Introduction to early church history of Catholic Church 7

Introduction to early church history 7
 Jean Paul

Previous chapters discussed the threats facing the early church in the 2nd century, these were:
From outside - persecutions
From inside - Christian groups that held unorthodox views.

How did the Church respond to these threats?

Development of the science of theology

Three areas:
a)  Alexandria
b)  Antioch
c)  Roman West

This period saw the beginning of the wedding together of theology and philosophy, to explain and illuminate what was believed.  This begins the rule of faith.


Christianity here had a Greek cultural synthesis, with a largely philosophical ‘school’ of sacred studies.  The teachers were trying to educate the faithful using the scriptures, tradition and the rule of faith.  Eusebius describes this approach as an ancient custom.

Alexandria saw the development of:
a)  Philosophy at the service of theology, this approach is still important today
b)  Development of exegesis and hermeneutic approach to scripture
c)  The beginnings of an attempt to put the Church’s ideas into an order, to give a systematic presentation.

There were three great names associated with this: Pantaenus, Clement of Alexandria and Origen.


He was a pagan convert from stoic philosophy.  He probably began work around 180 AD.  Pantaenus taught and reflected on the Word of God, for which he had an ardent love and zeal.  He eventually leaves Alexandria and becomes a herald of the Gospel further East, 2nd and 4th Century sources claim that he was working as a missionary in India at the end of his life. 

Before leaving Pantaenus had been in charge of a ‘school’ - an informal gathering that met in the collanades and discussed various issues.  In this he succeeded by Clement.

Pantaenus was probably from Sicily and is referred to as the Sicilian bee, because in his work he took little bits from different sources.  Very little of his teaching survives except as extracts in the work of Eusibius.

Clement of Alexandria

Clement was born in Greece and was a pagan convert.  He travelled the known world, to Southern Italy (which was essentially Greek at that time not Latin), to Marya Greta, Palestine and Egypt.
In 185AD he settled in Alexandria - he had been attracted there by Pantaenus and his school.  He may have begun by teaching in his own school, but was then co-opted in Pantaenus’ school.  When Pantaenus leaves he succeeds him.  He is described as didasholar or teacher. 

Clement continued to teach until the persecution of 200-202/3AD which was started by the Emperor Septimus Severus.  The emperor was attempting to stop the flow of pagan converts to Christianity and Judaism, his generation were strongly attracted to these religions.  The Emperor prohibits all conversions under pain of persecution.  He instructed his governors to go after those involved in conversion - bishops, catechists, catechumens and so on, as a result of these people were in danger and some were killed.  The most famous martyrs of this period were Felicity and Perpetua from Carthage, we have a greatly embellished later account of their martyrdom, they were catechumens, preparing for baptism, and were baptised in prison.  The author of this account was probably Tertullian.  Clement, who was well known, fled to Asia Minor which was safer and consequently carried less risk of him becoming a martyr.  Clement dies in Asia Minor in 215AD - we know little of him after he fled Alexandria.

Clement was well educated and intelligent, he was very familiar with scripture and the works of previous Christian writers.  His aim was to use the elements of truth in Greek philosophy and to achieve a unity of this with the Christian faith.  This would give knowledge of the true faith and was designed as an answer to the Gnostics, to show that the church had the true knowledge.

Clement’s project was to write three books:

a)  Protrepicus - the Latin name, Protrepikos in Greek
This was an exhortation to the Greeks - it uses a title that was used by the Greek philosophers, eg Aristotle, as a propaganda for philosophy - here though Clement used it as a propaganda for Christianity.
It treats the work of the pagan philosophers as being on the way to the true knowledge of God, but that full knowledge could only come through Jesus Christ.  The book is an admonition (or call) to follow Jesus Christ.

b)  Paidagogos - the word is derived from two parts: paid meaning child or youth and agogos meaning to lead or teach.

It was designed to instruct or teach the youth.  It was not designed for elementary school level but the next level up, so it is designed to be a book to guide those that had been through the basic teaching and to instruct them to a deeper understanding.  In the Paidagogos Christ Himself calls people to trust themselves and to educate themselves through the Christ (or the Logos).  The book is a guide for the Christian life - both in public and in private.  The Logos then provides by His teaching and life the standard required for the Christian life, one who lives in conformity with this lives in conformity to reason, Logos can translate as reason (usually it is translated as ‘word’).

There are pages from this work in the handout.

c)  Didaskalos - meaning professor, the highest level of teacher.  As Clement left Alexandria he did not finish this work.  We have the notebooks that he wrote based on his lectures, these are referred to as ‘stromateis’ which translates as ‘throw-rugs’.  The contain various questions that Clement treated at a higher level with his students.  They are not organised, and are based on themes that Clement discussed in his oral presentations to his students.  The purpose of this work was to prove by reasoned argument (logic), in confrontation with contemporary Gnosticism, that Christianity is the only true knowledge (gnosis) and that therefore the faithful Christian is the true person in gnosis and not the Gnostics. 

The model for Christians is Christ.  The Christian is involved in a process of self-education starting at baptism when the Holy Spirit is received, in the Gospels it says that the Spirit will bring greater knowledge.  Because we have all received this Spirit we all have the potential to move from basic belief to a more perfect belief.  That you penetrated deeply and into the Gospel and tradition within the Church was important to Clement and was a direct answer to the Gnostics.  Clement acknowledged that not all could reach the same point in self-education - but he maintained that all were called to strive for greater knowledge and perfection in their way of life.

Within this work the relationship to Greek philosophy is important, it brings a harmony between faith (pitis) and knowledge. The general movement is from simple faith to an ever more perfect knowledge, but Clement insists that faith is the focal point to quote ‘Faith is superior to knowledge and is its criterion’ so true knowledge comes from faith not the other way round (another answer to the Gnostics).

Clement wrote other works.  An example is Quis dives salvatur? Are the rich saved?  In the New Testament the rich tend to come off rather badly.

This was an important question in Alexandria which was a major financial centre of the ancient world.  The grain fleet sailed from Alexandria to Ostia or Partus to feed the Romans.  This made it a very rich city and many of the Alexandrians were very rich themselves.  The question was did the rich need to give up their riches to follow Christ?

Clement formulated an answer to this question.  First he penetrated more deeply into the whole question about riches and poverty.  Being rich or poor doesn’t bring salvation of itself, in either state we can be miserable sinners.  The fundamental issue is the internal disposition, the attitude of your soul, that decides.  So it is about how use and live your life as a rich or a poor person that is important, and through this how you use your riches.

A couple of other selections from Clement’s work:

‘Philosophy as a preparation for the Gospel.’  The ideas in this work are fundamental to the pursuit of philosophy today.

Characteristics of the Gnostics - an answer to the Gnostic movement.

Origen 183/4 to 253/4

Origen has an Egyptian name.  He was born of Christian parents in Alexandria, he died in Tyre, according to Eusebius in his 70th year.

He was educated at home in a Christian atmosphere by his father (Leonidas) in both sacred scripture and secular subjects.  He was therefore a well educated man.

In 202AD Leonidas is caught in the persecution of Septimus Severus and martyred.  As a result Origen, then in his late teens, becomes a teacher to support the family.  He initially taught at a grammer school studying scripture, he also worked to educate catechumens and converts.  He was put in charge, possibly due to the influence of the bishop.  Origen worked busily to support his family.

Legend has it that he wanted to be a martyr but his mother hid his clothes to prevent him from leaving the house.

He found that in dealing with converts he needed to deepen his knowledge of philosophy.  He starts to study philosophy, and leaves running the grammer school to an assistant, Heraclas.  At that time a new philosopher was teaching in Alexandria, Ammonius Saccus who founded neo-Platonism.  Origen listened to his teaching and lectures. 

Origen also travelled and so develops a general knowledge of the world - he goes to Rome (around 212 and may have visited in repeatedly), Caeserea (around 215), Antioch, Greece.  Through this he got to know Christians and others, and he got to know about the church elsewhere.  He was called in as a consultant by bishops that were faced with difficult theological or scriptural problems.  Through all of this he was also concentrating on his studies.

In 230/1AD he returned from Greece via Palestine to Alexandria.  On the way he met two of his friends who were bishops who were Theocitistus of Caesarea Maritma (a civil capital and the main Episcopal see in Palestine) and Alexandria of Jerusalem (a suffragen see at that time).  These bishops ordained Origen priest but this would cause problems as it was done without the knowledge of his bishop at Alexandria, Demetrius of Alexandria.  Although not forbidden by canon law it was regarded as a bad thing, especially as Origen was involved in Catechesis for Demetrius.

The picture of what happens next is extremely cloudy.  It appears that Origen was excommunicated - two synods were held to first depose him from his priesthood and then to excommunicate him.  Eusebius says that this was because Demetrius was jealous of Origen’s fame.

Demetrius also accuses Origen of making himself into a eunuch, taking the words of scripture literally, but as this charge was only ever made by his enemies it is probably a trumped up charge.  A eunuch could not be ordained priest as he was not regarded as a whole man.

In response Origen leaves Alexandria in 232AD and goes to Caesarea Martima to be under the protection of Theocitistus.  Here he founded a ‘graduate school’ which was interested in sacred scripture, and the links between philosophy and theology. 

We have a document written by Gregory Thaumaturgy (the surname means wonder worker).  Written after he finished his studies in which he praises Origen. Gregory then goes back home to Caesarea Cappadocia to foster Christianity.  He brings Origen’s influence to the Cappadocian school.

In the persecution of Emperor Decius, 250-1AD, Origen is imprisoned and tortured.  After the persecution ended he moved to Tyre and dies there as a result of his torture.  For his contemporaries Origen dies a confessor as he died as a result of his mishandling.  However for various political reasons he was condemned as a heretic in 553AD.  This was 300 years after his death, after such a long period most would be condemned as theology moves on even St Thomas Aquinas denied the Immaculate Conception.  Due to his condemnation most of Origen’s work has been lost.  This condemnation still stands today.

Origen was the most production of the pre-Nicene fathers in Greek.  He wrote over 2000 volumes, according to Eusebius, which were scrolls rather than books.

The core of his work was on the Bible.  From his youth his daily reading was from the Bible which he called ‘the art of art and the science of science.’  But Origen was faced with a problem - which version of the text do you use.  There were the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint (LXX) which differed in content and even number of books, additionally there were three other Greek versions: those by Aquila, Theodotion and Symmachus. 

LXX was the version used in Greek speaking Synagogues, it was the version most commonly used in Christian communities.

There were differences between the versions and because of that he wrote the Hexapla in which he set the texts in columns, translated into Greek where necessary, to allow the versions to be compared.  LXX was marked with signs to show its relationship to the Hebrew original, ¸ or * to show is a text was missing or had been added.  This was a huge document that he took with him when he moved to Caesarea Martima.  The book itself has disappeared but we still have some texts from it.

The Alexandrian manuscript of the New Testament came from Origen’s school.  It was important for Origen’s textual studies that he had an accurate copy of both Testaments on which to comment.  This was the first Christian use of textual criticism.

He also produced exegetical works - these fell into three categories:
a)  Scholia - brief notes on difficult passages.
b)  Homolies - lectures or sermons taken down by stenographers mainly in Caesarea Martima.  He preached everyday and worked systematically through books of the Bible.
c)  Commentaries - systematic and learned interpretations of a book of scripture.

The core of his work dealt with scripture.

At 60 he wrote an Apology in answer to Celsus would had written 8 books attacking Christianity.  Origen takes the books sentence by sentence so that he could refute each one.

He wrote a book on prayer - this was the first major work on prayer.

He wrote one important dogmatic work - Peri archon (Greek) meaning On First Principles the latin name is De Principilus.  It is difficult to identify first principles, as this was a manual on dogmatics it would be better known as ‘on the principle dogmas’.

There are excerpts from this work in the handout.  He was the first dogmatic theologian, but as he was the first he also made mistakes.

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