The Intellectual Movement in Alexandria in the Early Centuries of Christianity

The spiritual void in Alexandria and Rome before the emergence of Christianity

Alexandria in the Hellenistic age reached a stage of scientific development that made it the cultural
capital of its contemporary world while courts were full of new comers from all over the world whether scientists or students bringing with them sciences and different cultures. In the there lives natives with their own religions, Greeks with their own philosophies, Romans with their own laws, in addition to the Jewish community and some other races. Each of these had their own deities, customs and cultures.

Scientists and intellectuals met and discussed their views, they sometimes agreed and differed at other times. Some were financially supported by their rulers. Others met in other parts of the city and held religious and intellectual discussions that led to agreement or discord, disputes or quarrels. Despite all that there emerged a blend of thoughts that produced new ideas leading to new intellectual doctrines that sometimes resulted in attempts to re conciliate between different religions. This was known as Syncretism i.e. synchronizing between conflicting religious beliefs. However, all such attempts did not produce anything except new ideas that emphasized the differences between thinkers. It guided their minds to the one God.

People kept searching for the truth. The dispute increased between different philosophies and religions i.e. between the mind and religion. Amidst this battle field arose Christianity which had a great impact on the concepts of that period of history.

It is will known that the founder of the Egyptian Church in Alexandria was ST Mark his original name was Yoahan and he was one of the apostles. He was not one of the 12 disciples. His origins go back to the Jews of Northa Africa. His parents immigrated to Palestine and lived in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus Christ. St mark was one of the first people to adopt Christianity. Hence Christ chose him among the seventy apostles.

St Mark went to Antioch then to Cyprus and some parts of Asia Minor, then he returned to Jerusalem. Later he departed for North Africa where he remained for a while. After that he went to Egypt and lived in Babylon for sometimes where he wrote the Bible. In 58 AD he went to Alexandria and kept preaching Christianity there. St Mark found in the city a healthy intellectual enviroment for his mission,
and a large number of men and women adopted Christianity. The first man to accept his religion was a shoemaker named Annianus. As the story goes, when St Mark arrived in Alexandria his shoes were torn to he went so a shoemaker to mend them. While the shoemaker was mending his shoes the needle pricked his hand and he bled so he screamed.

God the only One. Mark seized this chance to explain Christianity to him. The shoemaker invited him to his house and invited some of his acquaintances and St Mark preached to them about Christianity. They accepted his teachings and he Christianed them. With this small chosen group of men Christianity began to spread inside and outside the city. St Mark appointed his friend Annainus bishop and appointed with him priests, deacons and formed amass for prayer. That was the origin of the mass practiced up to this day. after St Mark implanted this nucleus in Alexandria, he traveled to Rome and from there to Êphêsus
then he returned to Rome once more, and finally he returned to Egypt and resumed his missionary work. He traveled throughout the country and the number of Christians increased.

During that time he founded the Christian Theology School in Alexandria. When the heathens saw the success of St Mark they were infuriated with him. On the 25th of April 6AD during the celebrations of Easter in Church, some heathens attacked the Christians and arrested St Mark, put a rope around his neck and dragged him through the streets of the city until his flesh was torn. When evening came they put him in prison and the next day they repeated what they had done the previous day until he died.

The Christians took his body, enshrouded it, put it in a coffin and buried it in a tomb in that same church. His body remained buried in Alexandria until 829 AD when some Venitians came and carried his remains to Venice. The church celebrates his martyrdom on the 30th of Bermuda of each year. The Egyptian government has retrieved his remains recently, and he is symbolized by the winged lion.

Annianus is considered the first bishop appointed by St Mark for the Egyptian Church in the city where St Mark was arrested. It was in a place called Bokalia. It is thought to be same the post where St Mark’s Church currently lies in Alexandria. Annianus took great care of the theology school, and Christianity grew under his care. He died in 84 AD and was succeeded by St Avilius.

Christianity had to fight in two fronts. The first front was the persecution of rulers, and the second was other religions and philosophies. Thus emerged the conflict between Christianity and paganism. In order that each side could overcome the other, Christians studied philosophy and pagans studied the Old and New Testments. Writings were published from each side in an attempt to discredit the thoughts of the other side and destroy its theories. In fact the conflict between religion and philosophy i.e. between religion and the mind did not take miracles for granted or matters that are beyond human reasoning. As a result Gnosticism and Neo_ platonism emerged.

Historian think that Gnosticism dates back tothe apostles. They state that Simon the magician tried to seduve St Peter by giving him money for blessing his work. St Peter replied according to the Prophet’s Deeds saying: May your silver remain with you till dooms day because you thought you could buy God’s gifts with your coins. However, Gnosticism gained strength in Egypt in the 2nd Century AD.

Gnosticism meant esoteric Knowledge. Beliveres of that philosophy wanted to be unique and distinguished from both religions, that was why they demeaned faith and made absolute thought a check on inspiration. Believers in Gnosticism acquired the right to reject some beliefs and miracles. They thought that man is made up of three elements, the spirit, the body and the soul.

They divided humans into three categories according to the prevalent element in each. The first category is the spirit group who elevate themselves above matter. The second category is the body group that is the majority who deal with matter. The third category is the soul group and they form an intermediary level between the other two groups, knowledge cannot identify them with the spirit group and matter can make them descend to the level of the body group. This philosophy spread in Egypt and from it to neighboring regions specially Persia.

The Emergence of Christianity, its Arrival in Egypt and its Early Stages

Amidst this spiritual appurtenance which spread among citizens of the Roman Empire, the continuation of Emperor worship, the numerous local and oriental deities and the move towards complex schools of philosophy and the resurrection of some of the Greek and Roman deities, Christianity began to surpass other cults and rites and progress towards new horizons to fill the spiritual void in the lives of the people of the Roman Empire.

Jesus was born at the time of the Roman Emperor Augustus in Bethleham, Palestine. Christianity began modestly among his disciples and apostles who were loyal to him and who followed his teachings until he died in 30 AD. His followers continued to practise Christian rites in Solomon’s Temple and gathered in its vestibules. They were all Jews from the lower social classes of Jerusalem, El khalil and some other parts of Palestine as well as from Egypt, Libya and Kayrawan and some Arabs from the Arab Peninsula.

Despite the fact that we do not possess many details about the first period of the history of Christianity and the number of Christians at the time, anecdotes point out that at the beginning they were 120, then they became 500, then they increased to about 3000, then 5000 in the years between 35 and 37 AD. They continued to increase as historian Takitus points out that theywere many at the time of Neron’s persecution i.e. between 54 and 68 AD. Later their number in Rome alone reached about 50000; thus the Church of Rome founded by Peter became Christianity’s first church and the most famous.

The spread of Christianity at the time was rapid among the lower social classes more than its spread among the upper ones. Peasants, slaves, the impoverished hard workers and a small number of the upper classes adopted Christianity. Although our knowledge about that early period of Christianity is scarce, yet there is evidence that the 12 disciples progressed among Christians, followed by 70 other apostles. There is also evidence that some disciples were distinguished like Peter, Judas and Jacob in addition to Yaohan’s notable services to Christianity.

Christianity’s history at that early period was connected to three personalities, namely Paul, Peter and Mark, who had a major role in its progress, spread and the establishment of its basis and theology. Paul was born in Tarsus between the Fifth and Tenth cenfuries AD. He studied the Jewish creed and laws and some philosophy through personal efforts, not through lessons or teaching as his father kept him away from Greek schools. In his youth he left for Jerusalem to learn more about theology. He became a Jewish fanatic and tracked down anyone who adopted Christianity or converted to it to persecute him, or her in the name of the Jewish code. In 31 AD he went to Damascus to fight Christianity and halt its progress among Jews. However, as soon as he approached Damascus, as it is said, there was a flash of lightning from the heavens and he fell to the floor and heard a voice telling him: ‹Paul why do you persecute me?. That was how he converted to Christianity.

Paul started preaching Christianity among the Jews of Damascus then he went to Antioch, where Christianity spread widely among its people. He spent there a number of years until these responsible for look Christianity chose him to preach the religion in neighboring regions. He then made trips to Cyprus, Asia Minor and some islands of the Archipelago and along the Eastern Coast of the Mediterranean in Sour, Aka and Caesariam as well as inside Palestine and Jerusalem. This work took place in the years between 45 and 58 AD. Mark and some other pious men helped him in his mission. In 58 AD the Jews rebelled against him in Solomon’s Temple and he was taken to prison as a result of a decree by the Roman Ruler to that effect, there he spent about two years, after which he was sent to Rome for his trial in front of Nero. It is thought that he was executed in 64 AD with Peter and other victims of Nero.

Paul did many great services to Christianity with his diligence and perseverance until he managed to convert the new church into a well-established and organized institute and a public missionary. He succeeded in extracting from the teachings of Jesus the foundations of Christianity. He also set out the pillars of Christian theology and the basis of a world Church. He was also successful in preaching Christianity until it spread in the entire east then extended to Italy and Rome.

Peter was the second important figure in Early Christianity. He was one of Jesus’ appostles. He preached Christianity in Palestine among Jews and continued his mission in the city of Java until he felt God commands him to preach to all the world’ Go to the whole world and spread the Bible to all humanity’. When he began to do that he was arrested and imprisoned in 41 AD.

When released from prison he left for Antioch in 45 AD and lived there for eight years until 53 AD. Later he travelled to Rome in the same year to establish the Christian Church. However, he was executed with Paul and others at the hands of Nero most probably in 64 AD.

A third important Christian figure was Biblical Mark. He founded the Church of Alexandria, after a life of serving religion and offering faithful aid to Paul in his missionary work. He also travelled to Rome but returned directly to Alexandria to preach among Jews. He stayed in the Jewish district in Alexandria, and was the first person to preach the Bible in Egypt. He became the first Christian Bishop in Alexandria and succeeded in converting the first Jew from Egypt to The History And Civilization of Alexandria Across the Ages Christianity. Mark died in 62 or 68 AD. in Alexandria. According to some historians some Venetians moved his remains to their city in the 9th century AD.

As for the arrival of Christianity in Alexandria and Egypt, it seems that that happened from the very beginning of Christianity. Since among the pioneer Christians who worshiped at Solomon’s Temple there were a number of Egyptians. Many merchants carried to Alexandria the preaching of the new belief whose delegations never stopped from all over the world.

Egypt’s vast trade transactions and its closeness to Palestine made it an easy opportunity for the new religion to spread. Thus some of its inhabitants began to adopt Christianity and from there it began to spread throughout Egypt. Four ancient papyrus sheets were found in Mid Egypt related to Christian theology dating back to the middle of the second century AD. This proves the advent of Christianity to those regions at that very early stage. Christianity spread in Upper Egypt at the end of the second century AD.

One of the factors that helped the prompt spread of Christianity in Alexandria and in Egypt was a seeming natural disposition of the Egyptian people to believe in one God. Egyptians were the first nation to believe in the oneness of God since the age of Akhenaton, in addition to their belief in life after death, accountability for ones actions and retribution in the other life or after life.

Not with standing the fact that Jeus’ story, his suffering and the sublime principles which
he preached and which were emphasised by Christianity, the most prominent of which were: oneness, purity and equality were the key attracting factors for joining the new belief.

Furthermore, Egyptians perhaps found in the new religion a new opportunity to express their opposition to Roman authorities after Egypt lost its independence and became a province of Rome. In addition to that the Egyptians admired miracles and the fact that Christians are capable of fending off devils, cure the sick and resurrect the dead attracted them greatly. martyrdom fascinated the converts to the new religion and prepared their minds to adopt Christianity.

Religious Persecutions of Christians in Alexandria

Despite the fact that religious oppression is a terrible and horrifying crime for any followers of a certain belief, doctrine or school of thought, and although religious persecutions had many effects such as terror and misery on the souls of pioneer Christians during the ages of tyranny, yet those religious persecutions hardened Christians and showed their true calibre. They were a kind of blessing for them because they were the reason behind the spread of the new religion until it was acknowledged and became in the end the official religion of the country.

Historians have determined the religious persecutions which befell Christianity since its early days until the issuance of the decree of religious tolerance and acknowledgement of Christianity i.e. in the period between 64 AD and 313 AD to be 10 acts of persecution.

They start with the special legislation issued by Nero in 64 AD which prohibited the adoption of Christianity for citizens of the Empire, whoever disobeyed that was subject to punishment. The victims of these persecutions whether ordinary men or preachers grew in number until their exact numbers could not be determined. Notwithstanding the fact that these persecutions were not general or comprehensive, since they may have occurred in one region rather than another. They might have occurred in Egypt and not in other countries under the rule of the Empire or vice versa.

Our review will be limited to persecutions that occurred in Alexandria since the beginning of Christianity until the era of Emperor Diocletian i.e. the end of the third century AD and the beginning of the forth century.

As a consequence to what happened in Rome during Nero’s tyranic rule, and the murder and torture of Christians with the two apostles Paul and Peter as victims, pagans in Alexandria attacked a Christian church in the east of the city in 68 AD. They killed the reverend Mark after dragging him with ropes through the streets of the city until his flesh was torn. Persecution occurred once again at the end of the 1st century in 98 AD during the era of the Emperor Trajan as some Bishops in Egypt and Alexandria were killed and Christians were tortured like the rest of the world.

During the rule of the Emperor Septimius Severus at the beginning of the third century AD persecutions escalated until they reached their peak as Christians faced torture and death, the prisons of Alexandria and Egypt were packed with Christians. Christians were sent from all over Egypt to Alexandria to be tried and many of them suffered various types of torture at the hands of executioners and at the time of Emperor Decius (249-251). Near the middle of the 3rd century AD there was an attempt to eradicate Christianity and eliminate its followers. The Emperor issued a decree that forced every citizen to present a certificate to prove his presenting offerings in the name of the Emperor in pagan temples. This certificate was given to a committee specially formed for that purpose and whoever did not present it was subject to exemplary punishment. Thus many Christians in Egypt and Alexandria met their death during that period.

Emperor Valerian (253-260 AD) tracked down the leaders of Christianity and the priests and forbade Christians to meet in temples or cemeteries. A great number of Christians and priests were killed by suffocation in the tunnels where they used to conduct their worship and sermons.

However, the worst wave of religious persecution occurred during the rule of Emperor Diocletian (284-305 AD) who hated Christianity as a new religion that was actively destroying people’s loyalty to the Emperor and that began also to destroy the unity of the Empire. This Emperor’s displeasure increased when Christianity began to move towards extremism and began to demand from its followers to choose between loyalty to the Emperor and loyalty to Christ. When it surpassed affecting society and began to affect the army and destroyed the l many soldier’s loyalty to the Emperor; Christianity became a separate state inside the country few secret societies were formed whose activities indicated that they did not have much respect for the country’s laws and legislation.

A wave of persecution of Christianity and its followers took place a few years before Diocletian gave up the throne, i.e. at the beginning of the 4th century AD. In 302 AD began the largest persecution movement against Christians. To start, Christians were dismissed from the royal court and from army ranks and were banished to remote areas and deprived of their civil rights.

They were also banned from holding any administrative positions and their sacred books were burned, their churches demolished and Christians slaves were denied freedom. All this was followed by physical punishment such as destroying hearing abilities, cutting noses, gouging eyes, breaking teeth, cutting off limbs and tongues and nailing iron into stomachs. Then followed a wave of killings and torture in 304 AD, where more Christians were tortured and executed in Alexandria in particular.

Christians were thrown into pits of fire or were crucified and burned or thrown into cages of hungry lions and other beasts. This led many to forsake their religious convictions as the last few years of that Emperor’s rule became a reign of terror for Christians in Egypt, to the extent that Egyptians called his rule the Martyr’s era. The Coptic Church started a new chronology with the year this Emperor came to power in 284 AD. This chronology is called the chronology of martyrs.

The above mentioned persecutions led to the intensive spread of Christianity as the heroism of those martyrs attracted the attention of many heathens and raised their interest in the new belief and made them adopt Christianity which spread further throughout Alexandria and other parts of Egypt.

Constantine’s Acknowledgement of Christianity

Constantine joined in his youth the service of Emperor Diocletian and traveled with him in the eastern regions of the Empire including Egypt. There he became familiar with the circumstances of Christians and witnessed the spread of their belief in those parts and became convinced by means of his trips of the power of Christianity and its importance and the necessity to change the state’s policy as regards its followers. Hence when he became the ruler of the Empire after overcoming his adversaries, Christians explained to him that he became ruler through God’s support, He had promised him victory, his pagan beliefs were shaken and he became more understanding of the powers of that new belief.

In 313 AD Constantine issued the Religious Tolerance Decree in which he acknowledged Christianity as one of the official religions of the Empire. Judaism and other incoming religions and their followers enjoyed all the rights given to followers of other local religions. Consequently, it was said that Constantine was a Christian and a true believer. On the other hand, it was also said that he was never a Christian and that his political interests obliged him to take that step.

Yet the truth of the matter remained unclear till the end of his life. Perhaps he was a real Christian at heart but did not admit his belief due to the circumstances of his country and the great power of the pagan aristocracy who controlled the administration and the army. Perhaps also he was not a Christian in order that he could keep his title as the Great Priest of the Sun God and in order to allow paganism to continue side by side with Christianity. In addition, he committed certain crimes that are forbidden by Christianity such as murdering his wife and son. Moreover, he was not christened until he was on his deathbed.

In any case the acknowledgement of Christianity ended a painful period in the history of Christianity. Religious persecutions stopped, and circumstances became favourable for the spread of Christianity in Egypt, specially since the pioneer preachers could speak Greek. Thus Greek inhabitants of Alexandria and Egypt were among the first people to adopt Christianity and began to influence the natives who spoke the Egyptian language. That effect was greater at the end of the 3rd century and beginning of the 4th century AD as Bible explanations were found written in the Coptic language dating back to that period, proving that some Egyptians used to translate from Greek to Coptic.

The Church of Alexandria

Our talk here about the Church of Alexandria is focused on two periods:

  • The first period of the history of Christianity i.e. in the early centuries of Christianity and until the acknowledgement of Christianity in 313 AD.
  • The following period a review of religious differences which occurred at the heart of religion and were brought to light by the Church of Alexandria that had a major role in directing the religion in the entire Christian world at the time.

St. Mark founded the Church of Alexandria and he was its first Bishop. He paid his life in the end as a price for his loyalty to the Church when pagans attacked him and dragged him in the streets of Alexandria until his flesh was torn in 62 or 68 AD (according to some stories). Hence, he became the first Bishop in Alexandria to die at the hands of heathens. However, the Church of Alexandria kept on its mission and grew stronger with the passage of time until it became similar in its organisation to what was prevalent in the Churches of Rome.

The Church of Alexandria in the early centuries used the Greek language in its ceremonies, teachings, preaching and rites. It included a number of preachers who undertook to teach people the foundations, practices and rules of the Christian religion. It also included the missionaries who introduced new Christians to men of the Church to christen them.

In the first Church of Alexandria there was nothing that calls for religious discord or differences in opinion because Christians at the time of the apostles were affected by the passion and morals in Christ’s life. They believed in life after death and the return of Christ and they did not care about complex or philosophical religious ideas. In fact in St Paul’s letters we note the beginnings of the divinity sciences and the foundations of religion in a rudimentary uncomplicated manner.

As for the period that followed that of the apostles when the church began to grow and the number of Christians increased, heathens began to adopt Christianity and some of them were renowned for their knowledge of science and philosophy. Yet many of them were well educated and were thinkers who were trained in logic and philosophy and the art of debate and who were also used to classic scientific thinking.

Accordingly men of the church had to convince those intellectuals of the new belief and its principles and had to answer their queries about many related issues. That task was carried out by a number of great Christian thinkers who were called ‹the fathers of the Church’. They believed in the necessity of convincing people through sermons, good faith and answering inquiries.

Two of those were Clementine and Origen in the 3rd century AD. Each of them left a large number of their writings that discussed the issues related to their religion and to the Church of Alexandria. Their writings introduced Christianity in a form acceptable to intellectuals using the old philosophy to justify their views and support their ideas.

Then the men of the Church of Alexandria established the Missionary School of Alexandria, which made the Alexandria Museum its headquarters. Its task was to teach Christians as opposed to the teachings derived from the pagan school. Clement was the Headmaster of that school at the end of the 2nd century AD. He perfected his job and wrote many books most of them about defending Christianity and confronting its enemies.

Origen succeeded Clement in directing this missionary school and remained Headmaster until 235 AD. He was considered the most famous Christian figure in the history of the church of Alexandria as he was bold and possessed a deep knowledge of the foundations of Christianity in addition to his piety and devoutness. However, he was accused after his death of heresy and atheism, due to some of his views, specially those related to the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Church of Alexandria grew in status in the Egyptian society specially when the ecclesiastic organization took the same pattern as the administrative system of the Empire. Thus the authority of the Bishop of Alexandria extended to the outside of Egypt and reached the region of Barka. Many distinguished Bishops resided over the Church of Alexandria; the most important of whom was Peter who became Bishop in 300 AD. He was one of the best scholars of the Christian religion in Egypt and the most
famous.

During his period the supremacy of the Church of Alexandria and its control over the nation was established especially when he gave the orders for punishing the apostates during the persecution ages and those who wanted to convert to Christianity again. Yet the end for this Bishop was painful as he was captured during the last wave of religious persecution during the reign of Calarious and was executed at the Emperor’s command. Hence he became the last martyr of the Church of Alexandria.

Thus ended that phase for the Church of Alexandria during the reign of the pagan Empire and began a new phase in its history following the official acknowledgement of Christianity. If Mark was the first martyr Bishop, then Peter was the last martyr of the Church of Alexandria.

Religious Disputes in Christianity

We come to the second period in the history of the Church of Alexandria. It was the period when that Church was the center of religious disputes in the whole world. If at the first period no religious differences occurred between Christians, yet in the second period there was a move towards philosophizing theology. Consequently Christians differed about Christianity’s essence and differed again when attempting to determine the relationship between the son Christ and the Father God. That was the problem that arose and caused a prolonged dispute and triggered a terrible conflict among the followers of Christianity.

A great dispute broke between two priests of the Church of Alexandria. Arius who was a well read priest found that logic necessitates the existence of the father before the son, making the son younger than the father i.e. as long as Christ is the son of God then he must be less in status, power and ability. Thus b

Both the father and son cannot be equal since Christ is a creature of God. God was older and came first and the son was younger and comes second. If immortality is the characteristic of God who has no beginning and no end then Christ is not immortal since he has a beginning. Thus Christ is no god i.e. Arius denied the divinity of Christ and ranked him with humans.

On the other hand, the other priest Athanasius found that the son god though he is different from the father God, yet both are from the same elements and derive their characteristics from eternity i.e. the son is exactly equal to the father and the idea of the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit calls for considering Christ a god who is of the same status as the father God. I.e. Athanasius elevated Christ to the same status as the father God to be equal to Him in everything.

That was how the religious dispute broke out in the Fourth Century between Arius and Athanasius at
the Church of Alexandria. Consequently Arius creed emerged and prevailed in the Eastern half of the Empire, which was the cradle of the Greek civilization and center of culture and thought and the homeland of philosophers and intellectuals. While Athanasius creed was more suited to the more simple-minded people. That was why it prevailed in the Western half of the Empire where the Latin civilization spread, which was much less developed than its Greek counterpart and its cultural and intellectual level, was lower than that of the Eastern half of the Empire.

Due to the repercussions of that dispute and discord between followers of Christianity and threat to the unity of the state and its stability, the Great Constantine decided to resolve the dispute, so he sent two envoys to Alexandria to meet Arius and Athanasius to settle the issue and decide upon one formula that could be satisfactory for both sides. Yet both men did not listen to what was said and were not interested in that attempt and the dispute remained. This made Emperor Constantine call for the holding of a religious gathering at Nichia in Asia Minor in 325 AD to discuss the issue and put an end to the dispute.

The first Masconi convention in the history of Christianity was actually held. It was attended by 300 men of religion in the east and west concurrently. The assembly discussed the views of both Arius and Athanasius. They condemned Arius and banned him to Elyria Region in the Balkans and ordered the burning of his books and forbade the exchange of his ideas and his followers and supporters were persecuted.

The assembly on the other hand, acknowledged Athanasius. They conceded the equality between the three icons of the Holy Trinity and conceded that Christ was of the same essence as the father. They considered Athanasius’s views and his doctrine as the world’s doctrine or the world’s view or the Catholic view because Christ was “God from a God and a light form a light and a God of truth and an offspring that was not created”.

The Church of Alexandria earned as such an even more important status among the Christian churches of the entire world. At the end of the 4th Century the Bishop of Alexandria became one of the greatest men of religion as regards status in the Christian world and the most powerful especially since the Church of Alexandria witnessed the succession of three Bishops between 385 and 451 AD who added to its greatness, increased its fame and elevated its status, they were Thiofiel, Kareless and Dioscros.

Kareless was the most famous of the three especially when a new religious discord broke out in the Fifth Century AD continuing the argument about the nature of Christ. This new dispute caused an upheaval in the city of Antioch, which was influenced by Arius and Eastern thinking in Christianity. It found that the human nature prevailed in Christ and Antioch’s said that Christ had a perfect human nature and refused to call the Virgin the mother of god because she did not give birth to a god but to a human being. The theological school of Antioch followed one line of interpretation: they proceed from the humanity of Jesus to view his divinity in his consciousness of God, founded in the divine mission that was imposed upon him by God through the infusion of the Holy Spirit.

Yet Alexandria formed its own opinion as to that issue-at the time of Kareless-on the basis that when Christ was embodied the human nature melted into the divine nature and the divine nature alone remained i.e. it regarded Jesus Christ as the divine Logos become flesh. Egypt and the people of Alexandria had faith in that doctrine which was called the doctrine of unified nature or monophysitism which is a word derived from the Greek word ‹monos’ meaning one. Thus it was that the struggle to understand the figures of Jesus Christ created a rivalry between the theologies of Antioch and Alexandria.

Religious conventions were held in Asia Minor to discuss that doctrine. Their views began to be clearly biased towards Constantinople at the time of Patriarch Nestorios with Antioch and against Alexandria. Later the matter of dispute was settled in Caledonia’s Convention in 451 AD when Rome joined Constantinople against Alexandria after the deposition of Nestorios. The assembly chose the opposing view to Alexandria. They acknowledged the ‹Angelic’ Doctrine or the Dual nature Doctrine and said that Christ possessed an independent and completely separate human nature as well as a divine nature, which is also independent and totally separate. That was the doctrine that prevailed in the Empire with the exception of Egypt and Alexandria.

Consequently Alexandria was considered as dissenting since it continued to be faithful to its Monophysist doctrine or the doctrine of the single nature. Alexandria fought the Byzantium authorities and defied Constantinople and held on to its doctrine in the face of all challenges.

Alexandria’s Hermitage and Monasticism

Hermitage is when a person lives a solitary life away from civilization to concentrate on worship and to practice a life of asceticism voluntarily choosing to remain solitary. Yet monasticism refers to the gathering of groups of monks away from civilization where they dedicate themselves to worship and a life of asceticism and abstinence, while realizing the bare necessities of life. A monastery is a place dedicated for the residence of monks and nuns and their worship.

Hermitage in its original form was an invention of Christian Egypt and was an original] Egyptian system that was not much affected by previous hermitage movements. Hermitage emerged in Egypt spontaneously when monks lived as recluses in caves dug in mountains or cells made of palm branches, canes or reeds.

Egypt’s geography, its weather and the presence of a large number of ruins and archaeological remains, as well as the closeness of the desert ends to its valley were all factors that helped the emergence and growth of this type or religious life.

Hermitage was a means of protest or escape of the soul from the evils of the world and its corruption. It was a means of protecting religious beliefs from apostatizing in a time when great spiritual strength was required to face persecution, torture and murder. Thus a hermit was considered next to a martyr in status.

Christians felt the origins of hermitage, asceticism and abstention in the beginnings of Christianity and in the teachings of Jesus Christ who said: ‹If you would be perfect, go sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come, follow me’ (Matt. 19:21). In addition to what was found in St Paul’s sayings and his teachings that encouraged the practice of asceticism, poverty and self-denial.

The origins of hermitage in Egypt date back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD when both Father Paul and St Anton lived. They were the oldest Christian hermits known not only in Egypt, but in the entire world as well. Paul was born in 150 AD, and he studied the principles of the Christian religion and was greatly interested in it and decided to desert the world with all its evils and sins. He went to the desert to devote himself to prayer and worship. Hence he went deep into the Eastern desert, he threw his cane in one of the caves in the mountains facing the Red Sea while he was very young. He remained there until he died when he was almost 113 years old.

If it were not for the fact that St Anton found him by chance deep in the desert, he would have remained anonymous to us. Yet St Anton who lived until he was 105 years old from 250 to 355 AD is considered the real founder of Christian monasticism in Byzantium Egypt. He headed towards the foot of the Eastern Mountains adjacent to the edge of the valley. St Anton lived as a recluse and practiced asceticism and abstinence. He was visited by St Athanasius the apostle-the Patriarch of Alexandria and its Bishop who wrote about him, that was how people came to know of his existence and experience.

The philosophy of those recluse monks is based on choosing a way of life that humiliates the body so that the soul is elevated. That is why they used to fast for many days, and used to wear coarse clothes made up of animal skin so that the rough edges of the clothes touch their skin and torture it. Sometimes they remained in their caves for many days without emerging out of them depending on the charity of good willed people in obtaining their bare necessities of crumbs of bread, water or salt. Thus their lives to a great extent were characterized by passivity.

Solitary hermitage seemed to intellectuals to be a type of extremist behavior which is contradictory to man’s nature because man is a social being who seeks companionship. Consequently hermitage as a system began to change slowly. With the passage of time it was replaced by another type of social hermitage where a group of monks gather to worship God and practice a life of asceticism while at the same time facing the difficulties of life in the desert.

The next phase of Christian Hermitage began as an intermediary step between the Hermitage of Paul and Anton and the monastic systems that St. Bakhoum the Egyptian developed.

Later on the monastic system as we now know it emerged. It represented the third phase of hermitage and the final one. St Bakhoum or Bakhoumis who lived in the 4th century AD introduced it. He was a pagan and remained so until the age of 20 when he adopted Christianity in 314 AD and was faithful to it. He joined the Roman army and learned discipline, obedience and hard work as well social life. His service in the army did not last for long but it left indelible marks on both his personality and life.

Bakhoum was more inclined towards monasticism and hermitage and solitude, but in a manner that differed from seclusion because he dearly loved mankind. That was how he created his monastic system, which suits the nature and tendencies of man and his social inclination on the one hand, and served society on the other hand. Thus hermitage acquired the characteristics of monasticism through his efforts. Bakhoum founded his monastery in 315 AD near Dandara in Upper Egypt. It included a number of monks who practiced devoting themselves to worship while co-operating in providing the necessities of life. Bakhoum required from his monk’s quietness, obedience and manual labor.

He divided the day in his monastery between rites, prayers, worship and the performance of manual tasks in the fields or manual professions as well as copying books and teaching children in the neighbouring areas. Thus the Bakhoumian monastery became a working society which was self-sufficient and provided for itself as well as neighboring areas unit products such as baskets, pottery, tanning, sewing, wood and iron crafts and others.

Many Bakhoumian monasteries were built in Egypt and in Alexandria. One was built in Canopus near Alexandria and the beaches of the Mediterranean were full of large numbers of monks. At the time of Bakhoum’s death in 346 AD there were 11 monasteries, nine of them for men and two for women.

The monastic system spread from Egypt to Syria, Lebanon and Asia Minor, then to Europe. St Mena also was considered as the most respected and honored by Christians in Egypt, was martyred during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian. His body was mounted on a camel and when the camel stopped walking in the desert west of Alexandria in the road that extended to El Natroun Valley he was buried. Around his cemetery a church was built and around his grave a small sacred city was established. People used to go on a pilgrimage to it from Egypt and other countries in the east.

Mina was pictured in Christian icons as standing between two reclining camels and he became the guardian of caravans. Near his grave a water spring spurred out from the ground and became famous for it miracles. It was said: drink from St mena’s water and all your pains will leave you.

That was the way Alexandria was and that was the story of Christianity during the Byzantium age, which began when Constantine built Constantinople until the time when the Arabs entered Alexandria in 641 AD i.e. for about more than three centuries. Before that we discussed the early centuries after Christ or what was known as the Roman age. We reviewed the emergence of this new belief and the manner in which it spread in Egypt in general, and in Alexandria in particular.

Then we discussed the religious persecutions that Christians were subjected to during that period. We saw how Emperor Constantine acknowledged Christianity and issued the Religious Tolerance Decree thus beginning a new era in the history of Christianity.

After that we reviewed the Church of Alexandria during the early centuries of Christianity and the religious disputes which occurred as regards the fundamental concepts of that religion. We concluded with our discussion of hermitage and monasticism, their effect on Alexandria and their role in the life of the Egyptian society in general, and the city of Alexandria in particular.

Neo-platonism was founded in Alexandria by Ammonius Saccas. He was born in Alexandria to two Christian parents. He studied, contemplated and developed a philosophical doctrina and began to spread its principles. It was a combination of the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. The core of that philosophy was the idea that it is possible to have direct contact with divinity. That doctrine spread and was adopted by rulers as well as ruled including the general public and slaves. He had a profound impact on Christianity as a whole.

Even Emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363 AD) tried to make it a world order that could replace Christianity but he failed. Ammonius’ philosophy took a different course from previous philosophies because it was a religious order.

Ammonius died in 234 AD without leaving any written documentation about his philosophy. However researchers deducted his ideas from his student Plotinus and his successors Porpiri and Origin. That philosophy had a great impact on St Augustine.

Plotinus was Egyptian. He was born in Assuit in 204 AD. He studied for more than 10 years in the School of Alexandria at the hands of Ammonius. Then he traveled to Persia where he studied its religion. He traveled to Rome in 245 AD where he settled down and established the modern philosophy school. He remained there until he died in 270 AD. Por piri succeeded his professor Plotinus. He wrote than 50 books to explain his ideas. He possessed a great philosophic mind.

Yet he reverted from Christianity and attacked it in his teachings. He wrote on that issue about 15
books. Christian philosophers confronted him. That proves the abilities of Christian inellectuals at the time. The Great Emperor Constantine (305-337 AD) acknowledged Christianity but paganism still retained its cultural power for several centuries. Consequently, Porpiri’s students established a school in Syria that was attended by students who later carried those teachings to Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt, and Alexandria.

Students kept exchanging those ideas until Emperor Theodosius (395-379 AD) acknowledged Christianity as the official religion of the state.Accordingly the power and thoughts of those philosophers weakened. That was accompanied by the Emperor’s issuing in 393 AD a special decree to his governor in Egypt ordering him to clean up the region of any traces of paganism. Thus the Governor closed the Serapium Temple in Alexandria. Theophilius, the bishop of the city wanted to convert a pagan temple into a church this arose the anger and disdain of the pagans and they took refuge in the temple. Consequently the Emperor ordered the destruction of the temple.

When Christianity spread, it became necessary to set out a methodology for teaching pagans or or others who wanted to become Christians. Europe bagan establishing Christian schools. On the other hand, men of the church had to inform and educate Christians and elevate their level of thinking away from the pagan culture, and had to prepare them for understanding of the philosophy of the Christian religion. That was when the Alexandria school for Christian Education was established. There were other reasons behind its establishment.

One of which was the pagans’ attempt to defy Christianity with all their intellectual abilities and
to destroy the new religion. Hence all Christian thinkers at that stage had to prepare Christian generations to understand their religion, and at the same time contest all the criticism and misinterpretations of Christianity, and above all carry out the missionary work for the new religion and its promulgation throughout the country. Accordingly the school was established and grew until its students studied both the secular and religious sciences. Historian Yosepius called that school the Academy of Alexandria.

Some historians date that school back to the days of St Mark. However, it became famous at the beginning of the 3rd Century AD, although at the time Christianity was not yet acknowledged. Often its activities were stopped from time to time specially during religious persecutions. With the a acknowledgment of Christianity during the during the rule of the emperor Constantine the school regained its previous glory and continued its mission until finally it handed over intellectual leadership to Monasteries and their monks.

The School of Alexandria was one of the most famous Christianity schools in both the east and west, attended by students from all over the world. There they studied and met with its greatest teachers. the school acquired greatness to the extent that its director was second only to the Patriarch of Alexandria. Great religious figures graduated from that school and were appointed in high positions in and outside Egypt. Some of them became bishops and even Patriarchs of Alexandria.

It should be noted that some pagan philosophers studied the Christian religion so that they could confront and combat it, while others adopted Christianity and became great defenders and advocates of it and even reached managerial positions in the school. One of these was Athenagwarius who kept wearing the philosopher’s robe even after he adopted Christianity and became Director of the school. Another of his contemporaries was Ptolemy the geographer. He was a great astronomer who graduated from the School of Alexandria. One of his books contains astronomic calculations of lunar and solar eclipses.

Pantaenus was another scientist of Alexandria who was referred to by historian Yosepius as the greatest scientist of his age. He became a Director of the School of Alexandria at the end of the 2nd century AD. An elite group of scientists specialized in Christian theology gave lectures at the school. Pantaenus took it upon himself to explain the Bible with great zest in eastern regions. He traveled to India in 190 AD upon the request of some Indians who came to Alexandria to learn from him. When he arrived in India he
found there a copy of Mathew’s Bible. Pantaenus also greatly improved the Coptic language and wrote many interpretations in the science of theology. (Euscbius, op. cit, pp. 213-4).

Among the famous scientists of Alexandria was Clement and the description ‘the Alexandrian’ was usually attached to his name to distinguish him from Clement the Greek. He was born in 160 AD to two heathen parents but he adopted Christianity. He studied philosophical sciences and traveled to Greece, south Italy, Lebanon and Palestine. There he mixed with Jews and followers of other religions. He went after to Egypt and it became his final destination. In Alexandria he studied under the supervision of Pantaneus and many other scientists. He was brilliant in theology.

When he became the Director of the School of Alexandria as a successor of this professor Pantaneus, he added the study of philosophy to the curriculum. He introduced the study of languages, rhetoric, poetry, logic, arts, music, astronomy, geography, natural and engineering sciences as well as mathematics. Accordingly, Christian scientists were able to utilize all those fields of knowledge to serve their theology. Clement`s insight and his wealth of information was clear in this weightings, and in the new character that the School of Alexandria took. Perhaps his greatest achievement was his success in determining the relationship between philosophy and Christianity. One of this most famous writings was the Outlines he wrote it to confront deviant Gnostics. In it he set out the principles which any Christian seeking
knowledge should follow. In 202 AD Emperor Septimus Savrous (139-211 AD) began a wave of persecutions against Christians which prevailed all over the country, especially Alexandria. Clement fled from the city and the school was closed temporarily. Leonedus, Origen`s father was among those persecuted.

Origen was born in 185 AD the eldest son to six brothers. He was famous for being one of the most intelligent students of the school of Alexandria. He was well mannered and devoted to his religion. By the time he was 17 Patriarch Demetrius appointed him Director of the School of Theology which was still under his supervision since the beginning of the persecution wave. Accordingly, pagans detested Origen. Demetrius felt their loathing and sensed the great danger Origen was in, so he assigned guards to protect him.

In fact Origen is considered a landmark in the history of Christianity. He was also a scholar of sciences and studied in depth in all branches of knowledge with a group of Christian youths at the School of Theology. He also studied at the pagan school run Ammonius, the most famous scientist in Alexandria and greatest professor.

Historeian Yosipius states that when Origen saw that the number of students entrusted to him to teach increased, he decided that his continuing to teach natural sciences was not appropriate, so he abandoned the pagan school`s philosophical ideas and thought their lessons were like a cloud that bright lights of theology. From then on he concentrated on theology and continued to read studiously what the ancients wrote. During that period he sold all his books and all the copies he made form the library of Alexandria in exchange for a small amount of money with which to buy food. That was the new path he chose for himself denying himself earthly matters and devoting himself to his religious studies.

That path was followed by many religious Egyptians at the time and they went to extremes to the extent that they denied themselves any activities that relate to secular matters.

Up until that time there was no official law to assign clerical ranks, people`s opinion was the deciding factor. Accordingly anyone chosen was immediately appointed to any rank no matter what his degree was. Moreover, Origen`s missionary work was in violation of the laws of the Church. It was decided in Nikta Convention in 325 AD that a priest working this type of work i.e. the pioneer ascetic and hermit to the extent of harming himself (should be cut off fom priesthood). Origen`s mistake could be forgiven because he admitted it and acknowledged his guilt and felt the gravity of his sin.

It is thought that Origen visited the Church of Rome during that wave of persecution. After his return or perhaps during his travels he had asked his colleague Hercules to participate in managing the theology school. During that time also Origen began to study the Hebrew language to qualify for translating the Old testament. That was one of the most important of his accomplishments, although that translation was not published until a few years after his death.

Origen did not stop at translating the Old Testament. He also extensive explanatoin of its books most of which was lost, although it was used in the days of Yosepius known as The Horizons. People used to come to him in large groups from all over the world, and nations used to request his presence to guide them to salvation. He also went on three separate missions to the Arab world. They were mentioned in historian Yosepius writings. That Arab World at the time was made up of one large country which on one has much knowledge about.

The city of Basra was like an oasis in the desert of which is now called Horan, about 4 days walking distance north of Damascus. The first mission was between 203 and 225 AD. The ruler of the Arabs at the
time sent letters to the Patrtiach of Alexandria requesting that he sends him Origen to explain to people the teachings of the Christian religion and guide them to salvation.

Origen was not away from Egypt for long. He returned when Byrolus was appointed Bishop of Basra, as Origen was very busy and the Egyptian Patriarch did not assign him the task of presiding over that missionary as that post was given only to priests, and Origen was not one. He worked deligently at teaching and preaching inside and outside the school. He was famous for his good behaviour and his asceticism. He visited the city of Rome in 212 AD where he was warmly welcomed. When he returned to Alexandria his enemies succeeded in inseting the Emperor against him, so he sought refuge in Palestine where he was warmly welcomed by the Bishops of jerusalem and t5he city of Caesaria, and they allowed him as an exception to preach in their churches since he was not allowed to read sermons.

Perhaps that was why some people said that the Bishop of Jerusalem granted Origen priesthood. In any case after that phase of his life he returned to Alexandria. Patriaich Demetrius who took his orders to the letter was upset that Origen read sermons in Palestine and held a meeting for that purpose where he deprived Origen from the grace of the Church. Hence Origen had to leave Egypt and head to wards Palestine once more where he established in the city Basra a shool similar to the one in Alexandria. The fact that Origen was deprived of the grace of the Church is still a subject of debate.

During one wave of persecution that prevailed in the country towards the end of his life, Origen was arrested in 250 AD 250 and was imprisoned and tortured and was not released until his health condition deteriorated and he died a few years later in 253 AD.

One of the scientists of Alexandria who became a director of the school was Blind Didimus. He was born in Alexandria in 313 AD. The was the year when persecution against Christianity stopped after the Milan Decree was issued. He lost his eyesight when he was only 4, so he relied on his memory and learned by heart everything he heard. He was able to perfect many sciences and learned some poetry, rhetoric, astronomy, engineering and philosophy in addition to theological sciences.

Patriach Athanasius did not hesitate in assigning him the responsibility of the theology school, as he was intelligent and possessed keen perception and accurate powers of observation as well as good reasoning. It is noted that Didimus, at the end of his life, was one of the most famous directors of the School. Among his students were St Jerome and Riffinius.Jerome enhanced the importance of Didimus and his abilities to teach and great impact on theological sciences in both the east and west During that period the struggle between Athanasius and Arius followers was at its strongest.