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Contents: One Path to the Divine

Just before the dark ages, in the learned circles located in Alexandria, Egypt, early Christianity competed with other philosophies and religions to explain the nature of God, the afterlife,
and the fate of the human soul. During the 2nd to 4th centuries, the two Alexandrian schools, The Catechetical School of Alexandria (a Christian theological school)and the Alexandrine Schools, (a secular prototype university) flourished side by side as early church fathers, Clement and Origen blended Platonic philosophy into an early version of Christian philosophy. The Platonic view of man as a soul imprisoned within a body or viewing the body as a sarcophagus eventually became known as Neoplatonic philosophy or Neoplatonism. Eventually the Christian view of man favored the Hebrew concept of man as an antimated body, an idea taken from the mythical Genesis story of creation. This shift in the view of man from an imprisoned soul to an animated man would eventually prove significant. By the 5th Century Christian view of man, based on the mythical Genesis story, became ossified by a largely political process that began with the first ecumenical council, chaired by Roman Emperor Constantine in 325 CE. Subsequently the emergence of a new definition for the concept of heresy, for the first time in recorded history (The word "heresy" means a "choice" or an "opinion," but it came to mean an "incorrect" theological belief.), eventually led to the two schools becoming mortal enemies.

The Platonic view of man as a soul imprisoned within a body was for a time incorporated into Christian speculative thought through the writing of Evagrius of Pontus (d. 399) and Origen of Alexandria (d. 253 or 254), but it was later ignored in favor of a more Hebrew view of man as an animated body. The difference between considering man as an animated body (like Adam, for whom God first created a body out of the dust and then breathed life into him) or an imprisoned soul (as taught by the Greek philosophers who followed Plato) has a subtle influence on one's understanding of redemption and even of prayer. Origen had given the outline for mystical theology with some Platonic influence, but this was balanced by the teachings of the Macarian Homilies (usually attributed to St. Macarius of Egypt, 300-390 A.D., but perhaps the work of an unknown writer of the fifth century). In the Macarian writings, the more Biblical emphasis on the whole man was re-established. The pagan Greek emphasis made prayer an activity of the mind and intellect, whereas the Hebrew tradition followed by the hesychasts made prayer a function of the whole man: mind, emotions, will, and even body!...ORTHODOX MYSTICISM: TEACHINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS
Their fundamental conception (the Alexandrine Schools), largely qualified, by no means consistently maintained, as we shall have frequent occasion to notice in these lectures, was that of the Divine Transcendence. God is above, beyond, away, ontologically remote. They are led more and more to separate God from the world, to form a chasm between the uncreated and creation, over which they then proceed to construct a connecting bridge. This impulse, indeed we might say this obligation, to relegate the Deity to an uncontaminated isolation, is seen in all the teachers of this way; it is perhaps least prominent in Origen; it is certainly most definitely asserted in Plotinus. We shall note its phases in Philo and those who followed him one by one....Alexandrine Teaching...Lecture I...Transcendence...by R. B. Tollinton