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The Alexandrian Quest of The Non-Historical Christ

  • Joseph C. McLelland (a1)


The aim of this paper is to show that the Alexandrian Fathers, Clement and Origen, helped shape subsequent philosophy and theology in the West by following a selective line from the tradition at their disposal. I shall try to give evidence that the tradition was richer, more ambivalent, than they recognized, and that by their failure to honor the whole tradition they narrowed the vision of Christian theology and therefore of Western philosophy as well. Whether one could support such a large thesis by tracing the story further, examining the rival philosophical schools of our own day, for instance linguistic analysis and existential phenomenology, as examples of similar selections within the tradition, is another question. Meanwhile, it may be helpful to approach the Alexandrians, about whom so much has been written of polemical and apologetic nature, with this larger theme in mind.



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1. cf Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy (Cambridge, 1967) Part I: Greek Philosophy from Plato to Plotinus, by Philip Merlan.

2. cf Witt, R., Albinus and the History of Middle Platonism, 1937.

3. Wolfson, Harry: “Allbinus and Plotinus on Divine Attributes,” Harvard Theological Review 45, 1952.

4. cf. Grant, R. M., The Letter and the Spirit (London, 1957), Chapter 1.

5. De Mut. Nom. 11, 14 (Goodenough translation).

6. De Somn. I, 11, 67; cf Immut. 13, 62: “He is not comprehended by the mind.”

7. Quis Rer. Div. 69.

8. Strom, VI, 9. cf. Torrance, T. F., “The Implications of Oikonomia for Knowledge and Speech of God in Early Christian Theology” in Oikonomia: Heilsgesohichte als Thema der Theologie (Hamburg, 1966).

9. The Song of Songs, Commentary and Homilies, trans. Lawson, R. P. in Ancient Christian Writers (Newman Press, 1957), pp 33ff. Ignatius had said (Rom. 7:2): ho emos eros (not agape) estaurōtai.

10. God and History in Early Christian Thought (New York: The Seabury Press, 1966), especially chapters 1 and 2.

11. Daniélou, J., Origen (E. T. 1955); Lossky, V., The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (1957).

12. The Impassibility of God, p 156.

13. Quoted by Mozley, op. cit., p 146.

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Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
  • URL: /core/journals/church-history
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