Alexandria vs. Antioch Schools

Alexandrian 'school'
Antiochene 'school'
Tendency toward Platonic metaphysical approach; a desire to
move beyond appearances to the 'truly real'.
Tendency toward Aristotelian stress on concrete realities, factual
historicity and its analysis, and the discernable characteristics of
concrete reality.
Favours an allegorical reading of scripture, first proffered in a
notable way by Origen; driven here by a desire to 'get to the real
meaning' of given biblical passages.
Favors an historical/factual, 'literal', reading of scripture.
With regard to Christ, a tendency to focus on inner, metaphysical
composition and activity.
A tendency to focus upon the factual/historical aspects of the
human life of Christ-what he did, said, accomplished, etc. Cf.
Theodore's exegetical interest in the 'historical Jesus'.
Soteriological convictions driven most often by notions of
sanctification/divinisation, mystical relation, etc.
Soteriological convictions driven by corrective agency of divinity on
Generally: stress laid upon the ontological oneness of Christ-the
divinity and humanity form one being-wrought most often by
reference to the Logos/sarx framework (though not always; cf. Cyril
of Alexandria).
Generally: stress laid upon the distinction between God and man in
Christ-these not only distinct in discernable attributes, but in
substantive reality. Preservation of full reality and integrity of both
natures. Logos/anthropos model predominates.
Key weakness lies in the routine jeopardy into which the persistent Key weakness lies in the difficulty in expressing the genuine union
distinction of natures is cast in the maintenance of the single
of the two natures, and indeed the true oneness or singular
ontological reality of the incarnate Christ.
subjectivity of the incarnate Christ.
Until the time of Constantine, Alexandria blossomed as the second city of the Roman Empire, after Rome itself. It
took pride in its famous library and its reputation as the center for Greek philosophy and learning.
We have seen that Philo (great Jewish thinker) strove to integrate Greek philosophy with Judaism; early Christians
followed his lead, as they worked to integrate philosophy with Christianity.
Around A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria (a Church Father, c. 150-215) taught that just as God gave the Law to the
Jews, so he gave philosophy to the Greeks--as an instrument to lead them to Christ. God’s eternal Word (Logos) was
the source of both. Clement believed the truth was to be found in Scripture, but sometimes it was hidden, and could
only be discovered through allegorical interpretation. Clement did insist, however, that the Scriptures had a literal,
historical sense--a primary meaning--that had to be respected. But allegorical reading could find further, "spiritual"
meanings containing universal and eternal truths, an idea reflecting Plato.
Origen’s writings were some of the most influential in the early church. He developed more
fully Philo’s and Clement’s ideas of allegorical interpretation, understanding three levels of interpretation within a
text that corresponded to three aspects of the human being. Literal, moral, and spiritual meanings corresponded to
the body, soul, and spirit, in ascending order of importance. The literal meaning of the historical events was the
least important for the Christian, just as the body was less important than the soul or spirit (two different
things, psyche and pneuma, in Greek). More important were the underlying meanings which could only be
perceived allegorically. Even Jesus was less important as a historical figure than as the mystery of Christ present to
believers in the church and the sacraments…
…A drawback of Origen’s faith in allegorical interpretation is that it often led him into long speculative expositions
of Scripture that get so far from the literal meaning as to seem to us fantastical and irrelevant. Many later Church
Fathers and medieval scholars followed a similar path, writing long allegorical interpretations of brief Scripture
texts. Origen did insist on certain principles of interpretation that reflect his essentially orthodox intentions. It was
important to him that nothing be said about God that was unworthy of the divine, and that nothing be affirmed that
was contrary to the Rule of Faith. Origen’s concept of allegorical interpretation was not an unlimited intellectual
free-for-all, but a serious effort to discover the deepest truths about God, mysterious as God might
be. *An excerpt from The Bible the Book the Bridges the Millennia by Maxine Clarke Beach Copyright © 1998
Maxine Clarke Beach.
In the fourth and fifth centuries a rival school arose in Antioch to challenge the Alexandrian insistence on
allegorical interpretation. Scholars of this school dismissed allegorical meanings as so much nonsense and insisted
on reading for the historical and grammatical meaning. What the text said was what it meant. It did not convey
some abstract philosophical concepts. In keeping with a historical focus, these scholars emphasized the humanity
of Jesus. They examined chronology and sequence of events, which had little meaning to those who read everything
as allegories. Possibly because Antioch had a large and influential Jewish population, some of its Christian leaders
emphasized the monotheism of Christianity--i.e., God understood as a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was
still one God.