ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

96. Christian School of Alexandria. -- Founded by PANTAENUS (fl. 200), the Christian school of Alexandria was made famous by two great men, CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA (fl. prior to 216) and ORIGEN (185-254). We have extant a tripartite work of Clement's containing the Logos protreptikos pros Ellênas, the Paidagôgos, and the Strômateis. Origen, in his principal work, the Peri archôn, attempts the first systematic exposition of dogma. Of all the Alexandrian Fathers he was the most deeply influenced by the dominant theories of his time: first by the Graeco-Judaic philosophy, especially of Philo, from which he borrowed his theory of the allegorical interpretation of the Bible; then, through the medium of Neo-Platonism by the Platonic, Aristotelian and Stoic philosophies, and even by the Gnostic systems. There is reason for what has been said of Origen that he was a Christian in his practical life and social intercourse, but a Greek in his conceptions of the world and of God. When refuting Gnosticism he subscribed to many theories repudiated afterwards by his successors. Their theories in theodicy, anthropology and morals are the most remarkable portions of the philosophies of Clement and Origen

(1) Divine Transcendence is energetically asserted in opposition to the monists. On the other hand, God is not relegated to an absolutely inaccessible region, nor is He such an indeterminate being as Philo and the Gnostics make Him. He is accessible to the human intelligence, which recognizes Him in His creatures.

(2) The Theory of Creation, which the predecessors of Clement and Origen had already interpreted in a Biblical sense, is eloquently defended by these two masters. And so the hesitating conjectures of Grecian philosophy, unable to explain the mutual relations of God and the universe, were at last replaced by a definite and decided teaching. Plato and Aristotle had subscribed to the dualism of God and matter without explaining the origin and independence of the latter; the Stoics and Neo-Platonists had advocated a fatalistic emanation of the Divine substance or of the Divine activity into finite being; but monistic pantheism could not explain why God communicates Himself to the contingent, whilst dualistic individualism was discredited by its arbitrary juxtaposition of God and matter. The doctrine of creation or the production of the world ex nihio by an act of the free will of the All-Powerful offered a far more perfect philosophical solution; it maintained with Aristotle the substantial distinction between the Pure Act and the act mixed with potentiality, and it maintained with Plotinus the absolute dependence of the world on God. The creationist theory was bound to be taken up and developed by all the writers of the patristic and medieval epochs.

(3) The soul is spiritual and is of a nature superior to that of the body (against Epicurus), -- though certain passages from Origen seem to contradict this thesis; the existence of moral liberty is asserted against Gnostic determinism; a natural moral order is the standard or rule of human conduct.{1}

{1} The most celebrated of the Latin writers of this period is TERTULLIAN OF CARTHAGE (169-220). His works (principally De Idololatria, Apologeticus, De Anima, Libri Duo ad Nationes, and several treatises on Gnosticism), written in bold and vigorous language, contain some fierce diatribes against Gnosticism, against the artistic and scientific products of Roman society, nay even against all rational knowledge. Every one knows of that hard saying attributed to him: credo quia absurdum. Taken in its narrower literal sense this would destroy the philosophical basis of the act of faith. Not all the doctrines of Tertullian are above suspicion. He held Traducianism as regards the human soul, and believed the latter to be of a certain corporeal nature. After Tertullian, but of less importance, came ST. CYPRIAN OF CARTHAGE (about 200-258), COMMODIUS, ARNOBIUS who wrote in the first years of the fourth century (Adversus Gentes), and LACTANTIUS (about 260-340, Institutiones Divinae).

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