If Egypt is in the news today for being an Islamic country with a conservative Muslim as its newly elected president, then it was most definitely a centre for the Christian faith way back in the early church period. And Alexandria was second only to Rome in its importance in the 2nd century C.E.


Christian schools

In the last post I noted how Platonism too had a strong influence on Alexandria with some noted Platonic schools having been established there. In the same way Christians also established their schools in the city and by 185 a major catechetical school had been set up by a converted Stoic named Pantaenus. His work has been lost to history but his successor's influence is still widely regarded - Clement (born c. 215).

Clement of Alexandria

Within the Alexandrian school theology developed very differently compared to the western church and was heavily influenced by the Platonic ideas that were so strong in the city. Clement was certainly typical of this movement and his work displays this influence. This is nowhere clearer than his views on the Logos of God (Jesus) progressively teaching his followers upwards towards a perfect knowledge of God. A simple faith is enough for salvation, he claimed, but it is also possible and desirable to go through a second stage whereby 'knowledge' is added to faith - a knowledge which helps humanity to climb closer to God. But then there is a third stage which is the 'knowledge of God' - a stage that is the highest possible and by which its possessor enjoys an union with God that is true blessedness. The goal of this journey, of course, is wholly Platonic in that it helps humanity to escape the world and enter unity with the spiritual.

Origen

Clement's most famous pupil became the early church's greatest Bible expositor - Origen. Born to Christian parents c. 182, Origen was to become one of the early church's main theologians whose influence would be widespread. However, there is plenty of Platonic influence on his work also and his view of the universe is pure Platonism, believing that the real world was the spiritual world and this universe was but a shadow of reality. It is in the real world that the spirit of humanity was created and it is to that place - that heaven - that the spirit will return. He viewed creation as merely a place that God created as a place of punishment, where humanity can be reformed. While this Platonic philosophy places it outside of biblical Christianity, there is much in Origen's other work that is to be commended. Maybe that is why he was to have an enduring influence - despite being first condemned as a heretic in 399.

Alexandria was a theological centre of some importance; Clement and Origen were theologians of significant influence. They deserve their place of honour within church history. But they also mixed their Christian views with Greek philosophy.

The previous post in this series can be found here.



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