The Catechetical school of Alexandria, called the Didascalia, was undoubtedly the earliest important institution of theological learning in Christian antiquity. But the school was not limited simply to the study of Christianity, nor was it limited to Christians. Hence many Greek and Roman students and scholars, who held to their own religions, attended the school. Science, mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, and medicine were only a few of the other subjects taught. The Didascalia was open to everyone who wanted to learn. Catechumens (followers of Christianity who had not yet been baptized) studied alongside priests and students of Greek philosophy. Even blind students were able to attend and learn, thanks to a raised-alphabet system using carved wood, fifteen centuries before the Braille system, introduced by the blind Didymus, Head, during the time of St. Athanasius. It was thus one of the finest schools of Greek and Christian Philosophy. The great Christian Pedagogues of Alexandria viewed Greek Philosophy as the Tutor to Christ, who in turn is the Great Tutor of all the redeemed. Unlike Iranaeus and Tertullian the Alexandrian teachers believed that Christians could learn much from Greek Philosophy and thought.
According to Eusebius writing in the fourth century its founder was St. Mark. However little is known of its beginning; the first certain head of the school was Pantaenus c.180. Besides being a great teacher, he was credited as one of those who adopted the Greek alphabet in the Coptic script. Unfortunately his great exegeses have been lost. In the course of his service, Patriarch Demetrius I elected him for the Christian mission to India. 
His successor on departure for India was Clement of Alexandria (c.150 A.D.- c.215 A.D.), his most illustrious pupil, and the first systematic teacher of Christian doctrine. As such he was and is reverenced as one of the old Fathers. Born Titus Flavius Clement to non- Christian parents we do not know how and when he became Christian. We are not even sure where he was born but likely either Athens or Alexandria. He made extensive travels to Southern Italy, Syria, and Palestine to seek instruction from the most famous Christian teachers to enrich his knowledge of the Faith. At the end of his journey, he reached Alexandria where St. Pantaenus' lectures attracted him to the extent that he settled there and made it his home. He became Pantaenus' disciple and then assistant, was ordained priest and succeeded Pantaenus as Head c. 190. Amongst his disciples were the great Origen and Alexander who would become archbishop of this city and a supporter of Athanasius' fight for orthodoxy.
In the first years of the third century under Septimus Severus, the Alexandrian Christians faced persecution, which included Origen's father who was martyred. Clement fled to Palestine, it would seem as the bishop of Jerusalem writing to the church in Antioch in c. 211, remarked, "I am sending this, my dear brethren, by the hand of the blessed elder Clement, a man whose quality has been amply proved. You have heard of him already and will come to know him better. His presence here, through the providential direction of the Master, strengthened and spread the church of the Lord." He also indicated that Clement's coming was through the divine providence, for the Church of the Lord was sustained and progressed by him.  After the persecution ceased in 211 A.D. St. Clement did not return to Alexandria. He died in 215. The following year Alexander of Antioch referred to him as one of "those blessed men who have trodden the road before us" in a letter to Origen
Clement was the father of the Christian philosophy of Alexandria, and was well-versed in the Holy Scriptures as well as Greek philosophy. As he loved the true gnosis (knowledge) he desired every Christian to be a true Gnostic. Of course the first step in Gnosticism is "to know thyself". His own writings concentrated on Christ who as the true Gnosis is the Redeemer of all. His Christology thus centred on the redeeming work of Christ as the Light, Who shines upon our minds, that they might be illuminated. That illumination is kindled in baptism. This teaching he manifested in the Protreptikos. "The Logos is not hidden from any one. He is the general Light, who shines upon all. Therefore there is no darkness in the world. May we hurry to attain our salvation. May we hurry to attain our renewal."
Clement wrote extensively although much of his work has been lost. His most famous work is his Trilogy, a lengthy three-volume work in the style of similar works issued by the Greek philosophers. The first volume, the Protreptikos (Exhortation), was an invitation to conversion; the second was the Paidagogos (Tutor), a manual of Christian ethics and morals; and the third volume, the Stromateis (Miscellanies), was a long and rambling work on just about every subject Clement could think of. This trilogy unveiled Clement's theological system for salvation. There are three steps: firstly, the Word of God, or the Logos invites mankind to abandon paganism through faith; secondly, He reforms their lives by moral precepts; thirdly, He elevates those who have undergone this moral purification to the perfect knowledge of divine things, which he calls "gnosis" (Knowledge). These writings were an invitation to the pagan to abandon idolatry and to consider Christ's redemptive work, which releases one from the power of sin and from all errors that makes a human being blind and helpless. Thus in the time of Clement the Catechetical School adopted a three step programme. 1. Conversion of pagans to Christianity; 2. Practicing the moral precepts; 3. Instructing Christians to attain perfect knowledge of doctrine.
 Clement like his successor Origen believed that Christian theology and Greek philosophy could be combined and reconciled to yield a method of scholarship unmatched by the rest of the world. His ability to refute his critics with quotations and allusions to the classic poets and philosophers made him a powerful force for intellectual Christianity, as many of the pagans of his day saw Christians as a largely uncultured and unintelligent group. Clement's writings also helped new converts feel at home in their new religion by showing that one could be learned and intelligent and be a Christian at the same time. He was regarded as one of the leaders of Christian liberalism, as he attempted to reconcile Greek culture with Christianity. Clement answered his critics. 
"I am not unaware that certain ignorant people, who take fright at the least noise, would have us confine ourselves to essential things and those related to the faith, and think we ought to neglect those things which come from without and are superfluous. 
Some people, who think themselves to be spiritual, believe that one ought to have nothing to do either with philosophy or with dialectic or even to apply oneself to the study of the universe. They advocate faith pure and simple, as if they were to refuse to labour on a vine and wanted immediately to pick the grapes." 
In his writings Clement cited from memory from the Septuagint Scriptures, (explains inaccuracies) often from his favourite passages that included Genesis 1(the creation-story), the Decalogue, the Sermon on the Mount, John 1 (the coming of the Logos), the hymn to love in the letter to Corinth, and Ephesians 4. It was obvious that he loved the Psalms too and the epigrammatic wisdom of Proverbs but not so the historical books. The major prophets featured prominently also. With his use of the New Testament he neglected the gospel of Mark in comparison with the other evangelists. However he enlightened us in one of his letters, of a longer, secret version of Mark circulating in Alexandria at that time. Besides what became the canonical gospels, The Gospel according to the Hebrews and The Gospel according to the Egyptians were familiar in Alexandria, but Clement accorded them a very different status from the others. He also cited from works like The Shepherd of Hermas or The Epistle of Barnabas which were not included in the eventual canon of Holy Scripture, but held in high regard by the early Church.
Alexander spoke of Clement as his master: "for we acknowledge as fathers those blessed saints who are gone before us, and to whom we shall go after a little time; the truly blest Pantaenus, I mean, and the holy Clemens, my teacher, who was to me so greatly useful and helpful." St. Cyril of Alexandria who became Patriarch of Alexandria in 412 referred to Clement "a man admirably learned and skilful, and one that searched to the depths all the learning of the Greeks, with an exactness rarely attained before." So Theodoret, writing in the fourth century declared, "He surpassed all others, and was a holy man" whilst Jerome pronounced him the most learned of all the ancients; while Eusebius testifies to his theological attainments, and applauds him as an "incomparable master of Christian philosophy."

Origen (c.185 A.D - c.254 A.D), the most brilliant pupil of Clement followed his teacher as Head of the Didascalia when Clement fled to Caesarea at the tender age of seventeen or eighteen. While Clement had been a convert, Origen was born into the Christian faith, the son of devout Christian parents. His father, Leonidas, taught him to love the Scriptures. Of faith and Greek literature. Leonidas faith was put to the test completely and he was martyred during the persecution under Severus in 203, and thus left Origen to care for his mother and family when his father's property was confiscated. So he followed in his father's footsteps and embarked on a teaching career, a career that would make him one of the profoundest theologians in the Church ever. He helped those whose family were victims of the persecutions. He sold his books in order to be able to teach and led a very ascetic life, even taking the Mat.19.12 literally and had himself castrated for the sake of the Gospel (although some scholars doubt this). Becoming a eunuch would contribute towards his future troubles with patriarch Demetrius I. His zeal to know the Scriptures more intimately and learnedly drove him to the original texts and hence his study of Hebrew. He also spent years in the schools of the leading philosophers, notably that of Ammonius Saccas. 
After some years as Head an anti-Christian riot in 215 forced him to leave Egypt and he visited both Caesarea and Jerusalem. In the former city he was invited to give an address in front of the bishop that so incensed his own diocesan, Demetrius, that he was recalled. Twelve years later, when visiting the bishop of Caesarea, Theocistus, again, the bishop ordained him. This time on returning to Alexandria, his bishop was so incensed about this breach of discipline that before an assembly of bishops and presbyters Origen was banished and excommunicated from the Church of Alexandria.
For the rest of his life Origen lived at Caesarea, Palestine, where he continued to teach and write and thus built up another place of reputable learning. Like Clement, Origen travelled widely though Greece, Palestine, Arabia, Antioch, Nicomedia, and Rome to expand his knowledge not only of theology but also to visit churches to combat various heresies. He became known as the most learned of all Christians. He also possessed an incredible memory and could quote at length from the Scriptures, the works of philosophers and from the classic writers in debate. Famous people came under his influence such as the learning-loving mother, Mammaea, of the Emperor Alexander Severus, and Gregory of Neo-caesarea, the Wonder-worker, who wrote a panegyric upon the death of his tutor, full of praise and admiration. The persecution under the Emperor Maximin forced Origen to take leave Caesarea and flee to Caesarea in Cappadocia, where he remained hidden for about two years in the house of a Christian lady named Juliana, who was the heiress of Symmachus, the Ebionite translator of the Septuagint, and from whom he obtained several manuscripts that had belonged to Symmachus. It was here that he composed his Exhortation to Martyrdom, which was expressly written for the sake of his friends Ambrosius and Protoctetus, who had been imprisoned on account of their Christian profession, but who recovered their freedom after the death of Maximin. His death also allowed Origen to return to the Palestinian Caesarea. During the great persecution of Decius c.252 Origen was arrested and thrown into prison. He was tortured so badly that he never recovered when he was released and died two years later in Tyre in his seventieth year. There is no doubt that Origen lived one of the most pure and noble lives of any Christian. There are few who showed so much patience and meekness under much unmerited sufferings. His moral qualities were thus as remarkable as his intellectual gifts. 

What works of Origen that survive are due to the generous offer of Ambrosius, a convert, to be his scribe. According to Epiphanius there were at least 6,000 volumes of Origen's writings, but through acrimony, begun by Jerome, mainly in his quarrel with Rufinus who defended Origen's teacher, the monks of Sceta in Egypt against their fellow monks of Nitria (very pro Origen), and Theophilus of Alexandria who enlisted the support of Pope Anastasius, Origen's work were declared erroneous in 404. Fortunately before Jerome, Athanasius and the Cappadocian Fathers had held Origen in high regard and the latter published a collection of his writing known as Philocalia. 
A century later a second attack against Origen and Origenists was submitted to the Emperor Justinian. Whatever ever transpired between the anti-Origenists and the emperor it led to the latter writing his Liber adversus Origenem, that contained twenty-four censurable texts taken from the De principiis, and lastly ten propositions to be anathematized. Justinian ordered the patriarch Mennas to call together all the bishops present in Constantinople and make them subscribe to these anathemas. Origen's writings were condemned but his teaching lived on through his pupils such as Evagrius and many of the monks. To-day, the Church sees Origen as having one of the finest theological minds and a great defender of the Christian faith. His works on the Scriptures has probably never been matched.
The reason for this is that he insisted on a good text for the foundation of his writings and hence he compiled the Hexapla, a work which it is said took him twenty-eight years to complete, and was fifty volumes in length. As the name suggests this was a work in six parallel columns of the Hebrew Text, the Septuagint, and for Greek versions. Thus Origen is probably the most scriptural of all theologians. Holy Scripture holds the key to every problem and teaching after its three meanings are analysed: the literal; the moral -- that is, the meaning useful for the spiritual welfare of the soul; and finally the "spiritual" -- that is, the allegory which contains a doctrine about the relation of God to His universe. The last two are the most important for Origen.
His monumental exegetical commentaries, the Scholia, were partly put into Latin by Rufinus as was De Principiis. At a time when there was no controversies to contend with, Origen set forth his theology on a grand scale and systematized the whole range of Christian doctrine. Origen saw Philosophy compatible to Christian teaching, but with three important differences: 1. in declaring that matter is co-eternal with God; 2. in confiding God's providence to the heavens; 3. in declaring that man's destiny was governed by the stars. Undoubtedly Origen's mind took Christian doctrine into another realm. The deity is the source of all existence
Although He is one and indivisible He cannot be arrived at by a mere process of abstraction. He is goodness itself and goodness demands creatures. These came into existence through the Word, who though subordinate to the Supreme Being partakes of His nature and is divine, being begotten of His Father by an eternal generation. The created spirits sinned and the material world was made for their correction. According to the measure of their fault they are found as men or demons. But the Word became flesh and suffered for them upon the cross, paying there the price that alone could redeem men from the power of the demons. So great was that price that it availed even for the demons, so that ultimately all spirits will be saved. To this end there operates in those who are being saved the Holy Spirit ; but here Origen is not very clear, and he leaves the relation of the Spirit to the Father and the Son undefined. Such sin as is not removed in this life is destroyed in a purifying fire beyond the grave, after which the soul is clothed in an immaterial body, while the physical body returns to earth in order to house still other spirits. (J. Wand, History of the Early Church (London), p.76).
Origen also taught that there was life after death, followed of purification in quodam eruditionis loco, through a baptism of fire by degrees depending on how a man had lived. The less a man has to expiate the less will he suffer. The wicked will be punished by flames of fire, specially prepared to suit the sins of each individual. Yet this punishment will not be eternal except for the rebellious angels. Origen understood that in God's plan all creation will be reconciled to their Maker. However not all will enjoy the same degree of happiness.
He wrote a number of ascetic works, two of which have come down to us: The Exhortation to Martyrdom and On Prayer. He also wrote a treatise, Contra Celsum, in which he defended Christianity from attacks by the second-century pagan philosopher Celsus. The latter had made himself familiar with Christian literature, and concluded that the Gospel message was absurd. How could a God make himself so obscure in a corner of the Roman Empire? Origen counter-argued. True. God did reveal Himself in lowly circumstances but He had been preparing for this for a long time, illustrated in the history of the Jews, the chosen race. Yes, it is true that God reveals Himself to the simple and poor because their hearts are not full of worldly things.  To these people God revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.

There is no doubt that Christ, the Logos, is the centre of Origen's theology. In his writings he referred often in random ways to various titles which described the nature of Christ's role: Light of the World, Resurrection, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Door and the Shepherd, Christ and King, Teacher and Master, Son, True Vine and Bread, First and Last, Living and Dead, Sword, Servant, Lamb of God, Paraclete, Propitiation, Power, Wisdom, Sanctification, Redemption, Righteousness, Demiurge, Agent of the good God, High-Priest, Rod, Flower, Stone, Logos.
Obedience is another dominating theme, which in Origen's time could well lead to martyrdom. Hence the call to martyrdom is "the entire pattern of living set out in the Gospel." Obedience, self-denial and humiliation, death to sin is the spiritualized martyrdom, and thus also an imitation of Christ, that leads to the conquering evil and leads to virtue and participation in the divine nature. This is the way that Origen lived.

There are difficulties with some of Origen's teaching. His of interpretation of the relationship of the Three Persons of the Trinity is unclear. On the nature of Christ he taught that the human soul of Christ had previously existed, and had been united to the Divine nature before that incarnation of the Son of God which is related in the Gospels. Not only Christ's soul, but all souls pre-existed and their imprisonment in material bodies was a punishment for sin but these material bodies will be transformed into spiritual ones at the resurrection. Origen believed that all creation, even Satan and his devils will be finally restored the mediation of Christ. Nowhere though did Origen discuss the nature of the Church. Nevertheless until Augustine came along he had the greatest influence on the theologians, even those who sought his demise like Jerome owed a tremendous lot to this brilliant and faithful Christian. In many ways Origen was the most brilliant of all Christian theologians.

      Origen's immediate successor at the Didascalia was Heraclas, (185-248). When Origen was obliged by his father's martyrdom and the consequent confiscation of his goods to commence teaching grammar and philosophy, Heraclas and his brother Plutarch were his first pupils, and thus it was Origen who converted them both to Christianity. (St. Plutarch soon suffered for the faith, being the first of Origen's pupils to gain the crown of martyrdom) At the Catechetical School Heraclas became known for his knowledge of philosophy and Greek learning. He had admirers who travelled from afar such as Julius Africanus. Origen made him his assistant as he himself had so many students. When Demetrius exiled Origen from the diocese, he appointed Heraclas as Head of the School in c.230. This was short lived however as he followed the aged Demetrius as bishop in c.230. It is said that when he increased the number of local bishops to 20, the presbyters decided to distinguish him from the rest of the bishops by calling him "Papa." Thus, he was the first to bear the title of Pope, long before its use in Rome. He died in c.246.
The next head of the School, another famous pupil of Origen, was Dionysius of Alexandria (c.190- c.264), later surnamed the Great. He occupied that post from c. 232 and probably even after he became the patriarch in 246. Dionysius as did prelates after him issued from Alexandria the time of Easter for each year at Epiphany. During the persecution under Decius c.250, Dionysius was rescued by friends and taken away to the desert in Libya until it ended. Because of his own experience throughout the persecution he sided with Cornelius against Novatian in Africa over the issue of apostasy.  He took a somewhat milder view than Cyprian, for he gave greater weight to the "indulgences" granted by the martyrs, and refused forgiveness in the hour of death to none. However the validity of baptism by those who apostasied spread from Africa to the East. Dionysius disagreed with those who held that a baptism conducted by a "schismatic" or "heretic" soiled rather than cleansed the catchumem. In other words such baptisms were valid. It was partly Dioynsius's attitude that enabled the baptism issue to heal much quicker in the East than it did in the West.
When the Valerian persecutions began in 257 Dionysius after being tried with a priest and two deacons before the prefect of Egypt was banished to Kephro in the Mareotis. Unlike Cyprian, Dionysius was spared and returned to Alexandria when the persecutions ended. Peace had returned to the Church, but not to Alexandria which was in a state of tumult. Even the bishop had to communicate by letter to his flock as walking through Alexandria was dangerous.
During his time as Head of the School and also as bishop Dionysius upheld the Orthodox teaching of the Faith and he thus opposed heresies vehemently. One such heresy was propounded by an Egyptian bishop, Nepos, whose parousia's doctrine taught that there would be a reign of one thousand years of Christ upon earth in his Refutation of the Allegorizers. After Nepos' death, Dionysius refuted his argument in On the Promises. Another heresy was Sabellianism, which denied the distinctness of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity. Dionysius wrote four letters against this heresy and sent copies to Sixtus II. But it would seem in responding to this heresy that Dionysius went so far in the opposite direction that he spoke of the Son as poíema (i.e. something made) and distinct in substance, xénos kat' oùsian, from the Father, even as is the husbandman from the vine, or a shipbuilder from a ship. When he was accused of heresy, Dionysius wrote two books Refutation of this dogma and Apology. In these two works he certainly declared that there was never a time when God was not the Father and that Christ was and is the Word and Wisdom and Power and co-eternal with the Father. The "Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity" he clearly expressed. 
After Dionysius the history of the Alexandrian School is not too clear. It would seem that he was followed by Theognostus, Pierius, Pomphilus and Peter. Theognostus upheld Origen's teaching as expressed in his Hypotyposes. Pierius shared the Head position with Achillas, whilst Theonas was bishop of Alexandria. He died in Rome, c. 309, and it seems that although he underwent sufferings during the Diocletian persecution he was not martyred. Pierius' skill as an exegetical writer and as a preacher gained for him the name, "Origen the Younger". He wrote a work (biblion) comprising twelve treatises or sermons (logoi), some of which reflect Origen's teaching, even some of his "erroneous" ones such as the Holy Spirit being subordinated to the Father and the Son, and the pre-existence of human souls. His known sermons are: one on the Gospel of St. Luke; Easter sermons; a sermon on the Theotokos; and a eulogy on St. Pamphilus, who had been one of his disciples but only some fragments of these writings are extant. The next name associated as Head is Pomphilus, but practically nothing is known of him.
The next Head was Peter. Unlike his predecessors he was anti-Origen in his theology, and perhaps he began the hard feeling against the brilliant Origen. Peter held this position when the Diocletian persecution broke out and it would seem that he concealed himself and fled from Alexandria. He also had to deal with the lapsi before his own martyrdom in 311. There is extant a collection of fourteen canons issued by Peter in the third year of the persecution dealing chiefly with the lapsi, excerpted probably from an Easter Festal Epistle. The fact that they were ratified by the Council of Trullo, and thus became part of the canon law of the Eastern Church, probably accounts for their preservation. 

When Athanasius (296 373) was bishop of Alexandria he appointed the blind Didymus, a layman (c.310-c.395) as Head of the School over which he presided for about half a century. Like Origen when at the School, he was highly respected and amongst his pupils were Rufinus and Gregory Nanzianen. The historian Palladius visited him four times over a period of ten years. Another visitor was Jerome who sought advice on difficult passages of the Scriptures. Didymus was a loyal follower of Origen and when Jerome declared war on the Origenists he ceased to boast of being one of Didymus' disciple. When Origenists were condemned by Justinian in sixth century Didymus and his writings fell into disfavour, despite the high praise many had heaped upon them including the orator Libanius. Writing to an official in Egypt, he stated, "You cannot surely be ignorant of Didymus, unless you are ignorant of the great city wherein he has been night and day pouring out his learning for the good of others." 
Being blind himself from the age of four, he cared for the welfare of the blind by promoting a system of writing for them. In this method, he anticipated Braille by fifteen centuries. 
Like Athanasius and Anthony, Didymus was a great opponent of the Arian heresy, which was taught in Alexander by Arius, a presbyter and his followers. One of Didymus' important works was De Trinitate, written in 379 in which he taught the doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation. A treatise against the Manichæans surives almost complete. There are also exegetical fragments, of which the Psalms are the most important. A commentary on the Catholic Epistles is known to us through the Latin translation made by a certain Epiphanius for Cassiodorus. 
After Didymus, an obscure period in the history of the school followed. Its great days were over as it gave way to more pagan than Christian traditions. After the first split of the Church which happened as a result of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the emperors of Constantinople closed the School in their persecution against the Copts. Nothing however can be taken away from the wealth of teaching and scholarship that the Didascalia gave to the early Church. 

Marianne Dorman.
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