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Contents: Two Paths to the Divine in the 4th Century

First: 4th Century Egypt: Men and Women Go into the Desert to Seek the Divine through Extreme Asceticism and Meditation

"In the fourth century a.d. the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, Arabia and Persia were peopled by a race of men.... They sought a way to God that was uncharted and freely chosen, not inherited from others who had mapped it out beforehand. They sought a God whom they alone could find, not one who was 'given' in a set stereotyped form by somebody else." ...Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert

Second: 4th Century Egypt: In Alexandria, Many Seek the Divine through Philosophy, Mysticism, and Alexandrine Teaching

"Many centuries before our time, in the learned circles of a wonderful city, men were greatly interested in the stars, in the elements, in the cosmic process, in time and space, in the relations of the spiritual to the material, in the possibilities of the ages yet to be and in the perennial riddle of the future of the human soul."... R. Tollinton, Alexandrine Teaching.


Neoplatonism and the Desert Fathers in Late Roman Antiquity

Just before the dark ages, in the learned circles located in Alexandria, Egypt, early Christianity competed with other philosophies and religions to explain the nature of God, the afterlife,
and the fate of the human soul. During the 2nd to 4th centuries, the two Alexandrian schools, The Catechetical School of Alexandria (a Christian theological school)and the Alexandrine Schools, (a secular prototype university) flourished side by side as early church fathers, Clement and Origen blended Platonic philosophy into an early version of Christian philosophy.

The Platonic view of man as a soul imprisoned within a body or viewing the body as a sarcophagus eventually became known as Neoplatonic philosophy or Neoplatonism. Eventually the Christian view of man favored the Hebrew concept of man as an antimated body, an idea taken from the mythical Genesis story of creation. This shift in the view of man from an imprisoned soul to an animated man would eventually prove significant.

By the 5th Century Christian view of man, based on the mythical Genesis story, became ossified by a largely political process that began with the first ecumenical council, chaired by Roman Emperor Constantine in 325 CE. Subsequently the emergence of a new definition for the concept of heresy, for the first time in recorded history (The word "heresy" means a "choice" or an "opinion," but it came to mean an "incorrect" theological belief.), eventually led to the two schools becoming mortal enemies.

Many of the early desert fathers were monks educated at the Alexandrine University and the related Catechetical School, both located in Alexandria, Egypt. Many of these monks were exposed to the teachings of Plato that tended to fuse the writings of Plato and Christianity into Neoplatonism. Two of the early Church Fathers Clement (150 - 215) and Origen (185 – 254), as heads of the Cathechetical School in Alexandria, were instrumental in the education of these monks. The teachings and writings from both these early Church fathers were influenced by Neoplatonism. Origen's writing were declared heretical by the Church in the 6th century.