Who Were They?
Who were the great philosophers, writers, religious leaders who paved the way for acceptance of Jesus' teaching in the first and succeeding centuries?
by Carolyn Kendall
Amenemope is described in The Urantia Book as a "seer", who lived in Egypt. When he lived is open to debate. The book says he lived after Melchizedek (1900 - 1800 B.C.) and before Ikhnaton who ruled in the 14th century B.C. However, scholars date him at about 700 B.C. They have found papyri of his writings, which may not be the original works.
Amenemope believed that God-consciousness was the determining factor in all conduct; that every moment should be lived in the realization of the presence of, and responsibility to, God. Riches take wings and fly away. Man proposes, but God disposes. U.B., P. 1046.
His writings were translated into Hebrew and incorporated into the Old Testament book of Proverbs: Chapters 15, 17, 20, 22:17-24; and 22. The first Psalm was authored by Amenemope and was the heart of his teachings. Amenemope's teachings were later translated into Greek and colored all subsequent Greek philosophy. A copy of Amenemope's Book of Wisdom was possessed by Philo, the first century Alexandrian philosopher.
(Read Breasted, The Dawn of Conscience, P. 321-322 The religious views of...)
Ikhnaton is described in The Urantia Book (P. 1047) as having possessed an amazingly clear concept of the revealed religion of Salem. He kept alive Melchizedek's doctrine of El Elyon, the One God, in Egypt, thus maintaining the philosophic monotheistic channel which was vital to the religious background of the future bestowal of Michael. He reigned about 18 years, between 1375 and 1357 B.C.
Great Religious Leaders, Charles Francis Potter, P. 21: Atenism, the religion of Akhnaten, which started out so gloriously, fell so ignominiously, for several reasons. First, its initiation had been too abrupt. The polytheism of Egypt had hardly evolved from animism. To expect a whole race to change to monotheism so pure that the god was a disembodied philosophical idea was beyond reason. Atenism was a court fad, a diversion of the bored nobility. Only Akhnaten passionately believed it. The people of Egypt probably did not know what it was all about.
Potter P. 22: If a prophet is a little ahead of his people he can lift their religion to his. If he is farther in advance they may rise a little and then sink back toward, but not to, their former level. But if he is too far ahead for them to comprehend him, they may follow for a short time and then sink back in reaction into a worse orthodoxy than before. Orthodox Amenism was stronger ten years after his death than it was at this birth. Egyptian religion never remotely approached his level afterward.
Potter P. 23: The Hymn to Aten (the Sun Hymn), later incorporated into the 104th Psalm) is spiritual and beautiful, but it lacks ethical content. It has much about God's relation to man, but too little of man's relation to God, and nothing of man's relation to man, save a vaguely implied brotherhood. Still it nourished one great soul.
Potter P. 22: But Atenism will come again and better than Atenism. The Eternal Life and Light at the heart of the universe must continually manifest itself. Moses evidently caught the gleam, dimly at least, and passed it on.
Potter, P. 24: Christianity and Islam are direct outgrowths of the Judaism which Moses founded, and are still rooted in his ethical system. Jesus said, "I came not to destroy the Law of Moses but to fulfill it."
(Read U.B., P. 1009, #3. The post-Melchizedek era.)
According to hints in the book, Moses led the Exodus in about 1230 B.C., which would have been during the reign of the Pharoah Merneptah.
Pythagoras lived about 580 to 500 B.C. He was a Greek philosopher, mathematician and religious reformer. He discovered the regularity of the mathematical laws of numbers, which he then transposed into the establishment of basic laws of existence.
His followers established the first true sect. They shut themselves off from the world, had many rules, rituals, taboos, and prohibitions, including one against animal food. The schools taught transmigration of souls. They associated with Delphic oracles.
Plato lived about 428 to 347 B.C. in Athens. He was a younger friend of Socrates. According to Edith Hamilton, The Greek Way: "Socrates can never be separated from Plato." Almost all that Plato wrote professes to be a report, or dialogues, of what Socrates said. There has been much conjecture about whether the ideas were original with Socrates, or with Plato. Socrates was a real person, however, Plato was more than a "reporter".
From Encyclopedia Britannica: Socrates/Plato believed that the counselor within him which guided him in all his dealings and enabled him to maintain a perfect serenity of spirit. The soul is immortal because it has within itself a native source of spontaneous movement. The soul formerly shared the life of the gods, enjoying direct contemplation of reality. He knew of a certainty that no evil can happen to a good man either in life or after death. When Socrates died, he said, "Cannot I make (you) believe that the dead body will not be me. You will not be burying me, only my body."
Teachings of Plato: Service of God, which is religion, means cooperation with God in the creation of a noble work, tending of the soul. He had a mission from God to make his own soul as good as possible, and to incite mankind to do the same. The great concern of man is the development of a rational moral personality. If man knew what absolute good is, he would never pursue anything else. The Phaedo is believed to provide a clue to the structure of the universe. The survival of death is a consequence of inherent divinity.
Death is the separation of the soul from the body. In life, the body constantly interferes with the soul's activity. Its appetites and passion interrupt our pursuit of wisdom and goodness; Its infirmities perpetually hinder our thinking.
He believed in reincarnation: The soul has a succession of many lives. When it was born, it has come back from another life. What we call learning is really recollection, being reminded of what we had previously learned. The soul actually makes its own body, even a long succession of bodies. When the time comes that it can no longer make a fresh body, it will disappear. He believed there were "good souls" and "bad souls". At the approach of death, the soul must assume its prescribed new form. If it refuses, it will be retired to another region, or it may be annihilated.
(Read U.B., P. 1637, the inclusion of many of Plato's)
From Encyclopedia Britannica: The city of Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great as a center for literature, arts, and philosophy. The Ptolomys, the sovereigns of Egypt, successively established the Library, the Museum, and attracted leading writers, teachers, artists, orators, and philosophers. They bought up all of Aristotle's library. A group of 70 scholars translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (Septuagint of the Pentateuch). All travelers were compelled to leave a copy of any work they possessed.
Alexandria was the only home anywhere in the world for pure literature. All official copies of Athenian works were brought there. This period covered 306 to 30 B.C.
Under Roman sway (30 B.C. to 642 A.D.) Alexandria developed a new movement. Its character included oriental Gnosticism, Jewish, and later, Christian elements. This second Alexandrian school resulted in the philosophy of the Neo-Platonists and the religious philosophy of the Gnostics and early church fathers.
In the schools of philosophy, any doctrine which claimed infallible certainty received a hearing. These included various Eastern religions, notably Judaism. A characteristic feature of Alexandrian thought arose which has been called Gnosticism.
Of the so-called pagan schools of philosophy, their doctrines were a synthesis of Platonism, Stoicism, and alter, Aristotilianism, including oriental mysticism, which gradually became more important. The world to which they spoke had begun to demand a doctrine of salvation to satisfy the human soul. They began to examine the nature of the soul and taught that its freedom consisted in communion with God, to be absorbed into a sort of ecstatic trance.(Plotinus' doctrine). From here, it degenerated into magic. This pagan theosophy was driven back to Athens, but it had enormous influence on Clement and Origen. There was a swarm on semi-Christian Gnostic sects, many of which existed side-by-side with Christianity for hundreds of years.
Alexandria was destroyed by Arabs in 642 A.D. Massive fires had already consumed the library and its retained literature.
Philo of Alexandria
Encyclopedia Britannica: Philo lived 30 B.C. to 40 A.D., and was born into a wealthy and influential family. Philo was the great name in Jewish philosophy at the Alexandrian school, and has been called the first theologian. He took Greek metaphysical theories and adapted them to the Old Testament; he developed an elaborate theosophy which was borrowed from, and was a synthesis or oriental mysticism and pure Greek metaphysics. His greatest concepts included the following:
- The meaning of human life through the relative nature of Man and God.
- The Divine nature and the existence of God.
- The great Logos doctrine as the explanation of the relation between God and the material universe.
(Read U.B., P. 1433. Gonod had business with Philo's brother)
Phil's doctrine of God states that God is a being devoid of body and soul, of other elements, or of substance. God has no limitation; he is eternal, unchangeable, or simple substance, free, self-sufficient, better than the good and the beautiful. God cannot be reduced to the level of finite existence. One can say that God is, but not whathe is. God is absolutely perfect, pure, and lofty. While God does not personally touch the world, he utilizes an infinite variety of divine forces which act as mediators. These mediating forces can be ideas, or they can be angels or other entities acting independently for God.
The Logos, or Reason of God, is the highest mediator between God and the world. It is the first-born son of God, the archangel who is the vehicle of all revelation, and the high priest who stands before God on behalf of the world. Through him the world was created, and so he is identified with the creative Word of God in Genesis. (In Greek, logos means both "reason" and "word".)
(Read U.B., P. 1009, #5, Greatest teachers: Paul and Philo)
(Read U.B., P. 68, Christianity: Jesus, Paul and Philo)
(Read U.B., P. 1338, Philo was a great teacher)
Phil's doctrine is derived mainly from Plato: Man is a twofold being with a higher and a lower origin. The pure souls fill the airy space, while those nearest the earth are attracted by the "senses", and descend into bodies, which have senses. Man also has in him a fountain of sin and evil. The body is like a prison, which restrains the soul from rising to God. The highest maxim of Philo's ethics is deliverance from the world of sense, and the mortification of all the impulses of sense. A truly wise and virtuous individual will be lifted above his existence after death and the soul returned to its original condition; it came from God and it can return to him again. All others will pass into another body after death - transmigration.
(Read U.B., P. 1811, Jesus on reincarnation, Plato, Philo.)
Paul is often included among Jesus' apostles, although he was not one of the twelve. He experienced a vision of Jesus on the Damascus road and was transformed from a persecutor of Christians, to a believer. He was a Jewish tentmaker from Antioch; former student of Gamaliel, the great Jerusalem teacher.
(Read U.B., P. 1339, "Many, but not all, of Philo's...")
(Read U.B., P. 1340, "Paul's cult of Christianity...")
(Read U.B., P. 1011, "The Christian religion...")
Pantaenus and Clement of Alexandria
(Read U.B., P. 2074, discusses the decline of Rome in the second century regarding Alexandria: Conditions were not so bad at Alexandria, continue to end.)
Pantaenus was known to be the head of the catechetical school at the Alexandrian school of philosophy. Concerning Pantaenus; following Nathaniel to India, read from Pagans and Christianity. Possible influence of Rodan; Nathaniel was apostle who Jesus assigned to Rodan.
Read U.B., P. 1772, Intro. And P. 1783 Intro.)
Encyclopedia Brit.: Clement was first an assistant, and then the successor of Pantaenus. Later he became the presbyter (the Elder) of the church of Alexandria. He was the first to bring the culture of the Greeks and the speculations of Christian heretics to bear on Christian truth. He was knowledgeable of the systems of the Christian heretics.
Encyclo. Brit.: Born in 150 A.D. in Athens. At first he believed Christianity was just another philosophy, but one, which urged adherents to live a nobler, holier life; then realized the Greeks had had only glimpses of truth; Christianity as revealed through Christ was absolute and perfect truth. Greek philosophy, he believed, was a preparation of the Greeks for Christ. He thought that Plato may have got his wisdom, or part of the Reason direct from God. Christ was the end to which all true philosophies pointed.
Clement believed in evolution. Worship of the heavenly bodies, he thought, was (a dress rehearsal) for the worship of the Creator. All of the world's history was preparation leading up to this full revelation, and God's care was not confined to the Hebrews alone. Man goes through various stages before he reaches Christian perfection. This development takes place not merely in this life, but in the future through successive grades. The Jew and the heathen had the gospel preached to them in the world below by Christ and the apostles. Christians will have to pass through purification and trial after death before they reach knowledge and perfect bliss.
Man's salvation was to be gradual. First, faith; then love; then full and complete knowledge. There could be no faith without knowledge.
The object of the incarnation of Christ was to free man from sin, and in the end to elevate him to the position of a god. Man had to free himself from the power of passion; give up thoughts of pleasure; resist temptations of body, keeping it under strict control; prefer goodness; contemplate God, the supreme good; live a life according to reason. Strive for likeness to God as revealed in Christ.
In his teachings about the relation of Jesus and God, he wrote: Christ was the Logos, the Reason. God the Father was ineffable (incapable of being expressed in words). The Son alone can manifest him fully. God is the Reason that pervades the universe, brings out all goodness, guides all good men. While Clement believed that Jesus was the personal Son of God become incarnate, he didn't attach much value to his human nature.
Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries: P. 40, Clement believed that Plato's statements about the creator as "father", and the three levels of divine reality were evidence of nothing else than the Holy Trinity.
(Read U.B., P. 1785, Sec. 2, (Rodan) Divine Nature of Jesus)
One of Clement of Alexandria's pupils was Origen. Born in 185 A.D., of Christian parents. He was a writer, Christian theologian and teacher. Origen was the most influential of all theologians of the ancient church except Augustine.
He had listened to the lectures of Pantaenus and Clement (when 15 years old) in the catechetical school of Alexandria. This was the only institution where Christians were instructed in Greek science and doctrines of the Holy Scriptures. The school had closed its lines against heathenism and heresy. At 18 Origen became head of the school. He studied Plato, Stoics, Pythagoreans. Learned Hebrew so he could read the Old Testament in the original. Authored 6,000 works.
Origen was ascetic; castrated himself so he could instruct women without preoccupation. He preached throughout the Roman world without being ordained. Established a school at Caesarea in Palestine. Was imprisoned and tortured during persecutions in 250 A.D., and died in 254.
His views: Man may attain the likeness of God through contemplative isolation and self-knowledge. Complete and certain knowledge comes only from divine revelation. Christ is the Logos, the Word of God that became incarnate in Jesus, who is with the Father from eternity. From Pelikan, P. 227, Jesus, the Logos and the healing power within him are more powerful than any evils in the soul.
Origen explained the sinfulness of all men by a hypothesis of pre-existence and fall of each individual soul. Successive stages; a transcendental fall; creation of the material world; punishment and redemption; fallen souls are born into flesh; dominion of sin, evil and demons on earth; appearing of the Logos; Christ's union with a pure human soul; Jesus' preaching of salvation; his death in the flesh; imparting of the Spirit; ultimate restoration of al things. Origen later fell out of favor because of his doctrines of pre-existence of souls, the resurrection of the flesh, and belief in the existence of many worlds.
Origen strongly believed in the personality, the eternity and essential divinity of the Logos. Origen would not have agreed with the later Arians that since the Father imparted divinity to Christ, then, it must be a lower order of divinity.
The Arian Heresy and Athanasium
The Emperor Constantine espoused Christianity because he believed, in part, that it had become such a strong religion that it might be able to save the Roman Empire from further disintegration. As soon as it became the state religion, virulent feuds broke out over doctrines, interpretations and jurisdiction.
Arius of Alexandria maintained that Christ was neither a perfect man, nor a perfect God. Christ consisted of a secondary substance or essence, enough to explain his superior spirituality; but not enough to call him divine upon God's level. Arius' theory was considered too much like the pagan philosophers that God was a demigod.
Arius and his followers believed that the Holy Spirit was not part of the Godhead, simply one of the ministering spirits, who differ only slightly from angels.
Athanasius was secretary to the Bishop of Alexandria. He asserted that God was a unified being, a divine being, and since Christ was the Son of God, therefore God and Christ were of the same substance, no matter in what form the Son might appear. He stated: "All of us are sharers of the Godhead through the Spirit." If the Holy Spirit were merely a creature, no sharing would result in us; we would be joined simply to a creature and be alien from God. It is wrong to separate the Holy Spirit from God, otherwise Christianity would just be a naturalistic moralism without its supernatural character.
The Council of Nicaea was held in 325 A.D., and ruled in favor of Athanasius' position. He had the genus to choose the most important issue in early Christianity the non-paganization of Christ, and not compromise. The council of 381 adopted the Nicean Creed: "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, how, with the Father and the Son is together worshipped and glorified, who spoke through the prophets."
(Read U.B., P. 2070, Many of the great truths, Arius and Athanasius)
It was not primarily through the books of the New Testament that Christianity was transmitted, rather through documents of early church fathers and fellow Christians. Potter, The Great Religious Leaders, outstanding Early Church Fathers, between Paul and Augustine were:
- 69-155 AD; Polycarp Sat at feet of John; rehearsed his sayings about the miracles and teachings of the Lord. Perished in Roman arena.
- 130-202 AD; Irenaeus—Wrote against heresies.
- 160-220 AD; Tertullian, Wrote many books, one against heresies.
- 185-373 AD; Origen, Arius, Athansius (See above).
- 260-340 AD; Eusebius—Father of church history; many writings. Opened Nicean Council; had not wanted discussion of Trinity since not mentioned in Scriptures.
- 329-389 AD; Gregory Nazianzen, Formulated Trinity theory that although God is of one essence; exists as three persons.
- 335-394 AD; Gregory Nysa, Final shaping of Trinity doctrine. All men will finally be restored to harmony with God. Angels and devils will be restored (a heresy).
- 345-407 AD; Chrysostom nickname "golden mouth", John of Antioch. Preached his interpretation of Scripture. Was Bible critic, pointing out inconsistencies.
- 340-420 AD; Jerome, Devoted to paganism in youth. Had near death experience and converted to Christianity. Learned Hebrew and translated entire Bible into Latin (Vulgate). Wrote 135 biographies of Christian leaders, beginning with Paul.
Augustine lived between 354 and 430. He was considered great because:
- He explained difficult theological concepts to the satisfaction of average Christians.
- Built a coherent and complete system of theology for the Christian church.
- He demonstrated the power of Christianity to redeem a sinner and heretic.
He wrote a book about himself: Confessions. Turbulent youth, had several mistresses, carouser. Read Cicero on value of philosophy and became converted to a search for wisdom. Dabbled in Manicheism, a semi-religious, semi-philosophical sect that emphasized the doctrine of two principles at work in the world, one good, one evil. Along with Neo-Platonism, Manicheism was a major rival to Christianity.
Traces of both Manicheism and Neo-Platonism appear in his theology. Manicheism required absolute chastity, abstention from animal food. Augustine decided he was not ready for perfection. He prayed, "Lord, make me pure and chaste, but not yet."
In Augustine's time Rome fell. Paganism, which had been abolished by the church in 300, revived. The old gods abandoned the city, the deities had supposedly protected the people. Pagans mocked Christians and asked embarrassing questions. Augustine had been a rhetorician and knew how to use reason to defeat pagan sophistries. He taught people how to respond effectively. His teachings: The Fall and Depravity of Man; The Atonement; Saving Grace; Predestination.
From Nilsson, History of Greek Religion, P. 296: At times there were revivals of ancient religious practices; cultish, pagan, heretical as usually occurs in an age weary of its culture. In late classical times Greece was a poor and insignificant country. The great battles between paganism and Christianity were fought out in more important provinces of the Empire.
Among practices considered to be pagan: human and animal sacrifices; oracles; worship of nature gods, sirens, Nereid, nymphs, gods, goddesses, many of whom dwelled in caves, springs and rivers; belief that heavenly bodies control destiny, magic symbols, amulets. Nilsson: Pagan gods have disguised themselves in Christian dress. Old gods are now "saints".
(Read U.B., P. 2070, "But the Christians made a shrewd bargain...")
(Read U.B., P. 2083, "So-called Christianity ancient pagan swamp...")
In pre-Christian times isolated religious communities existed in India; Judea (Essenes, Nazarite, Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls), Engedi; and Egypt. Philo described a Jewish monastic community in Egypt.
(Read U.B., P. 796, "Just about the time...")
Early Christian men and women abstained from marriage, from meat, intoxicating drink; devoted themselves to prayer, works of charity. Many lived solitary lives is isolated retreats. Anthony, a hermit of Egypt, in 270 A.D. is credited as being the father of Christian monasticism. Anthony interpreted portions of the Gospels as Jesus recommending a life of withdrawal.
From 476 A.D. to the Renaissance in the 14th century were the Middle Ages. Within this period, 476 to 1000 A.D., was the age characterized by repressiveness, lack of enlightenment, knowledge failed to advance, called the Dark Ages. The Renaissance marked the transition from medieval to the modern world.
Pelikan: By the 6th century, monasticism was in full swing. Jesus was "the perfect monk." They patterned themselves after Jesus who, they believed, lived a monkish life; they then recreated Jesus as a monk who supposedly lived as they did.
Benedict's (500) monastery was a school of the service of the Lord; it became the prototype for European monasteries: self-denial, but not austerity. Law and order prevailed. "Perfection" meant celibacy, eschewing family life and daily work within society. About 1060, monasteries were organized adhering to Augustinian canons more stringent than Benedictine.
Women's order pre-date Anthony. Both Anthony's and Benedict's sisters were nuns. Veiled virgins were confined to convents. They engaged in teaching, tending the sick, caring for orphans, prisoners, insane, aged, poor. Most convents followed Augustinian rule.
Monasteries served a useful purpose: Men's communities preserved important documents, oversaw copying of manuscripts, religious art was preserved, icons and relics safeguarded. Food was grown for the local community in time of famine. Cloistered abbeys served as a refuge from an often, harsh life outside. Weaker men and women were protected from the barbarians who roamed the countryside outside the walls.
In the 14th century monasteries became too rich and secular, especially in France and Italy. Special privileges, "commendations" were granted by the Abbots forgiveness for money. Communities dwindled.