Alexandria – Clement, Origen, Athanasius, Apollinaris, Cyril.
Founded by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C., Alexandria was both the center of Roman administration in Egypt as well as an intellectual center whose great library made it a focus of literary, scientific and philosophical culture. From early on Christianity in Alexandria had been divided between a learned and intellectual Christian Gnosticism and a community of traditionalist believers who saw in their counterpart a compromise with the current pagan religions and philosophies in their own formulations of Christian teaching. The first great Christian teacher there was Clement of Alexandria (? – c. 215), who repudiated Gnosticism even while taking it seriously, and freely used Hellenistic philosophy as a conceptual and hermeneutical tool. For Clement, philosophy was a schoolmaster to lead the Greeks to Christ, as the Law had been to the Jews.
His intellectual successor was Origen (185-254), the greatest and most influential Christian thinker of his age. Origen’s general outlook was shaped by the Middle Platonism prevalent in Alexandria and in the East, and as such his hermeneutical grid emphasized one God, the Monad, as the sole ground and source of all being, material and immaterial alike, and the eternal generation of the Logos, the mediator between God’s absolute unity and creation’s multiplicity, who himself is a “secondary God.”
For Origen, a pre-existent soul was united to the Logos and became inseparable with him as fire and hot iron, and this soul became the meeting point between the infinite Word and human nature (the body). In his exaltation, the Son of Man ceased to be other than the Logos and became identically one with Him.
Despite his great influence upon many of his contemporaries and succeeding theologians, many of Origen’s views were eventually repudiated by the Church. The philosophical flavor of his works, however, reflected a tendency present in Alexandria and in those who were influenced by its theologians, and that tendency, with its strengths and weaknesses, was to influence the theological discussions in the Church in centuries to come.
The Arian teaching that surfaced in Alexandria gave rise to the Trinitarian and Christological issues that the Church would have to debate and define. Especially in the issue of Christology, the Alexandrian and Antiochian schools had different emphases that needed to be balanced out, for their respective over-emphases would lead to conclusions that the Church eventually found unacceptable.
The central motif of the Alexandrian school was the emphasis on the deity of Christ, especially as the necessary ground and presupposition of redemption, viewed primarily as man’s participation in the divine nature and life through theosis.
Taking the Alexandrian emphasis on the deity of the Son, Apollinaris, bishop of Laodicea in Syria (d. ca. 390), a strong supporter of the Nicene faith and a friend of Athanasius, began to teach that the true ego, the very life principle in Jesus was simply the Logos himself, and therefore there was no real union of the divine Son with a complete, normal human being, for that would entail two wills, two minds, two selves, and thus two Sons. Rather, just as ordinary beings were composed of intellect, animal soul, and body, so Christ was divine in his intellect (his spirit), and human in his soul and body.
“Word-flesh” vs. “Word-man” Christologies.
This fits the general scheme of the “Word-flesh” type of Christology, more prevalent in the Alexandrian school, i.e., the teaching that the Word took the place of the humankind or soul in the structure of the God-man. Apollinaris’ teaching was unacceptable to Fathers of many quarters, but his main opponents were the representatives of the Antiochian school, which by contrast tended to a “Word-man” Christology, i.e., the teaching that the Word united Himself with a complete humanity, including a soul as well as a body (sometimes with overtones of a humanity independent from the Logos).
Antioch – Theophilus, Paul of Samosata, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Arius, Nestorius.
The city of Antioch, by the end of the second century, was gaining reputation for its distinctive theological reflection. Among the most influential of early Antiochene expositors was Theophilus who became its bishop at about 170. For him, the Jewish scriptures were of supreme authority and an important source of wisdom for Christians. Theophilus offered the historical events of the Hebrew Scriptures as the source of truth, prefiguring what in the course of one of two more centuries would become recognizable as a distinct Antiochene school for exegesis and theology. The Antiochenes stood in a tradition which had stressed the role of Christ as the “second Adam,” whose human obedience had a central place in the work of salvation.
The concern especially for the full humanity of Jesus Christ as his being anointed by the Logos or Spirit can be seen in Paul of Samosata, a far more controversial bishop of Antioch who became the head of the church around the year 260. According to Eusebius, Paul refused to confess “that the Son of God descended from heaven.” Instead he asserted that “Jesus is from below;” at Jesus’ baptism the Spirit took up abode in him as a temple.
His teachings were eventually rejected as heretical, but the Antiochene emphasis upon the humanity of Jesus and the mode of divine indwelling that was conceived as the Logos descending upon him persisted. Such a Christology resonated more comfortably with the monotheistic concerns of Judaism, and Christians and Jews in Antioch generally enjoyed good relations. It is no accident that Arius, who later advanced his views while a priest in Alexandria, had actually been trained in Antioch.
The exegetical method and Christological commitments of Theophilus, and to lesser degree Paul of Samosata, continued to be elaborated in the work of others who followed in the Antiochene school – and noted among them was Theodore of Mopsuestia (392-428), whose biblical exegesis and theological reflections became the standards of orthodoxy of the churches in Persia in succeeding centuries.
The theologians associated with Antioch preferred more literal readings of the Bible. They sought to affirm both the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ, but wanted to do so in a way that did not mix or confuse the categories so as to lose sight especially of his humanity.
At the time of the Christological controversies concerning the natures of Christ, theologians following the general tendency of the school of Antioch were not afraid to use the terminology of two natures to describe Jesus Christ, a formula that brought them into direct conflict with the Alexandrian opponents. For Diodore, bishop of Tarsus (378-394), there had to be a clear division or distinction between “flesh” on the one hand and “Logos” on the other. His pupil Theodore of Mopsuestia argued that there were two natures and two hypostases in Christ (his views were eventually condemned in the 5th Ecumenical Council in 553).
The Antiochene monk Nestorius, who was elevated to the patriarchate of Constantinople in 428, objected to the term Theotokos as applied to the Virgin Mary on the basis that it was inappropriate to call that which was formed in the womb as God. His main opponent was Cyril, the patriarch of Alexandria, who argued that there was “one incarnate nature of the divine Logos” by which he meant that the humanity of Christ could not be separated from the Logos as “another” besides him.
Balancing Out Over-emphases
The Antiochian school and the Alexandrian school were not necessary mutually exclusive, nor did their respective positions, when taken in balance, lead to heterodox or heretical conclusions; but their respective over-emphases did.
The differences between Cyril and Nestorius would eventually be carried out by Dioscorus (and Eutyches) and Flavian. Eutyches argued that there was only one nature after the union of the two natures in the Incarnation. His views were condemned in the 4th Ecumenical Council in Constantinople, which insisted that the two natures of Christ can neither be confused nor separated to the compromise of the unity of the Person.
Nonetheless, there were those who still preferred one or the other overemphasis (Monophysitism and Nestorianism). Of course, Monothelitism would arise later and also be rejected in favor of Duothelitism, taking into account both the integrity of the natures of Christ as well as the synergy between God and man (two unequal partners, but partners nonetheless – which, one thousand years in advance, ruled out monergistic ideas that would arise in the 16th century).
Those in both the Alexandrian and the Antiochene traditions of thought considered themselves to be fully Catholic, although their biblical and theological methods of reflections – and often the conclusions that they drew – diverged. The Antiochenes sought to emphasize historical and grammatical details of biblical interpretations, while the Alexandrians preferred to employ allegorical methods for understanding the Scriptures. The latter was also more comfortable using tools of philosophical reflection, especially those of neo-Platonism.
The Antiochenes were not averse to using categories of platonic thought but were also equally influenced by Jewish theological traditions. The Antiochenes were firmly committed to the doctrine of Jesus Christ having two natures, maintaining that he had a complete human nature and a complete divine nature. On the other hand, the Alexandrians were just as strongly committed to the doctrine that the Logos was joined to the flesh of Jesus Christ in a complete union in one divine-human person. Where the Antiochene theology emphasized the relationship between the Logos and humanity in Jesus Christ, the Alexandrians emphasized that of the Logos to the flesh.
The Church in its fulness, with the direction of the Holy Spirit, was able to retain and develop each orthodox emphasis and contribution, while at the same time rejecting the different kinds of over-emphases that distorted the apostolic Tradition. This has been the case with almost all doctrinal disputes that led to the convocation of Ecumenical Councils, which in turn considered the issues and affirmed with apostolic authority that which is in accord with the Faith once and for all delivered to the saints.