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If anything could be more dreary than the Manichæan heresy itself, it may be questioned whether it be not the various views that have been entertained concerning our author. I have often remarked the condensation of valuable information given by Dr. Murdock in his notes upon Mosheim, but he fails to get in the half that needs to be noted.22072207 Mosheim, E. H., vol. i. p 383, note 5, Murdock’s edition, New York, 1844. His references to Lardner in this case do not accord with my copy. He tells us that “Alexander of Lycopolis flourished probably about a.d. 350.” He adds, “Fabricius supposes that he 253was first a Pagan and a Manichee, and afterwards a Catholic Christian. Cave is of the same opinion. Beausobre thinks he was a mere pagan.22082208 Histoire des Manichéens (Lardner’s reference), pp. 236–237. Lardner thinks he was a Gentile, but well acquainted with the Manichees and other Christians,22092209 Credib., vol. vii. p. 574, ed. London, 1829. and that he had some knowledge of the Old and New Testaments, to which he occasionally refers. He speaks with respect of Christ and the Christian philosophy, and appears to have been “a learned and candid man.” Of an eminent Christian bishop, all this seems very puzzling; and I feel it a sort of duty to the youthful student to give the statements of the learned Lardner in an abridged form, with such references to the preceding pages as may serve in place of a series of elucidations.
According to this invaluable critic, the learned are not able to agree concerning Alexander. Some think he was a Christian, others believe that he was a heathen. Fabricius, who places him in the fourth century, holds to this latter opinion;22102210 Lardner’s reference is: Bib. G., lib. v. c. 1, tom. 5, p. 290. all which agrees with our Cave.22112211 Long extract from Cave ubi supra. He quotes the Latin of Cave’s Diss. on Writers of Uncertain Date. Photius makes him Archbishop of Nicopolis.22122212 Lardner’s reference is to Photius, Contra Manich., i. cap. 11. Tillemont thinks22132213 Lardner quotes from the Hist. des Manich., art. 16., Mémoires, etc., tom. iv. he was a pagan philosopher, who wrote to persuade his friends to prefer “the doctrine of the churches” to that of Manes. Combefis, his editor,22142214 Reference defective. See Lardner, Credib., vol. iii. 269. Here will be found (p. 252) a learned examination of Archelaus, and what amounts to a treatise on these Manichæans. thinks him very ancient, because he appears to have learned the principles of this heresy from the immediate disciples of the heretic. Beausobre,22152215 For Beausobre’s summary of Alexander’s deficiencies, see condensed statement in Lardner, vol. iii. p. 575. the standard authority, is of like opinion, and Mosheim approves his reasoning.
Nothing in his work, according to Lardner, proves that our author wrote near the beginning of the fourth century, and he decides upon the middle of that century as his epoch.
Alexander gives a very honourable character to the genuine Christian philosophy, and asserts its adaptation to the common people, and, indeed, to all sorts of men.22162216 Cap. i. p. 241, supra. A beautiful exordium. A recent writer, speaking of Potamiæna and Herais, virgin martyrs, and catechumens of Origen, remarks, that “the number of young women of high character who appreciated the teachings of this great master, many of whom were employed as copyists of his works, is creditable to the state of Christian society at that period” (Mahan, Church Hist., p. 237). It was to avoid scandal as well as temptation in his relations with these that he fell into his heroic mistake. He certainly is not mute as to Christ. His tribute to the Saviour is, if not affectionate, yet a just award to Him.22172217 Cap. xxiv. p. 251, supra. Who can imagine that the author of this chapter is not a Christian? Observe what he says of “the Word.” By the “council of all together,” he intends the College of the Apostles,22182218 Cap. xvi. p. 247. made up of fishermen and publicans and tent-makers, in which he sees a design of the blessed Jesus to meet this class, and, in short, all classes. It is clear enough that Alexander has some knowledge of Christ, some knowledge of the received doctrine of the churches,22192219 Cap. xxiv. p. 251. or orthodox Christians; and he appears to blame the Manichees for not receiving the Scripture of the Old Testament.22202220 Cap. xxiv. p. 251.
He argues against their absurd opinion that Christ was “Mind;”22212221 Cap. xxiv. p. 251. also that, though crucified, He did not suffer:22222222 Cap. xxiv. p. 251. and he affirms22232223 Cap. xxiv. p. 251. that it would be more reasonable to say, agreeably to the ecclesiastical doctrine, that “He gave Himself for the remission of sins.” He refers to the sacrifice of Isaac,22242224 Cap. xxiv. p. 251. and to the story of Cain and Abel;22252225 Note the reference to the Old and New Testaments entire, p. 243, supra. also to the mysterious subject of the angels and the daughters of men.22262226 Cap. xxv. p. 252, supra. Like an Alexandrian theologian, he expounds this, however, against the literal sense, as an allegory.
My reader will be somewhat amused with the terse summing-up of Lardner: “I am rather inclined to think he was a Gentile.…He was evidently a learned and rational man. His observations concerning the Christian philosophy deserve particular notice. To me this work of Alexander appears very curious.”
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