Arabic Thought and its Place in History, by De Lacy O'Leary, , at sacred-texts.com
The subject proposed in the following pages is the history of the cultural transmission by which Greek philosophy and science were passed from Hellenistic surroundings to the Syriac speaking community, thence to the Arabic speaking world of Islam, and so finally to the Latin Schoolmen of Western Europe. That such a transmission did take place is known even to the beginner in mediæval history, but how it happened, and the influences which promoted it, and the modifications which took place en route, appear to be less generally known, and it does not seem that the details, scattered through works of very diverse types, are easily accessible to the English reader. Many historians seem content to give only a casual reference to its course, sometimes even with strange chronological confusions which show that the sources used are still the mediæval writers who had very imperfect information about the development of intellectual life amongst the Muslims. Following mediæval usage we sometimes find the Arabic writers referred to as "Arabs" or "Moors," although in fact there was only one philosopher of any importance who was an Arab by race, and comparatively
little is known about his work. These writers belonged to an Arabic speaking community, but very few of them were actually Arabs.
After the later Hellenistic development Greek culture spread outward into the oriental fringe of people who used Syriac, Coptic, Aramaic, or Persian as their vernacular speech, and in these alien surroundings it took a somewhat narrower development and even what we may describe as a provincial tone. There is no question of race in this. Culture is not inherited as a part of the physiological heritage transmitted from parent to child; it is learned by contact due to intercourse, imitation, education, and such like things, and such contact between social groups as well as between individuals is much helped by the use of a common language and hindered by difference of language. As soon as Hellenism overflowed into the vernacular speaking communities outside the Greek speaking world it began to suffer some modification. It so happened also that these vernacular speaking communities wanted to be cut off from close contact with the Greek world because very bitter theological divisions had arisen and had produced feelings of great hostility on the part of those who were officially described as heretics against the state church in the Byzantine Empire.
In this present chapter we have to consider three points; in the first place the particular stage of development reached by Greek thought at the time when these divisions took place; secondly the cause
of these divisions and their tendencies; and thirdly the particular line of development taken by Hellenistic culture in its oriental atmosphere.
First stands the question of the stage of development reached by Hellenism, and we may test this by its intellectual life as represented by science and philosophy, at the time when the oriental offshoot shows a definite line of separation. English education, largely dominated by the principles learned at the renascence, is inclined to treat philosophy as coming to an end with Aristotle and beginning again with Descartes after a long blank during which there lived and worked some degenerate descendants of the ancients who hardly need serious consideration. But this position violates the primary canon of history which postulates that all life is continuous, the life of the social community as well as the physical life of an organic body: and life must be a perpetual series of causes and results, so that each event can only be explained by the cause which went before, and can only be fully understood in the light of the result which follows after. What we call the "middle ages" had an important place in the evolution of our own cultural condition, and owed much to the transmitted culture which came round from ancient Hellenism through Syriac, Arabic, and Hebrew media. But this culture came as a living thing with an unbroken and continuous development from what we call the "classic" age. As the philosophy of the great classic schools passes down
to these later periods it shows great modifications, but this alteration is itself a proof of life. Philosophy, like religion, in so far as it has a real vitality, must change and adapt itself to altered conditions and new requirements: it can remain pure and true to its past only in so far as its life is artificial and unreal, lived in an academic atmosphere far removed from the life of the community at large. In such an unnatural atmosphere no doubt, it is possible for a religion or a philosophy to live perfectly pure and uncorrupt, but it is certainly not an ideal life: in real life there are bound to be introduced many unworthy elements and some which can only be described as actually corrupt. So it is inevitable that as a religion or a philosophy lives and really fulfils its proper functions it has to pass through many changes. Of course the same holds good for all other forms of culture: it may be true that a country is happy if it has no history, but it is the placid happiness of vegetable life, not the enjoyment of the higher functions of rational being.
In considering the transmission of Greek philosophy to the Arabs we see that philosophy still as a living force, adapting itself to changed conditions but without a break in the continuity of its life. It was not, as now, an academic study sought only by a group of specialists, but a living influence which guided men in their ideas about the universe in which they lived and dominated all theology, law, and social ideas. For many centuries it pervaded the
atmosphere in which Western Asia was educated and in which it lived. Men became Christians, for a time the new religious interest filled their minds, but later on it was inevitable that philosophy should re-assert its power, and then Christian doctrine had to be re-cast to conform to it: the descendants of these people became Muslims and then again, after an interval, religion had to conform itself to current philosophy. We have no such dominant philosophical system in force to-day, but we have a certain mass of scientific facts and theories which form au intellectual background to modern European life and the defenders of traditional religion find it necessary to adjust their teaching to the principles implied in those facts and theories.
But the important point is that then Christian teachers began to put themselves into touch with current philosophy, and so when the Muslims later on did the same, they had to reckon with philosophy as they found it actually living in their own days: they did not become Platonists or Aristotelians in the sense in which we should understand the terms. The current philosophy had changed from the older standards, not because the degenerate people of those days could not understand the pure doctrines of Plato and Aristotle, but because they took philosophy so seriously and earnestly as an explanation of the universe and of man's place in it that they were bound to re-adjust their views in the light of what they regarded as later information, and the views had altered
to adjust themselves with the course of human experience.
From Plato onwards philosophy had been very largely concerned with theories which more or less directly concerned the structure of society: it was perceived that a very large part of man's life, duties, and general welfare, was intimately concerned with his relations to the community in which he lived. But soon after the time of Aristotle the general conditions of the social order were seen to be undergoing a profound modification: great empires with highly organised administrations replaced the self-governing city states of the older period, and social life had to adjust itself to the new conditions. A man who was a citizen of the Roman Empire was a citizen in quite a different sense from that in which one was a citizen of the Athenian Republic. The Stoic philosophy, which is of this later age, already presupposes these new conditions and in course of time the other schools orientated themselves similarly. One of the first results is a tendency to eclecticism and to combination of the tenets of several schools. The new outlook, broader in its horizon, perhaps shallower in other respects, impelled men to take what was an imperialist attitude instead of a local or national one. Precisely similar changes were forced upon the Jewish religion. Hellenistic Judaism, at the beginning of the Christian era, is concerned with the human species and the race of Israel is considered chiefly as a means of bringing illumination to mankind at
large. It was this Hellenistic Judaism which culminated in St. Paul and the expansion of the Christian Church, whilst orthodox Judaism, that is to say the provincial Jewery of Palestine reverted to its racial attitude under the pressure of circumstances partly reactionary against the too rapid progress of Hellenism and partly political in character.
The old pagan religions showed many local varieties, and from these a world-wide religion could only be evolved by some speculative doctrines which reconciled their divergences. Never has a religion of any extension been formed from local cults otherwise than by the ministry of some kind of speculative theology: sometimes the fusion of cults has spontaneously produced such a theology, as was the case in the Nile valley and in Mesopotamia in early times, and when the theology was produced it brought its solvent power to bear rapidly and effectively on other surrounding cults. As many races and states were associated together in the Greek Empire which, though apparently separated into several kingdoms, yet had an intellectual coherence and a common civilization, and this was still more definitely the case when the closer federation of the Roman Empire followed, philosophy was forced more and more in the direction of speculative theology: it assumed those ethical and doctrinal functions which we generally associate with religion, the contemporary local cults concerning themselves only with ritual duties. Thus in the early centuries of the Christian
era Hellenistic philosophy was evolving a kind of religion, of a high moral tone and definitely monotheistic in doctrine. This theological philosophy was eclectic, but rested upon a basis of Platonism.
Whilst the philosophers were developing a monotheistic and moral system which they hoped to make a world religion, the Christians were attempting a similar task on somewhat different lines. The earlier converts to the Christian religion were not as a rule drawn from the educated classes and shewed a marked suspicion and dislike towards those superior persons, such as the Gnostics, or at least the pre-Marcionite Gnostics, who were disposed to patronise them. Gradually however this attitude changed and we begin to find men like Justin Martyr who had received a philosophical education and yet found it quite possible to co-ordinate contemporary science and Christian doctrine. In Rome, in Africa, and in Greece the Christians were a despised minority, chiefly drawn from the unlettered class, and ostentatiously ignored by the writers of the day. Like the Jew of the Ghetto they were forced to live an isolated life and thrown back upon their internal resources. But in Alexandria and, to a lesser degree in Syria, they were more in the position of the modern Jew in Anglo Saxon lands, though bitterly hated and occasionally persecuted, and were brought under the intellectual influences of the surrounding community and thus experienced a solvent force in their own ideas. When at last Christianity
appears in the ascendant it has been largely re-cast by Hellenistic influences, its theology is re-stated in philosophical terms, and thus in the guise of theology a large amount of philosophical material was transmitted to the vernacular speaking hinterland of Western Asia.
The Arabic writer Masûdi informs us that Greek philosophy originally flourished at Athens, but the Emperor Augustus transferred it from Athens to Alexandria and Rome, and Theodosius afterwards closed the schools at Rome and made Alexandria the educational centre of the Greek world (Masûdi: Livre de lavertissement, trad. B. Carra de Vaux, Paris, 1896, p. 170). Although grotesquely expressed this statement contains an element of truth in so far as it represents Alexandria as gradually becoming the principal home of Greek philosophy. It had begun to take a leading place even in the days of the Ptolemies, and in scientific, as distinguished from purely literary work, it had assumed a position of primary importance early in the Christian era. The schools of Athens remained open until A.D. 529, but had long been out of touch with progressive scholarship. Rome also shows great philosophers, most often of oriental birth, down to a late age, but although these were given a kindly welcome and a hearing, Roman education was more interested in jurisprudence, indeed the purely Roman philosophical speculation is that embedded in Justinian's code. Antioch also had its philosophy, but this
was never of more than secondary importance.
In the course of what we may term the Alexandrian period the Platonic school had steadily taken the first place. It was indeed considerably changed from the ancient Academic standards, chiefly by the introduction of semi-mystical elements which were attributed to Pythagoras, and later by fusion with the neo-Aristotelian school. The Pythagorean elements probably can be traced ultimately to an Indian source, at least in such instances as the doctrine of the unreality of matter and phenomena which appears in Indian philosophy as māyā, and the re-incarnation of souls which is avatar. The tendency of native Greek thought, as seen in Democritus and other genuinely Greek thinkers, was distinctly materialistic, but Plato apparently incorporates some alien matter, probably Indian, perhaps some Egyptian ideas as well. We know there was a transmission of oriental thought influencing Hellenism, but very little is known of the details. Certainly Plotinus and the neo-Platonists were eclectic thinkers and drew freely from oriental sources, some disguised as Pythagorean, by a long sojourn in Greek lands.
In the 3rd century A.D. we find the beginnings of what is known as neo-Platonism. A very typical passage in Gibbon's Decline and Fall (ch. xiii) refers to the neo-Platonists as "men of profound thought and intense application; but, by mistaking the true object of philosophy, their labours contributed much less to improve than to corrupt the human understanding.
[paragraph continues] The knowledge that is suited to our situation and powers, the whole compass of moral, natural, and mathematical science, was neglected by the new Platonists; whilst they exhausted their strength in the verbal disputes of metaphysics, attempted to explore the secrets of the invisible world, and studied to reconcile Aristotle with Plato, on subjects of which both these philosophers were as ignorant as the rest of mankind." Although this passage is coloured by some of the peculiar prejudices of Gibbon it fairly represents a common attitude towards neo-Platonism and might equally apply to every religious movement the world has ever seen.
The neo-Platonists were the result, we may say the inevitable result, of tendencies which had been at work ever since the age of Alexander and the widening of the mental horizon and the decay of interest in the old civic life. The older philosophers had endeavoured to produce efficient citizens; but under imperialist conditions efficient citizens were not so much wanted as obedient subjects. Through all this period there are very clear indications of the new trend of thought which assumes a more theological and philanthropic character, aiming at producing good men rather than useful citizens. The speculations of Philo the Jewish Platonist give very plain indications of these new tendencies as they appeared in Alexandria. He shows the monotheistic tendency which was indeed present in the older philosophers but now begins to be more strongly emphasized as
philosophy becomes more theological in its speculations, though no doubt in his case this was largely due to the religion he professed. He expressed the doctrine of a One God, eternal, unchanging, and passionless, far removed above the world of phenomena, as the First Cause of all that exists, a philosophical monotheism which can be fitted in with the Old Testament but does not naturally proceed from it. The doctrine of an Absolute Reality as the necessary cause of all that is variable, something like the fulcrum which Archimedes needed to move the world, was one to which all philosophy, and especially the Platonic school, was tending. But, as causation to some extent implies change, this First Cause could not be regarded as directly creating the world, but only as the eternal source of an eternally proceeding emanation by means of which the power of the First Cause is projected so as to produce the universe and all it contains. The essential features of this teaching are, the absolute unity of the First Cause, its absolute reality, its eternity, and its invariability, all of which necessarily removes it above the plane of things knowable to man; and the operative emanation ceaselessly issuing forth, eternal like its source, yet acting in time and space, an emanation which Philo terms the Logos or "Word." Although these theories are to a large extent only an expression of logical conclusions towards which the Platonists were then advancing, Philo had curiously little influence. No doubt there was a tendency to regard his teaching as mainly an
attempt to read a Platonic meaning into Jewish doctrine, and certainly the large amount of attention he devoted to exegesis of the Old Testament and to Jewish apologetics would prevent his works from receiving serious attention from non-Jewish readers. Again, although his ideas about monotheism and the nature of God were those to which Platonism was tending, they represent also a Jewish attitude which, starting from a monotheistic standpoint was then, under Hellenistic influence, making towards a supra-sensual idea of God, explaining away the anthropomorphisms of the Old Testament and postulating an emanation, the Hochma or "wisdom" of God as the intermediary in creation and revelation. Undoubtedly Philo, or the Philonic school of Hellenistic Judaism, was responsible for the Logos doctrine which appears in the portions of the New Testament bearing the name of St. John. He had an influence also on Jewish thought as appears in the Targums where the operative emanation which proceeds from the First Cause is no longer the "wisdom" of God but the "Word." He seems to have had no influence at all on the course of Alexandrian philosophy generally.
The tendencies which were at work in Philo were also leavening Greek thought outside Jewish circles and all schools of philosophy show a growing definiteness in their assertion of One God eternal and invariable, as the source and First Cause of the universe. It is a recognition of the principal of uniformity in nature
and of the necessity of accounting for the cause of this uniformity. The Gnostic sects, which were of philosophical origin, simply show the definite acceptance of this First Cause and, having accepted it as on a plane far removed above imperfection and variation, suggest intermediary emanations as explaining the production of an imperfect and variable universe from a primary source which is itself perfect and unchanging. The descriptive accounts of the successive emanations, each less perfect than that from which it proceeds, which ultimately produced the world in which we perceive phenomena, are different in different Gnostic systems, often crude enough and grotesque in our eyes, and frequently drawing from Christianity or Judaism or some other of the oriental religions which were then attracting the attention of the Roman world. But these details are of minor importance. All Gnostic theories bear witness to the belief that there is a First Cause, absolutely real, perfect, eternal, and far removed above this world of time and space, and that some emanation or emanations must have intervened to connect the resultant world, such as we know it, with this sublime Cause: and such belief indicates in crude form a general conviction which was getting hold of all current thought in the early centuries of the Christian era.
Complementary to this was the psychological teaching represented by the Aristotelian commentator Alexander of Aphrodisias who taught at Athens, A.D. 198-211. His extant works include commentaries
on the first book of the Analytica Priora, on the Topica, Meteorology, de sensu, the first five books of the Metaphysics and an abridgment of the other books of the Metaphysics, as well as treatises on the soul, etc. Over and over again his treatise on the soul and his commentaries are translated into Arabic, paraphrased, and made the subject of further commentaries, until it seems that his psychology is the very nucleus of all Arabic philosophy, and it is this which forms the main point of the Arabic influence on Latin scholasticism. It becomes indeed absolutely essential that we understand the Alexandrian interpretation of the Aristotelian psychology if we are to follow the oriental development of Greek science.
The first point is to understand what is to be implied in the term "soul." Plato was really a dualist in that he regards the soul as a separate entity which animates the body and compares it to a rider directing and controlling the horse he rides. But Aristotle makes a more careful analysis of psychological phenomena. In the treatise de anima he says "there is no need to enquire whether soul and body are one, any more than whether the wax and the imprint are one; or, in general, whether the matter of a thing is the same with that of which it is the matter." (Aristot: de anima. II. i. 412. b. 6.) Aristotle defines the soul as "the first actuality of a natural body having in it the capacity of life" (id. 412. b. 5), in which "first" denotes that the soul is the primary form by which the substance of the body is
actualized, and "actuality" refers to the actualizing principle by which form is given to the body which otherwise would be only a collection of separate parts each having its own form but the aggregate being without corporate unity until the soul gives it form; in this sense the soul is the realization of the body (cf. Aristot: Metaph. iii. 1043. a. 35). A dead body lacks this actualizing and centralizing force and is only a collection of limbs and organs, yet even so it is not an artificial collection such as a man might put together, but "a natural body having in it the capacity of life," that is to say, an organic structure designed for a soul which is the cause or reason of its existence and which alone enables the body to realize its object.
The soul contains four different faculties or powers which are not strictly to be taken as "parts" though in the passage cited above Aristotle uses the term "parts." These are, (1) the nutritive, the power of life whereby the body performs such functions as absorbing nourishment, propagating its species, and other functions common to all living beings, whether animal or vegetable: (ii) the sensible, by which the body obtains knowledge through the medium of the special senses of sight, hearing, touch, etc., and also the "common sense" by means of which these perceptions are combined, compared, and contrasted so that general ideas are obtained which ultimately rest on the sense perceptions: (iii) the locomotive, which prompts to action, as desire, appetite, will, etc., also
based, though indirectly, on sense perception, being suggested by memories of senses already in action: (iv) the intellect or pure reason, which is concerned with abstract thought and is not based on sense perception. All these, embracing life in its widest application, are classed together as soul, but the last, the intellect, nous, or rational soul, is peculiar to man alone. It does not depend on the senses, directly or indirectly, and so, whilst the other three faculties necessarily cease to function when the bodily organs of sense cease, it does not necessarily follow that this rational soul will cease as it is apparently independent. of the organ sense. This nous or "spirit" is reduced by Aristotle to a much more restricted range than is usual in the older philosophers and is taken to mean that which has the capacity of abstract knowledge, independent of the information due, directly or indirectly, to sense perception. It would seem, however, to be a distinct species of faculty for Aristotle says: "As regards intellect and the speculative faculty the case is not yet clear. It would seem, however, to be a distinct species of soul, and it alone is capable of separation from the body, as that which is eternal from that which is perishable. The remaining parts of the soul are, as the foregoing consideration shows, not separable in the way that some allege them to be: at the same time it is clear that they are logically distinct." (Arist. de anima. II. ii. 413. b. 9). It is suggested that (i) the rational soul is of a distinct species and so presumably derived from a different
source than the other faculties of the soul, but nothing is said as to whence it is derived: (ii) it is capable of existence independently of the body, that is to say its activity does not depend on the operation of the bodily organs, but it is not stated that it does so exist; (iii) it is eternal on the ground that it can exist apart from the perishable.
The obscurity of this statement has led to a great divergence in its treatment by commentators. Theophrastus offers cautious suggestions and evidently regards the rational soul as differing only in degree of evolution from the lower forms of soul faculty. It was Alexander of Aphrodisias who opened up new fields of speculation, distinguishing between a material intellect and an active intellect. The former is a faculty of the individual soul and this it is which is the form of the body, but it means no more than the capacity for thinking and is of the same source as the other faculties of the human soul. The active intellect is not a part of the soul but is a power which enters it from outside and arouses the material intellect to activity; it is not only different in source from the material soul, but different in character in that it is eternal and so always has been and always will be, its rational power existing quite apart from the soul in which the thinking takes place; there is but one such substance and this must be identified with the deity who is the First Cause of all motion and activity, so that the active intellect is pictured as an emanation from the deity entering the human
soul, arousing it to the exercise of its higher functions, and then returning to its divine source. This theistic interpretation of Aristotle was strongly opposed by the commentator Themistius who considers that Alexander forces the statement of the text out of its natural meaning and draws an unwarrantable deduction from the two sentences "these differences must be present in the soul," and "this alone is immortal and eternal." It seems, however, that Alexander's interpretation played an important part in the formation of neo-Platonic theory, and it certainly is the key to the history of Muslim philosophy, and is not without its importance in the development of Christian mysticism.
The neo-Platonic school was founded by Ammonius Saccas, but really takes its definite form under Plotinus (d. 269 A.D.). In sketching in brief outline the leading principles of this system we shall confine ourselves to the last three books of the Enneads (iv-vi) as these, in the abridged form known as the "Theology of Aristotle" formed the main statement of neo-Platonic doctrine known to the Muslim world. In the teaching of Plotinus God is the Absolute, the First Potency (Enn. 5. 4. 1.), beyond the sphere of existence (id. 5. 4. 2.), and beyond reality, that is to say, all that we know as existence and being is inapplicable to him, and he is therefore unknowable, because on a plane which is altogether beyond our thought. He is unlimited and infinite (id. 6. 5. 9.) and consequently One, as infinity excludes
the possibility of any other than himself on the same plane of being. Yet Plotinus does not allow the numeral "one" to be applied to God as numerals are understandable and refer to the plane of existence in which we have our being, so that "one" as a mere number is not attributed to God, but rather singularity in the sense of an exclusion of all comparison or of any other than himself. As Absolute God implies a compelling necessity so that all which proceeds from him is not enforced but is necessarily so in the sense that nothing else is possible; thus, for example, it results from him that two sides of a triangle are greater than the third side, they are not forced into greater length, but in the nature of things must be so, and this necessary nature has its compelling source in the First Cause. Yet Plotinus will not allow us to say that God "wills" anything, for will implies a desire for what is not possessed or is not yet present (id. 5. 3. 12); will operates in time and space, but necessity has for ever proceeded from the Eternal One who does not act in time. Nor can we conceive God as knowing, conscious, or thinking, all terms which describe our mental activities in the world of variable phenomena; he is all-knowing by immediate apprehension (ἀθρόα ἐπιβολή) which in no way resembles the operation of thought but is super-conscious, a condition which Plotinus describes as "wakefulness" (ἐγρήγορσις), a perpetual being aware without the need of obtaining information.
From the true God, the eternal Absolute, proceeds
the nous, a term which has been variously rendered as Reason, Intellect, Intelligence, or Spirit, this last being the term which Dr. Inge regards as the best expression (Inge: Plotinus. ii. p. 38), and this nous is fairly equivalent to the Philonic and Christian Logos. An external emanation is necessitated in order that the First Cause may remain unchanged which would not be the case if it had once not been a source and then had become the source of emanation; there can be no "becoming" in the First Cause. The emanation is of the same nature as its cause, but is projected into the world of phenomena. It is self-existent, eternal, and perfect, and comprehends within itself the "spirit world," the objects of abstract reason, the whole of the reality which lies behind the world of phenomena; the things perceived are only the shadows of these real ones. It perceives, not as seeking and finding, but as already possessing (id. 5. 1. 4.), and the things perceived are not separate or external but as included and apprehended by immediate intuition (id. 5. 2. 2.)
From the nous proceeds the psyche, the principle of life and motion, the world soul which is in the universe and which is shared by every living creature. It also knows, but only through the processes of reasoning, by means of separating, distributing, and combining the data obtained by sense perception, so that it corresponds in function to the "common sense" of Aristotle, whilst the nous shows the functions which are attributed to it by Aristotle and has the character which Alexander reads into Aristotle.
The work of Plotinus was continued by his pupil Porphyry (d. 300 A.D.) who taught at Rome, and is chiefly noteworthy as the one who completed the fusion of Platonic and Aristotelian elements in the neo-Platonic system, and especially as introducing the scientific methods of Aristotle. Plotinus had criticized adversely the Aristotelian categories (Enn. vi.), but Porphyry and all the later neo-Platonists returned to Aristotle. Indeed, he is best known to posterity as the author of the Isagoge, long current as the regular introduction to the logical Organon of Aristotle. Then came Jamblichus (d. 330), the pupil of Porphyry who used neo-Platonism as the basis of a pagan theology; and finally Proklus (d. 485) its last great pagan adherent who was even more definitely a theologian.
Neo-Platonism was the system just coming to the fore-front when the Christians of Alexandria began to be in contact with philosophy. The first prominent Alexandrian Christian who endeavoured to reconcile philosophy and Christian theology was Clement of Alexandria who, like Justin Martyr, was a Platonist of the older type. Clement's Stromateis is a very striking work which shows the general body of Christian doctrine adapted to the theories of Platonic philosophy. It does not tamper with the traditional Christian doctrine, but it is evidently the work of one who sincerely believed that Plato had partially foreseen what the Gospels taught, and that he had used a clear and efficient terminology which was in all
respects suitable for the expression of profound truths, and so Clement uses this terminology, incidentally assuming the Platonic metaphysics, and so unconsciously modifies the contents of Christianity. If we ask whether this results in a fair presentation of Christian teaching we shall perhaps be inclined to admit that, in spite of modification and in view of the scientific attitude of the times it substantially does so: when truths already expressed by those who have not received a scientific training are repeated by those who have and who are careful to cast their expression into logical and consistent form, some modification is inevitable. Whether the scientific assumptions and philosophy generally of Clement were correct is, of course, another matter; modern opinion would say it was incorrect. But, so far as contemporary science went, it was obviously an honest effort. It has not been appreciated by all Clement's successors and he is one of the few Christian leaders who has been formally deprived of the honorific title of "saint" which was at one time prefixed to his name. Within the next few centuries the re-formulation of Christianity proceeded steadily until at last it appears as essentially Hellenistic, but with the Platonic element now modified by the more spiritualistic influences of neo-Platonism. Undoubtedly this was a gain for Christianity, for when we read the Didache and other early non-Hellenistic Christian material we cannot help feeling that it shows a narrower and more cramped outlook and one far less suited to satisfy the needs and aspirations of
humanity at large. It is curious to compare Clement of Alexandria with Tertullian, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of the literary lights of Latin Christianity, but severe, puritanically rigid, and suspicious and hostile in his attitude towards philosophy which he regards as essentially pagan.
The next great leader of Alexandrian Christian thought was Origen himself a pupil of Plotinus, and one who found little difficulty in adapting contemporary philosophy to Christian doctrine, although this adaptation was by no means received with approval in all parts of the Christian community. Under Clement and Origen the catechetical instruction which was regularly given in all churches to candidates for baptism was expanded and developed on the lines of the lectures given by the philosophers in the Museum, and so a Christian school of philosophical theology was formed. This development was not regarded favourably by the older fashioned churches nor by the philosophers of the Museum, and even amongst the Alexandrian Christians there was a section which viewed it with disapproval, especially evident when the school became so prominent that it tended to overshadow the ordinary diocesan organization.
This is not the place to consider the various intrigues which ultimately compelled Origen to leave Alexandria and retire to Palestine. There, at Caesarea, he founded a school on the model of that at Alexandria. This second foundation did not attain the same
eminence as its proto-type, perhaps because Origen's influence turned its activities into a direction too highly specialised in textual criticism, but it prompted a development which ultimately played an important part in the history of the Syrian church where, for some time to come, theological activity mainly centered in these schools which had their imitators amongst the Zoroastrians and the Muslims. The first such school in Syria was founded at Antioch by Malchion about 270 A.D. and deliberately copied the pattern set at Alexandria and ultimately became its rival.
About fifty years later a school was established at Nisibis, the modern Nasibin on the Mygdonius river, in the midst of a Syriac speaking community. The church had spread inland from the Mediterranean shores and had by this time many converts in the hinterland who were accustomed to use Syriac and not Greek. For the benefit of these the work at Nisibis was done in Syriac, Syriac versions were prepared of the theological works studied at Antioch, and the Greek language was taught so that the Syriac speaking Christians were brought into closer touch with the life of the Church at large.
The acquiescence of the Church in the Alexandrian philosophy had far-reaching consequences. The Church did not officially adopt the neo-Platonic philosophy in its entirety, but it had to adjust itself to an atmosphere in which the neo-Platonic system was accepted as the last word in scientific enquiry and
where the Aristotelian metaphysics and psychology were assumed as an established and unquestionable basis of knowledge. It was impossible for churchmen, educated in this atmosphere, to do otherwise than accept these principles, just as it is impossible for us to admit that the body of a saint can be in two places at once, our whole education training us to assume certain limitations of time and space, although a devout Muslim of Morocco can believe it and honours two shrines as each containing the body of the same saint who, he believes, in his life time had power of over-passing the limitations of space. The general postulates of the later Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy were firmly established in the fourth century in Alexandria and its circle, and were no more open to question than the law of gravity or the rotundity of the earth would be to us. It was known that there were people who questioned these things, but it could only be accounted for by blind ignorance in those who had not received the benefits of an enlightened education. The Christians were no more able to dispute these principles than anyone else. They were perfectly sincere in their religion, many articles of faith which present considerable difficulty to the modern mind presented no difficulty to them; but it was perfectly obvious that the statements of Christian doctrine must be brought into line with the current theory of philosophy, or with self evident truth as they would have termed it. It shows a strange lack of historical imagination when we talk
slightingly about how Christians quarrelled over words, forgetting what these words represented and how they stood for the established conclusions of philosophy as then understood.
This comes out very plainly in the Arian controversy. Both sides agreed that Christ was the Son of God, the relation of Father and Son being, of course, not that of human parentage but rather by way of emanation: both agreed that Christ was God, as the emanation necessarily had the same nature as the source from which it proceeded: both agreed that the Son proceeded from the Father in eternity and before the worlds were created, the Son or Logos being the intermediary of creation. But some, and these, it would seem, mainly associated with the school of Antioch, so spoke of the Son proceeding from the Father as an event which had taken place far before all time in the remoteness of eternity, it is true, but so that there was when the Father had not yet begotten the Son, for, they argued, the Father must have preceded the Son as the cause precedes the effect, and so the Son was, as it were, less eternal than the Father. At once the Alexandrians corrected them. To begin with there are no degrees in eternity: but, most serious error of all, this idea made God liable to variation, at one period of eternity he had been alone, and then he had become a father: philosophy taught that the First Cause, the True God, is liable to no change, if he is Father now, he must have been so from all eternity: we must understand the Son as
the Logos for ever eternally issuing forth from the Father as source. The actual merits of the controversy do not at present concern us: we simply notice the fact that the current Greek philosophy entirely dominated the theology of the Church and it was imperative for that theology to be expressed in terms which fitted in with the philosophy. The result of the Arian struggle was that the Eastern church came to recognise the Alexandrian philosophy as the exponent of orthodoxy, and in this it was followed by the greater part of the Western Church, though the West Goths still remained attached to the Arian views which they had learned from their first teachers.
By the fifth century Arian doctrine had been completely eliminated from the state church and Alexandrian philosophy which had been the chief means of bringing about this result, was dominant, although there are indications that it was viewed with suspicion in some quarters. Amongst the controversies which took place in the post-Nicene age the most prominent are those which concerned the person of the incarnate Christ, and these are largely questions of psychology. It was generally admitted that man has a psyche or animal soul which he shares with the rest of the sentient creatures, and in addition to this a spirit or rational soul which, under the influence of the neo-Platonists or of Alexander of Aphrodisias, was regarded as an emanation from the creative spirit, the Logos or "Agent Intellect," a belief which Christian theologians supported by the statement in
[paragraph continues] Genesis that God breathed into man the breath of life and so man became a living soul. In fact St. Paul had already distinguished between the two elements, the animal soul and the immortal spirit, in accordance with the psychology which had been developed in his time. But Christian theology supposed that in Christ was also present the eternal Logos which had been the creative Spirit and of which the spirit or rational soul was itself an emanation. What, therefore, would be the relation between the Logos and its own emanation when they came together in the same person g If the Alexandrian philosophy and the Christian religion were both true the problem was capable of reasonable solution: if its only answer was a manifest absurdity then either the psychology or Christianity was in error, and then, as always, it was assumed that contemporary science was sure and religion had to be tested by its standard. To this particular problem two solutions were proposed. The one, especially maintained at Alexandria, was that the Logos and the rational soul or spirit, being in the relation of source and emanation, necessarily fused together when simultaneously present in the same body, the point being of course that the Logos was the agent of creation, the True God not acting therein as it was an activity in time, but through the intermediary of the Logos, whilst the animal soul dispersed through creation was ultimately derived from the Logos, but the spirit was directly proceeding from it, all of which represents the
philosophical theory formulated by Alexander of Aphrodisias and the neo-Platonists and then accepted as unassailable. The other solution, which found its chief advocates at Antioch, laid stress on the completeness of the humanity of Christ so that the body, animal soul, and spirit were necessarily complete in the humanity and the Logos dwelt in the human frame without subtracting the spirit which was one of the essentials of humanity, and so there could have been no fusion because this would have implied the return of the spirit to its source and consequently its subtraction from the humanity of Christ. This solution, it will be observed, postulates the same psychology as the other, and whichever view prevailed the Church would be irrevocably committed to the current psychology by this definition of its doctrine.
Both solutions offered perfectly logical deductions from the postulates assumed and it only wanted the advocates of one or the other to over-state the case so as to transgress against the teachings of philosophy or of traditional religion. The first false move came from Antioch. Laying great stress on the completeness of the humanity of Christ so that body, soul, and spirit were necessarily connected in the human frame, the view was so expressed as to describe the Virgin Mary as the mother of the human Christ, body, soul, and spirit alone, which implied, or seemed to imply, that at birth Christ was man only and afterwards became God by the Logos entering into the human
body, a conclusion possibly not intended by those who expressed their views but pressed by their opponents. This had been the teaching of Diodorus and of Theodore of Mopseustia both associated with the school of Antioch, and defended in its extremer form by Nestorius, a monk of Antioch, who was made bishop of Constantinople in A.D. 428. Violent controversies ensued which resulted in a general council at Ephesus in 431, where the Alexandrian party succeeded in getting Nestorius and his followers condemned as heretics. Two years later the Nestorians, absolutely confident that their opponents were utterly illogical in supposing that the rational soul and the Logos in Christ were fused or united together, repudiated the official church and organised themselves as the Church which had no part with the heretics of Ephesus. The state Church, however, had the weight of the temporal authority behind it, and the heavy hand of persecution fell severely upon the Nestorians. In Antioch and Greek speaking Syria persecution did its work effectually and the Nestorians were reduced to the position of a fugitive sect, in Egypt, as might be expected, they had no footing, and the westerns as usual agreed with the dominant state church: only amongst the Syriac speaking Christians the Nestorian teaching had a free course, and that section for the most part adhered to it.
Some time before this the school at Nisibis had been closed, or rather removed to Edessa. In A.D. 363
the city of Nisibis had been handed over to the Persians as one of the conditions of the peace which closed the unfortunate war commenced by Julian, and the members of the school, retiring into Christian territory, had re-assembled at Edessa, where a school was opened in 373, and thus Edessa in a Syriac speaking district but within the Byzantine Empire, became the centre of the vernacular speaking Syriac church.
At the Nestorian schism the school at Edessa was the rallying place of those who did not accept the decisions of Ephesus, but in 439 it was closed by the Emperor Zeno on account of its strong Nestorian character, and the ejected members led by Barsuma, a pupil of Ibas (d. 457), who had been the great luminary of Edessa, migrated across the Persian border. Barsuma was able to persuade the Persian king Piruz that the orthodox, that is to say the state, Church was pro-Greek, but that the Nestorians were entirely alienated from the Byzantine Empire by the harsh treatment they had received. On this understanding they were favourably received and remained loyal to the Persian monarchy in the subsequent wars with the Empire. The Nestorians re-opened the school at Nisibis and this became the focus of Nestorian activity by which an orientalised phase of Christianity was produced. Gradually the Nestorian missionaries spread through all central Asia and down into Arabia so that the races outside the Greek Empire came to know Christianity first in a Nestorian
form. It seems probable that Muhammad had contact with Nestorian teachers (Hirschfeld: New Researches. p. 23), and certainly Nestorian monks and missionaries had much intercourse with the earlier Muslims. These Nestorians were not only anxious to teach Christianity but very naturally attached the utmost importance to their own explanations of the person of Christ. This could only be made clear by the help of theories drawn from Greek philosophy, and so every Nestorian missionary became to some extent a propagandist of that philosophy: they translated into Syriac not only the great theologians such as Theodore of Mopseustia who explained their views, but also Greek authorities such as Aristotle and his commentators because some knowledge of these was necessary to understand the theology. Much of this work of translation shows a real desire to explain their teaching, but it shows also a strong resentment against the Emperor and his state church; as that church used the Greek language in its liturgy and teaching, the Nestorians were anxious to discard Greek, they celebrated the sacraments only in Syriac and set themselves to promote a distinctly native theology and philosophy by means of translated material and Syriac commentaries. These became the medium by which Aristotle and the neo-Platonic commentators were transmitted to Asia outside the Empire, and so later on as we shall see it was a group of Nestorian translators who, by making Arabic versions from the Syriac, first brought Hellenistic philosophy
to the Arabic world. But there was also a weak side, for the Nestorian Church, cut off from the wider life of Hellenism, became distinctly provincial. Its philosophy plays round and round that prevalent at the schism, it spreads this philosophy to new countries, it produces an extensive educational system, and elaborates its material, but it shows no development. If we regard the main test of educational efficiency as being in its research product and not simply the promulgation of material already attained, then Nestorianism was not an educational success: and it seems that this should be the supreme test, for knowledge is progressive, and so the smallest contribution towards further progress must be of more real value than the most efficient teaching of results already achieved. Yet it would be difficult to overestimate the importance of Nestorianism in preparing an oriental version of Hellenistic culture in the pre-Muslim world. Its main importance lies in its being preparatory to Islam which brought forward Arabic as a cosmopolitan medium for the interchange of thought and so enabled the Syriac material to be used in a wider and more fruitful field.
Although Nestorius had been condemned, the Church was left with a problem. The objection was true that, if the Logos and the rational soul in Christ were fused together so that the rational soul or spirit lost itself in its source, the Logos dwelt in an animal body and the full humanity of Christ disappeared.
[paragraph continues] The Nestorian view of a temporary "connection" was now condemned as heretical, but was it necessary to go to the other extreme of "fusion" which was the logical result of the Alexandrian teaching! The Church wished to be philosophically correct and yet to avoid the conclusions which might be drawn from either view in its extreme form. In fact philosophy ruthlessly pressed home was the danger of which the Church was most afraid, feeling in some dim realm of sub-consciousness that the deposit of faith did not quite fall into line with science, or at least with the science then in fashion; and the Church's real enemies were the enthusiasts who were confident that doctrine and philosophy were both absolutely true. Nor have we, even in these days, altogether learned the lesson that both are still partial and progressive. Islam had to go through exactly the same experience in her day and came out of it with very similar results, that is to say both the Christian and Muslim churches finally chose the via media adopting the philosophical statement of doctrine but condemning as heretical the logical conclusions which might be deduced. The Alexandrian school, elated perhaps at its victory over Nestorius, became rather intemperate in the statement of its views and pressed them home to an extreme conclusion. At once the warning prediction of the Nestorians was justified: the teaching of a "fusion" between the Logos and the rational soul in Christ entirely undermined his humanity. Another controversy ensued
and in this, as in the former one, neither side suggested any doubt as to the psychology or metaphysics borrowed from the Aristotelian and neo-Platonic philosophies, that was throughout assumed as certain, the problem was to make Christian doctrine fit in with it. Now those who opposed the Alexandrian conclusions maintained the theory of a "union" between the Logos and the rational soul in Christ, so that the complete humanity was preserved as well as the deity, and the union was such as to be inseparable and so safeguarded from the Nestorian theory. In fact this was simply admitting the philosophical statement and forbidding its being pressed home to its possible conclusions. This is described as "orthodox" doctrine and rightly so in the sense that it expresses, though in philosophical terms, a doctrine as it was held before the Church had learned any philosophy, and excluded possible deductions which came within range as soon as a philosophical statement was made. This is the normal result when doctrine originally expressed by those ignorant of philosophy has to be put into logical and scientific terms: the only orthodox representation of the traditional belief must be a compromise.
This second controversy resulted in the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 448, at which the advocates of the theory of "fusion" were expelled from the state church, and thus a third body was formed, each of the three claiming to represent the true faith. Practically the whole of the Egyptian Church followed the
[paragraph continues] "fusionists" or Monophysites or Jacobites, as they were called after Jacob of Serugh, who was mainly instrumental in organizing them as a church: in Syria also they had a strong following. Like the Nestorians they were persecuted by the Emperor and the state church, but unlike them they did not migrate outside the Byzantine Empire, but remained an important though strongly disaffected body within its limits, though later on they sent out off-shoots into other lands. Like the Nestorians they tended to discard the language of their persecutors and to use the vernacular Coptic and Syriac: it is rightly claimed that the golden age of Syriac literature and philosophy begins with the Monophysite schism. A curious line of demarcation however, is observed in Syriac between the Jacobites in the West and the Nestorians in the East: they used different dialects, which is probably the result of their geographical distribution, and they used different scripts in writing which was partly due to deliberate intension, though partly also to the use of slightly different implements for writing.
When we consider the results of the Monophysite and Nestorian schisms we begin to understand why so much Greek philosophical material was translated into Syriac, whilst the Nestorian movement was the effective reason why Syriac gradually became the medium for transmitting Hellenistic culture into the parts of Asia which lay beyond the confines of the Byzantine Empire during the centuries immediately
preceding the outspread of Islam. It is obvious that the late Aristotelian and neo-Platonic philosophers were of vital importance to everyone engaged in the theological controversies of the day, and the Aristotelian logic was of equal importance as on it depended the way in which terms were used. After their separation from the Greek Church the Nestorians and Monophysites turned to the vernacular speaking Christians, and so a large body of philosophical as well as theological matter was translated into Syriac; very much less into Coptic, for the Egyptian Monophysites were not called upon to face so much controversy as their brethren in Syria.
The period between the schisms and the beginning of Muslim interest in philosophy was one of prolific translation, commenting, and exposition. Whilst there is much interest in tracing the literary history of a nation, there is comparatively little in following the history of a literature which is confined to activities of this sort, for it cannot be much more than a list of names. Commentary and essay might indeed open up a field of originality, but nothing of the sort appears in this type of Syriac work: it seems as though the provincialism which followed severance from the Greek world brought in narrowing restrictions so that, although we get able and diligent workers, they never seem able to advance beyond re-statement, more or less accurate, of results already achieved.
Besides philosophy and theology we find a considerable
interest in medicine and the two sciences of chemistry and astronomy which were treated as allied to it, for astronomy, regarded from the astrological point of view, was supposed to be closely associated with the conditions of life and death, of health and disease. Medical studies were especially attached to the school of Alexandria. Philosophy proper had been so largely taken over by theology that the secular investigators were rather impelled to turn to the natural sciences and as a centre of medical and allied studies the ancient school of Alexandria continued its development without loss of continuity, but under changed conditions. John Philoponus, or John the Grammarian, as he was called, was one of the later commentators on Aristotle and also one of the early lights of this medical school. The date of his death is not known, but he was teaching at Alexandria at the time when Justinian closed the schools at Athens in A.D. 529. The next great leader of this school was Paul of Aegina who flourished at the time of the Muslim conquest, and whose works long served as popular manuals of medicine. The founders of the medical school at Alexandria established a regular course of education for the training of medical practitioners, and for this purpose selected sixteen works of Galen, some of which were re-edited in an abridged form, and were made the subject of regular explanatory lectures. At the same time the school became a centre of original research, not only in medicine, but also in chemistry and other branches of
natural science. Thus, on the eve of the Muslim conquest Alexandria had become a great home of scientific enquiry. To some extent this was unfortunate as the existing traditions in Egypt directed those investigations very much into obscurantist lines and tended to the use of magical forms, talismans, etc., and to introduce an astrological bias. This afterwards became the great defect of Arabic medicine as appears later even in mediæval Padua, but it was not the fault of Islam, it was an inheritance from Alexandria. Such material as remains of Syriac research shows us a saner and sounder method in vogue there, but Alexandria had eclipsed the Syrian scientists at the time of the Muslim invasion, at least in popular esteem, and this was a determining factor in directing Arabic research into these astrological by-paths.
Amongst the famous products of this school was Paul of Aegina, whose medical works formed the basis of much of the mediæval Arabic and Latin teaching, and the priest Ahrun (Aaron) who composed a manual of medicine which was afterwards translated into Syriac and became a popular authority, Alexandria was the centre also of chemical science. and as such was the parent of later Arabic alchemy. It appears from M. Berthelot's exhaustive study of Arabic chemistry (La chimie au moyen age: Paris. 1893) that the Arabic material may be divided into two classes, the one based upon, and mainly translated from, the Greek writers current in Alexandria, the other representing a later school of
independent investigation. Of the former class Berthelot gives three specimens, the Books of Crates, of al-Habid, and of Ostanes, all representing the Greek tradition which flourished at Alexandria on the eve of the Muslim invasion.
Whilst the Alexandrians kept alive an interest in medical and the allied sciences the separated branches of the vernacular speaking churches of Asia were more interested in logic and speculative philosophy. It was perhaps natural that the Monophysites with their strong Egyptian connection should adopt the commentaries of John Philoponus, himself a Monophysit of a type, but both they and the Nestorians invariably used Porphyry's Isagoge as an introductory manual. In the general treatment of metaphysics and psychology as applied to theology, and in the treatment of theology itself, the Monophysites inclined more towards neo-Platonism and mysticism than the Nestorians, and their life centered more in the monasteries, whilst the Nestorians adhered rather to the older system of local schools, although they too had monasteries, and in course of time the schools adopted the discipline and methods of the convent.
The oldest and greatest of the Nestorian schools was that of Nisibis, but in A.D. 550 Mar Ahba, a convert from Zoroastrianism, who had become catholicos or patriarch of the Nestorians, established a school at Seleucia on the model of Nisibis. A little later the Persian king, Kusraw Anushirwan (Nushirwan, flor. 531-578 A.D.) who had been greatly impressed by the
view of Hellenistic culture which he had obtained during his war with Syria, and had offered hospitality to the ejected Greek philosophers when Justinian closed the schools at Athens, founded a Zoroastrian school at Junde-Shapur, in Khuzistan, where not only Greek and Syriac works, but also philosophical and scientific writings brought from India, were translated into Pahlawi, or Old Persian, and there the study of medicine taught by Greek and Indian physicians was developed more fully than in the theological atmosphere of the Christian schools, although some of the most distinguished medical teachers in this school were themselves Nestorian Christians. Amongst the alumni of Junde-Shapur were the Arab Hares b. Kalada, who afterwards became famous as a practitioner, and his son Ennadr, cited in the 5th canon of Ibn Sina (Avicenna), an enemy of the Prophet Muhammad who was amongst those defeated at the battle of Badr and was put to death by Ali. Several Indian medical writers are cited by Razes and others, notably Sharak and Qolhoman, whilst the treatise on poisons by the Indian Shanak was, at a later date, translated into Persian by Manka for Yahya b. Khalid the Barmecide and afterwards into Arabic for the Abbasid Khalif al-Mamun. Manka, who was medical attendant to Harunu r-Rashid, translated from Sanskrit various medical and other works. Besides the Christian and Zoroastrian schools there was also a pagan school at Harran, of whose foundation we have no further
information. Harran had been a centre of Hellenic influence from the time of Alexander the Great and remained a refuge for the old Greek religion when the Greek world at large had become Christian. Although it would appear that Harran had an inheritance from the ancient Babylonian religion, which had a late revival during the first centuries of the Christian era, this had been entirely overlaid with the developments of paganism as revised by the neo-Platonists. Indeed Harran shows the last stand of Greek paganism and neo-Platonism as the two had been formulated by Porphyry and they continued there to live out a vigorous though secluded life.
There were thus several agencies at work developing and extending Hellenistic influence in Persia and Mesopotamia which later on became a Persian province, and besides these established schools there were many secondary forces. The Persian armies returning from the invasion of Syria brought back many items of Hellenic culture, amongst them the Greek system of baths which was copied in Persia and continued by the Muslims who spread this refinement throughout the Islamic world, so that what we call the Turkish bath is a lineal decendant of the old Greek bath passed through the Persians of pre-Muslim times, and then spread more widely by the Muslims. These armies brought home also a great admiration for Greek architecture and engineering, and Greek architects, engineers, and craftsmen being amongst the most valued plunder brought back
from Syria, by their help Persia endeavoured to start building in the Greek style. Thus the centuries immediately before the outspread of Islam show a wide and steady extension of Hellenistic influences in all the different forms of culture, in science, philosophy, art, architecture, and in the luxuries of life: and even before this, ever since the days of Alexander the Great, there had been a percolation of Greek influence, so that Western Asia was steeped in Hellenistic art, in many cases very crudely represented and combined with native elements. When the oppressive control of the Umayyads was lifted and the native population came again to its own, we can hardly wonder that this meant a revival of Hellenism.
We have already mentioned Ibas (d. 457) as the teacher of Barsuma who led the Nestorian migration into Persia and re-opened the school of Nisibis. This Ibas had been the great luminary of the school of Edessa in its last days and seems to have been the first to make a Syriac translation of Porphyry's Isagoge, the recognised manual of logic preparatory to Aristotle's Organon. This shows that logic had been taken as the chief material of education amongst the Nestorians and very much the same seems to have been the case amongst the Monophysites.
About the same time flourished Probus, who is said to have been a presbyter of Antioch, and produced commentaries upon Porphyry's Isagoge, and on Aristotle's Hermeneutica, Soph. Elench., and Analytica Priora, these commentaries becoming
favourite manuals amongst the Syriac speaking students of logic. Hoffman's De Hermeneuticis apud Syros (Leipzic, 1873) gives the text of the commentary on the Hermeneutica followed by a Latin translation. The method employed here and in all Syriac commentaries is to take a short passage, often no more than a few words, of the Text of Aristotle translated into Syriac and then give an explanation of the meaning sometimes extending to several pages, sometimes only a brief remark, according to the difficulty of the text, very much as if a teacher were reading aloud and explaining passages by passage as he read. This became the usual method of commenting and was afterwards copied by the Muslims in their commentaries on the Quran. The commentary on the Isagoge has been published by Baumstark (Aristotles bei den Syrern, Leipzic, 1900), and that on the Analytica Priora by the great Louvain scholar Prof. Hoonacker in the Journal Asiatique for July-August, 1900.
The greatest of the Monophysite scholars was Sergius of Ras al-Ayn (d. 536), who was both a translator and the author of original treatises on philosophy, medicine, and astronomy. His medical work was his chief interest and he left a permanent mark as a translator into Syriac of a considerable part of Galen. He spent some time in Alexandria where he perfected himself in a knowledge of Greek and learned chemistry and medicine in the Alexandrian medical school then just beginning its career. Some
of his translation of Galen is preserved in the British Mus. MSS. Addit. 14661 and 17156: in the latter are fragments of the "Medical art" and "Faculties of the aliments" which have been edited by Sachau (Inedita Syriaca, Vienna, 1870). Of his philosophical work Sachau has given us the versions which he made of the Isagoge and Table of Porphyry, and Aristotle's Categories and the dubious de mundo, as well as a treatise on "the soul" which is not the de anima of Aristotle. He wrote original treatises on logic in seven books (incompleteBrit. Mus. Add. 14660 contains that on the categories), on "negation and affirmation," on "genus, species, and individual," on "the causes of the universe according to Aristotle" and minor essays. In astronomy he has left a tract "on the influence of the moon" which is based on the work of Galen (cf. Sachau, op. cit.) The writings of Sergius circulated amongst both Nestorians and Monophysites, all regarding him as a leading authority on medicine and logic, and in medicine it seems that he was the founder of a Syriac school which became the parent of Arabia medicine, certainly that school owed its impetus to him. Bar Hebraeus refers to him as "a man eloquent and greatly skilled in the books of the Greeks and Syrians and a most learned physician of men's bodies. He was indeed orthodox in his opinions, as the "Prologue" bears witness, but in morals corrupt, depraved, and stained with lust and avarice" (Bar Hebraeus. ed. Abbeloos et Lamy. i. 205-7).
In the same century lived Ahudemmeh who became bishop of Tagrit in A.D. 559, and introduced the commentary of John Philoponus as the regular manual of instruction amongst the Syriac speaking Monophysites. He is said to have composed treatises on the definitions of logic, on the freedom of the will, on the soul, on man considered as a microcosm, and on the composition of man as of soul and body, this last in part preserved in MS. Brit. Mus. Addit. 14620.
Amongst the Nestorian scholars of the sixth century was Paul the Persian who produced a treatise on logic which he dedicated to King Khusraw and has been published in M. Land's Analecta Syriaca (iv).
This has brought us to the period of the Muslim invasion. In 638 Syria was conquered, and the conquest of Mesopotamia followed in the course of the same year, that of Persia four years later. In 661 the Umayyad dynasty of Arab rulers was established in Damascus; but all this did not greatly affect the internal life of the Christian communities who lived on in perfect liberty, subject only to the payment of the poll tax.
About 650 the Nestorian Henanieshu wrote a treatise on logic (cf. Budge: Thomas of Marga. i. 79) and commented on John Philoponus.
The Monophysites had no great schools like the Nestorians, but their convent at Qensherin, on the left bank of the Euphrates, was a great centre of Greek studies. Its most famous product was Severus Sebokt who flourished on the eve of the Muslim
conquest. He was the author of a commentary on Aristotle's Hermeneutica of which only fragments survive, of a treatise on the syllogisms of the Analytica Priora, and of epistles dealing with terms used in the Hermeneutica and on the difficult points in Aristotle's Rhetoric (cf. Brit. Mus. Add. 14660, 17156). In astronomy he wrote on "the Figures of the Zodiac" and on "the Astrolabe," the former of these is preserved in Br. Mus. Add. 14538 and has been published by Sachau (op. cit.), the latter in Berlin MS. Sachau 186 and published by Nau in the Journal Asiatique of 1899.
Athanasius of Balad who became Monophysite patriarch in 684 was a pupil of Severus Sekobt, and is chiefly known as the translator of a new Syriac version of Porphyry's Isagoge (Vatican Ms. Syr. 158. cf. Bar Hebraeus Chron. Eccles. ed. Abbeloos et Lamy. i. 287).
James of Edessa (d. 708 A.D.) also was a pupil of Severus Sebokt at the same convent, was made bishop of Edessa about 684 and abandoned this see in 688 as the result of his failure to carry out the reformation of the monasteries in his diocese: he retired to the monastery of St. James at Kaishun, between Aleppo and Edessa, but left this to become lecturer at the monastery of Eusebona, in the diocese of Antioch where "for eleven years he taught the psalms and the reading of the scriptures in Greek and revived the Greek language which had fallen into disuse" (Bar Hebr. Chron. Eccles. i. 291). Attacked
by the brethren who disapproved of the study of Greek, he migrated to the monastery of Teleda where he prepared a revised version of the Peshitta or Syriac Vulgate of the Old Testament, finally returning to Edessa about four months before his death. His Enchiridion, a treatise on the terms used in philosophy, is preserved in the Brit. Mus. MS. Addit. 12154.
George, who became "bishop of the Arabs" in 686, was himself a pupil of Athanasius of Balad and translated the whole logical Organon of Aristotle, of which his versions of the Categories, Hermeneutica, and Analytica Priora appear in Brit. Mus. Addit. 14659, each furnished with an introduction and commentary.
These names cover the whole period between the two schisms and the Muslim invasion and suffice to show that the Syriac speaking community continued diligent in the study of the Aristotelian logic and metaphysics, and also gave attention to medical and scientific studies. It is not exactly a brilliant or original form of cultural activity, for the most part it was only the transmission of received texts with the preparation of new translations, commentaries, and explanatory treatises, but this itself fulfilled an important function. The Muslim invasion made no change in the course of these studies: the Umayyads did not interfere with the schools and the Syriac students went their own way living a life quite apart from that of their Arab rulers. Now and then unscrupulous or angry clergy appealed to the Khalif
against their fellow clergy and this was the commonest cause of interference which the historians describe as persecution. Such was the experience of Henanyeshu who became Nestorian Catholicos in A.D. 686. The bishop of Nisibis made complaints against him to the Khalif Abdul-Malik in consequence of which he was deposed, imprisoned, and then thrown over a cliff. He was not killed by his fall, though severely lamed; by the kindness of some shepherds he was sheltered and nursed back to health, and then retired to the monastery of Yannan near Mosul, resuming his patriarchal office after the death of the bishop of Nisibis, and holding it until his own death in 701 (Bar Heb. Chron. Eccles. Abbeloos et Lamy. ii. 135140). Besides sermons, letters, and a biography of Dewada, he wrote an educational treatise on "the twofold duty of the school" as a place of religious and moral influence on the one hand, and of an academy of the humanities on the other (cf. Assemsan BO.) iii. part I. 154 and also an "Explanation of the Analytica" (id).
Mar Abha III. became Nestorian Catholicos somewhere about 740 (133 A.H.) and produced a commentary on Aristotle's logic (cf. Bar Heb. ii. 153).
This brings us down to the period when the Muslim world began to take an interest in these philosophical and scientific studies, and translations and commentaries began to appear in Arabic. But Syriac studies did not at once disappear and it will be convenient to enumerate briefly some of those who appeared in
later times down to the age of Bar Hebraeus (d. A.D. 1286), with whom the literary history of Syriac comes to an end. In the latter part of the eighth century we find Jeshudena bishop of Basra writing an "introduction to logic." Shortly afterwards Jeshubokt metropolitan of Persia wrote on the Categories (cf. Journ. Asiat. May-June. 1906). Hunayn b. Ishaq, his son Ishaq, and his nephew Hubaysh, with some other companions, formed the college of translators established at Baghdad by the Khalif al-Mamun to render the Greek and other philosophical and scientific texts into Arabic, a work to which we shall refer again; but Hunayn, who was a Nestorian Christian, was also occupied in making translations from the Greek into Syriac: he prepared, or revised, Syriac versions of Porphyry's Isagoge, Aristotle's Hermeneutica, part of the Analytica, the de generatione et corruptione, the de anima, part of the Metaphysics, the Summa of Nicolas of Damascus, the Commentary of Alexander of Aphrodisias, and the greater part of the works of Galen, Dioscorus, Paul of Aegina, and Hippocrates. His son Ishaq also made a translation of Aristotle's de anima, and it is significant that this treatise and the commentary of Alexander Aphr. now begins to take the most prominent place in philosophical study; the centre of interest is moving from logic to psychology. About the same time the physician John Bar Maswai (d. A.D. 857) composed various medical works in Syriac and Arabic. He, like Hunayn, was one of the intellectual group which the Abbasids
gathered together in their new capital city of Baghdad. Contemporary also were the Syriac writers Denha (or Ibas) who compiled a commentary on the Aristotelian logical Organon: Abzud, the author of a poetical essay on the divisions of philosophy, and then, after a series of minor writers on logic, Dionysius Bar Salibi in the twelfth century A.D., who composed commentaries on the Isagoge, the Categories, Hermeneutica, and Analytica; and in the early part of the following century Yaqub Bar Shakako, author of a collection of "Dialogues" of which the second book deals with philosophical questions of logic, physics, mathematics, and metaphysics.
The series of Syriac philosophical writers closes with Gregory Bar Hebraeus, or Abu l-Faraj in the thirteenth century A.D. whose "Book of the Pupils of the Eyes" is a compendium of logic summarising and explaining the Isagoge, and Aristotle's Categories, Hermeneutica, Analytica, Topica, and Sophistica Elenchi; his "Book of the Upholding of Wisdom" being a summary introduction to logic, physics, metaphysics, and theology. A third work "The Cream of Science" is an encyclopædia of the Aristotelian philosophy, and this work appears also in an abridged form as the "Business of Businesses." He was also the translator into Syriac of Dioscorus on simples, and author of a treatise on the medical Questions of Hunayn b. Ishaq, and of a work on geography called "the Ascent of the Spirit." Although esteemed as one of the greatest Syriac authorities and for centuries holding a
place of primary importance, he was in reality no more than a compiler who produced encyclopædic works dealing with the researches of his predecessors.
The great importance of the Syriac speaking Christian communities was as the medium whereby Hellenistic philosophy and science was transmitted to the Arabic world. There was no independent development in its Syriac atmosphere, and even the choice of material had already been made by the Hellenists before it passed into Syriac hands. It was now definitely established that the basis of the "humanities" was the Aristotelian logic, and that this as well as all other studies in the work of Aristotle was to be interpreted according to the neo-Platonic commentators. In medicine and chemistry the curriculum of the school of Alexandria was recognised as authoritative and this, in so far as it was based upon Galen and Hippocrates, and upon the teaching of Paul of Aegina in obstetrical medicine, was to the good: but there was a mystical side of Alexandrian science mixed up with astrology, so that particular drugs had to be taken where certain planets were in the ascendant, and such like ideas, which gave a magical tone to Alexandrian and Arabic medicine which was not for its advantage, although it must be remembered that the ready contempt formerly poured upon Arabic science as mere charlatanism is now expressed more cautiously: we are prepared to admit that very much real and valuable work was done in medicine and chemistry,
although it is probable that the Egyptian obscurantism did rather tend to hinder the steady development of the sounder tradition derived from Galen and the Greek physicians.
We are thus able to understand that "Muslim theology, philosophy, and science put forth their first luxurant shoots on a soil which was saturated with Hellenistic culture." (Nicholson: Mystics of Islam. London. 1914. p. 9.) The passage of Hellenism took place through five channels:
(i) The Nestorians who hold the first place as the earliest teachers of the Muslims and the most important transmittors of medicine.
(ii) The Jacobites or Monophysites who were the chief influences in introducing neo-Platonic speculations and mysticism.
(iii) The Zoroastrians of Persia and especially the school of Junde-Shapur, although this had a strong Nestorian element.
(iv) The Pagans of Harran who came forward at a later stage.
(v) The Jews who, in this connection, occupy a somewhat peculiar position: they had no contact with the tradition of Aristotelian philosophy, their academies at Sora and Pumbaditha were concerned with their own traditional law and Bible exegesis only. Jewish philosophical studies began later and were themselves derived from the Arabic philosophers. But they shared with the Nestorians an inclination towards medical studies so that Jewish physicians
appear in the early days of Baghdad. Yet they come distinctly second to the Nestorians. Thus amongst the medical writers mentioned by Dr. Leclerq in his Histoire de la médicine arabe (Paris, 1876) we find amongst the names cited for the tenth cent. A.D. that there are 29 Christians, 3 Jews, and 4 pagans of Harran, though in the next century only 3 Christians appear, as against 7 Jews, the work then passing very largely into Muslim hands.