This article is to be referred to as David T. Runia, "Philo of Alexandria and the Beginnings of Christian Thought, Alexandrian and Jew," Studia Philonica Annual 7 (1995): 143-160©
PHILO OF ALEXANDRIA and the Beginnings of Christian Thought*
David T. Runia1. Introduction1. Introduction 143
2. Augustine and Philo 144
3. Jerome and Philo's place in the Christian tradition 148
4. A final preliminary observation 151
5. Philo's influence on the Christian tradition 153
6. Why the choice for Platonism? 157
7. Back to Augustine and Philo 158
8. A final voice: Pascal 159
Before commencing my lecture I would first of all like to express my warmest thanks to Greg Sterling and the Theology Department of this distinguished university for organizing this conference, which is leading to some highly significant developments in Philonic studies, and especially for allowing me the privilege of addressing you tonight.
So far we have looked at Philo's relation to philosophy and Philo's role in the Hellenistic-Jewish encounter. These are, as we have seen, very suitable subjects, for on the one hand Philo was devoted to philosophy all his life, on the other his entire outlook is determined by his Jewish background. My subject for this evening goes in a different direction. I have the task of addressing you on Philo and the beginnings of Christian thought. This may seem a much more surprising topic. What did the Jew Philo have to do with incipient Christianity? He probably never heard of Jesus, and, despite reports to the contrary in later sources, he almost certainly never had anything to do with the Christian church in its initial stages.
All this is very true. But, as many of you will know, Philo's relation
to the Christian tradition once it got going did turn out to be very important, certainly for the fortunes of his work and thought after his death. Philo's writings only survived because they were taken up in the Christian tradition. The new form of Judaism that began to develop in 2nd century was not interested in preserving the legacy of a thinker who had made such great concessions to Hellenism in his thought. The subject of my lecture in the broadest terms, therefore, is the reception of Philo's writings and thought in the Christian tradition and the influence that Philo may have had on the development of that tradition. This subject has been at the centre of my research for a number of years, and I am very pleased to have the opportunity to present to you a kind of synthesis of the results that I have attained.
Naturally my theme is a broad one, and could be dealt with in various ways. It is very tempting to deal with it in a primarily narrative way, for the story of how Philo's writings were taken up in the Christian tradition and preserved for posterity is a fascinating one, one moreover which has seldom been told. But this is only part of what I want to do this evening. On this occasion I also want to address the question of Philo's survival in and influence on the Christian tradition in a more analytical mode. It is better, however, not to do this too abstractly. Our analysis will be more interesting, I believe, if we can relate it to concrete examples of that influence at work. So instead of beginning at the very beginning of my subject, I shall now start in the middle of things, more than 300 years after Philo's death, when his place in the Christian tradition is already assured.
2. Augustine and Philo
The example with I wish to start this evening consists of a number of passages in the church father Augustine which relate to the biblical text Exodus 3:14-15. Allow me to insult your biblical knowledge by just reminding you of the contents of these verses. When Moses hears that he is being sent by God to the children of Israel in Egypt, he asks God the following question: when I say `the God of your fathers sends me to you', and they say `what is his name?', what should be my reply? The answer he receives is in the words of the Latin Bible which Augustine read: ego sum qui sum; sic dices filiis Israel: qui est, misit me ad vos (I am who I am; thus you will speak to the children of Israel: he who is has sent me to you). Now please allow me to put you at ease. I am well aware that this biblical text suffers from over-exposure. It is, certainly for
philosophers, the best-known text in the entire Old Testament. But this text has a sequel in verse 15 which is much less well known: God spoke again to Moses: haec dices filiis Israel: dominus deus patrum vestrorum, Deus Abraham, Deus Isaac, et Deus Jacob misit me ad vos; hoc nomen mihi est in aeternum; et hoc memoriale meum in generationem et generationem (These words you will speak to the children of Israel: the Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob has sent me to you: this is my name in eternity, and this is my remembrance from generation to generation). What I first want to do is focus attention on the fact that in no less than five quite lengthy passages Augustine makes a distinction between these two divine pronouncements, namely between what God says in v. 14 and in v. 15.
In his commentary on Psalm 101:25 it is the words of the Psalmist in generatione generationum anni tui (your years are in the generation of generations) that cause Augustine through verbal association to recall the text Exodus 3:15. The years of God indicate his eternity. God's eternity is his substance, for he possesses nothing that is in any way changeable, no past, no future, only the present conveyed by the verb est (he is). This is the God who sends Moses forth. He [Moses] asks the name of the One who is sending him. His request is not left unfulfilled, for the question is sound: it is posed not out of curiositas (curiosity) but out of a necessitas ministrandi (a need to minister to his people). My name, Moses learns, is the great est. But what is a man in comparison with this great est? How can he be a participant in it (particeps eius)? Noli desperare, humana fragilitas (do not despair, o human fragility): I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. You have heard what I am for myself; hear also what I am for your sake (CCL 40.1445.14-55). In the case of Psalm 121 it is the words in verse 3, Jerusalem cuius participatio eius in idipsum (Jerusalem, whose participation is in it itself) and especially the difficult term idipsum (it itself) which induce Augustine to reflect on God as `Being itself' and give our two texts a similar interpretation (CCL 1805.11-54). In the case of Psalm 134 the pretext for the discussion is different again. In verse 3 we read: `Praise the Lord because he is good; sing psalms to his Name, for it is pleasing.' God takes the weakness of mankind into account: ego sum qui sum is my true, eternal name, but you do not understand it. For this reason I give you my temporal name, Deus Abraham et Deus Isaac et Deus Iacob. But at the same time this is my name in aeternum (to eternity, as in the biblical text), because it leads man to eternal life. The patriarchs were not eternal, but God has made them such: they had a beginning, but they will not experience an end (CCL 1942.9-43). In two of his sermons as well Augustine develops the distinction between the two divine names:
the one is a nomen incommutabilitatis (name of immutability) or nomen substantiae (name of substance), the other a nomen misericordiae (name of mercy, i.e. towards mankind) (Sermo 7.7, 2.5).
These are undoubtedly highly interesting texts. The Platonizing exegesis of Exodus 3:14 is, as I already observed, extremely well-known, but the connection with the following verse much less so. We might wish to start our discussion by first asking what the historical background of this exegesis is. Does this exegesis of Exodus 3:15 occur for the first time in Augustine, or did he take it over from a predecessor? It is a remarkable fact that, although Exodus 3:14 is cited by the church fathers on numerous occasions, the following verse receives almost no attention at all. And with regard to the distinction that Augustine makes between the pronouncements in the two texts, the situation is even more striking. This exegesis is, as far as I can tell, not found in any church father before Augustine (with one partial exception which I shall mention later). A comparable interpretation is found, however-and now you will understand why I started here-in the writings of the Jewish exegete and philosopher Philo of Alexandria.
Twice in his extensive corpus of writings Philo explicitly distin- guishes between the divine pronouncements in Exodus 3:14 and 3:15. In his Life of Moses, written as an introduction to his Pentateuchal commentaries, he gives the following paraphrase: `First tell them [i.e. your people] that I am he who is, so that they may learn the distinction between being and non-being, and also be taught that no name at all properly describes me... But if through their natural weakness they seek a title, reveal to them not only this, that I am God, but also that I am the God of the three men whose names express their excellence, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob (Mos. 1.75-76).' The second passage, located in the allegorical treatise On the change of names, gives a deeper philosophical analysis. God as Being is not comprehensible to the human mind. This also means that no name can properly be predicated of him. God's nature is to be, and not to be spoken of. But in order that the human race should not be deprived of a title for the One who is supremely good, he grants, through misuse of language, as if it were a proper name, the title `Lord God of the three natures of teaching, perfection and practice, Abraham Isaac Jacob.' Philo here connects the statement in Exodus 3:15 with the words in Exodus 6:3, which he interprets as `I appeared to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob as their God, but my proper name I did not reveal to them (Mut. 11-14)'. In the Life of Abraham there is a third text relevant to our subject, but here only the text Exodus 3:15 is dealt with. God honours the patriarchs by joining his name to their names: God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob, that is
to say, instead of the absolute the relative. God himself is in no need of a name, but nevertheless he grants to the race of men a suitable title, so that they will not be deprived of hope and kindness (Abr. 51).
So far we have introduced texts from two authors widely separated in time and space: in terms of time by a period of more than three centuries, in terms of space by the distance between two ports on the southern Mediterranean shore, Alexandria, the flourishing metropolis in the East, and Hippo, a small town in the Latin West, soon to be overrun by a tribe of wandering immigrants from Northern Europe (in those days the traffic was in the reverse direction). What, we may now ask, is the relation between these two authors?
As is well known, it cannot be maintained that our North African church father had a really extensive knowledge of literature from the Greek-speaking East. But Philo is certainly not totally unknown to him. In the work written against the Manichean Faustus in about 398 he names Philo expressly as a vir liberaliter eruditissimus, unus illorum, cuius eloquium Graeci Platoni aequare non dubitant (one who belongs to the Jewish camp, a man of exceedingly wide learning, whose style the Greeks do not hesitate to equate with Plato's) (C. Faust. 12.39). But, in spite of this positive verdict, to which we will return in a moment, the tenor of Augustine's report is for the most part negative. Philo is a prime example of what happens if one, just like Faustus, does not interpret the Old Testament in a Christocentric manner. Take for example the exposition of the design and measurements of Noah's ark. These he interprets allegorically in terms of the proportions of the human body. For a little while all goes well, for Christ too had a human body. But when he comes to the door which is made in the side of the ark, things goes badly wrong for our Jewish exegete. He goes so far as to explain this door in terms of the lower parts of the body, those parts which have the function of removing urine and excrement. This is quite unacceptable. If he had made the move to Christ, he would have seen his mistake and realized that the door is a symbol of the sacraments of the church, which streamed out of Christ's side on the cross.
The passage to which Augustine refers is found at the beginning of the second book of Philo's work Questions and Answers on Genesis, a work which has only been preserved for us in an Armenian translation. How did the Latin church father know about this passage? The German patristic scholar Berthold Altaner was convinced that Augustine had read Philo in a Latin translation. He draws our attention to the fact that
there is still extant a Latin translation of Book VI of this work, which is to be dated to the fourth century. Originally the translation must have covered more of the work, and was consulted by Augustine. This conclusion was energetically contested by Pierre Courcelle, who tried to demonstrate that Ambrose was the intermediate source. Augustine would have known that the bishop of Milan had taken over an enormous amount of material from Philo, including the explanation of the door of the ark which Augustine found so distressing. Criticism of Philo is thus meant as indirect criticism of Ambrose, who in Augustine's view too easily appropriated non-Christocentric allegorical exegesis for his own use. But about ten years ago an unexpected development took place. The original Greek text of precisely these seven Questions on the ark of Noah had been discovered in a manuscript on Mt Athos, and was now published by the French scholar Jean Paramelle. This discovery enabled him to show on philological grounds that it was highly probable that Augustine made use of a translation that adhered closely to the original Greek text.
3. Jerome and Philo's place in the Christian tradition
But let us not move too fast. Even if it may be considered virtually certain that Augustine had read at least this work of Philo, that does not necessarily mean that the positive remark about Philo cited above was based on a thorough study of his work. It is in fact taken over from the short biographical sketch of Philo included by Jerome in his work De viris illustribus (On illustrious men). Augustine always conceded that the monk of Bethlehem was his superior in terms of sheer erudition, and was ever prepared to make good use of the material that he had so assiduously collected together.
Jerome's biographical compendium (briefly mentioned last night by Prof. Signer) was a famous and influential work in its time, and it is worth looking at it more closely. In it he presents thumb-nail sketches of 135 famous men (women are excluded) who achieved prominence in church history up to his own time (rather immodestly the last sketch is of the author himself). All but three of these men were themselves Christians. It is striking that Jerome includes sketches of Philo, the
Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca, and the Jewish historian Josephus among all these Christian worthies. Of these three chapters the one on Philo (§11) is the longest. Why is the Jew Philo given such a prominent place in this work?
The first reason, if we read Jerome's sketch, has to do with a most curious development. Some time before the end of the 3rd century the story was spread that the Jew Philo had had contact with members of the church at the very beginning of its existence. It was thought that the Jewish ascetics named Therapeutae whom he describes in his book On the contemplative life were in fact proto-Christians, followers of the evangelist Mark, the reputed founder of the Alexandrian church. Philo was kindly disposed to these people, according to the story, because he had met Peter while on his mission to Rome, and Mark was of course Peter's disciple. This is the famous legend of Philo Christianus, made popular by bishop Eusebius, who told it at great length in his Ecclesiastical History (2.17), from where it passed into Jerome's sketch.
But this is not all that Jerome tells us about Philo. We are also in- formed that Philo had countless outstanding writings on the five books of Moses to his credit. Jerome gives us a long list, which he concludes with the following words:
Concerning this man the following statement is in circulation among the Greeks: h Platwn filwnizei h, filwn platonizei (either Plato philonizes or Philo platonizes), that is to say, either Plato follows Philo or Philo follows Plato, so great is the similarity of thought and style.
This is the first time we hear about the saying or bon mot in which comparison is made between Plato and Philo by means of a word-play on their names, which are indeed rather similar, certainly in Greek. The Greeks whom Jerome mentions must have been Christian authors in the East, because (with but a single exception) we have no record that Philo was read by non-Christians at this time, whether Jews or Pagans. Naturally it would be quite naive to think that these readers were unaware that Philo lived long after Plato, and that it was quite out of the question that Plato should in any way be indebted to him. What the saying wishes to convey is something like the following: the resemblances between the two great thinkers are so marked that it is difficult to determine who is the master and who is the pupil. We might compare the often quoted remark that Marsilius Ficino, the founder of the Florentine Academia Platonica, was an alter Plato. There does appear to have been is a difference of opinion as to whether the saying only applies to style, or whether it also refers to the content of their thought. In this respect we observe that Augustine silently corrects his source.
The similarity, he says, has to do above all with eloquium (language or style), not sensus (thoughts).
It is apparent, therefore, that Philo was well-known in Christian circles not just because of the legend of Philo Christianus. In fact a close reading of the sources shows that most Christian intellectuals were quite well aware that Philo was a Jew who had lived at about the time of Jesus. Philo was also well-known on account of his writings and their contents. For this reason it is most revealing that Jerome includes a list of his writings, something he also does for Josephus and various Christian protagonists. He does not tell us from where he gets this list. Indeed he even pretends that he himself has had these works in his own hands. But this is most likely not so. Jerome's list goes back, as is so often the case with ancient lists of writings, to a library catalogue. He derives the information once again from Eusebius (HE 2.18), who himself got it from the famous Episcopal Library in Caesarea. In fact one might say that it fell in the bishop's lap. Not only did he himself become Bishop of Caesarea, but he had also at one time had the job of assistant librarian before he was called to higher office.
The Library of the church of Caesarea, we now know, played a decisive role in the preservation of Philo's writings for posterity. It is a quite fascinating story, a few details of which I cannot resist mentioning to you this evening. In the very same biographical work already mentioned Jerome records that Euzoius, a late 4th century bishop of Caesarea, restored the church's library by transcribing damaged works onto strong parchment codices. This information is confirmed by one of the oldest manuscripts of Philo that we have, a beautiful folio manuscript now in the Austrian National Library in Vienna. On the table of contents we read that Euzoius the bishop restored this text on parchment. Philo's books, it seems, were among the treasures of this library, and because they were well looked after (though probably in the nick of time), they did not crumble into oblivion.
But how did Philo's writings get to Caesarea? The question is not difficult to answer. In the year 233 the great Christian scholar and theologian Origen had been lured to this city from his native Alexandria, when he was made an offer that was too good to refuse. He was allowed to set up his own research institute with all the facilities that he needed to do his work, including a library and a scriptorium with a pool of stenographers. Origen took his own personal library with him, and this included a virtually complete collection of the writings of Philo. He had read these carefully and made good use of them in writing his own commentaries on scripture.
The next question is: where had Origen got his copy from? Once again
we do not have to look far. In his youth, and also later when he was teacher in the Alexandrian church, Origen had been closely associated with a group of scholars under the leadership of the charismatic teacher Pantaenus, who had devoted all their time to the study and teaching of scripture. This group of Christians is usually referred to as the Catechetical School of Alexandria, although it is far from clear what the institutional status of the group was. Another member of the group was a former Platonist philosopher who had joined the group after a long search for the truth, Titus Flavius Clemens, better known as Clement of Alexandria. Clement is the first Christian to mention Philo by name. In his complex work entitled the Stromateis, or Patchworks, he cites him four times. But a more detailed analysis of this work shows that Clement used him much more extensively, some 300 times, as has been ably demonstrated and analysed by Annewies van den Hoek. Clement's evidence is extremely precious. We may be almost certain that it was in this studious environment of the Alexandrian Christian community that Philo's works were rescued from destruction, in contrast to virtually all the other products of the rich tradition of Alexandrian Hellenistic-Jewish literature which we now so dearly would like to have in our possession, but which are seemingly lost forever.
4. A final preliminary observation
We now come, dear listeners, to the main subject of my lecture this evening. We have seen how a Philonic theme was present in the thought of a Latin church father, and we have also seen how this was possible. Philo's massive corpus was preserved through the decisive intervention of Christian intellectuals in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The question that I now wish to pose is this: what did the preservation of the Philonic corpus mean for the development of early Christian thought? can it be said that the Jew Philo played an important, or even a decisive role in determining the direction in which Christian thought was to go? We might even frame our question in a counterfactual mode: would Christian thought have been different if the above-mentioned rescue operation had not taken place, if Philo's works had not been so scrupulously preserved for posterity?
But before I start to answer this question, I want, or rather, I need to exercise your patience just a little longer. There is a remaining difficulty which could confuse the issue, and so has to be addressed before we can deal with our main subject.
This difficulty can be formulated as follows. There is no doubt that the direct influence of Philo on the Christian tradition can be demonstrated from Clement onwards. We can point to Philonic themes that are taken up in the tradition, such as the doctrine of God as Being, of the Logos, of numerous exegetical themes, and we can trace their course of development. But what about the situation before Clement? Was Philo unknown until the Catechetical School took him up? Did he have no influence on earlier writers such as the Apologists and Theophilus of Antioch? And what about Philo's relationship to the New Testament itself?
These are difficult questions. In my view no one has been able to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that Philo was known to Christian authors before Clement. In both Justin and Theophilus there are texts which strongly remind us of certain Philonic themes, but the resemblance is insufficient to demonstrate direct dependence. In the New Testament there are some similarities of a more general nature. I mention a few examples: the Logos doctrine in John's Gospel, Paul's anthropology in terms of the sarkic, the psychic and pneumatic man, the Christological hymn in Colossians, and above all the Epistle to the Hebrews, which surely has an Alexandrian background. I do not want to say very much about the relation of these themes to Philonic thought. All these mysteries will be revealed when Greg Sterling publishes his book on Philo and the New Testament.
What I want to say in the current context is this. When we talk about Philo's influence on incipient Christian thought, we must take into account the complicating factor that Philo was not the only Hellenistic-Jewish author in the game. We have to imagine that at the time that Christian thought began Philo formed part of a much broader stream of Hellenistic-Jewish literature disseminated throughout the Diaspora. Not all this literature will have had its origin in Alexandria. Not all of it will have had the high intellectual level of Philo's writings. Some of it will certainly, we may presume, have had the same selectively positive attitude to Greek culture that we find in Philo. There are many uncertain factors here which we can only guess at, because our knowledge of this tradition is so fragmentary. We might even wish to include an additional factor. The textual foundation of Philo's thought, and also of much of the New Testament and Early Christian literature, is the Septuagint. It too is a product of Hellenistic-Jewish literature, with as its focal point Alexandria. The Septuagint too is not impervious to the influence of surrounding Greek culture, as seen most strikingly in the choice its translators made when they rendered God's self-revealed name in Exodus 3:14 as `I am he who is'. I for one do not believe that the
translators were so naive that they did not know that in this rendition they were adapting Platonic language.
All of this illustrates the following methodological difficulty, which caused me quite a few headaches when I was preparing my study on Philo in Early Christian Literature. When examining the impact that Philo had on the beginnings of Christian thought, it is difficult, indeed perhaps impossible, to isolate his influence alone, as separated from the influence of the broader Hellenistic-Jewish tradition which I have just mentioned. The two are clearly interwoven. If the New Testament had not contained the various themes mentioned just now, Clement and his friends may have felt less inclined to make use of all those Philonic treatises that they had got their hands on. In my inaugural address in Utrecht two years ago I tried to solve this problem by making the distinction between Philo and Philonism, proposing the latter term for the broader tradition just outlined. But this solution has obvious drawbacks. It would mean, for example, that Philonism might antedate Philo himself, since Philo comes at the end of the Hellenistic-Jewish tradition as a kind of grand climax (or at least so we think), not at its beginning. Moreover it probably places Philo too much at the centre of Hellenistic-Judaism, and overlooks the fact (or at least our suspicion) that his contemporaries may well have thought he was a bit of a high-brow, whose ideas were far removed from the interests and needs of the ordinary synagogue member.
Be this as it may, I wanted at least to draw attention to the problem. When we speak of Philo's influence on the beginnings of Christian thought, we must take into account that in a sense he stands for a broader stream of Hellenistic-Jewish thought, but that this cannot be simply identified with his own contribution. It is high time that we now return to our main question.
5. Philo's influence on the Christian tradition
What impact, then, did Philo have on the beginnings of Christian thought? I propose to give no less than four answers to this question. As we shall see, all four are relevant, but we may in the end conclude that some are more relevant than others. It goes without saying that these answers can now only be formulated and discussed in the most general terms.
(1) Firstly, at the end of his most well-known work, De opificio mundi, Philo names five dogmata (doctrines), knowledge of which is a guarantee for a pious and felicitous life: that God exists, that He is One, that he created the cosmos, that this cosmos is unique just like its Maker, and
that He always exercises providence on what he has made. The great Philonist E. R. Goodenough once called this passage `the first creed of history', and recently Alan Mendelson has ventured to speak of a `concept of orthodoxy' that in Philo's view was essential for the preservation of Jewish identity. Might it not be legitimate to see Philo as the origin of a dogmatism that was to distinguish Christianity from subsequent (Rabbinic) Judaism and also from pagan thought? In my view a distinction needs to be made. Philo is not a dogmatician in the manner of an Athanasius or a Basil, or even of an Origen. He does not regard himself as subjected to something like an ecclesiastical tradition, a regula fidei which he has to defend with all the intellectual resources at his disposal. Philo's view of himself is rather different. He sees himself as standing in the tradition of interpretation and exposition of the Mosaic philosophy, a tradition in which he claims for himself no more than a modest role. But there can be no doubt that he does have a strong tendency towards an intellectual re-interpretation of his religious heritage. In a most intriguing passage Philo interprets the expulsion of certain classes of people from the congregation of Israel in Deuteronomy 23 in terms of directions of thought (Spec. 1.327-345). His model, clearly, is Plato, who in the Laws is prepared to take draconian measures against errors of thought (book X, esp. 885b). The praxis of being Jewish is important for Philo and most definitely not to be neglected, but it is less important than the theoria. Philo takes an initial step along the path that would lead to the construction of the mighty edifice of Christian dogma.
(2) For a second answer we take our cue from Photius, the learned ninth-century Patriarch of Constantinople. Photius tells us in his Bibliotheca that he read various Philonic treatises, very many of which contained interpretations that forced scripture into an allegorical mode. Starting from this man, he continues, the entire allegorical method of reading scripture began to pour into the church (§105). This observation is essentially correct, and even more so if we take into account the wider background of Hellenistic Judaism. The writings of Philo furnish the church fathers with numerous allegorical themes and schemes in the area of cosmological, psychological and moral exposition. Augustine too, as we saw, recognizes Philo's use of the allegorical method and is prepared to accept some of its results, until he finds a fatal flaw in the way Philo puts the method to use. We might even wish to broaden our approach here and include all the exegetical themes that Philo
bequeathed to the church fathers, for it should not be thought that Philo furnishes only allegorical material. Naturally there is a heavy concentration of material focused on the books of Moses, because that is effectively where the Bible begins and ends for Philo, but in many cases the significance of the method goes far beyond its specific contents.
Photius is very negative in his evaluation of this Philonic influence, and since the Reformation reservations towards the allegorical method have only increased. But we should be careful not to overlook its attractive aspects. These are primarily two in number. The first is only too well known: it allows the interpreter to connect up with and exploit significant philosophical and what we now would call spiritual ideas. The second is more subtle: it also allows the interpreter to preserve at least partly the narrative element of the biblical text, but then at the more general level of the quest of the soul for God.
(3) A third insight draws us closer to the epicentre of our question. We observe that Philo (together with others before and after him) has taken the crucial step of selecting the Platonic paradigm of being and becoming, immutability and change, knowledge and ignorance as the system of thought most suitable for the task of expounding and interpreting the truth revealed to Moses. In my dissertation more than a decade ago I defended the thesis that Philo is no Platonist. I argued that Philo is no Platonist in the full sense, because both the sense of loyalty and the feeling of obligation to take up as much as possible of the system are missing. I still believe this view is correct. But at the same time I added that Platonism remains for Philo a pillar of his thought which, if removed, would cause the whole edifice to totter and perhaps even collapse. This complex attitude also characterizes how Platonism would fare in early Christian thought. There is no sense of loyalty, indeed often one detects outright hostility. Yet Plato is often admired as the pagan thinker closest to the truth of biblical revelation. And time and time again there is demonstrable dependence on Platonic and Platonist ideas in the way that scripture is understood.
(4) But not all has yet been said. In my view a fourth and final aspect has yet to be discussed before we can get the Philonic contribution to early Christian thought in full perspective. So far we have noted a trend to dogmatism, the transmission of exegetical, and particularly allegorical, themes, the preference for Platonism as a philosophical paradigm. But there is still a last piece of the jigsaw puzzle missing. This can be made clear if we return to the striking case of Clement of Alexandria. Clement, as we saw, was the first Christian to refer to Philo by name. According to tradition he was born in Athens. We cannot be sure of this, but what it symbolizes is very probable, namely that he learnt his
philosophy before he became a Christian. As we saw earlier, it was in Alexandria that he made acquaintance with the works of Philo. But what did he seek to learn from them? Not his Platonism, for that he already knew well enough. Certainly he obtained a good deal of exegetical material, but he also picked up something that was much more valuable. What he learnt was how a link could be made between Platonist ideas and the contents of scripture. It is this, I submit, that forms the greatest specific contribution that Philo made to the beginnings of Christian thought. He showed how insights from the Greek philosophical tradition could be localized in the authoritative words of scripture. In this process the philosophical paradigm of Platonism had a special, if not exclusive, place.
For Philo scripture was limited to the books of Moses. In opting for the Platonist paradigm, he had to ground his preference in the biblical text. It would seem that the following four clusters of passages from the Pentateuch played a decisive role:(a) the title of the first book of the bible, Genesis, and the striking similarities between the Mosaic creation account and the Platonic cosmogony in the Timaeus and in Platonist handbooks;The third of these passages recalls to mind the texts in Augustine with which we started, and to which we will soon return. Without any doubt all four passages played a central role in patristic exegesis. I need only recall the writings of Clement, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, and Augustine.
(b) the creation of man `according God's image' in Gen. 1:26-27, a text which for Philo leads one into the heart of his Logos doctrine;
(c) the encounter of Moses with God (or his angel) on Mt Horeb and the revelation of the name `I am he who is';
(d) the texts that describe Moses' ascent into the darkness of Mt Sinai, where he has intimate contact with God, but is not allowed to see his face.
Allow me summarize my results so far: the influence of Philo in the patristic tradition may be described as the process in which a long sequence of apologists and theologians take over themes and ideas from Philo (and also, I should add in brackets, from the broader Hellenistic-Jewish tradition). These ideas are seldom abstractly philosophical. They are connected to the exposition of the biblical text or-as occurs later-introduced in polemical dogmatic discussions. In this process of appropriation a bass note of Platonist thought nearly always makes its presence felt. It reminds me of the Scottish bagpipes I used to hear when I attended a Presbyterian school as a boy. The droning note of the bass did not always attract attention, but it was always there.
6. Why the choice for Platonism?
A further question can hardly be avoided. Once Christians had decided to meet Greek pagan culture head on-a decision with fateful conse- quences, but one that had to be taken if Christianity was to become a religion of universal, and not just ethnic or sectarian, appeal-was it inevitable that Philo's Platonism would gain such favour? Often a positive answer is given to this question. Scholars argue that Platonism was in the very air that the Fathers breathed, and so they took it over almost without thinking. I am far from convinced that this was the case. It is true that Platonism was the dominant philosophy of the age, and the combination with a strongly hierarchical political ideology was a particularly potent force. But a comparison with the beginnings of Islamic thought should make us cautious. The first Arabic philosophers, the Asharitic school of the Mutakallimun emphatically did not follow the path of Platonism and Aristotelianism, which also in their time held a dominant position. Instead they developed a philosophy which combined a rigorous conception of divine omnipotence with a purely atomistic theory of the natural world. Moreover it should be recognized that the statement `I am he who is' is by no means the only pronouncement in the Bible which is available to be used for foundational purposes in theology. One thinks of others such as God is fire, God is One, God is spirit, God is light, I am the truth, to name merely the most familiar. The first two-God is spirit, God is light-are located in the Septuagint, and so were available to Philo. It is most striking that he never explicitly cites or even alludes to the first words of the shema. The other text, that God is a consuming fire, is only cited once, where he argues that as fire God is constructive, not destructive, and that he completely uses up the elements as material for his creative work. Philo clearly feels uneasy about this interpretation, and he valiantly tries to remove the danger of Stoic materialistic theology by describing the creative process in Platonic terms. The church fathers follow him in this. Clement, for example, argues that it does no more than give a image of God's activity or power.
Why then did the Platonism that Philo's exegesis offered the Fathers win out? Partly I find myself in agreement with the Dutch scholar E. P. Meijering, when he argues that Platonist ontology, with its emphasis on the immutability of highest Being, gave expression to the conviction of God's faithfulness and reliability, that He is from eternity and will not abandon the works that his hands have begun. In Philo's case, however,
another conviction was even more important in my view, and it exerted a powerful influence on the church fathers after him, namely the conviction of God's exaltedness, or, to express it in more philosophical terms, his transcendence. God, as he really is, is known only to himself (and of course to his Son, as the church fathers would immediately add, because the latter is omoousioj). God is Being, but knowledge of his Essence is not accessible to man. What the human mind can comprehend is disclosed to it, and that is above all the conviction of his existence and the overwhelming impact of his power. Of all the church fathers it is Gregory of Nyssa who develops this theme with the greatest depth, advancing beyond Philo in his recognition of the unreachability and infinitude of the divine majesty. But at this point I have to short-circuit our discussion. It is high time that we return to the Augustinian and Philonic texts on the same subject of God's transcendence and immanence with which we started off this lecture.
7. Back to Augustine and Philo
We were concerned, you will recall, with Philo's and Augustine's interpretation of Exodus 3:14 and 15. My thesis was, that-with one partial exception-Philo and Augustine stand alone in their develop- ment of the idea that there is a distinction to be made between the two divine pronouncements in the two verses.
The exception is partial because it concerns a passage in the Cappa- docian father Basil the Great, where he is almost certainly dependent on Philo (C. Eun. 1.13). Basil is attacking the Neo-Arian Eunomius on account of his claim that he was able to gain knowledge of God's essence. God did not disclose his essence or his proper name to the patriarchs, Basil answers, but he does allow himself to be called God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob on account of their perfect excellence (implicit, of course is the contrast with the puffed-up pretensions of his opponent). This presentation is a somewhat toned down version of what we find in Philo, for whom the patriarchs are above all symbols of excellence in the form of the three natures of learning, perfect aptitude and training.
In the case of the Latin church father, however, the tone and timbre are quite different. Augustine is above all profoundly aware of the weakness and insufficiency of human knowledge. The name `God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob' not only indicates a relation, but is also a name of mercy. `Because you are unable to reach me, I will
come down to you. Fix your hope on the seed of Abraham'. Philo too spoke of hope, as we saw, but the change that Augustine introduces runs entirely parallel to his criticism of Philo's allegorical interpretation. What he emphasizes is the Christocentric element, precisely that which -unavoidably, of course-was lacking in his Jewish predecessor. According to Goulven Madec Augustine's originality in his interpretation of these two texts lies precisely in the combination of ontology and soteriology. This may be so, but we should not make the mistake of overlooking the philosophical component of the theme. If it is difficult, or rather, impossible for man to grasp God's essence-and this is Augustine's deepest conviction-then it is precisely in his relation to us that God makes himself known. This occurs above all through his Son, who for the church fathers, as we must constantly recall, is fully present in the Old Testament as well. Here we see that Philo's Logos doctrine, the doctrine of God's relation to creation and to man, has been pro- foundly christianized.
A final question which the systematician may blithely ignore, but which the historian has to confront is whether Augustine was or was not directly indebted to Philo in his exegesis of these two texts. I am convinced that this is very likely, but am not in a position to be able to prove it conclusively. The three Philonic passages which we cited do not belong to parts of Philo's oeuvre that we know Augustine to have read. Perhaps he learnt about them via Ambrose, but we cannot find the theme in Ambrose's extant works. It is of course eminently possible that Philo and Augustine, both great and fertile minds, reached similar interpretations quite independently of each other. This would not, in my view, fundamentally weaken the thesis of my lecture, for I hope that by now I have convinced you that the philosophical and theological framework within which Augustine's interpretation has to be placed is strongly indebted to pre-Christian Philonic thought.
8. A final voice: Pascal
But I do not want to end my lecture on this slightly downbeat note. Instead I want to make a final move forward in time, all the way in fact to seventeenth century France. The Philonic and Augustinian theme that we have been discussing makes a spectacular reappearance in the one of the more famous incidents in the history of Christianity. A few days after Blaise Pascal dies at the age of thirty-nine in 1662 a servant
by chance discovers a small folded piece of parchment in the lining of his coat. On it was written the following words,
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,
not of philosophers and scholars.
Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace.
God of Jesus Christ...
(followed by another 22 lines)
It was preceded by a date, the 23rd November 1654, 10:30 till 12.30 in the evening. The precise dating suggests that the document records an intense religious experience. For this reason it is called Pascal's Mémorial, a reminder of what had happened to him. But it is perhaps no coincidence that this very word is found in the text of Exodus 3:15, memoriale (remembrance) in Pascal's Latin Vulgate. The beginning of Pascal's testimony is provoked by the same two biblical texts that we have studied this evening. But the difference between him and his two predecessors is huge. They made a distinction between the two texts; Pascal converts the contrast into a radical antithesis. You will understand that I cannot possibly embark on this new theme. It would be the subject of another lecture, better given by someone else. This cobbler should stick to his last. Pascal knew his Augustine, but was no doubt quite unaware that the distinction between the two texts went all the way back to Philo. But for us it is a final proof, if any be needed, that the Jew Philo, by means of the writings which devoted Christians had rescued from disaster, exercised a powerful and lasting influence on the beginnings of Christian thought.Leiden
:* This lecture is based on my Utrecht inaugural lecture (1992), supplemented by some themes from my article `God of the Philosophers, God of the Patriarchs: Exegetical Backgrounds in Philo of Alexandria', in F. J. Hoogewoud and R. Munk (edd.), Joodse Filosofie tussen Rede en Traditie: Feestbundel ter ere van de tachtigste verjaardaag van Prof. dr. H. J. Heering (Kampen 1993) 13-23. Both have been reprinted in Philo of Alexandria in the Church Fathers: a Collection of Studies, Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 32 (Leiden 1995), chapters 1 & 11. For full documentation see that volume. The lecture printed here is basically as delivered, with a minimum of annotation.
: See esp. my Philo in Early Christian Literature: a Survey, CRINT 3.23 (Assen 1993).
: B. Altaner, `Augustinus und Philo von Alexandrien: eine quellenkritische Untersuchung', Zeitschrift für Katholische Theologie 65 (1941) 81-90; reprinted in Kleine patristische Schriften, Texte und Untersuchungen 83 (Berlin 1967) 181-193.
: P. Courcelle, `Saint Augustin a-t-il lu Philon d'Alexandrie?', Revue des Études Anciennes 63 (1961) 78-85.
: J. Paramelle, Philon d'Alexandrie: Questions sur la Genèse II 1-7: texte grec, version arménienne, parallèles latins (Geneva 1984).
: A. van den Hoek, Clement of Alexandria and his Use of Philo in the Stromateis: an Early Christian Reshaping of a Jewish Model (Leiden 1988).
: E. R. Goodenough, An Introduction to Philo Judaeus (New Haven 1940, Oxford 19622) 43.
: A. Mendelson, Philo's Jewish Identity (Atlanta 1988) 29.
: E. P. Meijering, Orthodoxy and Platonism in Athanasius: Synthesis or Antithesis? (Leiden 1968, 19742) 186-189.
: G. Madec, `Ego sum qui sum de Tertullien à Jérôme', in P. Vignaux (ed.), Dieu et l'être: exégèses d'Exode 3, 14 et de Coran 20, 11-24 (Paris 1978) 121-139.