JMC : Philosophy of Literature / by Brother Azarias


That was a memorable day when St. Paul spoke in the Areopagus of the unknown God to whom the Athenians had an altar erected, and converted Dionysius. From that day, Christianity has had philosophers to plead her cause, and to whom she can point as proof of her power over intelligence in its strongest condition.

Justin Martyr (A. D. 166) is a priest of the church, -- but he also continues to wear the philosopher's cloak. He held that there are seeds of truth among all men.{1} He proclaimed the oneness of all true knowledge, and assured men that if philosophers had understood this elementary truth, there would be neither Platonist, nor Stoic, nor Peripatetic, nor Pythagorean.{2} He insisted that Christians should take their full measure of this common heritage: "Whatever things were rightly said among all men, are the property of us Christians."{3} Athenagoras held science in no less esteem. He tells us that it comes from God.{4} He brought to Alexandria the rigid philosophic methods and the best traditions of the Athenian Schools. Pantaenus, who was versed in the lore of Egypt and India and Greece, succeeded him, and continued to fan the sacred flame. Then, the bishop gave Clement charge of the School, and afterwards Origen, and both these geniuses made the Christian Schools of Alexandria famous for all time. Behold these great men being consumed with zeal for knowledge, going barefooted, teaching profane learning for four oboles a day, and gratuitously giving instruction in sacred studies.{5}

The Eclectic School of Alexandria was Christian. Its brightest light, Clement, gave its true principle: "By philosophy I do not mean the Stoic, or the Platonic, or the Epicurean, or the Aristotelian; but whatever has been well said in each of these sects, teaching justice and a science pervaded by piety -- this eclectic whole I call philosophy."{6} This is the true philosophical spirit; and while men worked in this spirit, while they separated the truth from the error in each system, and made all schools subservient to the unchangeable truth that is above all shools and all systems, they did great good, and Alexandria was the focus whence emanated all the learning that enlightened both Greek and Roman. But the Christian schools died out; Eclecticism was abandoned for Syncretism; philosophers endeavored to reconcile contradictory systems; all bonds of unity were lost; the Alexandrian schools became a chaos of disputation; the pure light of Christianity was enveloped in the mists of paganism and oriental fictions, and became the butt of open hostility on the part of the new school. It was the Neo-Platonist Maximus who inspired the Emperor Julian with that hatred for Christianity which burst forth in his cruel edicts against it, though the religion in which he had been raised. It was the Neo-Platonist school that, more than any other single cause, helped to extinguish the Christian flame that had burned so brightly in Africa. And again, it was the Neo-Platonist Porphyry who planted the seed of that long dispute concerning Realism and Nominalism in the days of Roscelin, Abelard, and St Bernard. The dispute is as old as Plato and Aristotle, and Porphyry transmits it in all its nakedness. "Concerning genus and species," he says, "I will abstain from saying whether they are in the understanding alone, or are corporeal or incorporeal things; and whether they are separated from sensible objects and placed in non-sensible ones, or exist in the former."{7} Genera and species are realities, distinct from individual things, though inseparable from them. "Genus," says Brownson, "has relation to generation, and is as real as the individual, for it generates the individual. . . . The genus is always causative in relation to the species, and the species in relation to the individual."{8}

Modern Transcendentalism has many traits of resemblance with Neo-Platonism. The latter arraigns religion and revelation before its tribunal; so does the former. Plotinus is a pantheist; so is Fichte. The one teaches that alone to be true knowledge in which the object known is identical with the thinking subject. This is the one point on which the modern Transcendental school is agreed. According to Schelling, nature is a manifestation of the absolute, and its pure essence is identity. According to Fichte, "the Ego and the non-Ego are both equally primitive acts of the Ego;" that is, subject and object are identical. Emerson has also reproduced the doctrines of Plotinus. Philosophy has its cycles.

{1} Apologia I. pro. Christianis, cap. xliv.

{2} Dial. Trypho. cap. ii.

{3} Apol. ii. cap xiii.

{4} Supplicatio pro Christianis, 7, 9, (A. D. 170.)

{5} Matter L'Ecole d'Alexandrie, t. i., pp. 298-320.

{6} {7} "Mox de generibus et speciebus, illud quidem sive subsistant, sive in solis nudis intellectibus posita sint, sive subsistentia, corporalia sint an incorporalia, et utrum separata a sensibilibus an insensibilibus posita, et circa haec consistentia, dicere recusabo. " -- Isagoge, cap. i. translation of Boëtius. Porphyry attempts a solution in the Enneades, lib. v.

{8} Works, vol. ii., p. 420.

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