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Philo of Alexandria

Today, I completed my first course at the Angelicum, exam and all. Granted, it’s only a credit and a half, but not bad for the first week of classes.

It has been 12 years since David Burrell’s survey of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy, so I’m a bit rusty when it comes to middle-Platonist Jewish philosophers. Thankfully, there’s really only one.

Philo of Alexandria is a fascinating person. In attempting to synthesize his Jewish faith with the Greek philosophy in which he was proficient, he had a remarkable influence on the early Church Fathers – and virtually none on Judaism until the late medieval era. He was a Hellenized Jew in Alexandria, of nearly the last generation of Ancient Judaism, before the destruction of the Temple and the birth of both Christianity and Rabbinical Judaism from the ashes.

Twenty-five years older than Jesus, and dying just a few years after Christ, his work probably even influenced some of the Gospels. John’s prologue owes at least a little to the concept of the Word (the Logos) present in Philo. He even has a type of Trinity – though not completely – of God, Logos, and Powers. With Philo, the transcendent, inscrutable God is knowable only through the Son (the Logos), and the dynamies/powers of mercy and justice. “You can only come to the Father through the Son” sound familiar?

He’s also known for his allegorical interpretation of scripture, especially Genesis and the creation story, wherein man=our mental capacity and spiritual self, and woman=our sensory capacity and physical self, so that when man and woman cleave together to become one flesh, it really does mean one person – combining our intellect and sense-perception, our spiritual and our material aspects, to be the human-kind we know.

Probably one of his biggest contributions is in the uniting of the religious side of Platonism with Biblical faith, bringing the idea of a totally transcendent “unmoved mover” into the same conversation as the very personal and immanent God of the Hebrew Scriptures. Totaliter aliter and Emmanuel, all in one divine bundle.

No wonder it feels like all the great ideas have already been thought!

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