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Lecture 13: Alexandrian Christianity

Lecture 13
Alexandrian Christianity

Stoics and Neo-Platonists.

I TRIED to show in my last lecture how Philo, as the representative of an important historical phase of Jewish thought, endeavoured with the help of Greek, and more particularly of Stoic philosophy, to throw a bridge from earth to heaven, and how he succeeded in discovering that like two countries, now separated by a shallow ocean, these two worlds formed originally but one undivided continent. When the original oneness of earth and heaven, of the human and the divine natures has once been discovered, the question of the return of the soul to God assumes a new character. It is no longer a question of an ascension to heaven, an approach to the throne of God, an ecstatic vision of God and a life in a heavenly Paradise. The vision of God is rather the knowledge of the divine element in the soul, and of the consubstantiality of the divine and human natures. Immortality has no longer to be asserted, because there can be no death for what is divine and therefore immortal in man. There is life eternal and peace eternal for all who feel the divine Spirit as dwelling within them and have thus become the true children of God. Philo has not entirely freed himself from the popular eschatological terminology. He speaks of the city of God and of a mystical Jerusalem. But these need not be more than poetical expressions for that peace of God which passes all names and all understanding.

Anyhow the eschatological language of Philo is far more simple and sober than what we meet with even in Christian writings of the time, in which the spirit of the Neo-Platonist philosophy has been at work by the side of the more moderate traditions of the Jewish and the Stoic schools of thought. The chief difference between the Neo-Platonists and the Stoics is that the Neo-Platonists, whether Christian or pagan, trust more to sentiment than to reasoning. Hence they rely much more on ecstatic visions than Philo and his Stoic friends. On many other points, however, more particularly on the original relation between the soul and God, there is little difference between the two.


Plotinus, the chief representative of Neo-Platonism at Alexandria, though separated by two centuries from Philo, may be called an indirect descendant of that Jewish philosopher. He is said to have had intercourse with Numenius, who followed in the steps of Philo1. But Plotinus went far beyond Philo. His idealism was carried to the furthest extreme. While the Stoics were satisfied with knowing that God is, and with discovering his image in the ideas of the invisible, and in the manifold species of the visible world, the Neo-Platonists looked upon the incomprehensible and unmanifested Godhead as the highest goal of their aspirations, nay, as a possible object of their enraptured vision. When the Stoic keeps at a reverent distance, the Neo-Platonist rushes in with passionate love, and allows himself to indulge in dreams and fancies which in the end could only lead to self-deceit and imposture. The Stoics looking upon God as the cause of all that falls within the sensuous and intellectual experience of man, concluded that He could not be anything of what is effect, and that He could have no attributes (ἄποιος) through which He might be known and named. God with them was simple, without qualities, inconceivable, unnameable. From an ethical point of view Philo admitted that the human soul should strive to become free from the body (ϕυγὴ ϵ̓κ του̑ σώματος) and like unto God (ἡ πρὸς θϵὸν ϵ̓ξομοίωσις). He even speaks of ἕνωσις, union, but he never speaks of those more or less sensuous, ecstatic, and beatific visions of the Deity which form a chief topic of the Neo-Platonists. These so-called descendants of Plato had borrowed much from the Stoics, but with all that, the religious elements predominated so completely in their philosophy that at times the old metaphysical foundation almost disappeared. While reason and what is rational in the phenomenal world formed the chief subject of Stoic thought, the chief interest of the Neo-Platonists was centered in what is beyond reason. It may be said that to a certain extent Philo's Stoicism pointed already in that direction, for his God also was conceived as above the Logos, and his essence remained unknown; yet knowledge of the existence of God and likeness to Him were the highest goal, and refuge with Him was eternal life2. It has therefore been truly said that the Neo-Platonist differs from the Stoic by temperament rather than by argument.

The Neo-Platonist, like the Stoic, believes in a primal Being, and in an ideal world (νου̑ς, κόσμος νοητός), as the prototype of the phenomenal world (κόσμος ὁρατός). The soul is to him also of divine origin. It is the image of the eternal Nous, an immaterial substance, standing between the Nous and the visible world. The more the soul falls away from its source, the more it falls under the power of what we should call matter, the indefinite (ἄπϵιρον), and the unreal (τὸ μὴ ὄν). It is here that philosophy steps in to teach the soul its way back to its real home. This is achieved by the practice of virtues, from the lowest to the highest, sometimes by a very strict ascetic discipline. In the end, however, neither knowledge nor virtue avail. Complete self-forgetfulness only can lead the soul to the Godhead in whose embrace there is ineffable blessedness. Thus when speaking of the absorption of man in the Absolute, Plotinus said: ‘Perhaps it cannot even be called an intuition3; it is another kind of seeing, an ecstasy, a simplification, an exaltation, a striving for contact, and a rest. It is the highest yearning for union, in order to see, if possible, what there is in the holiest of the temple. But even if one could see, there would be nothing to see. By such similitudes the wise prophets try to give a hint how the Deity might be perceived, and the wise priest, who understands the hint may really, if he reaches the holiest, obtain a true intuition.’ These intuitions, in which nothing could be seen, were naturally treated as secrets, and the idea of mystery, so foreign to all true philosophy, became more and more prevalent. Thus Plotinus himself says that these are doctrines which should be considered as mysteries, and should not be brought before the uninitiated. Proclus also says, ‘As the Mystae in the holiest of their initiations (τϵλϵ́ται) meet first with a multiform and manifold race of gods, but when entered into the sanctuary and surrounded by holy ceremonies, receive at once divine illumination in their bosom, and like lightly-armed warriors take quick possession of the Divine, the same thing happens at the intuition of the One and All. If the soul looks to what is behind, it sees the shadows and illusions only of what is. If it turns into its own essence and discovers its own relations, it sees itself only, but if penetrating more deeply into the knowledge of itself, it discovers the spirit in itself and in all orders of things. And if it reaches into its inmost recess, as it were into the Adyton of the soul, it can see the race of gods and the unities of all things even with closed eyes.’

Plotinus and his school seem to have paid great attention to foreign, particularly to Eastern religions and superstitions, and endeavoured to discover in all of them remnants of divine wisdom. They even wished to preserve and to revive the religion of the Roman Empire. Claiming revelation for themselves, the Neo-Platonists were all the more ready to accept divine revelations from other religions also, and to unite them all into a universal religion. But what we mean by an historical and critical study of other religions was impossible at that time. While Philo with his unwavering adherence to the Jewish faith was satisfied with allegorising whatever in the Old Testament seemed to him incompatible with his philosophical convictions, the Neo-Platonists accepted everything that seemed compatible with their own mystic dreams, and opened the door wide to superstitions even of the lowest kind. It is strange, however, that Plotinus does not seem to have paid much attention to the Christian religion which was then rapidly gaining influence in Alexandria. But his pupils, Amelius and Porphyrius, both deal with it. Amelius discussed the Fourth Gospel. Porphyrius wrote his work in fifteen books against the Christians, more particularly against their Sacred Books, which he calls the works of ignorant people and impostors. Yet no sect or school counted so many decepti deceptores as that of the Neo-Platonists. Magic, thaumaturgy, levitation, faith-cures, thought-reading, spiritism, and every kind of pious fraud were practised by impostors who travelled about from place to place, some with large followings. Their influence was widely spread and most mischievous. Still we must not forget that the same Neo-Platonism counted among its teachers and believers such names also as the Emperor Julian (331–363), who thought Neo-Platonism strong enough to oust Christianity and to revive the ancient religion of Rome; also, for a time at least, St. Augustine (354–430), Hypatia, the beautiful martyr of philosophy (d. 415), and Proclus (411–485), the connecting link between Greek philosophy and the scholastic philosophy of the middle ages, and with Dionysius one of the chief authorities of the mediaeval Mystics. Through Proclus the best thoughts of the Stoics, of Aristotle, Plato, nay, of the still more ancient philosophers of Greece, such as Anaxagoras and Heraclitus, were handed on to the greatest scholastic and mystic Doctors in the mediaeval Church; nay, there are currents in our own modern theology, which can be traced back through an uninterrupted channel to impulses springing from the brains of the earliest thinkers of Asia Minor and Greece.

Before we leave Plotinus and the Neo-Platonists I should like to read you some extracts from a private letter which the philosopher wrote to Flaccus. Like most private letters it gives us a better insight into the innermost thoughts of the writer, and into what he considered the most important points of his philosophical system than any more elaborate book.

Letter from Plotinus to Flaccus.

‘External objects,’ he writes, ‘present us only with appearances,’ that is to say, are phenomenal only. Concerning them, therefore, we may be said to possess opinion rather than knowledge. The distinctions in the actual world of appearance are of import only to ordinary and practical men. Our question lies with the ideal reality that exists behind appearance. How does the mind perceive these ideas? Are they without us, and is the reason, like sensation, occupied with objects external to itself? What certainty could we then have, what assurance that our perception was infallible? The object perceived would be a something different from the mind perceiving it. We should have then an image instead of reality. It would be monstrous to believe for a moment that the mind was unable to perceive ideal truth exactly as it is, and that we had no certainty and real knowledge concerning the world of intelligence. It follows, therefore, that this region of truth is not to be investigated as a thing outward to us, and so only imperfectly known. It is within us. Here the objects we contemplate and that which contemplates are identical—both are thought. The subject cannot surely know an object different from itself4.

The world of ideas lies within our intelligence. Truth, therefore, is not the agreement of our apprehension of an external object with the object itself. It is the agreement of the mind with itself. Consciousness, therefore, is the sole basis of certainty. The mind is its own witness. Reason sees in itself that which is above itself as its source and again, that which is below itself as still itself once more.

Knowledge has three degrees—opinion, science, illumination. The means or instrument of the first is sense; of the second, reason or dialectics; of the third, intuition. To the last I subordinate reason. It is absolute knowledge founded on the identity of the mind knowing with the object known. There is a raying out of all orders of existence, an external emanation from the ineffable One (πρόοδος). There is again a returning impulse, drawing all upwards and inwards toward the centre from whence all came (ϵ̓πιστροϕή).

Love, as Plato beautifully says in the Symposion, is the child of poverty and plenty. In, the amorous quest of the soul after God, lies the painful sense of fall and deprivation. But that love is blessing, is salvation, is our guardian genius; without it the centrifugal law would overpower us, and sweep our souls out far from their source toward the cold extremities of the material and the manifold. The wise man recognises the idea of God within him. This he develops by withdrawal into the Holy Place of his own soul. He who does not understand how the soul contains the Beautiful within itself, seeks to realise the beauty without, by laborious production. His aim should rather be to concentrate and simplify, and so to expand his being; instead of going out into the manifold, to forsake it for the One, and so to float upwards towards the divine fount of being whose stream flows within him.

You ask, how can we know the Infinite? I answer, not by reason. It is the office of reason to distinguish and define. The Infinite, therefore, cannot be ranked among its objects. You can only apprehend the Infinite by a faculty superior to reason, by entering into a state in which you are your finite self no longer, in which the Divine Essence is communicated to you. This is ecstasy. It is the liberation of your mind from its finite anxieties. Like only can apprehend like. When you thus cease to be finite, you become one with the Infinite. In the reduction of your soul to its simplest self (ἅπλωσις), its divine essence, you realise this Union, nay this Identity (ἕνωσις).

Ecstatic Intuition.

Plotinus adds that this ecstatic state is not frequent, that he himself has realised it but three times in his life. There are different ways leading to it:—the love of beauty which exalts the poet; devotion to the One, and the ascent of science which makes the ambition of the philosopher; and lastly love and prayers by which some devout and ardent soul tends in its moral purity towards perfection. We should call these three the Beautiful, the True, and the Divine, the three great highways conducting the soul to ‘that height above the actual and the particular, where it stands in the immediate presence of the Infinite, which shines out as from the depth of the soul.’

We are told by Porphyrius, the pupil and bio-grapher of Plotinus, that Plotinus felt ashamed that his soul should ever have had to assume a human body, and when he died, his last words are reported to have been: ‘As yet I have expected you, and now I consent that my divine part may return to that Divine Nature which flourishes throughout the universe.’ He looked upon his soul as Empedocles had done long before him, when he called himself, ‘Heaven's exile, straying from the orb of light, straying, but returning.’

Alexandrian Christianity. St. Clement.

It was necessary to give this analysis of the elements which formed the intellectual atmosphere of Alexandria in order to understand the influence which that atmosphere exercised on the early growth of Christianity in that city. Whatever progress Christianity made at Jerusalem among people who remained for a long time more Jewish than Christian, its influence on the world at large began with the conversion of men who then represented the world, who stood in the front rank of philosophical thought, who had been educated in the schools of Greek philosophy, and who in adopting Christianity as their religion, showed to the world that they were able honestly to reconcile their own philosophical convictions with the religious and moral teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. Those who are truly called the Fathers and Founders of the Christian Church were not the simple-minded fishermen of Galilee, but men who had received the highest education which could be obtained at the time, that is Greek education. In Palestine Christianity might have remained a local sect by the side of many other sects. In Alexandria, at that time the very centre of the world, it had either to vanquish the world, or to vanish. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Irenaeus, Athanasius, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzen, Chrysostom, or among the Latin Fathers, Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrosius, Hilarius, Augustinus, Hieronymus, and Gregory, all were men of classical learning and philosophical culture, and quite able to hold their own against their pagan opponents. Christianity came no doubt from the small room in the house of Mary, where many were gathered together praying5, but as early as the second century it became a very different Christianity in the Catechetical School6 of Alexandria. St. Paul had made a beginning as a philosophical apologete of Christianity and as a powerful antagonist of pagan beliefs and customs. But St. Clement was a very different champion of the new faith, far superior to him both in learning and in philosophical strength. The profession of Christianity by such a man was therefore a far more significant fact in the triumphant progress of the new religion than even the conversion of Saul. The events which happened at Jerusalem, the traditions and legends handed down in the earliest half Jewish and half Christian communities, and even the earliest written documents did not occupy the mind of St. Clement7 so much as the fundamental problems of religion and their solution as attempted by this new sect. He accepted the Apostolical traditions, but he wished to show that they possessed to him a far deeper meaning than they could possibly have possessed among some of the immediate followers of Christ. There was nothing to tempt a man in Clement's position to accept this new creed. Nothing but the spirit of truth and sincere admiration for the character of Christ as conceived by him, could have induced a pagan Greek philosopher to brave the scoffs of his philosophical friends and to declare himself a follower of Christ, and a member of a sect, at that time still despised and threatened with persecution. He felt convinced, however, that this new religion, if properly understood, was worthy of being accepted by the most enlightened minds. This proper understanding was what Clement would have called γνω̑σις, in the best sense of the word. The Catechetical School where Clement taught had been under the guidance of Greek philosophers converted to Christianity, such as Athenagoras (?) and Pantaenus. Pantaenus, of whom it is related that he discovered a Hebrew version of the Gospel of St. Matthew in India8, had been the master of Clement. His pupil, in openly declaring himself a Christian and an apologete of Christianity, surrendered nothing of his philosophical convictions. On one side Christian teachers were representing Greek philosophy as the work of the Devil, while others, such as the Ebionites, assigned the Old Testament to the same source. In the midst of these conflicting streams St. Clement stood firm. He openly expressed his belief in the Old Testament as revealed, and he accepted the Apostolical Dogma, so far as it had been settled at that time. He claimed, however, the most perfect freedom of interpretation and speculation. By applying the same allegorical interpretation which Philo had used in interpreting the Old Testament, to the New, Clement convinced himself and convinced others that there was no antagonism between philosophy and religion. What Clement had most at heart was not the letter but the spirit, not the historical events, but their deeper meaning in universal history.

The Trinity of St. Clement.

It can hardly be doubted9 that St. Clement knew the very ancient Baptismal Formula, ‘In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost’ from the Gospel of St. Matthew.

But whether that formula came to him with ecclesiastical authority or not, it would not have clashed with his own convictions. He had accepted the First Person, the Father, not simply as the Jehovah of the Old Testament or as the Zeus of Plato, but as the highest and most abstract philosophical concept, and yet the most real of all realities. He would not have ascribed to God any qualities. To him also God was ἄποιος, like the primal Godhead of the Stoics and Neo-Platonists. He was incomprehensible and unnameable. Yet though neither thought nor word could reach Him, beyond asserting that He is, Clement could revere and worship Him.

One might have thought that the Second Person, the Son, would have been a stumbling-block to Clement. But we find on the contrary that Clement, like all contemporary Greek philosophers, required a bridge between the world and the unapproachable and ineffable Godhead. That bridge was the Logos, the Word. Even before him, Athenagoras10, supposed to have been his predecessor at the Catechetical School of Alexandria, had declared that the Logos of the Father was the Son of God. Clement conceived this Logos in its old philosophical meaning, as the mind and consciousness of the Father. He speaks of it as ‘divine, the likeness of the Lord of all things, the most manifest, true God11.’

The Logos, though called the sum of all divine ideas12, is distinguished from the actual logoi, though sometimes represented as standing at the head of them. This Logos is eternal, like the Father, for the Father would never have been the Father without the Son, nor the Son the Son without the Father. Such ideas were shared in common by the Christians and their pagan adversaries. Even Celsus, the great opponent of Christianity, says through the mouth of the Jew, ‘If the Logos is to you a Son of God, we also agree with you13.’

The really critical step which Clement took, and which philosophers like Celsus declined to take, was to recognise this Logos in Jesus of Nazareth. It was the same process as that which led the Jewish converts to recognise the Messiah in Jesus. It is not quite certain whether the Logos had been identified with the Messiah by the Jews of Alexandria14. But when at last this step was taken it meant that everything that was thought and expected of the Messiah had been fulfilled in Jesus. This to a Jew was quite as difficult as to recognise the Logos in Jesus was to a Greek philosopher. How then did St. Clement bring himself to say that in a Jewish Teacher whom he had never seen the Logos had become flesh? All the epithets, such as Logos, Son of God, the first-born, the only begotten, the second God, were familiar to the Greeks of Alexandria. If then they brought themselves to say that He, Jesus of Nazareth, was all that, if they transferred all these well-known predicates to Him, what did they mean? Unless we suppose that the concept of a perfect man is in itself impossible, it seems to me that they could only have meant that a perfect man might be called the realisation of the Logos, whether we take it in its collective form, as it was in the beginning with God, or in its more special sense, as the logos or the original idea or the divine conception of man. If then all who knew Jesus of Nazareth, who had beheld His glory full of grace and truth, bore witness of Him as perfect, as free from all the taints of the material creation, why should not the Greek philosophers have accepted their testimony, and declared that He was to them the Divine Word, the Son of God, the first-born, the only-begotten, manifested in the flesh? Human language then, and even now, has no higher predicates to bestow. It is the nearest approach to the Father, who is greater even than the Word, and I believe that the earliest Fathers of the Church and those who followed them, bestowed it honestly, not in the legendary sense of an Evangelium infantiae, but in the deepest sense of their philosophical convictions. Here is the true historical solution of the Incarnation, and if the religion of the Incarnation is pro-eminently ‘a religion of experience,’ here are the facts and the experience on which alone that religion can rest.

We saw that Philo, whose language St. Clement uses in all these discussions, had recognised his Logos as present in such prophets as Abraham and Moses; and many have thought that St. Clement meant no more when he recognised the Word as incarnate in the Son of Mary (Strom. vii. 2). But it seems to me that Clement's mind soared far higher. To him the whole history of the world was a divine drama, a long preparation for the revelation of God in man. From the very beginning man had been a manifestation of the Divine Logos, and therefore divine in his nature.

Why should not man have risen at last to his full perfection, to be what he had been meant to be from the first in the counsel of the Father? We often speak of an ideal man or of the ideal of manhood, without thinking what we mean by this Platonic language. Ideal has come to mean not much more than very perfect. But it meant originally the idea in the mind of God, and to be the ideal man meant to be the man of God, the man as thought and willed by Divine Wisdom. That man was recognised in Christ by those who had no inducement to do violence to their philosophical convictions. And if they could do it honestly, why cannot we do it honestly too, and thus bring our philosophical convictions into perfect harmony with our historical faith?

It is more difficult to determine the exact place which St. Clement would have assigned to the Third Person, the Holy Ghost.

The first origin of that concept is still enveloped in much uncertainty. There seems to be something attractive in triads. We find them in many parts of the world, owing their origin to very different causes. The trinity of Plato is well known, and in it there is a place for the third person, namely, the World-spirit, of which the human soul was a part. Numenius15, from whom, as we saw, Plotinus was suspected to have borrowed his philosophy, proposed a triad or, as some call it, a trinity, consisting of the Supreme, the Logos (or Demiurge), and the World. With the Christian philosophers at Alexandria the concept of the Deity was at first biune rather than triune. The Supreme Being and the Logos together comprehended the whole of Deity, and we saw that the Logos or the intellectual world was called not only the Son of God, but also the second God (δϵύτϵρος θϵός). When this distinction between the Divine in its absolute essence, and the Divine as manifested by its own activity, had once been realised, there seemed to be no room for a third phase or person. Sometimes therefore it looks as if the Third Person was only a repetition of the Second. Thus the author of the Shepherd16 and the author of the Acta Archelai both identify the Holy Ghost with the Son of God. How unsettled the minds of Christian people were with regard to the Holy Ghost, is shown by the fact that in the apocryphal gospel of the Hebrews Christ speaks of it as His Mother17. When, however, a third place was claimed for the Holy Spirit, as substantially existing by the side of the Father and the Son, it seems quite possible that this thought came, not from Greek, but from a Jewish source. It seems to be the Spirit which in the beginning moved upon the face of the waters,’ or ‘the breath of life which God breathed into the nostrils of man.’ These manifestations of God, however, would according to Greek philosophers have fallen rather to the share of the Logos. Again, if in the New Testament man is called the temple of God, God and the Spirit might have been conceived as one, though here also the name of Logos would from a Greek point of view have been more appropriate to any manifestation of the Godhead in man. In His last discourse Christ speaks of the Holy Ghost as taking His place, and as in one sense even more powerful than the Son. We are told that the special work of the Spirit or the Holy Spirit is to produce holy life in man, that while God imparts existence, the Son reason (logos), the Holy Ghost imparts sanctification18. Clement probably accepted the Holy Ghost as a more direct emanation or radiation proceeding from the Father and the Son in their relation with the human soul. For while the Father and Son acted on the whole world, the influence of the Holy Ghost was restricted to the soul of man. It was in that sense that the prophets of the Old Testament were said to have been filled with the Spirit of God; nay, according to some early theologians Jesus also became the Christ after baptism only, that is, after the Holy Ghost in the shape of a dove had descended upon Him.

The difficulties become even greater when we remember that St. Clement speaks of the Father and the Logos as substances (hypostaseis), sharing the same essence (ousia), and as personal, the Logos being subordinate to the Father as touching His manhood, though equal to the Father as touching His godhead. We must remember that neither the Logos nor the Holy Ghost was taken by him as a mere power (δύναμις) of God, but as subsisting personally19. Now it, is quite true that personality did not mean with St. Clement what it came to mean at a later time. With him a mythological individuality, such as later theologians clamoured for, would have been incompatible with the true concept of deity. Still self-conscious activity would certainly have been claimed by him for every one of the three Persons, and one wonders why he should not have more fully expressed which particular activity it was which seemed to him not compatible either with the Father or with the Logos, but to require a separate Person, the Holy Ghost.

It afterwards was recognised as the principal function of the Holy Ghost to bring the world, and more particularly the human soul, back to the consciousness of its divine origin, and it was a similar function which He was believed to have exercised even at the baptism of Christ20, at least by some of the leading authorities in the fourth and fifth centuries, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Nestorius, and others.

The problem, however, which concerns us more immediately, the oneness of the human and divine natures, is not affected by these speculations. It forms the fundamental conviction in St. Clement's, as in Philo's mind. If, in order to bring about the recognition of this truth, a third power was wanted, St. Clement would find it in the Holy Ghost. If it was the Holy Ghost which gave to man the full conviction of his divine sonship, we must remember that this reconciliation between God and man was in the first instance the work of Christ, and that it had not merely a moral meaning, but a higher metaphysical purpose. If St. Clement had been quite consistent, he could only have meant that the human soul received the Holy Spirit through Christ, and that through the Holy Spirit only it became conscious of its true divine nature and mindful of its eternal home. We sometimes wish that St. Clement had expressed himself more fully on these subjects, more particularly on his view of the relation of man to God, to the Logos, and to the Holy Spirit.

On his fundamental conviction, however, there can be no uncertainty. It was Clement who, before St. Augustine, declared boldly that God became man in Christ in order that man might become God. Clement is not a confused thinker, but he does not help the reader as much as he might, and there is a certain reticence in his conception of the Incarnation which leaves us in the dark on several points. Dr. Bigg21 thinks indeed that Clement's idea of the Saviour is larger and nobler than that of any other doctor of the Church. ‘Clement's Christ,’ he says,’ is the Light that broods over all history, and lighteth up every man that cometh into the world. All that there is upon earth of beauty, truth, goodness, all that distinguishes the civilised man from the savage, and the savage from the beast, is His gift.’ All this is true, and gives to the Logos a much more historical and universal meaning than it had with Philo. Yet St. Clement never clearly explains how he thought that all this took place, and how more particularly this universal Logos became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, while it was at the same time pervading the whole world and every living soul; also what was according to him the exact relation of the Logos to the Pneuma.

There are several other questions to which I cannot find an answer in St. Clement, but it is a subject which I may safely leave to other and more competent hands.

It may be said that such thoughts as we have discovered in St. Clement are too high for popular religion, and every religion, in order to be a religion, must be popular. Clement knew this perfectly well. But the philosophical thoughts in which he lived were evidently more widely spread in his time than they are even with us; and in the case of babes, Clement is quite satisfied that their Logos or Christ should be simply the Master, the Shepherd, the Physician, the Son of Mary who suffered for them on the cross. Besides, there was the Church which acted both as a guide and as a judge over all its members, particularly those who had not yet found the true liberty of the children of God. If Clement considers this as the Lower Life, still it leads on to the Higher Life, the life of knowledge and righteousness, the life of love, the life in Christ and in God. That purity of life is essential for reaching this higher life is fully understood by Clement. He knew that when true knowledge has been obtained, sin becomes impossible. ‘Good works follow knowledge as shadow follows substance22.’ Knowledge or Gnosis is defined as the apprehensive contemplation of God in the Logos. When Clement shows that this knowledge is at the same time love of God and life in God, he represents the same view which we met with in the Vedânta, in contradistinction from the doctrine of the Sufis. That love of God, he holds, must be free from all passion and desire (ἀπαθής); it is a contented self-appropriation which restores him who knows to oneness with Christ, and therefore with God. The Vedântist expressed the same conviction when he said that, He who knows Brahma, is Brahma (Brahmavid Brahma bhavati). That is the true, serene, intellectual ecstasis, not the feverish ecstatic visions of Plotinus and his followers. Clement has often been called a Gnostic and a Mystic, yet these names as applied to him have a very different meaning from what they have when applied to Plotinus or Jamblichus. With all his boldness of thought St. Clement never loses his reverence before the real mysteries of life. He never indulges in minute descriptions of the visions of an enraptured soul during life, or of the rejoicings or the sufferings of the soul after death. All he asserts is that the soul will for ever dwell with Christ, beholding the Father. It will not lose its subjectivity, though freed from its terrestrial personality. It will obtain the vision of the Eternal and the Divine, and itself put on a divine form (σχη̑μα θϵι̑ον). It will find rest in God by knowledge and love of God.


I cannot leave this Alexandrian period of Christianity without saying a few words about Origen. To say a few words on such a man as Origen may seem a very useless undertaking; a whole course of lectures could hardly do justice to such a subject. Still in the natural course of our argument we cannot pass him over. What I wish to make quite clear to you is that there is in Christianity more theosophy than in any other religion, if we use that word in its right meaning, as comprehending whatever of wisdom has been vouchsafed to man touching things divine. We are so little accustomed to look for philosophy in the New Testamant that we have almost acquiesced in that most unholy divorce between religion and philosophy; nay, there are those who regard it almost as a distinction that our religion should not be burdened with metaphysical speculations like other religions. Still there is plenty of metaphysical speculation underlying the Christian religion, if only we look for it as the early Fathers did. The true height and depth of Christianity cannot be measured unless we place it side by side with the other religions of the world. We are hardly aware till we have returned from abroad that England is richer in magnificent cathedrals than any other country, nor shall we ever appreciate at its full value the theosophic wealth of the Christian religion, quite apart from its other excellences, till we have weighed it against the other religions of the world. But in doing this we must treat it simply as one of the historical religions of the world. It is only if we treat it with the perfect impartiality of the historian that we shall discover its often unsuspected strength.

I hope I have made it clear to you that from the very first the principal object of the Christian religion has been to make the world comprehend the oneness of the objective Deity, call it Jehovah, or Zeus, or Theos, or the Supreme Being, τὸ ὄν, with the subjective Deity, call it self, or mind, or soul, or reason, or Logos. Another point which I was anxious to establish was that this religion, when it meets us for the first time at Alexandria as a complete theological system, represents a combination of Greek, that is Aryan, with Jewish, that is Semitic thought, that these two primeval streams after meeting at Alexandria have ever since been flowing on with irresistible force through the history of the world.

Without these Aryan and Semitic antecedents Christianity would never have become the Religion of the world. It is necessary therefore to restore to Christianity its historical character by trying to discover and to understand more fully its historical antecedents. It was Hegel, I believe, who used to say that the distinguishing characteristic of the Christian religion was that it was non-historical, by which be meant that it was without historical antecedents, or, as others would say, miraculous. It seems to me on the contrary that what constitutes the essential character of Christianity is that it is so thoroughly historical, or coming, as others would say, in the very fulness of time. It is difficult to understand the supercilious treatment which Christianity so often receives from historians and philosophers, and the distrust with which it is regarded by the ever-increasing number of the educated and more or less enlightened classes. I believe this is chiefly due to the absence of a truly historical treatment, and more particularly to the neglect of that most important phase in its early development, with which we are now concerned. I still believe that by vindicating the true historical position of Christianity, and by showing the position which it holds by right among the historical and natural religions of the world, without reference to or reliance upon any supposed special, exceptional, or so-called miraculous revelation, I may have fulfilled the real intention of the founder of this lectureship better than I could have done in any other way.

Though I cannot give you a full account of Origen and his numerous writings, or tell you anything new about this remarkable man, still I should have been charged with wilful blindness if, considering what the highest object of these lectures is, I had passed over the man whose philosophical and theological speculations prove better than anything else what in this, my final course of lectures, I am most anxious to prove, viz. that the be all and the end all of true religion is to reunite the bond between the Divine and the Human which had been severed by the false religions of the world.

On several points Origen is more definite than St. Clement. He claims the same freedom of interpretation, and yet he is far more deeply impressed with the authority of the Rule of Faith, and likewise with the authority of the Scriptures, known to him, than St. Clement23. Origen had been born and bred a Christian, and he was more disposed to reckon with facts, though always recognising a higher truth behind and beyond the mere facts. He evidently found great relief by openly recognising the distinction between practical religion as required for the many (χριστιανισμὸς σωματικός) and philosophical truth as required by the few χριστιανισμὸς πνϵυματικός).

After admitting that every religion cannot but assume in the minds of the many a more or less mythological form, he goes on to ask, ‘but what other way could be found more helpful to the many, and better than what has been handed down to the people from Jesus?’ Still even then, when he meets with anything in the sacred traditions that conflicts with morality, the law of nature or reason, he protests against it, and agrees with his Greek opponent that God cannot do anything against his own nature, the Logos, against his own thought and will, and that all miracles are therefore in a higher sense natural24. A mere miracle, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, would from his point of view have been an insult to the Logos and indirectly to the Deity. That the tempter should have carried Christ bodily into a mountain Origen simply declared impossible. His great object was everywhere the same, the reconciliation of philosophy with religion, and of religion with philosophy. Thus he says that a Greek philosopher, on becoming acquainted with the Christian religion, might well, by means of his scientific acquirements, reduce it to a more perfect system, supply what seems deficient, and thus establish the truth of Christianity25. In another place he praises those who no longer want Christ simply as a physician, a shepherd, or a ransom, but as wisdom, Logos, and righteousness. Well might Porphyrius say of Origen that he lived like a Christian and according to the law, but that with regard to his views about things and about the Divine, he was like a Greek26. Still it was the Christian Doctrine which was to him the perfection of Greek philosophy27, that is to say the Christian Doctrine in the light of Greek philosophy.

Origen was certainly more biblical in his perfect Monism than Philo. He does not admit matter by the side of God, but looks upon God as the author even of matter, and of all that constitutes the material world. God's very nature consists in His constant manifestation of Himself in the world by means of the Logos, whether we call it the thought, the will, or the word of God. According to Origen, this Logos in all its fulness was manifested in Christ as the perfect image of God. He is called the second God (δϵύτϵρος θϵός), the Son, being of the same substance as the Father (ὁμοούσιος τῳ̑ πατρί). He is also called the wisdom of God, but as subsisting substantially by itself (sapientia dei substantialiter subsistens), and containing all the forms of the manifold creation, or standing between the One Uncreate on one side and the manifold created things on the other28. If then this Logos, essentially divine (ὁμοούσιος τῳ̑ θϵῳ̑), is predicated of Christ, we can clearly perceive that with Origen too this was really the only way in which he could assert the divinity of Christ. There was nothing higher he could have predicated of Christ. Origen was using the term. Logos in the sense in which the word had been handed down to him from the author of the Fourth Gospel through Tatian, Athenagoras, Pantaenus, and Clement. Every one of them held the original unity of all spiritual essences with God. The Logos was the highest of them, but every human soul also was orginally of God and was eternal. According to Origen the interval between God and man is filled with an unbroken series of rational beings (naturae rationabiles), following each other according to their dignity. They all belong to the changeable world and axe themselves capable of change, of progress, or deterioration. They take to some extent the place of the old Stoic logoi, but they assume a more popular form under the name of Angels. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost belong to the eternal and unchangeable world, then follow the Angels according to their different ranks, and lastly the human soul.

With regard to the Third Person, Origen, like St. Clement, had never, as Prof. Harnack remarks (i. p. 583), achieved an impressive proof of the inner necessity of this hypostasis; nay it was not settled yet in his time whether the Holy Ghost was create or uncreate, whether it should be taken for the Son of God or not. Nevertheless Origen accepted the Trinity, but with the Father as the full source of its divinity (πηγὴ τη̑ς θϵότητος); nay he speaks of it as the mystery of all mysteries, whatever this may mean.

All human souls were supposed by Origen to have fallen away, and as a punishment to have been clothed in flesh during their stay in the material world. But after the dominion of sin in the material world is over, the pure Logos was to appear, united with a pure human soul, to redeem every human soul, so that it should die to the flesh, live in the spirit, and share in the ultimate restoration of all things. Some of these speculations may be called fanciful, but the underlying thought represented at the time the true essence of Christianity. It was in the name of the Christian Logos that Origen was able to answer the Logos alêthês of Celsus; it was in that Sign that Christianity conquered and reconciled Greek philosophy in the East, and Roman dogmatism in the West.

The Alogoi.

But though this philosophy based on the Logos, the antecedents of which we have traced back to the great philosophers of Greece, enabled men like St. Clement and Origen to fight their good fight for the new faith, it must not be supposed that this philosophical defence met with universal approval. As Origen saw himself, it was too high and too deep for large numbers who had adopted the Christian religion for other excellences that appealed to their heart rather than to their understanding. Thus we hear in the middle of the second century29 of an important sect in Asia Minor, called the Alogoi. This seems to have been a nickname, meaning without a belief in the Logos 30, but also absurd. These Alogoi would have nothing to do with the Logos31 of God, as preached by St. John. This shows that their opposition was not against St. Clement and Origen, whose writings were probably later than the foundation of the sect of the Alogoi, but against the theory of the Logos as taught or fully implied in the Gospel ascribed to St. John. The Alogoi were not heretics; on the contrary, they were conservative, and considered themselves thoroughly orthodox. They were opposed to the Montanists and Chiliasts; they accepted the three Synoptic Gospels, but for that very reason rejected the Gospel ascribed to St. John, and likewise the Apocalypse. They denied even that this Gospel was written by St. John, because it did not agree with the other Apostles32, nay they went so far as to say that this Gospel ascribed to John lied and was disordered33, as it did not say the same things as the other Apostles. Some ascribed the Fourth Gospel to the Judaising Gnostic Cerinthus, and declared that it should not be used in church34

This is an important page in the history of early Christianity. It shows that in the second half of the second century the four Gospels, the three Synoptic Gospels and that of St. John had all been recognised in the Church, but that at the same time it was still possible to question, their authority without incurring ecclesiastical censure, such as it was at the time. It shows also how thoroughly the doctrine of the Logos was identified with St. John, or at least with the author of the Fourth Gospel, and how it was his view of Christ, and the view defended by Barnabas, Justin, the two, Clements, Ignatius, Polycarp35, and Origen, which in the end conquered the world. Still, if it was possible for a Pope to make St. Clement descend from his rightful place among the Saints of the Christian Church, what safety is there against another Pope unsainting St. John himself36

Though the further development of the Logos theory in the East and the West is full of interest, we must not dwell on it any further. To us its interest is chiefly philosophical, while its later development becomes more and more theological and scholastic. What I wished to prove was that the Christian religion in its first struggle with the non-Christian thought of the world, owed its victory chiefly, if not entirely, to the recognition of what, as we saw, forms the essential element of all religion, the recognition of the closest connexion between the phenomenal and the noumenal worlds, between the human soul and God. The bond of union between the two, which had been discovered by slow degrees by pagan philosophers and had been made the pivot of Christian philosophy at Alexandria, was the Logos. By the recognition of the Logos in Christ, a dogma which gave the direst offence to Celsus and other pagan philosophers, the fatal divorce between religion and philosophy had been annulled, and the two had once more joined hands. It is curious however to observe how some of the early Apologetes looked upon the Logos as intended rather to separate God37 from the world than to unite the two. It is true that Philo's mind was strongly impressed with the idea that the Divine Essence should never be brought into immediate contact with vile and corrupt matter, and to him therefore the intervening Logos might have been welcome as preventing such contact. But Christian philosophers looked upon matter as having been created by God, and though to them also the Logos was the intervening power by which God formed and ruled the world, they always looked upon their Logos as a connecting link and not as a dividing screen. It is true that in later times the original purpose and nature of the Logos were completely forgotten and changed. Instead of being a bond of union between the human and the Divine, instead of being accepted in the sense which the early Fathers had imparted to it as constituting the divine birthright of every man born into the world, it was used once more as a wall of partition between the Divine Logos, the Son of God (μονογϵνὴςυἱὸς του̑ θϵου̑), and the rest of mankind; so that not only the testimony of St. John, but the self-evident meaning of the teaching of Christ was made of no effect. No doubt St. Clement had then to be unsainted, but why not St. Augustine, who at one time was a great admirer of St. Clement and Origen, and who had translated and adopted the very words of St. Clement, that God became man in order that man might become God38. Not knowing the difference between θϵός and ὁ θϵός, God and the God, later divines suspected some hidden heresy in this language of St. Clement and St. Augustine, and in order to guard against misapprehension introduced a terminology which made the difference between Christ and those whom He called His brothers, one of kind and not one of degree, thus challenging and defying the whole of Christ's teaching. Nothing can be, more cautious yet more decided than the words of St. Clement 39: ‘Thus he who believes in the Lord and follows the prophecy delivered by Him is at last perfected according to the image of the Master, moving about as God in the flesh40.’ And still more decided is Origen's reply to Celsus iii. 28: ‘That human nature through its communion with the more Divine should become divine not only in Jesus, but in all who through faith take up the life which Jesus taught41.’ It is clear that Origen, taking this view of human nature, had no need of any other argument in support of the true divinity of Christ. He might as well have tried to prove his humanity against the Docetae. With him both were one and could only be one. To Origen Christ's divinity was not miraculous, or requiring any proof from moral or physical miracles. It was involved in his very nature, in his being the logos or the Son of God in all its fulness, whereas the Logos in man had suffered and had to be redeemed by the teaching by the life and death of Christ42. While Origen thus endeavoured to reconcile Greek philosophy, that is, his own honest convictions, with the teaching of the Church, he kept clear both of Gnosticism and Docetism. Origen was as honest as a Christian as he was as a philosopher, and it was this honesty which made Christianity victorious in the third century, and will make it victorious again whenever it finds supporters who are determined not to sacrifice their philosophical convictions to their religious faith or their religious faith to their philosophical convictions.

It is true that like St. Clement, Origen also was condemned by later ecclesiastics, who could not fathom the depth of his thoughts; but he never in the whole history of Christianity was without admirers and followers. St. Augustine, St. Bernard, the author of De Imitatione, Master Eckhart, Tauler, and others, honoured his memory, and Dr. Bigg is no doubt right in saying43 ‘That there was no truly great man in the Church who did not love him a little.’ And why ‘a little only’? Was it because he was disloyal to the truth such as he had seen it both in philosophy and in religion? Was it because he inflicted on himself such suffering as many may disapprove, but few will imitate (μωμάσϵταί τιςμα̑λλον ἢ μιμήσϵται)? If we consider the time in which he lived, and study the testimony which his contemporaries bore of his character, we may well say of him as of others who have been misjudged by posterity:

‘Denn wer den Besten seiner Zeit genug gethan,

Der hat gelebt für alle Zeiten.’