A Neoplatonist philosopher (c. A.D. 300). Photius of Constantinople indicates (Contra Manichaeos 1. 11) that he converted to Christianity and became archbishop of Lycopolis. He is known through his De placitis Manichaeorum, which shows him as a coolheaded critic of the teaching being spread in Egypt by Manichaean missionaries in the first generation after Mani’s death in 277. Alexander states that he gained his knowledge of Mani’s teaching from those “who had known the man.” He opens the De placitis by contrasting the “simplicity” of Christian teaching with the complicated mythology purveyed by the Manichaeans.
He follows with a well-informed, point-by-point refutation of Manichaean dualism, cosmology, moral teaching, and its purely docetic concept of Christ. He concludes with brief but trenchant attacks on the sectaries’ refusal to eat living things and their abstinence from marriage. He shows how MANICHAEISM was gaining ground among people who were prepared to accept propositions without examination, and even some “who have studied philosophy with us” (De placitis 5).
Throughout, Alexander writes as a Platonist philosopher. The author of creation is the Demiurge (craftsman). He refers to “fellow students of philosophy,” dispassionately discusses aspects of Greek religion relevant to his criticism of the Manichaeans, and singles out the founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium, for praise. At the same time, he praises Jesus for showing that goodness was the common heritage of all classes of mankind and for his simple teaching and discourses that raised the senses toward God (De placitis 25).
Alexander’s attack on Manichaean asceticism may be compared with that of Patriarch THEONAS of Alexandria (282-300) at about the same time (Papyrus Rylands 469). It seems clear that abstinences and rejection of marriage were among the Manichaean tenets that found most support among the Copts at this time, and lends significance to the careers of Saint ANTONY and PACHOMIUS OF TABENNESE. Alexander himself is interesting as one who, though an educated Greek, could appreciate the value of Jesus’ teaching uniting all men of whatever background in a common aspiration toward goodness. His work shows that among pagans as well as Christians, there was some understanding of the religious ideas that were increasingly penetrating among the Copts on the eve of the Great Persecution of Diocletian.
- Alexander of Lycopolis. De placitis Manichaeorum. In PG 18, cols. 411-48. Paris, 1857.
- Alexandri Lycopolitani contra Manichaei opiniones disputatio, ed. 1895. Leipzig, 1895.
- Catalogue of the Greek Papyri in the John Rylands Library, Manchester, Vol. 3, Theological and Literary Texts, ed. C. H. Roberts. Manchester, 1938.
- Cowell, E. B. “Alexander of Lycopolis.” In DCB 1, p. 86. Repr. New York, 1974.
- Photius. Contra Manichaeos. In PG 102, cols. 15-264. Paris, 1900. Schmid, W. Geschichte der griechischen Literatur, 6th ed., Vol. 2,2. 861ff. Handbuch der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, Vol. 7, pt. 2. Munich, 1924.
W. H. C. FREND