Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume VI/Alexander of Alexandria/Introductory Notice
Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria.
[a.d. 273–313–326.] The records of the Ante-Nicene period, so far as Alexandria is concerned, are complete in this great primate, the friend and patron of Athanasius, and, with him, the master-spirit of the great Council of Nicæa. I have so arranged the “Fragments” of the Edinburgh series in this volume as to make them a great and important integer in rounding out and fulfilling the portraiture of the school and the See of Alexandria. The student will thus have at hand the materials for a covetable survey of the Alexandrian Fathers,—their history, their influence, and their immense authority in early Christendom. In an elucidation I venture to condense my thoughts upon some points which it has been the interest of unbelievers to misrepresent, and to colour for their own purposes. But, as the limitations of my editorial duty do not allow me to enter upon a dissertation, I am thankful to refer the reader to the truly valuable though by no means exhaustive work of Dr. Neale on The Patriarchate of Alexandria. His statements are not, indeed, to be received with unreserving confidence; for, in spite of his pure and lofty purposes, his mind had been formed under the strong bias of a transient fashion in divinity, and he always surveyed his subject from an Occidental if not from a Latin (I do not mean a strictly Roman) point of view. To other popular historians I need not refer the student, save, by anticipation, to the list of authorities which will be furnished in the concluding volume of this series.
Let us reflect, then, upon the epoch to which we have now come. The intense sufferings, labours, and intellectual as well as moral struggles, of the three heroic centuries, are closing, and Alexander of Alexandria is the grand figure of the period. Diocletian is preparing to let loose upon the sheep of Christ the ferocious wolves of the tenth persecution. Lucian is founding the school of Antioch, revising the New Testament, and, in fact, the whole Bible of the Fathers, for his labours included the version of the Seventy. Unhappily, the ambitious Arius, who calls him master, has begun to trouble the evangelical See of St. Mark; and Achillas, notwithstanding the warnings of Peter, has laid hands upon him, and made him a presbyter. He aspires to be made a bishop. But anon a boy is playing on the shore at Alexandria in whom a flaming genius for the priesthood already manifests itself. Alexander, looking forth from his windows, sees him “playing church” with his schoolmates, and actually dipping a young pagan in the sea, “in the name of the Father,” etc. No doubt something of the kind did occur, and thus was the boy Athanasius brought to the notice of his bishop. But even Dupin rejects the rest of the story, that Alexander decided the question of the boy-baptism in favour of its validity, as the Latins would have us believe. Anyhow, we have this miracle of precocity attending Alexander as his deacon at the Council of Nicæa, and then soon after succeeding to his episcopal chair. Athanasius is the grandest figure of the primitive ages after the apostles fell asleep. Raised up to complete their testimony to the eternal Logos, and to suffer like them, we soon behold him the noble example of constancy against the new perils of the world’s favour and the patronage of the Cæsars. “Athanasius against the world” was in two senses his great encomium, and the epitome of his glorious life and warfare. Not less was it “Athanasius for the world.” Alas! the majestic school of Pantænus and Clement soon after comes to its enigmatical decline. Some plants, when they have borne their superlative flower and fruit, mysteriously decay. It was so, alas! with the great Christian academy that not improbably owes its beginnings to Apollos.
Translator’s Introductory Notice.
Alexander was appointed successor to Achillas, as Bishop of Alexandria, about a.d. 312. The virtues of this prelate, which Eusebius has passed over entirely without mention, other ecclesiastical writers have greatly extolled. For on all sides he is styled “the staunchest upholder of evangelical doctrine,” “the patron and protector of apostolic doctrine;” and “that bishop of divine faith, full of wisdom and of zeal enkindled by the Holy Spirit.” He was the first to detect and to condemn Arius; and taking his stand upon passages of Holy Scripture, as Theodoret remarks, he taught that the Son of God was of one and the same majesty with the Father, and had the same substance with the Father who begat Him.
At first he sought to bring back Arius from his heresy. But when he perceived that he openly and obstinately taught his false doctrines, he assembled a first and then a second synod of the bishops of Egypt, and degraded him from the order of the priesthood, and cut him off from the communion of the Church. This proving ineffectual, the Council of Nicæa was convened, in which he was finally condemned. In combating the Arian heresy, Alexander endured, although at a great age, many trials, and died shortly after the holding of the council.
- The first date is conjectural.
- Elucidation I.
- For liberal references, consult Hagenbach, Text-Book of the History of Doctrine; by all means using Professor Smith’s edition, New York, 1861.
- For the matters touching the theology of the period, the student should prepare himself by consulting Waterland, History of the Athanasian Creed (Works, vol. iv., London), and Van Oosterzee, Christian Dogmatics, New York, 1874. I wonder that Professor Smith could, so unreservedly, commend Hagenbach.
- [Here given Achilles; but I preserve unity of usage in this respect, the rather as Achilles is the name of a contemporary heretic.]
- [i.e., in his great and final heresy. Of his former condemnation, see pp. 262–263, supra.]
- H. E., i. 2.
- [To which Achilles had admitted him. See p. 268, supra. In spite of the warnings, pp. 263–265, supra.]