which He had put on. But he worshipped the Creator of the universe as dwelling in a created temple, and was cleansed. So also the woman with an issue of blood, who believed, and only touched the hem of His garment, was healed (Matt. 9:20), and the sea with its foaming waves heard the incarnate Word, and ceased its storm (Matt. 8:26)...These things then happened, and no one doubted, as the Arians now venture to doubt, whether one is to believe the incarnate Word...
In facing the Arians, the Alexandrians emphasize the divinity of Christ. They were more interested in writing on Christ's divinity, perhaps because the Gnostics who truly had a huge number of Apocryphal books, but these were aimed at those who had philosophical attitudes, while the Arians used popular songs and preaching to gain the multitude.
II. The Alexandrians stress the divinity of Christ, but not on the expense of His humanity, because they believe that when we belittle our Savior, we belittle His gifts and grace to us.
III. In our traditional liturgical prayers, we usually confirm Christ's complete humanity, saying: "He was incarnate and became man."
IV. St. Athanasius writes a book on the "incarnation of the Word." His purpose is to confirm Christ's divinity without ignoring His humanity. He says:
If then He wept and was troubled, but it was proper to the flesh, and if too He besought that the cut might pass away, it was not the Godhead that was in terror, but this affection too was proper to the manhood.
He knows (the day and hour), but as showing His manhood, in that to be ignorant (Mark 13:32) is proper to man, and that He had put on flesh that was ignorant, being in which He said according to the flesh: "I know not."
m. Salvatore R. C. Lilla, in his book: "Clement of Alexandria," starts Chapter 2 on "Ethics," saying, "Some scholars both of the last and of the present century have studied Clement's views, and have attempted either to give a general sketch of them or to stress their dependence on Stoicism, or to point out their Christian character which according to them, remains uncorrupted even if the language used is sometimes borrowed from Greek philosophy." Then he deals with the problem of the relations between Clement's ethical doctrines and those of Philo, of middle Platonism, and of Neo-Platonism.
St. Clement tells us three definitions of happiness according to Speusippus:
I. A state of perfection in things natural (this definition anticipates largely the Stoic definition: "living in according with Nature".
II. A freedom from disturbance (Aochlesia).
III. A result of the Virtues.
Here, St. Clement accepts the Stoic and Platonic doctrines but in a biblical concept, for to him, Christ, the Educator and Logos, is the ruler both of nature and of human morals.¨ He grants us the freedom from inner disturbance and the only source of virtues and goodness.