Alexandria, Church of

Alexandria, Church Of.

Christianity was early introduced into Alexandria, probably by some of the Jews converted by the preaching of Peter on the day of Pentecost; but its progress was slow; for it had to struggle against all the varieties of worship and opinion known to exist, and the spirit of the Neo-Platonic philosophy, which, by forcing every creed to bear an allegorical signification, represented each as a variety of itself. SEE ALEXANDRIAN SCHOOLS. In consequence of the disputations to which the attempt to blend the simple truths of Christianity with the abstruse speculations of the Platonic philosophy gave rise, the Church of Alexandria was early divided into sects and parties, whose violent controversies soon engaged the attention of the whole Christian world. In Alexandria itself the rivalry between the followers of Athanasius and Arius led to deeds of atrocious violence on both sides, and inflicted a schism on the Christian community which lasted for several centuries. The final triumph of the orthodox party was followed by a manifest decay of piety, and when the Saracens introduced the religion of Islam by the sword, they found little obstinacy in the Alexandrian Christians, the greatest portion of whom became apostates. Since that time a Christian Church has only had a nominal existence in the city, where the slightest variation in a single article of faith was once deemed of sufficient importance to require the interference of a general council. Ecclesiastical historians generally attribute most of the early heresies which divided the Christian Churches, not only of Asia, but of Europe, to the influence of the Alexandrian Platonists.

Alexandria was the scene of some of the fiercest persecutions which wasted the early Church; and among the sufferers in the time of the Emperor Severus was Leonides, father of the celebrated Origen, and Potamiaena, a woman not less distinguished for her chastity than her beauty, who, with her mother, Marcella, was burned to death, boiling pitch being poured over their naked bodies. These calamities induced Tertullian to compose his "Apology." Alexandria was the source, and for some time the principal stronghold, of Arianism, as Arius was a presbyter of the Church of this city about the year 315. His doctrines were condemned by a council held here in the year 320, and afterward by a general council of three hundred and eighty fathers held at Nice, by order of Constantine, in 325. These doctrines, however, which suited the reigning taste for disputative theology and the pride and self- sufficiency of nominal Christians better than the unsophisticated simplicity of the Gospel, spread widely and rapidly notwithstanding that Arius was steadfastly opposed by the celebrated Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, the intrepid champion of the Catholic faith, who was raised to the archiepiscopal throne of Alexandria in 326.

This city was, in 415, distinguished by a fierce persecution of the Jews by the Patriarch Cyril. They who had enjoyed the rights of citizens and the freedom of religious worship for seven hundred years, ever since the foundation of the city, incurred the hatred of this ecclesiastic, who, in his zeal for the extermination of heretics of every kind, pulled down their synagogues, plundered their property, and expelled them, to the number of forty thousand, from the city.

 
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