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that they wrote in another sense, or that their writings were gradually corrupted by unskilful transcribers; or certainly, before Arius, like 'the sickness that destroyeth in the noon-day,' was born in Alexandria, they made statements innocently and incautiously, which are open to the misinterpretation of the perverse ?.”
2 Apolog. adv. Ruffin. ii. Oper. vol. ii. p. 149.
THE ECLECTIC SECT.
The words of St. Jerome, with which the last section closed, may perhaps suggest the suspicion, that the Alexandrians, though orthodox themselves, yet incautiously prepared the way for Arianism by the countenance they gave to the use of the Platonic theological language. But, before speculating on the medium of connexion between Platonism and Arianism, it would be well to ascertain the existence of the connexion itself, which is very doubtful, whether we look for it in history, or in the respective characters of the parties professing the two doctrines; though it is certain that Platonism, and Origenism also, became the excuse and refuge of the heresy when it was condemned by the Church. I proceed to give an account of the rise and genius of Eclecticism, with the view of throwing light upon this question; that is, of showing its relation both to the Alexandrian Church and to Arianism.
The Eclectic philosophy is so called from its professing to select the better parts of the systems invented before it, and to digest these into one consistent doctrine. It is doubtful where the principle of it originated, but it is probably to be ascribed to the Alexandrian Jews. Certain it is, that the true faith never could come into contact with the heathen philosophies, without exercising its right to arbitrate between them, to protest against their vicious or erroneous dogmas, and to extend its countenance to whatever bore an exalted or a practical character. A cultivated taste would be likely to produce among the heathen the same critical spirit which was created by real religious knowledge; and accordingly we find in the philosophers of the Augustan and the succeeding age, an approximation to an eclectic or syncretistic system, similar to that which is found in the writings of Philo. Some authors have even supposed, that Potamo, the original projector of the school based on this principle, flourished in the reign of Augustus; but this notion is untenable, and we must refer him to the age of Severus, at the end of the second century? In the mean time, the Christians had continued to act upon the discriminative view of heathen philosophy which the Philonists had opened ; and, as we have already seen, Clement, yet without allusion to particular sect or theory, which did not exist till after his day, declares himself the patron of the Eclectic principle. Thus we are introduced to the history of the School which embodied it.
Ammonius, the contemporary of Potamo, and virtually the founder of the Eclectic sect, was born of Christian parents, and educated as a Christian in the catechetical institutions of Alexandria, under the superintendence of Clement or Pantanus. After a time he renounced, at least secretly, his belief in Christianity; and opening a school of morals and theology on the stock of principles, esoteric and exoteric, which he had learned in the Church, he became the founder of a system really his own, but which by a dexterous artifice he attributed to Plato. The philosophy thus introduced into the world was forthwith patronized by the imperial court, both at Rome and in the East, and spread itself in the course of years throughout the empire, with bitter hostility and serious detriment to the interests of true religion ; till at length, obtaining in the person of Julian a second apostate for its advocate, it became the authorized interpretation and apology for the state polytheism. It is a controverted point whether or not Ammonius actually separated from the Church. His disciples affirm it; Eusebius, though not without some immaterial confusion of statement, denies it?. On the whole, it is probable that he began his teaching as a Christian, and but gradually disclosed the systematic infidelity on which it was grounded. We are told expressly that he bound his disciples to secrecy, which was not broken till they in turn became lecturers in Rome, and were led one by one to divulge the real doctrines of their master; nor can we otherwise account for the fact of Origen having attended him for a time, since he who refused to hear Paulus of Antioch, even when dependent on the patroness of that heretic, would scarcely have extended a voluntary countenance to a professed deserter from the Christian faith and name.
i Brucker, Hist. Phil. per. ii. part i. 2, § 4. [Vide Fabric. Bibl. Græc. t. v. p. 680, ed. Harles.]
This conclusion is confirmed by a consideration of the nature of the error substituted by Ammonius for the orthodox belief; which was in substance what in these times would be called Neologism, a heresy which, even more than others, has shown itself desirous and able to conceal itself under the garb of sound religion, and to keep the form, while it destroys the spirit, of Christianity. So close, indeed, was the outward resemblance between Eclecticism and the divine system of which it was the deadly enemy, that St. Austin remarks, in more than one passage, that the difference between the two professions lay only in the varied acceptation of a few words and propositions. This peculiar character of the Eclectic philosophy must be carefully noticed, for it exculpates the Catholic Fathers from being really implicated in proceedings, of which at first they did not discern the drift; while it explains that apparent connexion which, at the distance of centuries, exists between them and the real originator of it.
The essential mark of Neologism is the denial of the exclusive divine mission and peculiar inspiration of the Scripture Prophets; accompanied the while with a profession of general respect for them as benefactors of mankind, as really instruments in God's hand, and as in
sense the organs of His revelations; nay, in a fuller measure such, than other religious and moral teachers. In its most specious form, it holds whatever is good and true in the various religions in the world, to
4 Mosheim, Diss. de Turb. per recent. Plat. Eccl. § 12.