Alexandrian Theology

Alexandria even in pre-Christian times was a center of learning. Philo* flourished there at the turn of the first century, and subsequently several streams of thought flowed together to give vogue in Alexandria to the Neoplatonism of Photinus and the Gnosticism of Basilides and Valentinus. The coming of Christianity to Alexandria is generally attributed to the preaching of Mark the Evangelist; the organization of the church seems to have been simple and to have accommodated itself somewhat to the prevailing climate of opinion. It was not until the beginning of the third century that Alexandria became important as a seat of Christian theology. Pantaenus* is generally regarded as the first head of the school there, which seems to have continued the ancient catechetical school. The latter combined aspects of the Hellenistic “Museum” and the Jewish schools. The general program of the Alexandrian School found expression in Clement's trilogy: Protrepticus (Exhortation, addressed to the heathen), Paedogogus (Instruction in Christian morals), and the Stromata (Miscellanies, training in Divine Wisdom, the true gnosis for the mature believer).

The Alexandrian School reached its highest peak of influence under Origen*; later leaders include Pierius, Theognostus, Serapion, Peter the Martyr, and Didymus the Blind. Arius held high office in the church of Alexandria, and this may have been one reason for the decline of the school, since he could use one aspect of Origen's thought as high authority for his own theory of Christ as a created Son of God. During the fourth century the school passed more and more into obscurity, though Alexandria had as bishops Alexander and Athanasius,* who led the attack on Arianism* and were foremost in the establishment of Christian orthodoxy.

During its heyday the school greatly influenced the leaders of the Palestinian Church, notably Julius Africanus* and Alexander of Jerusalem. Early in the fifth century a new school of Neoplatonism arose in Alexandria under the leadership of the learned woman Hypatia. The main features of the Alexandrian School are three: (1) the use of the weapon of philosophy. In contrast with the North African, Tertullian, the Alexandrians were Christian philosophers par excellence, using its method and terms in the interest of the Faith, seeking to beat opponents with their own weapons; (2) the supremacy of Logology. The Alexandrians stressed the Logos*-doctrine in an effort to bridge the gap between God and the world, and as the bond of union between the religion of the gospel and Gentile science; (3) the radical application of the allegorical method of biblical exegesis (see Allegory). The main opponent of the Alexandrian School was that of Antioch,* in contrast to which the Alexandrians tended towards a Logos-flesh Christology and towards Monophysitism.

J. Simon, Histoire critique de l'école d'Alexandrie (1845); C. Kingsley, Alexandria and Her Schools (1854); C. Biggs, The Christian Platonists of Alexandria (1886); E. Molland, The Conception of the Gospel in Alexandrian Theology (1938); G. Bardy, “Pour l'histoire de l'école d'Alexandrie,” Vivre et Penser, 2 (1942), pp. 80-109; E.A. Parsons, The Alexandrian Library (1952); J.E.L. Oulton and H. Chadwick, Alexandrian Christianity (1954).