THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONICTRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY                   By IAN ELLIS-JONES PhD (UTS)      Excer...
Van der Leeuw wrote (1927a:61) that “[e]very great movement begins with inspiration andends in dogma”. Regrettably, Christ...
zealous in their search for religious experience. The existence of this atmosphere       was vitally important in the deve...
life on some enduring foundation. We must approach the religion of the Greek in        the spirit of sympathy. God is the ...
especially in the Act of Faith when we speak of God being “Love and Power and Truth andLight”. Unless there be One which I...
selfishness. Having learned to control your own evil habits, you will have greater power to       help others to cast out ...
We can also see Plato’s influence in our Liberal Catholic understanding of the descent ofspirit into matter, and all that ...
Plato also developed the idea of a “World-Soul”, the creation of which, according to Platoniccosmology, is as follows (as ...
allegorically14 rather than literally – an approach that would later find favour with manyprominent Liberal Catholics, esp...
regarded as a power acting independently and existing by itself, as Isa. lv. 11        (comp. Matt. x. 13; Prov. xxx. 4); ...
Nevertheless, Philo, whose “soul [was] athirst for God” and entire aim was to “see God”(Kirk [1934] 1966:21), always descr...
prophetic inspiration. For while the mind is in a state of enthusiastic inspiration, and         while it is no longer mis...
Philo had an enormous impact on the thinking and theology of the Christian Greek Fatherswho were shortly to make their own...
The preponderance of historical records supports the view that it was in the 2nd century(c190 CE) that the Christian Churc...
definition and discourse” (Fairweather 1901:11-12). Furthermore, the theology thatemerged from this Alexandrian School of ...
Greek Fathers of the early Christian Church, with the latter (Origen) undoubtedly being oneof the greatest of all Christia...
“Greek”, and espcially Platonic, in their philosophising. Clement sought to expound a“middle way” between the views of the...
Clement was “a Christian who [also] called himself a Gnostic”, indeed a “self-confessedGnostic” (Churton 2005:115 and 117,...
Faith was thus only the first step toward gnosis, for, according to Clement, the Christian“must advance from faith to know...
made perfect, the Watchers, the Saints, the Holy Ones, be praise unceasing from       every living creature; and honour, m...
powerless to restore himself to good” (Fairweather 1901:29). We needed the help of Christto achieve that. Having said that...
Van der Leeuw writes (1927a:70) that Clement understood Christ’s self-giving as being aliving allegory53 of the need for o...
We find this idea reflected in the Service of the Holy Eucharist in The Liberal CatholicLiturgy (221; 239):           Unde...
Clement was, above all, a believer in reason and intellectual freedom, something ofimmense importance to Liberal Catholics...
doctrine had to be subjected to the light of reason and not simply accepted on faith at facevalue. Fairweather writes (190...
Not surprisingly, Origen, like Clement, was also a firm believer in Christian Universalism, 59the pre-existence of the hum...
Van der Leeuw (1927a:80) points out that Origen - just like Jesus himself who spoke inparables to the masses but to his “i...
the intellectual capitals of the Roman Empire) also had more than a passing acquaintancewith Buddhism,66 which itself had ...
(Jn 14:6) leads Christian fundamentalists to say things such as, “God has spoken his finalword in Jesus Christ”, and “If C...
For Origen, the Scriptures were “a mine of speculative truths” even though he “neverdepart[ed] from the position that the ...
The special task, then, to which the Christian theologians of Alexandria addressed        themselves, was that of harmonis...
can still be seen to this day to have been Platonists,74 notwithstanding that as time went bythe movement increasingly bec...
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
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Transcript of "THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONIC TRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY"

  1. 1. THE PLATONIC AND NEOPLATONICTRADITIONS AND ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY By IAN ELLIS-JONES PhD (UTS) Excerpts from a thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements of The Liberal Catholic Institute of Studies (Australian Campus) for a Diploma in Religious StudiesThe Liberal Catholic Church in the Province of Australasia (Including Indonesia) This thesis is not an official document of the Liberal Catholic Church Copyright © Ian Ellis-Jones 2009 All Rights Reserved 1
  2. 2. Van der Leeuw wrote (1927a:61) that “[e]very great movement begins with inspiration andends in dogma”. Regrettably, Christianity is no exception.Although Christianity began its life as a Jewish sect it cannot be stressed enough thatseveral of its key “building block” Christian concepts such as Christ as the Logos, and eventhe Doctrine of the Holy Trinity itself, came not from Judaism nor from Gnosticism, let alonefrom any one or more of the many different competing Gnostic sects, as is often (wrongly)asserted, but from mainstream Greek philosophy.1 Indeed, the whole concept of the Logos,as well as the concept of the Trinity in its more Christian form at least, 2 are of Greekphilosophical origin,3 and their incorporation into mainstream Christianity is very muchassociated with the so-named Alexandrian School of Theology. Sadly, certain other ideas,that still form the backbone of conventional, traditional Christianity, such as the doctrine ofvicarious atonement, also came not from Judaism but from Greco-Roman mystery religionbut were unfortunately carnalized and literalized by those sections of the Church whichwould in time become dominant to such an extent that the original religious understandingand significance became almost unrecognisable in the process. As regards the influence ofGreco-Roman mystery religion, the prominent Baptist minister and civil rights activist, thelate Martin Luther King, Jr, in his study of the influence of the Greco-Roman mysteryreligions, especially Mithraism, upon Christianity, wrote (1949-50:Online): The Greco-Roman world in which the early church developed was one of diverse religions. The conditions of that era made it possible for these religions to sweep like a tidal wave over the ancient world. The people of that age were eager and1 There were many fundamental differences between the Gnostics and the Alexandrians. For example, Gnosticssaw no need for faith whereas Clement and other Alexandrians regarded knowledge (gnosis) as being the resultand perfection of faith, the latter having primacy as a “first principle” for the foundation of knowledge.2 Insofar as the Trinity is concerned, although notions of a divine trinity, triplicity or triad can be found in manyother religions, its most immediate and temporal connection with what became mainstream Christianity was viaGreek philosophical thinking. The history and source of the Christian Doctrine of the Holy Trinity are not to befound in Christian revelation but in Platonic philosophy. Indeed, the very language of the doctrine comes fromclassical Greek philosophy. It was Origen who set out on a doctrinal basis the Holy Trinity based upon standardMiddle Platonic triadic emanation schemas. The word, as opposed to the concept, of the Trinity was actuallycreated by the Christian apologist Tertullian (c160-220 CE) as a shorthand expression to refer to what he sawas the triune nature of the Godhead as expressed in the Bible. It was not until “the last quadrant of the 4thcentury ... that what might be called the definitive Trinitarian dogma One God in three Persons becamethoroughly assimilated into Christian life and thought”: The New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol 14, p 295.3 Even the idea of the immortality of the human soul was not derived by the Jews from the Hebrew Bible (the“Old Testament” of the Christian Bible) but rather was taken from Plato. Both the Jewish communities ofantiquity as well as the early Christian churches were deeply influenced by Greek philosophical ideas. The NewTestament of the Christian Bible provides no scriptural basis for belief in an "immortal soul" survivingconsciously after death. The words “immortal soul” are found nowhere in the Bible. The word “immortal” occursonly once in the entire Christian Bible (see 1 Tim 1:17), where it refers specifically to God. Only God hasimmortality.
  3. 3. zealous in their search for religious experience. The existence of this atmosphere was vitally important in the development and eventual triumph of Christianity. These many religions, known as Mystery-Religions, were not alike in every respect: to draw this conclusion would lead to a gratuitous and erroneous supposition. They covered an enormous range, and manifested a great diversity in character and outlook, "from Orphism to Gnosticism, from the orgies of the Cabira to the fervours of the Hermetic contemplative." [Angus, The Mystery Religions and Christianity, p vii.] However it is to be noticed that these Mysteries possessed many fundamental likenesses; (1) All held that the initiate shared in symbolic (sacramental) fashion the experiences of the god. (2) All had secret rites for the initiated. (3) All offered mystical cleansing from sin. (4) All promised a happy future life for the faithful. [Enslin, Christian Beginnings, pp 187, 188.] It is not at all surprising in view of the wide and growing influence of these religions that when the disciples in Antioch and elsewhere preached a crucified and risen Jesus they should be regarded as the heralds of another mystery religion, and that Jesus himself should be taken for the divine Lord of the cult through whose death and resurrection salvation was to be had. That there were striking similarities between the developing church and these religions cannot be denied. Even Christian apologist had to admit that fact. ... There can hardly be any gainsaying of the fact that Christianity was greatly influenced by the Mystery religions, both from a ritual and a doctrinal angle. This does not mean that there was a deliberate copying on the part of Christianity. On the contrary it was generally a natural and unconscious process rather than a deliberate plan of action. Christianity was subject to the same influences from the environment as were the other cults, and it sometimes produced the same reaction.Whatever the origins of the various doctrines and dogmas of what became conventional,traditional, mainstream Christianity - and some of those doctrines and dogmas did arise outof Judaism Christianity – the Christian Church as a whole (unlike the Liberal CatholicChurch) continues to affirm the Jewish roots and flavour of the Gospel stories andteachings and of the Church’s fundamental doctrines and seeks to downplay the influenceof the philosophies and religions of the Greco-Roman world. Like most things in life, thetrue position is much more complex.Professor Samuel Angus, sometime Professor of New Testament and Historical Theology,St Andrew’s College, University of Sydney, and a leading authority on the environment ofearly Christianity and, in particular, the Greco-Roman mystery religions (see, especially,Angus [1925] 1975; 1929; 1931) wrote that ... Greek religion is that of the most cultured people who ever lived on this earth of ours. Religion deals with the ageless quest of the spirit – man’s effort to base his
  4. 4. life on some enduring foundation. We must approach the religion of the Greek in the spirit of sympathy. God is the god not of the Jews only, but of the Greeks. Clement of Alexandria said, “There were two revelations of God – one the revelation of Philosophy to the Greeks, and one the revelation of religion among the Hebrews”.4Manly P Hall has written that if, as we Liberal Catholics generally assert to be the case,there is an underlying unity of the true wisdom of the world’s religious traditions andteachings, esoterically understood, then the philosophical basis of what Hall refers to as“the doctrine of religious unity” originates in “the most mature and convincing of Plato’sconclusions” (1945:19). The Athenian-born Plato (c427-347 ECE), who Dean Inge in hisbook Christian Mysticism rightly described as “the father of European Mysticism”, wrote5and spoke of “The One” and “The Good”. Plato saw philosophy as being “a kind of logos[,]and Plato’s notion of logos6 may be analysed in modern terms as ‘the reasonable use ofwords in thinking’” (Urmson and Rée 1989:242). Consistent with his doctrine of generalsand particulars, with religion being a “general”, and the world’s different religions beingspecialized “particulars”, Plato wrote and spoke of the existence of two different worlds, thefirst (but not in time or origin) being our phenomenal or physical world of visible things.However, there is another world of ideas7 and forms, each of which (the “OnesThemselves”) made manifest in our everyday supposedly material world as things visible, inwhich these ideas and forms are “visible only to the mind itself, or rather not visible butintelligible, grasped only by the pure intellect using bare words” (Urmson and Rée1989:243).So, according to Plato, there is a world of being, in which everything exists, “always is”,“has no becoming” and “does not change” (the world of forms), and there is a world ofbecoming, which “comes to be and passes away, but never really is” (the physical world orcosmos).8 Accordingly, we have such things as Goodness, which is distinct from thingswhich are good in themselves, and Beauty, which is also distinct from things which arebeautiful, and so forth. However, there is only one Goodness, one Beauty, and so forth.This Platonic idealism is found in many parts of our Liberal Catholic Liturgy, but most4 Extracted from notes of Angus’s 1933 lecture on Greek religion, as quoted by Ernest H Vines in Parer(1971:23).5 Hall (1945:78) writes that the “most important and least known” of Plato’s writings are his Five Books onTheology, which, fortunately, were preserved by Proclus of Alexandria, surnamed the Platonic Successor.6 The word Logos refers not only to the expression of the Divine but also to its intelligibility: see Mitchell(2006:66).7 For Plato the word “idea” meant first visible form and then form in general.8 See Plato’s Timaeus, 28a.
  5. 5. especially in the Act of Faith when we speak of God being “Love and Power and Truth andLight”. Unless there be One which Itself is Beauty, Justice, as well as such other things asLove, Power, Truth and Light, “there would be no sense in calling anything beautiful”(Urmson and Rée 1989:243), just, loving, powerful, true or full of light.From Plato’s theory of forms - that the real world originates in the realm of ideas, that ideasshape and create reality, that what we see as the so-called material world is only a shadowof the real word - these ideas can easily be seen in the writings of Bishop Leadbeater,especially in The Science of the Sacraments, which is essentially a treatise of the power ofthe mind to generate ideas and then translate those ideas into thought forms of greattransformative power.9 Plato’s concept of “The One” also had a powerful impact onChristian metaphysics and mysticism and coalesced perfectly with Jewish monotheism(see, eg, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut 6:4)).For Plato, human improvement was “the supreme good, toward which all learning shouldactively trend” (Hall 1945:79). We see this emphasis on the need for human improvement inthe services in The Liturgy pertaining to the Holy Orders. Examples include the following,extracted from various services of Holy Orders: • “[Y]ou must learn self-control and acquire additional powers. Instead of allowing your body to direct and enslave you, you should endeavour to live for the soul. Wherefore as a first step you must learn in this grade of cleric to control, and rightly to express yourselves through, the physical body ... “ (The Ordination of Clerics, 359) • “In this order, you learn control of the emotions and passions, as before you learned to master the crude instincts of the physical body. ... If through carelessness or selfishness the emotions have been allowed to become self-centred, it is our duty not to kill them out, but to purify and raise them; to substitute for devotion to our own pleasure devotion to God and humanity; to put aside, as far as may be, affection for self for the affection that gives, caring nothing for any return; not to ask love, but to give love.” (The Ordination of Doorkeepers, 362) • “As you had to learn to purify emotion, so also must your mind be pure. As you learned to perceive the necessity for physical cleanliness, or to throw off with repugnance the lower emotion, so also must you thrust away unworthy thought, remembering that all thought is unworthy that is impure, selfish, mean or base; such, for example, as would seek for flaws instead of gems in thinking of the character or work of another. ... Wherefore as readers it is your duty to train and develop the powers of your mind, to study and fit yourselves that you may help to train and develop the minds of others.” (The Ordination of Readers, 364-365) • “In this grade of exorcist it is your duty by strenuous effort to develop the power of the will and by its exercise to cast out from yourselves the evil spirit of separateness and9 See also Thought-Forms by Besant and Leadbeater.
  6. 6. selfishness. Having learned to control your own evil habits, you will have greater power to help others to cast out the evil from themselves, not only by example but by precept and even by direct action on your part.” (The Ordination of Exorcists, 367) • “From ancient times, also, it has been required of those who enter this order that they strive to acquire certain virtues of character, such as are typified by the vestments delivered unto them. By the amice, control of speech; by the maniple, the love of service or diligence in all good works; by the tunicle, the spirit of joy and gladness, or freedom from care and depression, that is to say, confidence in the good law, which may be interpreted as a recognition of the plan revealed by almighty God for the perfecting of his creation.” (The Ordination of Subdeacons, 378)The above are more than just moral exhortations. In each grade or order grace or spiritualpower is conferred to the extent to which the candidate is open to it and does what isrequired, invoking the help of the One who has, and is, all Power. By such means, personaltransformation, especially in the form of ego deflation at great depth, takes place.Plato’s idealism was dominated not just by the importance of striving for humanimprovement at all levels but also by the “supremacy of the mind ... with the possibility ofthe intellect accomplishing through proper cultivation all that is necessary to the security ofman” (Hall 1945:79). In the opinion of Plato, a philosophic and contemplative life was anecessity in order for there to be any participation in the Divine life. Our Liturgy makes itclear (see, for example, the above excerpts) that more than proper use and control of theintellect is required, and, further, that there is a Mind that is above all human minds of whichour individual minds form but a small part.Plato’s idea that the universe is “the body of a blessed god”, that “the earth itself is aneternal animal crawling endlessly through space, ever living, but ever changing itsappearances” (Hall 1945:78), had a powerful influence on early Christian thinking andundoubtedly played a key role in the development of the Christian notion of the “mysticalbody of Christ” as well as Leadbeater’s understanding of the importance of building a“Eucharistic temple”. Indeed, it is not overstating things to say that the Liberal Catholicunderstanding of the Holy Eucharist being a means by which divine power can bespiritualized and brought to descend to and upon the so-called material world, for thepurpose of quickening and hastening the evolution of not only the congregants but indeedthe inhabitants of the whole world is very Platonic in its philosophical idealism.
  7. 7. We can also see Plato’s influence in our Liberal Catholic understanding of the descent ofspirit into matter, and all that ensues thereafter, namely, “the ineffable sacrifice of thy Son,the mystery of his wondrous incarnation and passion, his mighty resurrection and histriumphant ascension” (Liturgy 217). This teaching may have come to our Church mostimmediately from Theosophy but, again, it was Plato who in his writings “set forth thedescent of human souls out of the mystery of the milky way, like seeds falling into thematrix of generation” (Hall 1945:78). The process of involution, according to Plato,proceeds as follows, as described by Hall (1945:78): Arriving within the seminal humidity of the sub-lunary sphere, the souls become intoxicated with the effluvium of matter and take upon themselves bodies, by which process they die out of their spiritual estate in order to be born as physical beings. Thus, birth is truly death; and each man is locked within the sarcophagus of his own body. Here he must remain until he is liberated by the philosophic disciplines.The “progress of human consciousness”, according to Plato, was achieved by two means,writes Hall (1945:79): By the first, release from matter was the result of a slow evolutionary process; the human being grew by experience alone, following the difficult course of trial and error. The second, or philosophic approach, was unfoldment through personal effort. The mind was weaned from its attachments to purely physical pursuits by discipline and the study of the sciences, especially geometry. Over the gate of Plato’s academy [Mouseion] in Athens was carved the inscription: “Let no man ignorant of geometry enter here.”10Hall (1945:79) writes of the significance of Plato in these terms: The scope of the Platonic teachings can be estimated from the statement of Jowett, the English translator of the collected works of Plato. This learned, if somewhat mid-Victorian translator said, “The germs of all ideas, even most Christian ones, are to be found in Plato.” Voltaire observed that in pure point of doctrine, Plato should have been the first canonized saint of the Christian Church. Ferrier, in the Institutes of Metaphysics, summed up a considerable learning in this terse statement: “All philosophic truth is Plato rightly defined; all philosophic error is Plato misunderstood.”10 Ageometretos medeis eisito (“Let not one destitute of geometry enter my doors"). Plato also wrote, "Theknowledge of which geometry aims is the knowledge of the eternal": Resp, VII, 52. However, it was Plutarch,and not Plato, who wrote, "God geometrizes", and "Plato said God geometrizes continually": see Plutarch,Convivialium disputationum, liber 8,2. “God geometrizes”, said the mystics and occultists in the Middle Ages,partly out of self-protection for fear of persecution which did in fact occur, and partly because what was beingspoken of was otherwise seen to comprise a coherent system of symbols, albeit in the nature of a mystery.
  8. 8. Plato also developed the idea of a “World-Soul”, the creation of which, according to Platoniccosmology, is as follows (as described by Ferguson 1976:Online): The Divine Craftsman is good and desires all things to be like himself. So he brings order out of chaos and fashions a world-soul; the cosmos is thus a living creature endowed with life and intelligence. The material universe includes fire and earth to make it visible and tangible, and the other elements to give it proportions. The father creates the divine heavenly bodies, the visible gods, and entrusts to them the fashioning of the mortal part of man; he himself creates form what is left over from the creation of the world-soul souls equal in number to the stars.11Now, prior to the Christian era, Athens reigned supreme over Alexandria12 as a centre forthe study of philosophy and higher learning. However, Athens was “too intimatelyassociated with the faded glories of polytheism to dispute with [Alexandria] the supremacy”,writes the United Free Church minister the Rev William Fairweather in his book Origen andGreek Patristic Theology (1901:3). In time, in the earliest centuries of the Christian era,“there flourished in Alexandria many schools of philosophy” (“Fr John” 1963:13): Amongst them we find the Jewish school (Philo); the Gnostics, the School of the Christian Apologists (Clement of Alexandria and Origen), the Neoplatonic School organized by Plotinus and Porphrey. The early Christian Fathers associated with these Schools aimed mainly at achieving a scientific exposition of the revealed truths of religion, but from the nature of the case they could not fulfil their task of defence against “paganism” with which they were everywhere surrounded without touching on most of the questions that belong to the domain of philosophy. Greek philosophy was never entirely abandoned, and the school of Aristotle, who had been a disciple of Plato, continued to exercise great influence on the minds and deliberations of the early Fathers of the Church.13As Moussa (nd:Online) has pointed out, Alexandria had become, by the middle of theSecond Century CE, “one of the intellectual capitals of the Roman Empire”, in large part asa result of the hard work of the Ptolemies. The city had a large Jewish community, which, inmany ways, paved the way for the growth and developemnt of Christianity in the city. Then,in time, there were a number of Christian communities. Most of the Christians in Alexandriawere native Egyptians who had little or no interest in Greek philosophy andintellectlualizing. There was, however, a smaller, highly educated, community of Christiansin Alexandria who were very familiar with Greek philosophy. When an Alexandrian school ofphilosophy of the Christian kind finally developed, the school that eventuated reflected themysticism found throughout the Middle East and tended to interpret Sacred Scripture11 J Ferguson, An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Mysticism and the Mystery Religions, as quoted in “PlatonicDualism”, [Online] viewed 1 May 2009, <http://www.mystae.com/restricted/streams/gnosis/dualism.html>.12 Alexandria, in Egypt, was built by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE.13 “Fr John” (1963:13).
  9. 9. allegorically14 rather than literally – an approach that would later find favour with manyprominent Liberal Catholics, especially Fr Geoffrey Hodson.15 As mentioned elsewhere inthis thesis, the very early Christian church, especially the Church of Antioch, the mostancient church after that of Jerusalem, having been founded by Saints Peter16 and Paulthemselves, was highly mystical in its spirituality, and this was certainly true of theAlexandrian Church Fathers as well. Fairweather has written of some of the more importantfactors that led to Alexandria becoming the important place that it did become for earlyChristianity (1901:2): Everything combined to mark out Alexandria as the place most likely to take the lead in any great intellectual movement. Many currents of thought met and mingled in this cosmopolitan city, which witnessed not only the first attempts at a scientific theology, but also the simultaneous rise of the last great system of ancient philosophy. As a result of the syncretism of the period, a remarkable spirit of toleration prevailed in the community; the adherents of different cults and creeds lived side by side in mutual goodwill.It was not a Christian but the Hellenized (and more particularly, Alexandrian) Jewishphilosopher Philo, also known as Philo Judaeus as well as Philo of Alexandria (20 BCE - 50CE), a contemporary of Jesus, who is generally credited with having developed theteachings about the Logos in the first century CE. The Jewish Encyclopedia refers to thedistinctive and idiosyncratic manner in which Philo developed the concept of the Logos: This name [Logos], which he borrowed from Greek philosophy, was first used by Heraclitus and then adopted by the Stoics. Philos conception of the Logos is influenced by both of these schools. From Heraclitus he borrowed the conception of the "dividing Logos" (λόγος τομεύς), which calls the various objects into existence by the combination of contrasts ("Quis Rerum Divinarum Heres Sit," § 43 [i. 503]), and from Stoicism, the characterization of the Logos as the active and vivifying power. But Philo borrowed also Platonic elements in designating the Logos as the "idea of ideas" and the "archetypal idea" ("De Migratione Abrahami," § 18 [i. 452]; "De Specialibus Legibus," § 36 [ii. 333]). There are, in addition, Biblical elements: there are Biblical passages in which the word of Yhwh is14 See, especially, Gal 4:24 (“Now this is an allegory ...”). Grant and Freedman ([1960] 1993:27) write thatClement and Origen were of the view that “the synoptic provided a literal, historical account of Jesus’s work,while John composed an allegorical version which gave the inward, spiritual meaning of Jesus”. The writers alsonote that “Origen sometimes argued all four gospels were partly historical and partly symbolical” (also at 27).15 See, eg, The Hidden Wisdom in the Holy Bible, vols 1-4 (vols 1-2, 1967; vol 3, 1971; vol 4, 1981) (WheatonIL: Theosophical Publishing House (Quests Books), and The Christ Life from Nativity to Ascension (Wheaton IL:Theosophical Publishing House (Quests Books), 1975). Philo is noted for his allegorical interpretation of theSeptuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible). This translation was “made in the first instance for theuse of Greek-speaking Jews living in Alexandria” (A Concise Bible Dictionary, London: Cambridge UniversityPress, nd, p 138).16 St Peter is reputed to have been the first among the Bishops of Antioch, the Church of Antioch itself havingbeen established in, it is generally believed, 33 CE. In 325, at the First Council of Nicea, the bishopric of Antiochwas recognized as a Patriarchate as were those of Rome, Alexandria and Jerusalem.
  10. 10. regarded as a power acting independently and existing by itself, as Isa. lv. 11 (comp. Matt. x. 13; Prov. xxx. 4); these ideas were further developed by later Judaism in the doctrines of the Divine Word creating the world, the divine throne- chariot and its cherub, the divine splendor and its shekinah, and the name of God as well as the names of the angels; and Philo borrowed from all these in elaborating his doctrine of the Logos.17Philo, a Middle Platonist,18 who greatly admired both the Essenes as well as thePythagoreans (but especially the latter),19 is sometimes referred to as having been aGnostic, but “although some of the raw material of Gnosticism can be found in Philo, he isnot, except in the vaguest sense, himself a Gnostic” (Chadwick 1967, as quoted in Churton2005:42). There is certainly room for confusion and disputation, for Philo did indeedcombine and synthesize Jewish religious ideas with Greek (both Stoic and Platonic)philosophy in a highly idiosyncratic fashion. Indeed, the Jewish Encyclopedia goes so far asto say that Philo’s God was “not the God of the Old Testament, but the idea of Platodesignated as Θεός, in contrast to matter”:20 Nothing remained, therefore, but to set aside the descriptions of God in the Old Testament by means of allegory. Philo characterizes as a monstrous impiety the anthropomorphism of the Bible, which, according to the literal meaning, ascribes to God hands and feet, eyes and ears, tongue and windpipe ("De Confusione Linguarum," § 27 [i. 425])21Philo, according to Churton (2005:40) wrote polemics against those who taught two gods; at the same time, Philo himself called the Logos (the divine instrument of creation) “a second god,” “archangel,” “Lord,” and “Name.”17 C H Toy, C Siegfried and J Z Lauterbach, “Philo Judaeus”, in JewishEncylopedia.com, viewed 12 May 2009,<http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=281&letter=P#1056>. See also Churton (2005:43) who alsorefers to the Stoic background of the Logos. Tatian the Assyrian (c110-180 CE), who was an early Christiantheologian, apologist and writer who had been trained in Greek philosophy and who may have later establisheda school of his own in Mesopotamia, is said by some to have been the first Christian writer to declare that Godcreated matter by the power of the Logos: see Studer (1992). (Tatian took and combined the four Gospels of theNew Testament in his Diatessaron. According to Grant and Freedman ([1960] 1993:27) “he retained the order ofnone of them, though for the Galilean ministry of Jesus he relied primarily on Matthew, and for the story of theCrucifixion, on John”.) As mentioned, the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (c535-475 BCE)also spoke of the eternal Logos, by which he meant Godly Wisdom from whom everything received itsexistence.18 Middle Platonism refers to the development of Platonism, or ideas associated with Plato, during the periodfrom roughly 130 BCE up to the late 2nd century CE. Philo was a later Middle Platonist, and perhaps the mostprominent one of the lot. Middle Platonism was followed by Neoplatonism which took shape in the 3 rd centuryCE.19 The ancient Pythagoreans had an evening ritual or mediation in which they would reflect upon their individualacts and omissions of the past day, asking themselves the following three questions: (1) In what I have failed?(2) What good have I done? (3) What have I not done that I ought to have done?20 Toy, Siegfried and Lauterbach (Online).21 Toy, Siegfried and Lauterbach (Online).
  11. 11. Nevertheless, Philo, whose “soul [was] athirst for God” and entire aim was to “see God”(Kirk [1934] 1966:21), always described “God as One, or, in Greek terms, as the Monad”(Churton 2005:43), this God being “beyond all being”. This was a truly transcendent Godwhich, according to Philo, was even “beyond the Monad”. According to the JewishEncyclopedia “Philos transcendental conception of the idea of God precluded the Creationas well as any activity of God in the world”.22 This God brought the cosmos into being in twoways, first, by means of a pure act of the will, and then by means of his Logos (or word) thephysical world or cosmos was brought forth. (This idea forms the basis of the thinking ofthose Liberal Catholics of a Theosophical mindset, and others as well, who make adistinction between the God who is Absolute and Beyond Being on the one hand, and the“God or Logos (Word) of the Solar System to which this planet belongs” (Pigott 1925:21) onthe other. This last mentioned God, who is God at least in the fullest sense in which we,with our own limited understanding, can conceive of such a Being, is analogous to whatPlato and the Stoics referred to as the World-Soul (of which the human soul is anemanation). Indeed, Philo also embraced “the Stoic doctrine of the immanence of God”.23 Inshort, God is both “entirely outside of the world” as well as “the only actual being therein”.24Philo was “perhaps the first to see the Platonic Ideas as God’s thoughts” (Churton2005:43). He wrote of redemption in terms of “losing self in something higher”, with “thegoal of spiritual life as being the vision of God” (Churton 2005:46 and 47, respectively),something which was also, in Philo’s words, a “vision of peace”, for God alone is perfectpeace” (see Kirk [1934] 1966:21). This vision of God could be experienced only in momentsof ekstasis (ecstasy). We cannot see God with ordinary physical sight, but only with the“eye of the soul” (Kirk [1934] 1966:22), and that requires a special kind of asceticism, self-mortification and purity of body, mind and spirit: Who, then, shall be the heir? Not that reasoning which remains in the prison of the body according to its own voluntary intentions, but that which is loosened from those bonds and emancipated, and which has advanced beyond the walls, and if it be possible to say so, has itself forsaken itself. "For he," says the scripture, "who shall come out from thee, he shall be thy heir." Therefore if any desire comes upon thee, O soul, to be the inheritor of the good things of God, leave not only thy country, the body, and thy kindred, the outward senses, and thy fathers house, that is speech; but also flee from thyself, and depart out of thyself, like the Corybantes, or those possessed with demons, being driven to frenzy, and inspired by some22 Toy, Siegfried and Lauterbach (Online).23 Toy, Siegfried and Lauterbach (Online).24 Toy, Siegfried and Lauterbach (Online).
  12. 12. prophetic inspiration. For while the mind is in a state of enthusiastic inspiration, and while it is no longer mistress of itself, but is agitated and drawn into frenzy by heavenly love, and drawn upwards to that object, truth removing all impediments out of its way, and making everything before it plain, that so it may advance by a level and easy road, its destiny is to become an inheritor of the things of God.25At the same time Philo wrote that the root of sin was the lust to become equal to God.26 Hesaw the so-called Fall (as it is known in conventional Christianity) as being simply the resultof creation or involution into a lower world, for there was still an “unbroken union with Godin love” with the soul being God’s bride.27 This is very much the Liberal Catholic position.Philo wrote of the importance of silent contemplation and the meditative state, which willbring about not just emotional equanimity but also peace and union with the Divine: When therefore the soul is made manifest in all its sayings and doings, and is made a partaker of the divine nature, the voices of the external senses are reduced to silence, and so likewise are all troublesome and ill-omened sounds, for the objects of sight often speak loudly and invite the sense of sight to themselves; and so do voices invite the sense of hearing; scents invite the smell, and altogether each varied object of sense invites its appropriate sense. But all these things are put at rest when the mind going forth out of the city of the soul, attributes all its own actions and conceptions to God.28Philo translated the Jewish Scriptures in light of the language and thought forms of anumber of different stands of Greek thought (in particular, Stoic, Platonic andNeopythagorean). In the process, he gave a “spiritual interpretation of the Jewish scripturesand taught his Logos-doctrine which afterwards was to prove such a useful receptacle forthe doctrine about Christ” (van der Leeuw 1927a:67). Philo used the word Logos (which hedescribed as the “Idea of Ideas”) to refer to both the “governing principle of [the] relationbetween transcendent God and lower world” as well as “God’s image” (Churton 2005:43and 44), hence his reference to the “divine man” (cf Moses at the burning bush) beingindwelled by the Logos. To Philo the idea of the Logos was central and had a mysticalpower, for he was in no doubt that “contemplation of and speculation about the works of theLogos [would] reveal secrets” (Churton 2005:45). He also spoke of the “power” of Godmediating between God and the world as “mysteries” and, in various places, as “esoteric”.2925 “Who is the Heir of Divine Things?”, Ch 17, 14:68-70, in Yonge (Online).26 “Legum allegoriae”, 149; “De cherubim”, 58-64, in Philo (1973).27 “De posteritate Caini”, 12; “De cherubim”, 42-53, in Philo (1973).28 “Allegorical Interpretation III”, Ch 4, 14:44, in Yonge (Online).29 “De scrificiis Abelis et Caini”, 60, 131-32; “De Abrahamo”, 122; “De fuga et inventione”, 95; “De cherubim”, 48,in Philo (1973).
  13. 13. Philo had an enormous impact on the thinking and theology of the Christian Greek Fatherswho were shortly to make their own mark in Alexandria. Fairweather writes (1901:3): Philo and his predecessors had to a great extent paved the way for a systematized expression, in terms of Greek philosophy, of the contents of Jewish-Christian tradition. Under the influence of philosophical and Oriental ideas the jagged edges of Judaism had been toned down, and elements of a metaphysical and mystical nature assumed. In the doctrine of the Logos a meeting-point had been found between Jewish monotheism and Gentile philosophy.As mentioned earlier, the concept of the Logos was of great importance to Philo but he didnot actually invent the concept. Insofar as the Doctrine of the Trinity is concerned, althoughnotions of a divine trinity, triplicity or triad can be found in many other religions, its mostimmediate and temporal connection with what became mainstream Christianity was viaGreek philosophical thinking. The history and source of the Doctrine of the Trinity are not tobe found in Christian revelation per se but in Platonic philosophy. Indeed, the very languageof the doctrine comes from classical Greek philosophy. It was Origen (c185-254 CE) whoset out on a doctrinal basis the Holy Trinity based upon standard Middle Platonic triadicemanation schemas. The word, as opposed to the concept, of the Trinity was actuallycreated by the Christian apologist Tertullian (c160-220 CE) as a shorthand expression toexpress what he saw as the triune nature of the Godhead as expressed in the Bible. It wasnot until “the last quadrant of the 4th century ... that what might be called the definitiveTrinitarian dogma One God in three Persons became thoroughly assimilated into Christianlife and thought”.30Significantly, when polytheism began to displace monotheism in Ancient Greece in about600 BCE, it was the philosophers who objected most vehemently and eloquently to whatthey saw as a distortion, indeed corruption, of the true Ancient Wisdom. For example,Xenophon (570-466 BCE) said: Among gods and people there exists one Most High God, Who does not resemble them either mentally, or externally. He is all sight, all thought, all hearing. He eternally and immovably resides in one place ... With His thought He governs all without difficulty.3130 See The New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol 14, p 295.31 As cited in Bishop Alexander (Mileant), trans N and N Semyanko (ed D Shufran), “The One God Worshippedin the Trinity”, viewed 5 April 2009, <http://www.orthodoxpr.com/Orthodox/OneGod.html>.
  14. 14. The preponderance of historical records supports the view that it was in the 2nd century(c190 CE) that the Christian Church decided to establish what might be called a “ChristianSchool” in the City of Alexandria. “At first it was a school for children only”, but out of thisschool emerged “the famous Catechitical [sic] School [of Alexandria]”,32 also known as the“Alexandrian School of Theology” or simply the “Alexandrian School”. The Church’s aim,both in setting up this School and otherwise, was to demonstrate that “true philosophy ledthe way to Christianity and not to Paganism”.33 Fairweather writes that the “moulding ofChristian theology according to the Greek type is specially identified with the CatecheticalSchool of Alexandria” and that the School arose “out of the necessities of the AlexandrianChurch” itself (1901:8).The first director of, and “the principal exponent of Christianity” (van der Leeuw 1927a:67)in, the Catechetical School of Alexandria34 was, according to Bishop Eusebius, a convertedSicilian-born Stoic named Pantaenus35 (died c212 CE) who, as a result of his travels to andthroughout India, had acquired an understanding of the “doctrines of Indian religiousphilosophy” (van der Leeuw 1927:67) which be brought to Alexandria.36 We are told that the“venerable” (Farrar 1886:183) Pantaenus discovered that “true philosophy is found, not inthe Porch, but in Nazareth, in Gethsemane, in Gabbatha, in Golgotha; and he set himself tomake it known to the world”.37 Regrettably, “only a few fragments” of his writings remain(Farrar 1886:183). However, there is no doubt that under Pantaenus’ leadership theCatechetical School of Alexandria became quite well-renowned, such that it has been saidthat “[a]ll the learning of Christendom may be traced to this source”.38The Catechetical School was a “Christian school ... honourably distinguished from thepagan schools of the period by making a virtue a subject for practice, and not merely for32 See “Great Theosophists: Ammonius Saccas” (Online).33 See “Great Theosophists: Ammonius Saccas” (Online), quoting from Fr George Stebbing’s The Story of theCatholic Church (1915). However, according to St Jerome, the school “existed as a catechetical school from theApostles’ time”: see “Pantaenus The Alexandrian Philosopher” (Online).34 The Catechetical School of Alexandria made special use of the method of teaching known as “Socraticdialogue”, a method designed “for the expulsion of ignorance and error, and for the cultivation of a genuine loveof truth” (Fairweather 1901:11). Socratic dialogue is used to this day as a teaching and learning method in manylaw schools throughout the world, especially in the United States of America.35 Later Saint Pantaenus.36 Pantaenus, with whom Clement of Alexandria became closely associated, first as master and pupilrespectively, and later as colleagues, was the head, if not the actual founder, of the Alexandrian School, whichwas founded in around 190 CE. He may have been the head of the Alexandrian School before he went to India.37 “Pantaenus The Alexandrian Philosopher” (Online). Pantaenus is quoted by Eusebius in Hist Eccl, VI.14.2.38 “Pantaenus The Alexandrian Philosopher” (Online).
  15. 15. definition and discourse” (Fairweather 1901:11-12). Furthermore, the theology thatemerged from this Alexandrian School of Theology was a “constructive” one as opposed tothe “defensive theology substituted for the living teaching of Christ” (van der Leeuw1927a:66 and 70) that was elsewhere developing in Christianity around about the sametime. Van der Leeuw writes (1927a:66-67): Alexandria has always been one of the most remarkable of the Christian churches; here Egypt, Greece, Israel, Rome and the Orient met, not only in commerce, but also in intellectual and spiritual intercourse. Nowhere did the new faith find a richer ground to develop. ... Naturally the Christian church in Alexandria became with Rome the leading Church of the Christian religion. Here from the earliest days the instruction of members in the Christian doctrine was organised better than anywhere else; here for the first time we find a critical study and arrangement of the Christian scriptures.Fairweather has written (1901:1-1): The Greek patristic theology was the result of the application of the specific methods of Greek philosophy to the new material supplied by the Christian history, with the view of constructing a reasoned theory of God and the universe. As such it was “the last characteristic creation of the Greek genius.” In the New Testament God is represented from a religious point of view; but for the Greek mind, which conceived God metaphysically as abstract Being, a scientific theology was indispensable. The facts of Christianity had to be so interpreted as to yield a conception of God which would at once conserve His unity, and yet admit of His organic connection with man as Lord and Saviour. Naturally this result was reached only through a process of development.It has been mentioned already that, early in the Christian era, the Jewish philosopher Philoemphasised the mystical quality of our relationship with the Divine, the latter being seen byPhilo to be “supra-rational” in nature and which can only be contacted and experiencedthrough and in moments of ekstasis (ecstasy). As such, he was a forerunner ofNeoplatonism, which otherwise took shape in the 3rd Century CE, and which will be thesubject of more detailed consideration later in this chapter of this thesis. Philo himself had adirect and very profound influence upon both the Athenian-born Clement of Alexandria39(c150-215 CE), a convert to Christianity from paganism40 who would in time succeedPantaenus as the head of the Catechetical School of Alexandria,41 and his pupil andprotégé Origen of Alexandria (c185-254 CE), each of whom were late Second Century39 Titus Flavius Clemens, but known as Clement of Alexandria (cf Clement of Rome).40 Fairweather (1901:12) writes that Clement’s own studies in religion led him to “forsake paganism andembrace Christianity”.41 Clement, who studied under Pantaenus, was also a pupil of Tatian the Assyrian. He was a convert toChristianity.
  16. 16. Greek Fathers of the early Christian Church, with the latter (Origen) undoubtedly being oneof the greatest of all Christian theologians.42 Fairweather writes (1901:13): In the great work of winning the Greek world for Christianity, Clement was the immediate precursor of Origen, the forerunner without whom Origen, as we know him, could not have been.Clement of Alexandria, himself a student of and successor to Saint Pantaenus, was highlyknowledgeable in both Greek43 and Egyptian philosophy which led him to conclude that“truth could be found even in the heathen systems”. 44 For Clement, philosophy was “nowork of darkness, but in each of its forms a ray of light from the Logos, and thereforebelonging of right to the Christian” (Fairweather 1901:14). Clement “combined in himself thenobility of Greek culture with the depth of Christian faith” (van der Leeuw 1927a:67-68), andwas largely responsible for developing what can only be described as an eclectic form of“Christian Platonism”.45 Although “no systematic theologian in the modern sense, Clementmay be said to have laid the foundation of a true scientific dogmatic” (Fairweather 1901:24).Van der Leeuw writes (1927a:68): He considered Greek philosophy and Jewish law to be the paedagogus meant to lead man to Christ, and believed that the Logos directed and inspired the philosophy of Greece until He could be fully manifested in Christ. Thus Christianity was shown as the natural and necessary consummation of Greek and Jewish culture ...As mentioned earlier, the Christians in Alexandria were not all of one mind and accord. Themajority of Christians in the city, those who were Egyptian-born and bred, had little or nointerest in Greek philosophy. Then there was a smaller group of Christians who were very42 Alexander, later bishop of Jerusalem, was also a pupil of Clement at the Catechetical School. Other notableAlexandrian theologians include Saint Cyril of Alexandria (c378-444), a Doctor of the Church and once “Pope ofAlexandria” when that city was at the height of its influence and power in the Roman Empire, and SaintAthanasius of Alexandria (c293-373) (one of four great Doctors of the Eastern Church). Mention should also bemade of Athenagoras (c133-190), an Athenian philosopher who converted to Christianity and became animportant Christian apologist and who almost certainly had some connection with the catechetical school inAlexandria (although he was probably never its head, as has been claimed by some writers). Cyril taught thatthere was “one (mia) nature of the incarnate Logos” (mia fusij tou qeou Logou sesarkwmenh). Sadly, Cyril’sorganized campaign of attacks, some extremely violent in nature, on those whom he saw as dissenters orheretics ultimately “brought an end to the teaching of Greek philosophy in Alexandria” (Bushby 2004:263). Asregards the teaching of philosophy in Athens, that came to an end as a result of an edict of the EmperorJustinian “who prohibited its teaching and caused all schools closed” (Bushby 2004:263).43 Clement saw much of value in Platonic metaphysics, Stoic ethics and Aristotelian logic (Chadwick [1967]1993:97).44 See “Great Theosophists: Ammonius Saccas” (Online).45 Clement himself admitted to being an eclectic: see his Stromata, I:37. See Hoyland (1928) for an inter-relationship between Platonism and Christianity; the otherwise scholarly study is, however, marred by apraeparatio evangelica style of approach, that is, seeing Plato’s views and teachings as a preparation for asimilar expression of teaching in the Gospels purportedly proclaimed by Jesus himself.
  17. 17. “Greek”, and espcially Platonic, in their philosophising. Clement sought to expound a“middle way” between the views of these two different groups of Christians. Fairweatherhas spoken of how Clement was able to successfully combine the best of Greek philosophywith the revealed wisdom from the Hebrew Bible and the prophets culminating in Jesus’incarnation (1901:86-87): The true goal of the Greek philosophy, as well as of the revealed wisdom proclaimed by the prophets, was the incarnation of Jesus, which focussed [sic] all previous self-communications of the Eternal Reason. A knowledge essentially devoid of error is thus guaranteed to us. ... Clement held that a man’s life is likely to be virtuous in proportion to his knowledge of the truth. ... By the union of the divine and human natures in His own person, Christ has become the source of the new life of humanity.Fairweather has also written of how Clement saw philosophy as the divine precursor toChristianity (1901:15): What philosophers of all schools had been aiming at was also the aim of Christianity, viz a nobler life. The difference, according to Clement, was this: while the ancient philosophers had been unable to get more than glimpses of the truth, it was left to Christianity to make known in Christ the perfect truth.Clement’s writings, which display his “profound indebtedness to Middle Platonism” (Churton2005:117), perhaps best exemplify what our own Bishop Frank Pigott had in mind when hewrote of the “lost gnosis” in his book The Parting of The Ways (1925:35), for, as Churtonhas pointed out (2005:115): [Clement] was not declared to be a heretic, and his works have therefore survived in the orthodox circles. Of all the extant writings of the first centuries of the Christian era, it may be that those of Clement conform most closely to what Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons might have called the gnosis “truly so-called.”Clement, who attained the rank of presbyter in the Church of Alexandria (Fairweather1901:13), is famous for having written, “There is one river of truth, but many streams fallinto it from this side and that.”46 Bishop Pigott (1934:Online) has written concerningClement’s statement: Judaism is one such tributary; Hellenism is another; the genius of the Latins has also poured in in very large measure; and more recently the Nordic races, chiefly but not wholly through Protestantism, have added their special contribution. And now there comes another tributary bearing the ancient wisdom of the East. It is as yet but a trickle but it may be destined to flow in greater and greater fullness. Charles Leadbeater is mainly responsible for that.46 Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, I:5.
  18. 18. Clement was “a Christian who [also] called himself a Gnostic”, indeed a “self-confessedGnostic” (Churton 2005:115 and 117, respectively). He saw himself as a “true Gnostic”.Indeed, he spoke, quite unashamedly, of the Christian being a “Gnostic”, whilst making itclear that he was referring not to any of the various schools and sects which were active inthe 2nd century and which called themselves “gnostic” but rather to that true or“ecclesiastical gnosis” (Farrar 1886:185) which the Apostle Paul referred to as “myknowledge in the mystery of Christ” (Eph 3:4).47 Clement railed against what he labeled “theApostlic orthodoxy” and “the evangelical canon” (Farrar 1886:185) which, in his view, hadperverted and corrupted the true religion and teachings of Jesus.R F Horton, in his book The Mystical Quest of Christ, writes (1923:9) that, insofar asClement was concerned What was revealed in Christ was the utmost that we could know; and the additions made by the Gnostic systems were fictitious.As a Gnostic Christian whose “inquiring spirit caused him ... to travel through many lands insearch of the most distinguished Christian teachers” (Fairweather 1901:12-13), Clementaffirmed that “the true wisdom or gnosis was that inner illumination to which the trueChristian could attain if he lived the life of purity and love which our Lord had taught” (vander Leeuw 1927a:69). He believed that there were differences in knowledge (gnosis)between Christians. The more enlightened ones were those who had methodically devotedthemselves to living a highly moral life, along Platonic lines, in their acquisition of a deeperknowledge and understanding of the Divine. Clement’s aim was “to bring his students to astate of spiritual vision, not as a single experience so much as a dynamic, growingmovement, of which this life on earth formed only a part” (Churton 2005:117). Fairweatherwrites (1901:15): As the world must needs go through several stages preparatory to the coming of Christ, so must a man advance by degrees from faith (πιστις) to love, and from love to knowledge (γνῶσις), to the position of a perfect Christian.47 Clement especially opposed those Gnostics who taught that the material world or the created order was aliento and from Almighty God.
  19. 19. Faith was thus only the first step toward gnosis, for, according to Clement, the Christian“must advance from faith to knowledge by the path of simple obedience and rectitude”(Fairweather 1901:31). In his Stromateis Clement has this to say about faith and gnosis: Faith then is a compendious knowledge of the essentials, but gnosis is a sure and firm demonstration of the things received through faith, being itself built up by the Lord’s teaching on the foundation of the faith, and carrying us on to unshaken conviction and scientific certainty. ... [T]here seems to me to be a first kind of saving change from heathenism to faith, a second from faith to gnosis; and this latter, as it passes on into love, begins at once to establish a mutual friendship between that which knows and that which is known. And perhaps he who has arrived at this stage has already attained equality with the angels. At any rate, after he has reached the final ascent in the flesh, he still continues to advance, as is fit, and press on through the holy Hebdomad [the seven planetary spheres] into the father’s house, to that which is indeed the Lords abode, being destined there to be, as it were, a light standing and abiding forever, absolutely secure from all vicissitude.48The reference to “the holy Hebdomad [the seven planetary spheres]” is significant, as weare familiar with the “seven days of creation”, the “seven rays”, the “seven mighty spiritsbefore the throne” (cf Rev 1:4), and so forth. Hodson in his book The Seven HumanTemperaments writes (1952:2): The One becomes Two or androgyne. These Two interact to produce the Third Aspect of the threefold manifested Logos. These Three in turn unite in all their possible combinations to produce seven groups of three. In three of these groups, one of the three predominates; in three others, two predominate and in the seventh, all are equally manifest. Since divine consciousness is focused and active in each of these Emanations, they are regarded as finite Beings or "Persons". From the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, the Seven emerge, who are known in Christian Cosmogony as the Seven Mighty Spirits before the Throne, in Judaism as the Seven Sephiroth and in Theosophy as the Seven Planetary Logoi, each the Logos of a Scheme of seven Chains of globes.49All of this is beautifully captured in the Ascription in the Liberal Catholic Church’s service ofBenediction of the Most Holy Sacrament (see Liturgy 262): To the most holy and adorable Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three Persons in one God; to Christ our Lord, the only wise counsellor, the Prince of peace; to the seven mighty spirits before the throne; and to the glorious assembly of just men48 Stromata, VII.49 In cosmic numerology or “sacred geometry” the number “seven” represents such things as fullness, individualcompleteness (the number “twelve” representing corporate completeness), the perfection of the human soul,and grace. It is considered to be the “divine number” and thus the most spiritual of all numbers.
  20. 20. made perfect, the Watchers, the Saints, the Holy Ones, be praise unceasing from every living creature; and honour, might and glory, henceforth and for evermore.Not only did Clement take from Greek philosophy the concept of the Logos, he “divinised” itsuch that both the Son and the Holy Spirit were also “first-born powers and first created”. Inthat regard, Clement distinguished the so-called Son-Logos from the Logos itself. Thus, theLiberal Catholic/Theosophical understanding of Christ as the World Teacher, expressinghimself through, among others, the person and personality of Jesus, has its origins andfinds early expression in Clement. Churton (2005:117) writes: Clement saw Christ the Logos as the implicate, unifying factor of all the projected archetypes. This also meant that Clement saw all religions as being the sacred expressions of the divine archetypes, while the divine Logos-Christ, present (if unseen) in all, united the All.In the writings and teachings of Clement, God “is manifested through the Son, by whosegrace as Logos He has in some degree been known to the nobler spirits of every age andcountry” (Fairweather 1901:26). These ideas are reflected in various parts (for example, inthe “Prayers of Intent” and in “The Commemoration of the Saints”) of the Service of theHoly Eucharist in The Liberal Catholic Liturgy (217 and 219; 235 and 237) Wherefore, O Lord and heavenly Father, we thy humble servants, bearing in mind the ineffable sacrifice of thy Son, the mystery of his wondrous incarnation, [his blessed passion,] his mighty resurrection, and his triumphant ascension, do here make before thy divine majesty the memorial which our Lord hath willed us to make … … And we join with them in worship before thy great white throne, whence flow all love and light and blessing through all the worlds which thou hast made.For Clement the Christian gospel was “the highest revelation of the Logos, who has givenindication of his presence wherever men rise above the level of the beasts and of theuncivilised savage” (Fairweather 1901:24). “The eternal Word has appeared as man inorder to become our Teacher and Saviour” (Fairweather 1901:29).Clement, like Liberal Catholics, had a high vision of humankind, and its innate divinity andpotential. His philosophy and theological system recognised the reality of sin, but there wasno place for any Calvinistic-type sin-sodden view of our innate total depravity or the like.Thus, Clement rejected and denied the doctrine of “original sin” - something the Jews havealways repudiated as well - but he was still nevertheless of the view that “fallen man [was]
  21. 21. powerless to restore himself to good” (Fairweather 1901:29). We needed the help of Christto achieve that. Having said that, Clement was very much a Universalist, being a firmbeliever in the doctrine of apocatastasis. He would have had no difficulties at all in agreeingwith that part of the Liberal Catholic Act of Faith that states that “all his sons shall one dayreach his feet, however far they stray” (Liturgy 210; 229). Any “punishments” meted out byGod were, according to Clement, “saving and disciplinary, leading to conversion”. 50Fairweather writes (1901:33): … Clement held that after death perfect blessedness will be reached through a further process of further development, accepted the Pauline doctrine of a glorified resurrection body, and allowed the possibility of repentance and reformation until the last day, when probation would cease.51God was thus not an angry, vengeful god that needed to be appeased. It was simply a caseof our impurity which needed “to be overcome, so that unity with the Divine may beattained” (van der Leeuw 1927a:70). We “wander from the path which leads torighteousness” (Confiteor, Liturgy 204; 224) out of ignorance of who and what we really are.All of this was, for Clement, part and parcel of the Christian doctrines of creation andredemption.Clement saw Jesus, not so much as Saviour, but as Way-Shower and Exemplar, with theway being one of self-sacrifice and selfless self-giving. Only by such means could one beinitiated into the “Mysteries of the Kingdom of God”. Clement spoke of those Mysteries inthese terms: But the Mysteries are delivered mystically, that what is spoken may be in the mouth of the speaker; rather not in his voice, but in his understanding. "God gave to the Church, some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." The writing of these memoranda of mine, I well know, is weak when compared with that spirit, full of grace, which I was privileged to hear. But it will be an image to recall the archetype to him who was struck with the Thyrsus.5250 See Stromata, VII, 2; Pedagogue, I, 8. Quoted in Hanson (1899), ch 9. See also “Apocacatastasis”, NewSchaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, vol 1, [Online] viewed 9 April 2009, <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/encyc01.html?term+Apocatastasis>.51 See Stromata, VII, 2, 16.52 Stromata, 1, 1. Online version: viewed 28 April 2009, <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/clement-stromata-book1.htm>.
  22. 22. Van der Leeuw writes (1927a:70) that Clement understood Christ’s self-giving as being aliving allegory53 of the need for our own crucifixion of our egos: The message which Christ brought to man was not that life meant a crucifixion, but that through the crucifixion of our earthly self the spirit within could attain to the new birth.As regards the nature of the “mysteries” that Clement saw as his duty and responsibility toexpound, Clement’s approach was very much in the esoteric tradition which was followedby Jesus himself who said, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, butfor those outside everything is in parables” (Mk 4:11). Thus, Fairweather writes (1901:19): Founding on Col 1:25 ff, Clement holds that hidden mysteries received by the apostles from the Lord had been handed down in direct succession until those who possessed the tradition of the blessed doctrine “came by God’s will to us also to deposit those ancestral and apostolic seeds (Strom I 1, vi 8). These Christian mysteries were not disclosed to the general body of the pupils attending the Catechetical School ... They had the fundamental dogmas of the Church expounded to them, but not the abstruser speculations about “the being of God, the origin of the world, the last things, the relation of reason to revelation, of philosophy to Christianity, of faith to knowledge,” which were reserved for the enlightened.54In Clement’s system of theology, salvation did not depend upon any notions of vicariousatonement or propitiation or expiation as traditionally understood by conventional,mainstream Christianity. Fairweather writes (1901:30) that: When all is said … there is no doubt that, in the general view of Clement, salvation hangs not upon Christ’s finished work as a sacrificial victim for the sins of men, but merely upon the fact of a spiritual transformation wrought in us by the Word as the world’s Instructor.The Christian life therefore becomes one of imitating God, especially Christ Jesus. ForClement, that is the basis of Christian morality and ethics. Fairweather writes (1901:32): This is the one great principle running through his often very detailed treatment of Christian ethics. By the aid of the incarnate Word we are enabled to become imitators of God.53 Fairweather writes (1901:18 fn 1) that, according to Clement, “Scripture [had] even a fourfold sense – theliteral, the mystic, the moral, and the prophetic”. See Stromata, 1, 28.54 Col 1:25-30 reads as follows: “Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which isgiven to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and fromgenerations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of theglory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warningevery man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.”
  23. 23. We find this idea reflected in the Service of the Holy Eucharist in The Liberal CatholicLiturgy (221; 239): Under the veil of earthly things now have we communion with our Lord Jesus Christ; soon with open face shall we behold him and, rejoicing in his glory, be made like unto him. Then shall his true disciples be brought by him with exceeding joy before the presence of his Fathers glory.Fairweather (1901:26) writes that one of the “merits” of Clement is that “he grasps so firmlythe doctrine of the Trinity”, and then goes to on to describe the God in whom Clementbelieved (1901:26): God is inexpressible, having neither parts, qualities, nor relations. “He is formless and nameless, though we sometimes give Him titles which are not to be taken in their proper sense,- the One, the Good, Intelligence or Existence, or Father, or God, or Creator, or Lord” (Strom v 12). This idea of God whom he further speaks of as the great “depth” or “abyss,” would hardly be distinguishable from the abstraction of Philo and the Alexandrian Platonists, were it not for the qualifying declaration that to the Son of God there is nothing incomprehensible. God is therefore not absolutely, but only relatively, incomprehensible.”Thus, according to Clement, although the Father was essentially unknowable, the Son “asthe mood or consciousness of the Father may become the object of knowledge”(Fairweather 1901:27).55 Clement also wrote of the “essential unity” between the God andthe Father and God the Son. Further, there was also the Holy Spirit, for Clement wrote, “Omystic marvel, the universal Father is one, and One the universal Word, and the Holy Spiritis one and the same everywhere.”56Churton refers to Clement’s “system” of thought and teaching as being “one of the earliestformulations of a type of Neoplatonism” (2005:117), the latter being “a partly gnosticizedform of Platonic tradition” (2005:417). Neoplatonism, which “took for its religious ideal thedirect apprehension of the divine essence” (Fairweather 1901:23), will shortly be the subjectof separate consideration. As for Clement, he may or may not have been a self-confessedGnostic Christian, but even the modern day Gnostic scholars are quick to point out that heavoided the excesses and extravagances of much of the thinking of early Gnostics sects,refusing, for example, “the temptation of some Gnostics to sunder the whole within adynamic of precosmic conflict” (Churton 2005:117).55 Clement referred to God the Son as the “Name, Energy, Face, etc, of God” (Fairweather 1901:27).56 Paedogogus I, 6.
  24. 24. Clement was, above all, a believer in reason and intellectual freedom, something ofimmense importance to Liberal Catholics. Fairweather writes (1901:16-17): Clement further maintained that, in order to be a full-grown Christian manhood, practical piety must be combined with intellectual freedom. There must, he held, be scope for reason as well as for faith, for knowledge as well as for love. This led him to attach less importance to mere historical facts than to the underlying ideas. The letter of revelation he brought under the judgment of reason. But not so as to make reason independent of faith, which he declared to be as necessary for spiritual as breath for physical life.Regrettably, but not surprisingly, Clement’s eclecticism met with some opposition, and in203 CE he was deposed as head of the Catechetical School of Alexandria and replaced byhis pupil Origen.Origen, “the great teacher of the Greek Church” (Fairweather 1901:viii), indeed the greatestearly Christian theologian and church father, and one who was extremely well-versed inGreek philosophy, succeeded Clement as head of the Alexandrian School of Theology. Hewas a prolific writer on Christian teachings who “valued dogma [but] abjured dogmatism”(Fairweather 1901:1x). Among his various writings, De Principiis, Origen’s treatise ofsystematic theology, was “the first constructive theology the [Christian] Church had yetproduced” (van der Leeuw 1927a:77). It is no wonder that even John Cardinal Newmancould say of Origen, “I love the name of Origen.”57 F W Farrar, in his Brompton Lecturescompiled and published with the title History of Interpretation, also paid high tribute to thesignificance of Origen as a Christian theologian and philosopher (1886:188): Like the influence of Socrates in Greek philosophy, so the influence of Origen in Church history is the watershed of multitudes of different steams of thought.Origen, like Clement and others of the early Christian era in the Platonic and Neoplatonictradition, believed in the essential oneness of all life and, in particular, “the indestructibleunity of God and all spiritual essence” (Fairweather 1901:96). Origen never doubted thatthe word of God was “the sole source of absolute certitude, and the sole repository ofessential truth” (Fairweather 1901: ix-x), and that the Gospel was “the power of God untosalvation to every one that believeth” (Rom 1:16), but he “attache[d] the greatest value to ascientific conception of Christianity ... [h]ence the union in him of the Platonic philosopherwith the orthodox traditionalist” (Fairweather 1901:89). According to Origen, all Christian57 Newman, as cited in Fairweather (1901:v).
  25. 25. doctrine had to be subjected to the light of reason and not simply accepted on faith at facevalue. Fairweather writes (1901:89): As the revelation of the highest reason, Christianity must lend itself to elucidation by the science of reasoning, and, in fact, it admits of being stated in clear dogmatic propositions.Such an approach to the construction, interpretation and application of Christian doctrineand dogma has been a cornerstone of Liberal Catholic writing and thought throughout theyears. For example, Parry and Rivett ([1969] 1985:3) write: The [Liberal Catholic] Church’s official attitude is simply to bestow the fullness of all those teachings and sacraments that may broaden the understanding, whilst allowing the right to non-literal and unprejudiced interpretation of doctrine and scripture, and the right to be open-minded.Origen affirmed and expounded both the transcendence of God as the one eternal Essenceand the immanence of God in the whole of creation, with the latter being revealed in Christ.We see the influence of this thinking in various parts of The Liberal Catholic Liturgy, butperhaps never more beautifully than in this portion of the Service of the Holy Eucharist (seeLiturgy 218; 236): All these things do we ask, O Father, in the name and through the mediation of thy most blessed Son, for we acknowledge and confess with our hearts and lips that + + by him were all things made, yea, all things both in heaven and earth; ++ with him as the indwelling life do all things exist, and ++ in him as the transcendent glory all things live and move and have their being:Fairweather sums up Origen’s position on the matter with these words (1901:96): We live and move and have our being in God because by His power and reason He fills and holds together all the diversity of the world. The task to which Origen addresses himself resembles in certain respects that attempted by the Neoplatonists; for him as for them the problem is how to establish the organic unity of God and the world, and counteract the dualism of Oriental theosophies.5858 Cf Acts 17:28 (“For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets havesaid, For we are also his offspring”). The reference to the One in whom we live and move and have our being is,according to several scholars, “based on an earlier saying of Epimenides of Knossos (6th century BC[E])” (Note,The New American Bible [Fireside Study Edition/Catholic]). Epimenides of Knossos was a Greek seer,philosopher and poet. The saying “For we are also his offspring” comes from Aratus of Soli, a 3rd century BCEpoet from Cilicia (Note, The New American Bible). Aratus (c315 BCE/310 BCE-240 BCE) was a Greek didacticpoet. In this and other verses of his writings the Apostle Paul displays his intimate familiarity with Greek writingsand teachings. Also of interest is that Mithraism came to the West when Cilician pirates were settled in Greecein the first century BCE. One of the major cities in Cilicia was Tarsus from which Paul came some 180 yearsafter the Cilician pirates had been resettled. Paul was demonstrably familiar with Greco-Roman mystery religionand his concept of the indwelling cosmic Christ often bears little resemblance to or connection with the historicalJesus.
  26. 26. Not surprisingly, Origen, like Clement, was also a firm believer in Christian Universalism, 59the pre-existence of the human soul60 (with the latter, the human soul, being seen to be a“mirror” of the Deity), and the final salvation of all human beings, but this should come asno surprise to students of the history of the early Church. John Wesley Hanson, thescholarly author of Universalism: The Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church During ItsFirst Five-Hundred Years ([1899] Online), has written this about the Early ChristianChurch’s almost universal belief in “universal salvation”: Universal Restitution was the faith of the early Christians for at least the First Five Hundred Years of the Christian Era. ... The surviving writings of the Christian Fathers, of the first four or five centuries of the Christian Era, abound in evidences of the prevalence of the doctrine of universal salvation during those years.61Thus, Origen believed that although “the created spirit in the exercise of its own free willshall fall away from God, it must still return to being in him”. These are sentiments, indeeddeep convictions that receive eloquent expression in The Liturgy of the Liberal CatholicChurch (see, especially, the Confiteor and the Act of Faith). Fairweather writes (1901:96)that the “ultimate deification of humanity is a leading idea in the Greek theology”, somethingwhich is reflected in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. For example, Jesushimself affirmed, “Is is not written in your law, I said ye are gods” (Jn 10:34; cf Ps 82:6).6259 See De Principiis, II, x:3, 4.I, I; Against Celsus, iv, 13; VIII. Lxxii. Quoted in Hanson (1899), ch 10.60 "In the temporal world which is seen, all beings are arranged according to their merits. Their place has beendetermined by their conduct" (De Principiis 3.3.5).61 See <http://www.tentmakerorg/books/Prevailing.html> (viewed 9 April 2009). See also Stetson (2008).62 One of T S Eliots most memorable poems "East Coker" begins with the words, "In my beginning is my end",and concludes with the words, "In my end is my beginning" (see M Roberts (ed), The Faber Book of ModernVerse, London: Faber and Faber, 1960, pp 126, 133) – in all, a most apt poetic expression of the positionexpounded by both early Greek Patristic thought and Liberal Catholic theology.
  27. 27. Van der Leeuw (1927a:80) points out that Origen - just like Jesus himself who spoke inparables to the masses but to his “inner group” revealed “the secret of the Kingdom of God”(see Mk 4:11) - in his various lectures and writings gave “teachings such as the majoritycould understand” but it was “only in the company of a small group of closer disciples thathe could expound the deeper doctrines and be understood”. Origen, like Clement, spokeand wrote of his belief in the “mysteries of Jesus”, participation in those mysteries, and of“the wisdom hidden in a mystery”.63 In several passages of Contra Celsum, Origen’sfamous refutation of Celsus’ attack on Christianity, Origen makes it clear that he “not onlybelieved in the existence of the Christian mysteries ... he knew and spoke of them with theauthority of one who had been initiated into them” (van der Leeuw 1927a:85). One suchpassage from Contra Celsum is as follows: ... whoever is pure not only from defilement, but from what are regarded as lesser transgressions, let him be boldly initiated in the mysteries of Jesus, which properly are made known only to the holy and pure. ... The initiated of Celsus accordingly says, “Let him whose soul is conscious of no evil come.” But he who acts as initiator, according to the precepts of Jesus, will say to those who have been purified in heart, “He whose soul has, for a long time, been conscious of no evil, and especially since he yielded himself to the healing of the world, let such an one hear the doctrines which were spoken in private by Jesus to His genuine disciples.” ... [Celsus] does not know the difference between inviting the wicked to be healed, and initiating those already purified into the sacred mysteries!64Fairweather, in his book Origen and Greek Patristic Theology, writes (1901:70): According to Origen, the Spirit’s chief object in Scripture is to communicate ineffable mysteries regarding the affairs of men, ie souls inhabiting bodies. [De principiis iv 11.] But, passing forthwith into the region of the transcendent, he remarks that among those matters which relate to souls we must rank as primary the doctrines bearing upon God and His only-begotten Son, namely, “of whose nature He is, and in what manner He is the Son of God, and what are the causes of His descending even to the assumption of human flesh, and of complete humanity: and what also is the operation of this Son, and upon whom and when exercised.”The Alexandrian theologians were also eminent philosophers, believing that philosophy was“of divine origin” (Philip 1998:Online). In particular, as has already been pointed out on anumber of occasions, the Alexandrian School of Theology had a special focus on bothChristian and pagan (Greek) writings,65 and Alexandria itself (which was in its heyday one of63 Contra Celsum, III, 61.64 Contra Celsum, III, 60. See also Contra Celsum, III, 59, 61 and 62.65 Clement, in particular, was extremely well versed in the writings and teachings of persons such as Marcion,Plato, Aristotle and Socrates as well as the works of many “gnostic” scholars.
  28. 28. the intellectual capitals of the Roman Empire) also had more than a passing acquaintancewith Buddhism,66 which itself had an influence upon Greek thought.67 Insofar as Origen’ssystem of theology was concerned, his “philosophy of revelation accounts for the Gnosticand Neoplatonic features mixed up with it” (Fairweather 1901:87).Origen, who was “speculative to the verge of audacity” (Fairweather 1901:ix), and “evenmore of an idealistic philosopher than Plato himself” (Fairweather 1901:87), gave us a “key”which, if used wisely and intelligently, enables us to find the “lost gnosis”, the truetheosophia, or what Besant ([1909] 1984:60) referred to as “the wisdom underlying allreligions when they are stripped of accretions and superstitions ... teachings [that] aid theunfoldment of the latent spiritual nature in the human being, without dependence or fear”.The key is this – every religion, according to Origen, has a body, a soul, and a spirit. Vander Leeuw describes it this way (1927:82-83): Origen’s conception of the Scriptures was that they could be interpreted in three different ways, the first according to the letter or the body of the Scriptures, the second according to the soul, giving the allegorical meaning of the different passages, and the third according to the spirit, giving the esoteric interpretation.Origen found the scriptural basis for his tripartite method of interpretation in the HebrewBible, relevantly, among other parts of the Tanakh, in Proverbs 22:20-21: Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge, That I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth; that thou mightest answer the words of truth to them that send unto thee?68When one applies this key to the sacred scriptures of the world’s great religions one findsthat, when they are interpreted literally, they are for the most part at odds with each other,and largely, if not entirely, irreconcilable. Thus, a passage of scripture such as “Jesus saithunto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”66 Buddhist gravestones from the Ptolemaic period have been found in Alexandria.67 Clement of Alexandria wrote concerning the Buddha, Buddhism, and the influence of Buddhism on Greekthought in his Stromata (Miscellanies), Book 1, Chapter 15, at a time when there already were in existence (andhad been for some time) several active Buddhist communities in the Hellenistic world. Indeed, there appears tohave been more than a little syncretism between Buddhism and Greek philosophical thought. Many of theancient Greek philosophers (eg Hegesias of Cyrene, who lived c300 BCE) appear to have been attracted toBuddhist asceticism and teachings.68 Fairweather writes (1901:74 fn 2) that the word translated (in the KJV and the RV) “excellent things” literallymeans “three” or “in triple form” and is so rendered by the Greek Septuagint (τρισσως) and the Vulgate(tripliciter), “perhaps with the idea of repetition to emphasise the truth”. In any event, Origen used Prov 22:20 assupport for his threefold interpretation of sacred scripture.
  29. 29. (Jn 14:6) leads Christian fundamentalists to say things such as, “God has spoken his finalword in Jesus Christ”, and “If Christianity is right, all other religions are wrong”.69 The result– a truly horrible state of affairs which has resulted in thousands of years of acrimony,needless division, wars, inquisitions, heresy trials, witch hunts, martyrdoms, executions,and so forth.Now, when one starts to interpret scriptures allegorically,70 that produces a vastimprovement, and we start to see enormous similarities between the world’s various sacredscriptures. However, the allegorical method of interpretation has its limitations and involvesa lot more subjectivity and intuitive guesswork than its proponents care to admit, andsuffers from an unavoidable ex post facto and somewhat mechanical superimposition of analready adopted system of metaphysical or esoteric belief systemThe third method of interpretation - the “spiritual” one - leads one to conclude that, despitethe many obvious differences in the contents of the world’s religions, there is, if one ishonest enough to admit it, some underlying common message, namely that all life is one,that the One becomes the many so that the many may know themselves to be one, that weall come from God (whether we care to use that word or not to describe the Sacred or theHoly and the Ineffable One), that we belong to God, and live, move and have our being inGod, and are godlike in nature, and are each on our way back to God, that as we sow, soshall we reap, that what belongs to us by right of consciousness can never be lost, and soforth. All of this is affirmed and embraced by the Liberal Catholic Church and is givenabundant expression in The Liturgy. Origen expressed it this way: Since then Scripture itself also consists as it were of a visible body, and of the soul in it that is perceived and understood, and of the spirit which is according to the patterns and shadow of the heavenly things - come, let us call on Him who made for Scripture body and soul and spirit, a body for them that came before us, a soul for us, and a spirit for them that in the age to come shall inherit life eternal, and shall attain to the heavenly and true things of the law; and so let us for the present search not the letter but the soul. And if we are able, we shall ascend also to the spirit, in our account of the sacrifices whereof we have just read.7169 In logic, a statement of the last mentioned kind is not an argument at all, but only what is known as a“conditional statement”, as it does not state the premises necessary to support its conclusion. In short, it is afallacy.70 Although Origen was certainly not the first to expound the allegorical method of interpretation, he wascertainly “the first who attempted to give it a scientific basis” (Fairweather 1901:73). According to Origen, thefunction of allegorism was to “discover, exhibit, and expound the deeper sense of Scripture” (Fairweather1901:76).71 Origen, In Lev Hom, V.
  30. 30. For Origen, the Scriptures were “a mine of speculative truths” even though he “neverdepart[ed] from the position that the Bible is the sole guide to those higher truths which,however they may vary as regards the form of their presentation, remain always the samein substance” (Fairweather 1901:71). Nevertheless, there was indeed a divine purpose asrespects “the concealment of spiritual truths under cover of some narrative of visible thingsor human deeds, or of the written legislation” (Fairweather 1901:71), for although “the letterof Scripture is capable of edifying ‘the multitude,’ who cannot investigate the mysteries …[t]he great instrument for discovering and interpreting the deeper mysteries underlying theletter of Scripture is the allegorical method” (Fairweather 1901:71, 73).Origen also shared Clement’s views on the interrelationship, but also the contradistinction,between faith and gnosis. Fairweather has this to say about Origen’s views on this matter(1901:94-95): Faith Origen views as a whole-hearted belief manifesting itself in a ready obedience. While accepting the doctrine of justification by faith alone, he holds that the faith which does not influence conduct is dead. A living faith cannot consist in sin, but changes the whole walk and conversation. ... ... Faith … gradually develops into knowledge, and the life of faith advances with every increase in the number of doctrinal propositions the truth of which is recognised.Although the “mystic element [was] not predominant” in Origen, it was “certainly present”(Fairweather 1901:93). Thus, Origen, consistent with his mystical understanding of theLogos (which, according to Clement, is always actively working in the responsive humansoul, ever revealing new spiritual truths to the disciple on the path), placed little weight orsignificance upon “the Crucified One” (that is, Jesus Christ) except as a divine teacher andspecial manifestation of the Logos. Fairweather writes (1901:91): To the perfect, Christ is nothing more than the manifestation of the Logos who has been from eternity with the Father, and whose activity has also been eternal. It is not as the Crucified One, but merely as a divine teacher that He is of consequence to the wise. “He was sent indeed as a physician to sinners, but as a teacher of divine mysteries to those who are already pure, and who sin no more.” (Contra Celsum, iii 63).Fairweather has written of the importance of these early Church Fathers (1901:4):
  31. 31. The special task, then, to which the Christian theologians of Alexandria addressed themselves, was that of harmonising the apostolic tradition concerning Christ with the theological conclusions of the Jewish-Alexandrian philosophers – a task which necessarily involved considerable modification of absolute statement on the one side or the other.Thus, the early Greek Fathers of the Church saw Christianity as embodying all that wasgood and noble in Greek philosophy and pagan religion. Indeed, they went further than that,stating that whatever “elements of truth” were contained in the former reached theircompletion or had their culmination in Christian doctrine. Fairweather writes (1901:92) ofthe hybrid or heterodox nature of at least certain elements of Origen’s system of theology:72 The moral and religious ideal set forth in the system of Origen is one which has its roots partly in Neoplatonic mysticism and partly in Holy Scripture.Fairweather sums up Origen’s views and contribution to Christian thought with these words(1901:93): For him the ideal to be sought by the human spirit is “the state without sorrow, the state of insensibility to all evils, of order and peace – but peace in God.” The way to attain this is through self-knowledge, repression of the sensuous, and due cultivation of “the meditative hour”: but in all this he sees nothing inconsistent with the most active endeavours to promote the kingdom of God.Archdeacon F W Farrar, who certainly did not approve of Origen’s “version” of Christianity,nevertheless could not, and did not, deny the immense impact Origen had on the earlyChurch. Farrar writes (1886:201): The influence of Origen was wide and deep [(fn 1:) Gieseler says that “his exegetical writings were the model and source for all succeeding Greek commentators” (i. 232); he might have added, and for most Latin ones also], and all the more so because he did not expand and systematise in the Christian Church, as Philo had done in the Jewish, the principles which [were] at work in the writings of [other Church] Fathers.Over time, the religious and mystical philosophy later known as Neoplatonism 73 evolved.The term is problematic and controversial in that several of those most intimatelyassociated with this school of philosophy, especially the Egyptian-born Plotinus (204-270CE) and Porphyrey (c234-c305 CE), would have seen themselves as being Platonists, and72 Elsewhere in his book Origen and Greek Patristic Theology Fairweather refers to what he regards as Origen’s“essentially heterodox [theological] system” (1901:97) in which Origen incorporated “so many philosophicaldoctrines with those of Scripture, [so as] to weave them into one heterodox system” (1901:94).73 The term Neoplatonism (neuplatonisch in German) was first coined by a German historian.
  32. 32. can still be seen to this day to have been Platonists,74 notwithstanding that as time went bythe movement increasingly became a synthesis of not only a number of distinct schools ofGreek thought and philosophy (in particular, Platonism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism andPythagoreanism)75 but also esoteric elements from such places as Egypt and India. It wouldlater become the foundation and backbone of Christian mysticism, and otherwise had aprofound influence upon early Christian thinkers such as Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius.76 Also, several notable early Christian philosophers (for example, Justin andAthenagoras) wrote unashamedly of the connections between Christianity on the one handand Platonism and Neoplatonism on the other.77Neoplatonism built upon many of the foundations already laid down by Platonism itself,especially the core idea that “Man originally by the power of the Divine Image within himcould control all Nature, but gradually lost this power through his own fault” (Corelli1966:421) (cf the traditional Christian doctrine of the Fall). For the Neoplatonist, the humanmind was a noble thing - indeed the very throne of the Godhead Itself. The emphasis wasnot on our “total depravity” but on our high calling and innate potential as the image andvery likeness of God. Alexandrian Christology may be said to have begun with Origen, whobelieved not only in the pre-existence and multiple ages of the human soul78 but, moreimportantly, in an eternal, as opposed to a once-only in time, generation of the Son, the74 This was certainly the view of the eminent Thomas Taylor who was the first to translate the works of Plotinusinto English (see Mead (1914)) as well as that of the classical scholar John D Turner.75 Despite what the German philosopher, scholar and literary critic Friedrich Schlegel wrote, albeit in relation tothe question of “universals” (see Benn 1 1882:283), namely, “Every man is born either a Platonist or anAristotelian”, there has always been synthesisation and syncretisation.76 Neoplatonism also had an influence upon Islamic and Jewish thinkers.77 Christian Gnostics, such as Valentinus, did likewise, albeit highly selectively.78 Belief in the pre-existence of the soul was “not peculiar to Pythagoras and Plato, but was also current in theEast, and may well have been suggested to Origen by certain Jewish apocrypha in which there was a largeadmixture of Oriental ideas” (Fairweather 1901:87-88). As to whether or not Origen actually believed inreincarnation, the evidence from Origens own extant works (see, eg, his Commentaries on Jn 6:7 [229 CE] andMt 10:20 [248 CE]: see “Reincarnation” [Online]) tends to suggest that Origen did not actually believe inreincarnation per se or not at least as the doctrine was generally understood. A local synod (not being anecumenical council as such) condemned Origen’s teachings on pre-existence of the soul held in 543 CE. Whatwas subsequently condemned at the Second Council of Constantinople held in 553 CE - an ecumenical councilwhich was not primarily concerned with the issue of reincarnation but with an issue known as “The ThreeChapters” - was not Origen’s supposed belief in reincarnation but the actions of certain Origenists (namelyEvagrius and the Isochrists) who had redefined and reformulated (and thereby distorted) Origens originalChristology so that it came to read like a defence of reincarnation. We may never know what Origen’s preciseviews actually were on the matter of reincarnation. For example, in Contra Celsum it is unclear whether Origenis asserting his own personal association with Plato’s belief in transmigration of souls (reincarnation) or simplyreferring to Celsus as having made such an association. See also Weatherhead (1957:4, fn 1) who refers to,among other material, certain statements contained in an article written by the Liberal Catholic priest G NDrinkwater that had been published in an issue of The Liberal Catholic. See, generally, Hampton (1925) andCooper (1927).

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