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Intellectualism And Mysticism Complementary Systems


After this sketch of the Aristotelian features recognisable in
monophysitism, we turn to the other great pagan philosophy that
assisted in the shaping of the heresy. Intellectualism and mysticism
are closely allied; the two are complementary; they are as mutually
dependent as are head and heart. It is not then surprising that
monophysitism should possess the characteristics of both these schools
of thought. The intellectualism of the heresy was largely due, as we
have shown, to the Aristotelian logic and metaphysic; its mystic
elements derive, as we proceed to indicate, from Neo-Platonism and
kindred theosophies.

Alexandria had been for centuries the home of the mystics. The
geographical position, as well as the political circumstances of its
foundation, destined that city to be the meeting-place of West and
East. There the wisdom of the Orient met and fought and fused with
that of the Occident. There Philo taught, and bequeathed to the
Neo-Platonists much of his Pythagorean system. There flourished for a
while and died fantastic eclectic creeds, pagan theosophies
masquerading as Christianity. Gnosticism was a typical product of the
city. Valentinus and Basilides and the other gnostics made in that
cosmopolitan atmosphere their attempts to reconcile Christianity with
Greek and oriental thought. There Ammonius Saccas, after his lapse
from the Christian faith, taught and laid the foundation of
Neo-Platonism. Plotinus was the greatest of his disciples, and, though
he taught at Rome for most of his life, it was in the spirit of
Alexandria that he wrought his absolute philosophy, the full-orbed
splendour of the setting sun of Greek thought. Neo-Platonism did not
die with Plotinus. In the middle of the fifth century, when
monophysitism was at its zenith, Proclus was fashioning an intellectual
machinery to express the Plotinian system. The story of Hypatia
evidences the dominant position of Neo-Platonism in Alexandrian
culture. The violence of Cyril's measures against her shows what a
menace to the Church that philosophy was. Cyril was not a monophysite,
but much that he said and did promoted their cause. Dioscurus, his
nephew and successor in the see of Alexandria, championed monophysitism
at the council of Chalcedon. In later generations Alexandria always
offered an asylum to exiled monophysite leaders.

These facts render it impossible to regard the connection between
Alexandria and monophysitism as fortuitous. They further suggest that
Neo-Platonism was the connecting link. Such in fact it was.
Monophysitism, we might almost say, was Neo-Platonism in Christian
dress. The ethos of the two systems is the same, and the doctrinal
resemblance is marked. It was natural that the home of pagan mysticism
should cradle the kindred system of heretical Christian mysticism.

Next: Neo-platonist Ontology

Previous: Aristotle's Psychology

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