JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl

Philo the Jew.

§ 49.

1. We observed above that under the Ptolemies not only the Jewish element of the population secured a footing and obtained protection, in Alexandria, but also that Jewish men of learning settled in the city, and cultivated there the sacred lore of their nation. Here they made acquaintance with the philosophers of Greece, and this circumstance could not but affect their system of thought. They had, indeed, too high an esteem for their ancient traditions, and were too firmly persuaded of the divine origin of these traditions, not to believe them the ultimate source of all wisdom. But they could not refuse their admiration to the great works of Greek philosophy which confronted them. They were obliged to seek out a method which would permit them to maintain the superiority of their sacred books to all philosophy, and, at the same time, to secure for philosophy its rightful place in the realm of knowledge.

2. As a first step in furtherance of this object, the following principles were laid down:

(a). Revelation is the highest philosophy and, as such, includes within itself all the tenets of Greek philosophy, and this with a perfection and a fulness of truth not found in the Greek systems themselves.

(b). The Greek philosophers have derived their wisdom from the revealed doctrines of the Jews, that is, from the sacred books. The ultimate source of their lofty doctrines is, therefore, not human reason but Jewish tradition.

(c). The difference between the revealed doctrines of the Jews and the philosophy of the Greeks consists chiefly in this, that in the sacred books of the Jews truth is expressed by symbols and figures, whereas Greek philosophy puts the figure aside and sets before us the thought which was expressed under the figure.

3. These assumptions formed the basis of the whole Graeco-Jewish philosophy. It was the aim of this philosophy to develop these notions in every sphere of philosophical knowledge. It strove to show that revelation and Greek philosophy corresponded, part for part -- that revelation contained all that was found in Greek philosophy, though in more perfect form. In this wise the Jewish religion, it was presumed, would maintain itself in the face of Greek philosophy; and at the same time a deeper insight into its teaching, and a reform of the Jewish religion (meaning thereby a more spiritual and more ideal view of its tenets), would be brought about.

4. It is clear that this end could be attained only by accommodating the doctrines of the Jewish faith to the principles of Greek philosophy, that is to say, by interpreting these doctrines in accordance with the philosophical notions of the Greeks. This was essentially the method pursued by the Graeco-Jewish philosophers of this period. They endeavoured to adapt the Scriptures to the doctrines of Greek philosophy, and by the light of this philosophy to determine their meaning. Looked at from the standpoint of revelation this method was rationalistic.

5. Another aspect of this philosophy remains to be noticed. On the supposition that it is characteristic of the Sacred Scriptures to present us with truth in images or figures, it would follow that the only method of arriving at the truth they contain is to seek the meaning that lies hidden under images, to strip the truth of the figures which envelop it. This must be effected by determining the allegorical sense of the Sacred Scriptures. Hence it is that we find the allegorical sense of Scripture occupying so prominent a place in the Graeco-Jewish philosophy. The literal meaning of the text was abandoned, and the allegorical substituted, not only in cases where this was required by the subject-matter, but frequently also even in cases where the subject-matter demanded that the literal sense should be maintained. On other occasions literal and allegorical meanings were simultaneously maintained. In a word there was no limit to the liberties which interpreters permitted themselves.

6. In this way it came to be assumed that under the sensus obvius of the Sacred Scriptures a deeper meaning was concealed, and that this deeper meaning alone was the genuine sense of the Scripture. Thinkers who held to the mere letter (the sensus obvius) were of no account; only those were credited with wisdom and knowledge who were privileged to penetrate the hidden meaning of the Books of Revelation. This was the method adopted to bring about a reform of the Jewish faith in accordance with the requirements of the times.

7. As early as the second century B.C., the way had been prepared for the combination of Jewish theology with the doctrines of Greek philosophy. In this century arose the three Jewish sects -- the Essenes, the Therapeutae, and the Sadducees. The Sadducees were a school of materialistic free-thinkers, while the Essenes and the Therapeutae adopted a course of mystical asceticism. Among the Therapeutae certain Pythagorean notions seem to have found favour, and it is among them, perhaps, we are to seek the first beginnings of the Graeco-Jewish philosophy.

8. In Aristobulus (about B.C. 160) we have distinct evidence of an union already effected between Jewish theology and Greek philosophy. "He appealed to certain (spurious) Orphic lays, into which he had introduced certain points of Jewish doctrine, in proof of his contention that the Greek philosophers and poets had derived their wisdom from an early translation of the Pentateuch." He composed a commentary on the Pentateuch, fragments of which are preserved by Clement of Alexandria, Stromata I., VI.; and by Eusebius, Proepar. Evang. VII., VIII., IX., XIII. He asserts the inspiration of Scripture, but he adopts the allegorical meaning. God, he teaches, is invisible, His throne is in heaven, He is not in contact with the earth, He influences it only by His power (dunamis). He created the world out of pre-existent matter. To justify the keeping of the Sabbath, Aristobulus appeals to the Pythagorean argument from the symbolism of numbers. After Aristobulus we may mention Aristeas, to whom is ascribed a (spurious) letter to Philocrates, in which is told the story of the translation of the Sacred Scriptures by the seventy interpreters.

9. The chief representative of the Graeco-Jewish philosophy is, however, Philo, who was the first to give it completeness as a system. He lived in Alexandria, and was descended from one of the most distinguished families of the country. According to Eusebius and Jerome, his family was of priestly rank, In the year B.C. 40 he was sent to Rome as delegate from the Alexandrian Jews to the Emperor. He was equally conversant with the various systems of Greek philosophy and with the ancient traditions of his own people.

10. His writings are very numerous. The names of his works are as follows: -- (a.) De mundi opificio; (b.) Legis Allegoriarum, Lib. 2; (c.) De Cherubim; (d.) De Sacrificiis Abeli et Caini; (d.) Quod deterius potiori insidiari soleat; (f.) De Agricultura; (g.) De Plantatione Noe; (li.) De Temulentia; (i.) De his verbis: 'Resipuit Noe'; (k.) De Gigantibus; (l.) Quod Deus sit immutabilis; (m.) De Confusione Linguarum; (n.) De Abrahamo; (o.) De Migratione Abrahami; (p.) De congressu quaerendoe eruditionis gratia; (q.) De Profugis; (r.) Quis rerum divinarum haeres sit; (s.) De Josepho; (t.) De Somniis; (u.) De Vita Mosis, Lib. 3; (v.) De Caritate Mosis; (w.) De Creatione Principis; (x.) De Fortitudine; (y.) De Decalogo; (z.) De Specialibus Legibus; (aa.) De Circumfusione; (bb.) De Monarchia; (cc.) De Sacerdotum Honoribus; (dd.) De Victimis; (ee.) De Victimas Offerentibus; (ff.) Mercedem meretricis non esse recipiendam; (gg.) Quod omnis probus liber; (hh.) De vita contemplative; (ii.) De nobilitate; (kk.) De Proemiis et Poenis; (11.) De Execratione; (mm.) Quod mundus sit incorruptibilis; (nn.) In Flaccum; (oo.) De Legatione ad Cajum; (pp.) De Nominum Mutatione; (qq.) Quod a Deo immittantur somnia.

11. Adopting the principle that the prophets were merely the instruments through which the Spirit of God spoke, Philo makes free use of the allegorical sense. To hold to the mere literal meaning of Sacred Scripture he considers undignified, unbecoming, and superstitious, and he stigmatises his opponents as "infected with an incurable passion for logomachy, and blinded by the delusions of custom." "God cannot, in the strict sense, go hither and thither, nor has He feet to walk with. These anthromorphic methods of expression are used by Sacred Scripture for the advantage of the sensual man; at the same time it explains to the spiritual man that God is not like man, nor like heaven, nor like earth." This, no doubt, is undeniable. But Philo goes further, and applies his allegorical interpretation to other things, especially to historical incidents which are narrated in the Scriptures. We must, however, allow that he does not always reject the literal meaning. In the case of many historical narratives he admits a literal as well as an allegorical meaning; but he will never allow that the latter is absent.

12. But Philo's censure is not reserved for the "literalists" only. He is equally severe upon the "symbolists," whose teaching threatened Judaism as a system of positive religion. The symbolists attributed a figurative meaning not only to the teachings of the Law, but also to the ordinances of the Jewish ceremonial, and held that the observance of these ordinances according to the letter was superfluous, that no more was necessary than to observe the moral precepts which they typified. Philo is ready to acknowledge that even in these ordinances there is a recondite and higher sense as well as a literal sense, but the precepts must be observed in accordance with the latter sense, since the two are united as soul and body. Allowing that circumcision signifies restraint upon passion and the renunciation of luxury and impious thoughts, we must not for this interfere with the established practice; otherwise we should have to give up the worship of the Temple and a thousand other necessary solemnities.

13. After this exposition of fundamental principles, we may now proceed to examine Philo's system of doctrine. We must observe, at the outset, that in this system there is scarcely any trace of unity of plan and harmony of principles. Philo's aim is to bring the revealed doctrines of the Jews into accord with the teachings of Greek philosophy, in other words to make the latter supply the interpretation of the former. In doing this, his eclecticism reaches to every system of Greek philosophy, and he uses them all for his purpose. He incorporated the Platonic doctrines in his system, side by side with the Aristotelian or the Stoic, as the one or the other seemed to serve for the interpretation of a given passage. In this way the several systems are introduced together in all parts of his writings, and unity and harmony thus rendered impossible.

14. God, the First Cause of all things, is above everything created. We argue His existence from a consideration of His works and by a conclusion, thence warranted, to the author of these works. But it is not given us to comprehend His Being, or express determinately what He is. God is above our comprehension, and above our powers of expression. He alone has comprehensive knowledge of Himself. For our part, we describe Him but by that name which He bestowed upon Himself, when He said, "I am who am" (ho ôn). No attribute, no perfection can be predicated of God in the proper sense of the term. He is above everything. He is not Wisdom, nor Virtue, nor the Good, nor the One; He is more than all these.

15. However we are not debarred from speaking of God after our own manner. In the order of our conceptions God comes before us as the Unbegotten agennêtos), a Being who contains within Himself the ultimate cause of His own existence -- the fulness of perfection and bliss, the Eternal, the Unchangeable, the Imperishable. In Him there is no before and no hereafter, no past and no future, all things are present to Him. He is simple in His nature, not restricted to any part of space, and is, therefore, at once everywhere and nowhere. He is all-sufficient in Himself, and has no need of anything outside Himself. God alone is free, i.e. independent of everything not Himself.

16. The world is the work of God, but the world is not God. To identify the world with God is to commit the error and the wickedness of maintaining that God has created all things out of nothing (ek mê ontôn). It follows from this that the world is not eternal. It has had a beginning. The reason for the Creation was the goodness of God, the ultimate purpose of the Creation the manifestation of this divine goodness. The duration of the world is dependent on the exercise of God's conserving power. It is everlasting, God's goodness having assigned it an unending duration. But God did not Himself directly create matter and reduce it to form and order; it was not fitting that He, the supremely Pure, should come into immediate contact with matter. The world comes mediately from God. He created it by His Logos (Word). We have now to examine Philo's doctrine of the Logos.

17. The Logos of Plato is the aggregate in which all Ideas are comprehended -- the intelligible world which, in this respect, Philo describes as the region of Ideas. Before the creation of the world God formed in His intellect its ideal prototype. This prototype of the world is the Logos, created things are the ectypes of this Logos. As the seal is impressed upon the wax and is represented in it, so the Logos is the original mould or stamp of created things and is represented in all their various forms. And here it is to be remarked that all the ideas contained in the Logos find actual expression in the world, the most perfect expression, too, of which they are capable. It follows that the world is the only world possible, and also the best possible.

18. Philo goes still further. He distinguishes between the logos endiathetos and the logos prophorikos, and this distinction he borrows from the logos in man. In man we distinguish between the indwelling reason, which is the active faculty of thought, and the extrinsic word, in which the thought finds expression. We may describe the former as the logos endiathetos, and the latter as the logos prophorikos. An analogous distinction must be applied to the divine Logos. It is a endiathetos, inasmuch as it is constituted by the aggregate of all ideas indwelling in the mind of God; it is a logos prophorikos, as expressed in things created -- the ectypes and outward expression of the ideas contained in the divine mind.

19. The logos prophorikos of Philo appears to be a divine power or force which pervades all things, giving them life and form. The logos endiathetos he seems to regard merely as the ideal conception of the world; but the logos prophorikos is the creative, formative power by which God produces and forms the universe. Under the influence of this notion he makes the several ideas contained in the Logos so many distinct forces, which proceed like rays of light from God, but in such wise that they are all united in the Logos. In this way the Logos, with its various distinct forces, becomes the organ or instrument by means of which God, who cannot Himself come into immediate contact with the defilements of matter, creates and fashions the world.

20. This theory enables Philo to assert that God is present in all things, not by His Being, but by His power. Philo, is in the same way led to regard the Logos as the differentiating element in the universe, as the power which gives to matter its different forms, as the architect of the universe, working from within outwards, effecting the formation of the world: as the logos spermatikos, inasmuch as the ideas it contains manifest themselves in the several objects by its formative energy; as the bond which unites all things in the universe; as the universal and unchanging cosmical law; as the universal World-Reason or Providence which pervades and governs all things, guiding and controlling the course of the universe. The universe is, so to speak, the garment by which the Logos is enveloped.

21. This, however, is not the whole of Philo's doctrine regarding the divine Logos. With him the logos prophorikos is not merely a divine power, it appears ultimately in his teaching, as a personal being. Thus conceived it becomes a kind of intermediate nature between God and the world, separating the one from the other, but at the same time bringing them both into relation with one another. The Logos, in this capacity, is neither a thing ungenerated and without a beginning, nor yet is it generated and produced as all other things. It is the Son of God -- the eldest, first-begotten Son. the world being the younger Son of God. The Divine Wisdom (the logos endiathetos) is the Mother of this Word, God is his Father. He may be called God, not in the strict sense of the term, but only in so far as in his action he appears as the representative of God. He is intermediary between God and man, he conveys the commands and ordinances of God to men, and is on the other hand intercessor with God for man. In the former character he is the "Angel of God," in the latter "the High Priest."

22. But the Logos is not, according to Philo, the only power by which God creates, fashions, and maintains the world. Philo speaks of other Divine Powers distinct from the Logos, though subordinate to it. He does not appear to have formed a definite opinion as to the number of these powers. At one place he speaks of two powers -- the creative and the controlling; at another he mentions five such powers -- the creative, the ruling, the commanding, the forbidding, and the forgiving. Furthermore, Philo's conception of these powers or potencies is somewhat undetermined. At one time he seems to conceive of them as attributes of God, or modes in which the divine power manifests itself, as, for example, when he identifies the creative and ruling powers with the omnipotence and goodness of God, and says that God, in virtue of the one attribute, is called Lord, in virtue of the other God. Again, however, he seems to represent them as personal beings; for example, when he describes them as ministers of God in the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, and puts them under the control of the Logos, as steeds under the guidance of a charioteer.

23. In accordance with the latter conception is his further assumption of the existence of other beings intermediate between God and the world. In this category he reckons the stars, which, after the Platonic fashion, he endows with reason, and makes akin to the Divinity, and the angels, to whom he assigns the atmospheric region as an abode. These beings also fulfil, after their manner, the functions of intermediaries between God and man; they execute the Divine commands, and intercede with God on man's behalf. The series of beings is thus brought down without interruption from the highest to the lowest, from God to man, and the universe thus resembles a great state in which the supreme authority is held by God, but exercised through subordinate powers.

24. In his physical theories, Philo for the most part follows Aristotle. The six days in which, according to Sacred Scripture, the world was created, must not be regarded as actual periods of time; they merely mark the order in which things followed one another in the Divine conceptions. This order is based upon the number six, for this is the most perfect number. The cause of the imperfections, of the evil, and the wickedness which prevail in these sublunary regions is to be found in matter, which opposes itself to the formative energy of the Logos. It would be blasphemy to assert that God was Himself the author of evil or wickedness.

25. In his doctrine regarding man, Philo draws, at the outset, a distinction between the ideal man and the man of our experience. He endeavours to justify this distinction by an appeal to the Scripture. In the first chapter of Genesis it is said that God created man to His own image and likeness. According to Philo, it is the ideal man of whom there is question in this passage. The second chapter recounts that God created man out of the slime of the earth, and breathed into him a living soul; here there is question of the man of our actual experience, the earthly man. Philo describes the ideal man as the primal man, and this concept he ultimately identifies with that of the Logos.

26. In man as actually known to experience, Philo, like Plato, distinguishes the rational soul -- a simple, indivisible, immortal essence -- from the irrational soul, which he locates in the blood. The former he describes as the true man within man, the ego proper in man. In the irrational soul he, at one time, distinguishes with Aristotle between the vegetative, the concupiscible, and the irascible parts; at another time he inclines to the Stoic doctrines, and distinguishes in the soul (the rational soul included) eight parts. He adopts now one of these distinctions, now another, according to the requirements of the subject he is treating

27. Explaining in further detail the nature of the rational soul, Philo, adopting the Stoic notions, regards the soul as an apospasma (a shred) of the Divinity, and accordingly describes it as a Divine spirit. When God breathed into man a living soul, something of the Divine Being was in the act, transfused into man, and this something is the rational soul. This is the Divine impression which stamps man as the image of God. The body, with its irrational soul, is the creation of inferior powers. It would be unworthy of God to give existence to the body, for it is the seat of concupiscence, and concupiscence is the source of all evil, vice, and unrighteousness.

28. The souls of men do not differ specifically from the angelic nature. Before their union with human bodies they lived an angelic life among the angels, and it is in consequence of their own faults that they are degraded to union with matter. Some angels always hold themselves aloof from contact with corporeal nature; others on the contrary inclining to contact with it, sink down into the corporeal element, and become human souls. The Platonic theory of pre-existence of the soul could hardly fail in a theory such as Philo's.

29. With regard to the human faculties of cognition, Philo distinguishes between the aisthêsis, logos and nous. The aisthêsis is concerned with sensible objects, the logos is the reasoning faculty; the nous is the faculty of immediate intellectual contemplation. The nous is the eye of the soul in the strict sense, it is to the logos what the Divine nous is to the Divine logos. The knowledge which the logos obtains discursively or by reasoning, is uncertain and unstable; perfect certainty is attainable only by intellectual contemplation as accomplished by the nous. This contemplation, however, is dependent on the irradiation of the nous by the Divine light. God alone can bestow the knowledge of contemplation, and He bestows it when we pray for it, through the Logos. God is thus the sun of our souls; the Logos is the dispenser of wisdom, the food of the soul, the manna on which it subsists.

30. In this contemplation of the Divinity consists, moreover, the supreme happiness of man; it is the highest purpose of his life. To attain to it, the soul must detach itself from the body and withdraw within itself; for the operations of sense are a hindrance to the soul in its upward flight towards this highest end of life. But this is not enough. The Reason must not only abandon the aisthêsis, but it must renounce the logos also, and reduce it to silence, if it will attain to the height of its destiny. Nay, more, the Reason must, to a certain extent, renounce itself, must go out of itself to become wholly one with the Divine Wisdom, if its contemplation is to be perfect. In a word, the highest attainment of man is only possible in mystical ecstasy. By this means alone does man become really divine. Sense must be absorbed in the logos, the logos in the nous, and this in its turn in God, if man is to attain that bliss which is the highest end of life.

31. In accordance with this teaching, Philo distinguishes the active from the contemplative life. The active life has, no doubt, its justification in the fact that it is a necessary condition of human society; the contemplative life, however, is of a much higher order. The latter is the true priesthood; contemplation is the true and proper sacrifice, for it is possible only when man renounces his individuality, and offers it in sacrifice to God. The active life is human, the contemplative life is divine. From the eminence of mystical contemplation, the spirit looks forth as from a watch-tower upon the universe, viewing it not from the periphery inwards, but from the centre outwards.

32. Virtue is the path which leads to the highest end of life. We must, however, distinguish between the virtues which belong to the active and those which belong to the contemplative life. To the former class belong the four cardinal virtues: prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice. In defining these virtues, Philo at one time adopts the notions of Plato, at another those of Aristotle. The virtues which belong to the contemplative life either prepare and purify, or confer perfection. To the former belong faith, hope, piety, penance; the virtue conferring perfection is wisdom -- that virtue which is founded on the contemplation of the Divinity. All virtues exist in ideal fashion in the Divine Logos. He is, therefore, the dispenser of all virtues, He bestows them by His grace.

33. The true sage is he who, devoting himself to the contemplative life, attains to mystical contemplation. All other men are fools. Sensuality has no power over the true sage. He cannot be drawn to evil by the solicitations of concupiscence; for the Divine Logos dwells within him, and so long as he is the dwelling-place of the Logos, so long is he protected against the contamination of matter. The sage is not only the truly wise, he is also the truly free, for the possession of wisdom rescues him from the dominion of matter. The fool, on the other hand, is the victim of ignorance, and is, by this fact, the slave of sensuality and passion.

34. The character of Philo's system being thus purely mystical, we naturally expect to encounter in it the principle of (Oriental) Quietism. This principle has, as a matter of fact, its place in the system. Philo teaches expressly that whereas the active life demands man's own energies, in the contemplative life everything depends exclusively on the action of God -- on the Divine grace. Man's will has no part in the mystical elevation of human nature; it is not our work, it is wholly the work of God. Nay, it is a fundamental requirement in the elevation of man to mystical contemplation that he should cease to act himself and permit God to act in him. This absolute Quietism is essential to the attainment of man's highest end.

35. The history of man's first state and subsequent fall, as narrated in Scripture, Philo reduces to an allegory. The first man, whom God created "after his own image and likeness," is, according to the explanation already given, the ideal man. The difference between this first man and man as he is now created is infinite. Man, as now created, is a being of sense, possessed of different qualities, composed of body and soul, is either male or female, and is of his nature mortal. The first man, on the other hand, was a pure spirit, without a body, sexless, immortal by nature. This was the heavenly man, as distinguished from the earthly man, or "Adam." Paradise, in which man was placed by God, was not a part of space allotted to man; by the term we must understand the nous, that is to say we must understand the term to signify that God in giving Reason to man, bestowed upon him, at the same time, dominion over all subordinate creatures. The Tree of Life was the Wisdom bestowed upon man, and the Four Rivers were the four Virtues which flow from Wisdom.

36. As for the Fall, the narrative of Scripture is thus explained as an allegory. Woman is Sense, man is Reason, the Tree of Knowledge is the good of Sense, which conceals evil under a fair exterior. The serpent which approached the woman to deceive her, and through her to seduce the man, is sensual pleasure, arising out of the faculties of sense, and seducing Reason itself. In this way sin was committed, and in this way the sin of the first man furnished the prototype, and tells the story of every sin which man has since committed. Philo gives also another interpretation of the Scripture narrative. As soon, he says, as the woman was created and presented to the man, mutual love was enkindled in both. Evil desires grew up within them, they were drawn towards one another like separated parts of a single whole, and at last their desires found satisfaction in carnal intercourse. Thus sensual desire, consummated in carnal intercourse, was the first sin, and as it was the first sin, so it has been through all time the source of all unrighteousness and of all evil.

37. But Philo does not regard the fall of man as something wholly abnormal or exceptional. He is of opinion that there is nothing fixed or stable in the universe, that everything is subject to change and transformation, and thus that the natural course of things required that man should meet with opposing influences, and that he should, in consequence. fall from a higher to a lower grade of existence. Everything loses its perfection in proportion as it recedes from its prototype. So it is with man. Philo assumes, as a consequence of this view, an ever increasing degeneracy of the human race in body and spirit. In reference to the doctrine of the Messiah, Philo is satisfied with the view current among his contemporaries, he expresses a hope that the Jewish laws and constitutions will one day be adopted by all nations, and that thus a sort of universal Jewish kingdom will be established.

38. This system, it will be observed, covers a very wide field of theory, but the notions which are here blended together are very diverse in character. It is not, therefore, surprising that in subsequent times the system of Philo failed to exercise any far-reaching influence. We shall see later bow the heretics of the first centuries of Christianity, as well as the Fathers of the Church, borrowed from Philo, though with different meanings and with different purposes. Perhaps we should also take into account, in this connection, the attractive and pleasing form in which Philo expresses himself in his writings. The undoubted ingenuity shown in many of his allegories had certainly its effect.

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