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§ 35. Porphyry and Hierocles

One of the leading Neo-Platonists made a direct attack upon Christianity, and was, in the eyes of the church fathers, its bitterest and most dangerous enemy. Towards the end of the third century Porphyry wrote an extended work against the Christians, in fifteen books, which called forth numerous refutations from the most eminent church teachers of the time, particularly from Methodius of Tyre, Eusebius of Caesarea, and Apollinaris of Laodicea. In 448 all the copies were burned by order of the emperors Theodosius II. and Valentinian III., and we know the work now only from fragments in the fathers.

Porphyry attacked especially the sacred books of the Christians, with more knowledge than Celsus. He endeavored, with keen criticism, to point out the contradictions between the Old Testament and the New, and among the apostles themselves; and thus to refute the divinity of their writings. He represented the prophecies of Daniel as vaticinia post eventum, and censured the allegorical interpretation of Origen, by which transcendental mysteries were foisted into the writings of Moses, contrary to their clear sense. He took advantage, above all, of the collision between Paul and Peter at Antioch (Gal. 2:11), to reproach the former with a contentious spirit, the latter with error, and to infer from the whole, that the doctrine of such apostles must rest on lies and frauds. Even Jesus himself he charged with equivocation and inconsistency, on account of his conduct in John 7:8 compared with verse 14.

Still Porphyry would not wholly reject Christianity. Like many rationalists of more recent times, he distinguished the original pure doctrine of Jesus from the second-handed, adulterated doctrine of the apostles. In another work8787    Περὶ τῆς ἐκ λογίων φιλοσοφίας. Fabricius, Mosheim, Neander, and others, treat the work as genuine, but Lardner denies it to Porphyry.6 on the "Philosophy of Oracles," often quoted by Eusebius, and also by Augustin,8888    De Civit. Dei, l. XIX. c. 22, 23; Comp. also Eusebius,Demonstr. Evang. III. 6.7 he says, we must not calumniate Christ, who was most eminent for piety, but only pity those who worship him as God. "That pious soul, exalted to heaven, is become, by a sort of fate, an occasion of delusion to those souls from whom fortune withholds the gifts of the gods and the knowledge of the immortal Zeus." Still more remarkable in this view is a letter to his wife Marcella, which A. Mai published at Milan in 1816, in the unfounded opinion that Marcella was a Christian. In the course of this letter Porphyry remarks, that what is born of the flesh is flesh; that by faith, love, and hope we raise ourselves to the Deity; that evil is the fault of man; that God is holy; that the most acceptable sacrifice to him is a pure heart; that the wise man is at once a temple of God and a priest in that temple. For these and other such evidently Christian ideas and phrases he no doubt had a sense of his own, which materially differed from their proper scriptural meaning. But such things show how Christianity in that day exerted, even upon its opponents, a power, to which heathenism was forced to yield an unwilling assent.

The last literary antagonist of Christianity in our period is Hierocles, who, while governor of Bythynia, and afterwards of Alexandria under Diocletian, persecuted that religion also with the sword, and exposed Christian maidens to a worse fate than death. His "Truth-loving Words to the Christians" has been destroyed, like Porphyry’s work, by the mistaken zeal of Christian emperors, and is known to us only through the answer of Eusebius of Caesarea.8989    To this may be added the extracts from an unnamed heathen philosopher (probably Hierocles or Porphyrius) in the apologetic work of Macarius Magnes (about 400), which was discovered at Athens in 1867, and published by Blondel;, Paris 1876. See L. Duchesne, De Marcario Magnete et scriptis ejus, Par. 1877, and Zöckler in Herzog, ed. II. vol. IX. 160.8 He appears to have merely repeated the objections of Celsus and Porphyry, and to have drawn a comparison between Christ and Apollonius of Tyana, which resulted in favor of the latter. The Christians says he, consider Jesus a God, on account of some insignificant miracles falsely colored up by his apostles; but the heathens far more justly declare the greater wonder-worker Apollonius, as well as an Aristeas and a Pythagoras, simply a favorite of the gods and a benefactor of men.

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