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The Catechetical School Of Alexa





Three types of theology developed in the ante-Nicene Church: the Asia
Minor school, best represented by Irenaeus (v. 33); the North African,
represented by Tertullian and Cyprian (v. 39); and the Alexandrian, in
the Catechetical School of which Clement and Origen were the most
distinguished members. In the Alexandrian theology the tradition of the
apologists (v. 32) that Christianity was a revealed philosophy was
continued, especially by Clement. Origen, following the bent of his
genius, developed other sides of Christian thought as well, bringing it
all into a more systematic form than had ever before been attempted. The
Catechetical School of Alexandria was the most celebrated of all the
educational institutions of Christian antiquity. It aimed to give a
general secular and religious training. It appears to have been in
existence well before the end of the second century, having been founded,
it is thought, by Pantaenus. Clement assisted in the instruction from 190,
and from about 200 was head of the school for a few years. In 202 or 203
he was forced by persecution under Septimius Severus to flee from the
city. He died before 215. Of his works, the most important is his
three-part treatise composed of his Protrepticus, an apologetic work
addressed to the Greeks; his Paedegogus, a treatise on Christian
morality; and his Stromata, or miscellanies. Origen became head of the
Catechetical School in 203, when but eighteen years old, and remained in
that position until 232, when, having been irregularly ordained priest
outside his own diocese and being suspected of heresy, he was deposed. But
he removed to Caesarea in Palestine, where he continued his work with the
greatest success and was held in the highest honor by the Church in
Palestine and parts other than Egypt. He died 254 or 255 at Tyre, having
previously suffered severely in the Decian persecution. His works are of
the highest importance in various fields of theology. De Principiis is
the first attempt to present in connected form the whole range of
Christian theology. His commentaries cover nearly the entire Bible. His
Contra Celsum is the greatest of all early apologies. The Hexapla was
the most elaborate piece of text-criticism of antiquity.


Additional source material: Eusebius. Hist. Ec., VI, deals at
length with Origen; Gregory Thaumaturgus, Panegyric on Origen,
in ANF. VI.


(a) Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, I, 5. (MSG, 8:717.)


Clement's view of the relation of Greek philosophy to Christian
revelation is almost identical with that of the apologists, as are
also many of his fundamental concepts.


Before the advent of the Lord philosophy was necessary to the Greeks for
righteousness. And now it becomes useful to piety, being a kind of
preparatory training to those who attain to faith through demonstration.
"For thy foot," it is said, "will not stumble" if thou refer what is good,
whether belonging to the Greeks or to us, to Providence. For God is the
cause of all good things; but of some primarily, as of the Old and the New
Testament, and of others by consequence, as philosophy. Perchance, too,
philosophy was given to the Greeks directly till the Lord should call the
Greeks also. For this was a schoolmaster to bring the Hellenic mind to
Christ, as was the law to bring the Hebrews. Philosophy, therefore, was a
preparation, paving the way for him who is perfected in Christ.

"Now," says Solomon, "defend wisdom, and it will exalt thee, and it will
shield thee with a crown of pleasure."(66) For when thou hast strengthened
wisdom with a breastwork by philosophy, and with expenditure, thou wilt
preserve her unassailable by sophists. The way of truth is therefore one.
But into it, as into a perennial river, streams flow from every side.


(b) Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, VII, 10. (MSG, 9:47.)


See Clement of Alexandria, VIIth Book of the Stromateis, ed. by
Hort and Mayor, London, 1902. In making faith suffice for
salvation, Clement clearly distinguishes his position from that of
the Gnostics, though he uses the term "gnostic" as applicable to
Christians. See next passage.


Knowledge [gnosis], so to speak, is a perfecting of man as man, which is
brought about by acquaintance with divine things; in character, life, and
word harmonious and consistent with itself and the divine Word. For by it
faith is made perfect, inasmuch as it is solely by it that the man of
faith becomes perfect. Faith is an internal good, and without searching
for God confesses His existence and glorifies Him as existent. Hence by
starting with this faith, and being developed by it, through the grace of
God, the knowledge respecting Him is to be acquired as far as possible.

But it is not doubting, in reference to God, but believing, that is the
foundation of knowledge. But Christ is both the foundation and the
superstructure, by whom are both the beginning and the end. And the
extreme points, the beginning and the end, I mean faith and love, are not
taught. But knowledge, which is conveyed from communication through the
grace of God as a deposit, is intrusted to those who show themselves
worthy of it; and from it the worth of love beams forth from light to
light. For it is said, "To him that hath shall be given" [cf. Matt.
13:12]--to faith, knowledge; and to knowledge, love; and to love, the
inheritance.

Faith then is, so to speak, a compendious knowledge of the essentials; but
knowledge is the sure and firm demonstration of what is received by faith,
built upon faith by the Lord's teaching, conveying us on to unshaken
conviction and certainty. And, as it seems to me, the first saving change
is that from heathenism to faith, as I said before; and the second, that
from faith to knowledge. And this latter passing on to love, thereafter
gives a mutual friendship between that which knows and that which is
known. And perhaps he who has already arrived at this stage has 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 presses
on through the holy Hebdomad into the Father's house, to that which is
indeed the Lord's abode.


(c) Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, V, 11. (MSG, 9:102, 106.)


The piety of the Christian Gnostic.


The sacrifice acceptable with God is unchanging alienation from the body
and its passions. This is the really true piety. And is not philosophy,
therefore, rightly called by Socrates the meditation on death? For he who
neither employs his eyes in the exercise of thought nor draws from his
other senses, but with pure mind applies himself to objects, practises the
true philosophy.

It is not without reason, therefore, that in the mysteries which are to be
found among the Greeks lustrations hold the first place; as also the laver
among the barbarians. After these are the minor mysteries, which have some
foundation for instruction and preparation for what is to follow. In the
great mysteries concerning the universe nothing remains to be learned, but
only to contemplate and comprehend with the mind nature and things. We
shall understand the more of purification by confession, and of
contemplation by analysis, advancing by analysis to the first notion,
beginning with the properties underlying it; abstracting from the body its
physical properties, taking away the dimension of depth, then of breadth,
and then of length. For the point which remains is a unit, so to speak,
having position; from which, if we abstract position, there is the
conception of unity.

If, then, we abstract all that belongs to bodies and things called
incorporeal, we cast ourselves into the greatness of Christ, and thence
advancing into immensity by holiness, we may reach somehow to the
conception of the Almighty, knowing not what He is, but knowing what He is
not. And form and motion, or standing, or a throne or place, or right hand
or left, are not at all to be conceived as belonging to the Father of the
universe, although it is so written. For what each of these signifies will
be shown in the proper place. The First Cause is not then in space, but
above time and space and name and conception.


(d) Origen, De Principiis, I, 2:2. (MSG, 11:130.)


Origen's doctrine of the "eternal generation of the Son" was of
primary importance in all subsequent discussions on the Trinity.


Let no one imagine that we mean anything unsubstantial when we call Him
the Wisdom of God; or suppose, for example, that we understand Him to be,
not a living being endowed with wisdom, but something which makes men
wise, giving itself to, and implanting itself in, the minds of those who
are made capable of receiving its virtues and intelligence. If, then, it
is once rightly understood that the only begotten Son of God is His Wisdom
hypostatically [substantialiter] existing, I know not whether our mind
ought to advance beyond this or entertain any suspicion that the
hypostasis or substantia contains anything of a bodily nature, since
everything corporeal is distinguished either by form, or color, or
magnitude. And who in his sound senses ever sought for form, or color, or
size, in wisdom, in respect of its being wisdom? And who that is capable
of entertaining reverential thoughts or feelings regarding God can suppose
or believe that God the Father ever existed, even for a moment of time,
without having generated this Wisdom? For in that case he must say either
that God was unable to generate Wisdom before He produced her, so that He
afterward called into being that which formerly did not exist, or that He
could, but--what is impious to say of God--was unwilling to generate; both
of which suppositions, it is patent to all, are alike absurd and impious:
for they amount to this, either that God advanced from a condition of
inability to one of ability, or that, although possessed of the power, He
concealed it, and delayed the generation of Wisdom. Therefore we have
always held that God is the Father of His only begotten Son, who was born
indeed of Him, and derives from Him, what He is, but without any
beginning, not only such as may be measured by any divisions of time, but
even that which the mind alone contemplates within itself, or beholds, so
to speak, with the naked soul and understanding. And therefore we must
believe that Wisdom was generated before any beginning that can be either
comprehended or expressed.


(e) Origen, De Principiis, I, 2:10. (MSG, 11:138.)


Origen's doctrine of "eternal creation" was based upon reasoning
similar to that employed to show the eternal generation of the
Son, but it was rejected by the Church, and figures among the
heresies known as Origenism. See below, 87, 93.


As no one can be a father without having a son, nor a master without
possessing a servant, so even God cannot be called omnipotent(67) unless
there exists those over whom He may exercise His power; and therefore,
that God may be shown to be almighty it is necessary that all things
should exist. For if any one assumes that some ages or portions of time,
or whatever else he likes to call them, have passed away, while those
things which have been made did not yet exist, he would undoubtedly show
that during those ages or periods God was not omnipotent but became
omnipotent afterward: viz., from the time that He began to have those over
whom He exercised power; and in this way He will appear to have received a
certain increase, and to have risen from a lower to a higher condition;
since there can be no doubt that it is better for Him to be omnipotent
than not to be so. And, now, how can it appear otherwise than absurd, that
when God possessed none of those things which it was befitting for Him to
possess, He should afterward, by a kind of progress, come to have them?
But if there never was a time when He was not omnipotent,(68) of necessity
those things by which He receives that title must also exist; and He must
always have had those over whom He exercised power, and which were
governed by Him either as king or prince, of which we shall speak more
fully when we come to discuss the subject of creatures.


(f) Origen, De Principiis, II, 9:6. (MSG, 11:230.)


The theory of pre-existence and the pretemporal fall of each soul
was the basis of Origen's theodicy. It caused great offence in
after years when theology became more stereotyped, and it has
retained no place in the Church's thought, for the idea ran too
clearly counter to the biblical account of the Fall of Adam.


We have frequently shown by those statements which we are able to adduce
from the divine Scriptures that God, the Creator of all things, is good,
and just, and all-powerful. When in the beginning He created all those
beings whom He desired to create, i.e., rational natures, He had no
other reason for creating them than on account of Himself, i.e., His
goodness. As He himself, then, was the cause of the existence of those
things which were to be created, in whom there was neither any variation
nor change nor want of power, He created all whom He made equal and alike,
because there was no reason for Him to produce variety and diversity. But
since those rational creatures themselves, as we have frequently shown and
will yet show in the proper place, were endowed with the power of free
choice, this freedom of his will incited each one either to progress by
imitation of God or induced him to failure through negligence. And this,
as we have already stated, is the cause of the diversity among rational
creatures, deriving its origin not from the will or judgment of the
Creator, but from the freedom of the individual will. God, however, who
deemed it just to arrange His creatures according to merit, brought down
these differences of understanding into the harmony of one world, that He
might adorn, as it were, one dwelling, in which there ought to be not only
vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay and some, indeed, to
honor and others to dishonor, with those different vessels, or souls, or
understandings. And these are the causes, in my opinion, why that world
presents the aspect of diversity, while Divine Providence continues to
regulate each individual according to the variety of his movements or of
his feelings and purpose. On which account the Creator will neither appear
to be unjust in distributing (for the causes already mentioned) to every
one according to his merits; nor will the happiness or unhappiness of each
one's birth, or whatever be the condition that falls to his lot, be deemed
accidental; nor will different creators, or souls of different natures, be
believed to exist.


(g) Origen, Homil. in Exod., VI, 9. (MSG, 12:338.)


In the following passage from Origen's Commentary on Exodus and
the four following passages are stated the essential points of
Origen's theory of redemption. In this theory there are two
elements which have been famous in the history of Christian
thought: the relation of the death of Christ to the devil, and the
ultimate salvation of every soul. The theory that Christ's death
was a ransom paid to the devil was developed by Gregory of Nyssa
and Gregory the Great, and reappeared constantly in theology down
to the scholastic period, when it was overthrown by Anselm and the
greater scholastics. Universal redemption or salvation, especially
when it included Satan himself, was never taken up by Church
theologians to any extent, and was one of the positions condemned
as Origenism. See 93.


It is certain, they say, that one does not buy that which is his own. But
the Apostle says: "Ye are bought with a price." But hear what the prophet
says: "You have been sold as slaves to your sins, and for your iniquities
I have put away your mother." Thou seest, therefore, that we are the
creatures of God, but each one has been sold to his sins, and has fallen
from his Creator. Therefore we belong to God, inasmuch as we have been
created by Him, but we have become the servants of the devil, inasmuch as
we have been sold to our sins. But Christ came to redeem us when we were
servants to that master to whom we had sold ourselves by sinning.


(h) Origen, Contra Celsum, VII, 17. (MSG, 11:1445.)


If we consider Jesus in relation to the divinity that was in Him, the
things which He did in this capacity are holy and do not offend our idea
of God; and if we consider Him as a man, distinguished beyond all others
by an intimate communion with the very Word, with Absolute Wisdom, He
suffered as one who was wise and perfect whatever it behooved Him to
suffer, who did all for the good of the human race, yea, even for the good
of all intelligent beings. And there is nothing absurd in the fact that a
man died, and that his death was not only an example of death endured for
the sake of piety, but also the first blow in the conflict which is to
overthrow the power of the evil spirit of the devil, who had obtained
dominion over the whole world. For there are signs of the destruction of
his empire; namely, those who through the coming of Christ are everywhere
escaping from the power of demons, and who after their deliverance from
this bondage in which they were held consecrate themselves to God, and
according to their ability devote themselves day by day to advancement in
a life of piety.


(i) Origen, Homil. in Matt., XVI, 8. (MSG, 13:1398.)


He did this in service of our salvation so far that He gave His soul a
ransom for many who believed on Him. If all had believed on Him, He would
have given His soul as a ransom for all. To whom did He give His soul as a
ransom for many? Certainly not to God. Then was it not to the Evil One?
For that one reigned over us until the soul of Jesus was given as a ransom
for us. This he had especially demanded, deceived by the imagination that
he could rule over it, and he was not mindful of the fact that he could
not endure the torment connected with holding it fast. Therefore death,
which appeared to reign over Him, did not reign over Him, since He was
"free among the dead" and stronger than the power of death. He is, indeed,
so far superior to it that all who from among those overcome by death will
follow Him can follow Him, as death is unable to do anything against
them. We are therefore redeemed with the precious blood of Jesus. As a
ransom for us the soul of the Son of God has been given (not His spirit,
for this, according to Luke [cf. Luke 23:46] He had previously given to
His Father, saying: "Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit"); also,
not His body, for concerning this we find nothing mentioned. And when He
had given His soul as a ransom for many, He did not remain in the power of
him to whom the ransom was given for many, because it says in the
sixteenth psalm [Psalm 16:10]: "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell."


(j) Origen, De Principiis, I, 6:3. (MSG, 11:168.)


The following states in brief the theory of universal salvation.


It is to be borne in mind, however, that certain beings who fell away from
that one beginning of which we have spoken, have given themselves to such
wickedness and malice as to be deemed altogether undeserving of that
training and instruction by which the human race while in the flesh are
trained and instructed with the assistance of the heavenly powers: they
continue, on the contrary, in a state of enmity and opposition to those
who are receiving this instruction and teaching. And hence it is that the
whole life of mortals is full of certain struggles and trials, caused by
the opposition and enmity against us of those who fell from a better
condition without at all looking back, and who are called the devil and
his angels, and other orders of evil, which the Apostle classed among the
opposing powers. But whether any of these orders, who act under the
government of the devil and obey his wicked commands, will be able in a
future world to be converted to righteousness because of their possessing
the faculty of freedom of will, or whether persistent and inveterate
wickedness may be changed by habit into a kind of nature, you, reader, may
decide; yet so that neither in those things which are seen and temporal
nor in those which are unseen and eternal one portion is to differ wholly
from the final unity and fitness of things. But in the meantime, both in
those temporal worlds which are seen, and in those eternal worlds which
are invisible, all those beings are arranged according to a regular plan,
in the order and degree of merit; so that some of them in the first,
others in the second, some even in the last times, after having undergone
heavier and severer punishments, endured for a lengthened period and for
many ages, so to speak, improved by this stern method of training, and
restored at first by the instruction of angels and subsequently advanced
by powers of a higher grade, and thus advancing through each stage to a
better condition, reach even to that which is invisible and eternal,
having travelled by a kind of training through every single office of the
heavenly powers. From which, I think, this will follow as an
inference--that every rational nature can, in passing from one order to
another, go through each to all, and advance from all to each, while made
the subject of various degrees of proficiency and failure, according to
its own actions and endeavors, put forth in the enjoyment of its power of
freedom of will.


(k) Origen, De Principiis, IV, 9-15. (MSG, 11:360, 363, 373.)


Allegorism.


The method of exegesis known as allegorism, whereby the
speculations of the Christian theologians were provided with an
apparently scriptural basis, was taken over from the Jewish and
Greek philosophers and theologians who employed it in the study of
their sacred books. Origen, it should be added, contributed not a
little to a sound grammatical interpretation as well. For
Porphyry's criticism of Origen's methods of exegesis see Eusebius,
Hist. Ec., VI, 19.


Ch. 9. Now the cause, in all the points previously enumerated, of the
false opinions and of the impious statements or ignorant assertions about
God appears to be nothing else than that the Scriptures are not understood
according to their spiritual meaning, but are interpreted according to the
mere letter. And therefore to those who believe that the sacred books are
not the compositions of men, but were composed by the inspirations of the
Holy Spirit, according to the will of the Father of all things through
Jesus Christ, and that they have come down to us, we must point out the
modes of interpretation which appear correct to us, who cling to the
standard of the heavenly Church according to the succession of the
Apostles of Jesus Christ. Now that there are certain mystical economies
made known in the Holy Scriptures, all, even the most simple of those who
adhere to the word, have believed; but what these are, the candid and
modest confess they know not. If, then, one were to be perplexed about the
incest of Lot with his daughters, and about the two wives of Abraham, and
the two sisters married to Jacob, and the two handmaids who bore him
children, they can return no other answer than this--that these are
mysteries not understood by us.

Ch. 11. The way, then, as it seems to me, in which we ought to deal with
the Scriptures and extract from them their meaning is the following, which
has been ascertained from the sayings [of the Scriptures] themselves. By
Solomon in the Proverbs we find some rule as this enjoined respecting the
teaching of the divine writings, "And do thou portray them in a threefold
manner, in counsel and knowledge, to answer words of truth to them who
propose them to thee" [cf. Prov. 22:20 f., LXX]. One ought, then, to
portray the ideas of Holy Scripture in a threefold manner upon his soul,
in order that the simple man may be edified by the "flesh," as it were, of
Scripture, for so we name the obvious sense; while he who has ascended a
certain way may be edified by the "soul," as it were. The perfect man, and
he who resembles those spoken of by the Apostle, when he says, "We speak
wisdom among them that are perfect, but not the wisdom of the world, nor
of the rulers of this world, who come to nought; but we speak the wisdom
of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God hath ordained before the
ages unto our glory" [I Cor. 2:6, 7], may receive edification from the
spiritual law, which was a shadow of things to come. For as man consists
of body and soul and spirit, so in the same way does the Scripture
consist, which has been arranged by God for the salvation of men.

Ch. 12. But as there are certain passages which do not contain at all the
"corporeal" sense, as we shall show in the following, there are also
places where we must seek only for the "soul," as it were, and "spirit" of
Scripture.

Ch. 15. But since, if the usefulness of the legislation and the sequence
and beauty of the history were universally evident, we should not believe
that any other thing could be understood in the Scriptures save what was
obvious, the Word of God has arranged that certain stumbling-blocks, and
offences, and impossibilities, should be introduced into the midst of the
law and the history, in order that we may not, through being drawn away in
all directions by the merely attractive nature of the language, either
altogether fall away from the true doctrines, as learning nothing worthy
of God, or, by not departing from the letter, come to the knowledge of
nothing more divine. And this, also, we must know: that, since the
principal aim is to announce the "spiritual" connection in those things
that are done and that ought to be done where the Word found that things
done according to the history could be adapted to these mystic senses, He
made use of them, concealing from the multitude the deeper meaning; but
where in the narrative of the development of super-sensual things there
did not follow the performance of those certain events which was already
indicated by the mystical meaning the Scripture interwove in the history
the account of some event that did not take place, sometimes what could
not have happened; sometimes what could, but did not happen. And at other
times impossibilities are recorded for the sake of the more skilful and
inquisitive, in order that they may give themselves to the toil of
investigation of what is written, and thus attain to a becoming conviction
of the manner in which a meaning worthy of God must be sought out in such
subjects.





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