Alexandrian Theology

ALEXANDRIAN THEOLOGY

When Saint Mark introduced Christianity into Egypt, the city of Alexandria was already a great center of learning where Hellenistic thought thrived side by side with Hebrew teachings. The most eloquent exponent of philosophy of the time was PHILO OF ALEXANDRIA (20 B.C.-A.D. 50), who sought to fuse and harmonize Greek thought and Hebrew religion. When Christianity found a fertile ground in Alexandria, a school that was originally established to teach CATECHUMENS soon developed into a flourishing center for the dissemination of all types of knowledge and was able to stand against the influence of other centers of learning in the metropolis, such as the schools founded by Ptolemy I and Ammonius Saccas (in 323 and 193 B.C., respectively). The new Christian school soon attracted many of the luminaries of law, philosophy, logic, and rhetoric, and eventually evolved a new system of thought in harmony with Christian teaching.

Among the outstanding figures of this school were Athenagoras, PANTAENUS, CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA, and ORIGEN.

Athenagoras advocated the idea that the subtle, mysterious references uttered by the ancient high concerning the breaking forth of the light had at last been fully realized. Pantaenus was busy culling material from a variety of sources to strengthen the spirits of believers. Clement of Alexandria, described by Saint Jerome as the most learned scholar of his time, spared no effort in establishing the Christian church on sure foundations. Origen, the philosopher par excellence, was the supreme teacher during the postapostolic period (Rufinus Apologiae in Sanctum Hieronymum 2.20). He was the finest elucidator of the Christian mysteries and paved the way for those who desired to comprehend the majesty of the Creator (Daniélou, 1948).

These great thinkers codified the Alexandrian theology, which had the following distinctive features:

  1. The use of philosophical studies not merely as an introduction to the understanding of religious science but, more important, as an means toward the proper assimilation of Christian Clement of Alexandria was able to harness philosophy in the service of faith and to use the weapons of philosophical arguments to refute the claims of his opponents. He argued that real brooks no contradiction between faith and knowledge—on the contrary, it generates a certain harmony, which leads to the attainment of perfect Christianity and perfect gnosticism. To him, faith is the beginning and end of philosophy.
  1. The supremacy of Logology in the attempt to narrow the gap between God and the world. To Clement, the Logos is a member of the Trinity: the Creator, the Divine Mind, the Teacher, and Savior of humanity who, through faith, knowledge, contemplation, and love, will lead human beings to eternal life. Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, is at the same time God who became man. It was who enriched ecclesiastical vocabulary with the Christological terminology that is still in current use, though perhaps differently applied at times: Hypostasis, Physis, Theanthropos, Homoousios, and Ousia.
  2. The use of allegory in the interpretation of the for non-Christians. In this respect may have been influenced by Philo of Alexandria, who differed from the school of Antioch, which kept to the literal and historical approach in the interpretation of biblical texts.
  3. The contrastive textual method in the translation of both Old and New Testaments into Coptic, said to have been carried out by Pantaenus and Clement—an achievement that undoubtedly encouraged the spread of Christianity among Egyptians. The first attempt at verifying the text of the Old Testament was undertaken by Origen, who compiled the following works:
  • a Tetrapla comprising four parallel columns, including the translations of the Septuagint, Aquila, Symmachos, and Theodotion, with Origen’s own on the
  • a Hexapla comprising the previous four translations in four columns, to which are added a Hebrew text in Hebrew characters, and the same text in Greek characters.
  • an Octapla, comprising the previous six columns, to which are added the two translations found in Jericho and Nikopolis.

Origen’s works amounted to about fifty volumes, representing a unique and unparalleled attempt in the study of the by one man, who can rightly be called the founder of the science of exegesis.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Asad Rustum. Aba’ al-kanisah fi al-qurun al-thalathah al-ula. Beirut, 1963.
  • Daniélou, Jean. Origène. Paris, 1948.
  • Grillmeier, A. Christ in Christian Theology, trans. S. Bowden. London, 1965.
  • Ighnatyus Aphram Al-durar al-nafisah fi mukhtasar al-kanisah. Homs, 1940.
  • Kelly, J. N. D. Doctrines, 5th ed. London, 1968. Nautin, P. Origène: Sa et son oeuvre. Paris, 1979.
  • Osborne, E. F. “Teaching and Writing in the First Chapter of the Stromateis of Clement of Alexandria.” of Theological Studies n.s. 10 (1959): 335-343.
  • Oulton, J. E. L., and H. Chadwick. Alexandrian Christianity. London, 1968.
  • Rufinus. Apologia in Sanctum Hieronymum. In 21, cols. 541- 624. Paris, 1849.
  • Trigg, J. W. Origen: The Bible and Philosophy in the Third Century Church. Atlanta, 1983.

BASILIOS