The Alexandrian school, in a broad sense, is a collective designation for a set of institutes of Hellenistic Science and Philosophy concentrated in Alexandria in the Hellenistic (the late fourth – the middle of the first centuries BC) and Roman (until the fifth century AD) periods, including the Judaeo-Alexandrian tradition of Philosophy and the Christian Didascalium. In a narrow and more specific sense, it is a school of Christian instruction and advanced philosophical and theological education, within the framework of which the ancient Hermeneutics with its prevailing allegorical method was developed and reconsidered. The Alexandrian school came into being at a crossroads of the Greek, Egyptian, Jewish, Rom an and Christian cultures which from the very beginning added a character of complete openness to it. It was developed under the influence of different religious traditions: the Hellenistic and Roman polytheism, the Egyptian mysteries, Judaism, Gnosticism, and Christianity, which can account for a profoundly religious character of the Alexandrian Philosophy in its general features. It emerged at the time when all the basic trends of Ancient Philosophy had already been moulded. The first independent steps of Alexandrian thought were connected with Scepticism, but later on it was increasingly becoming a mere background for religious search. In Alexandria, frequent attempts were made to eclectically combine all the doctrines along the lines of religious and philosophic syncretism that was to unite ratio and mysterium. In the system of Neo-Platonism, founded by Plotinus (205–270 AD), the Alexandrian school accumulated all the achievements of ancient philosophical culture which was trying to save the then perishing paganism. In the period of the ever growing expansion of the Christian Church the Alexandrian school became a birthplace of Theology as Science along with Hermeneutics and Exegesis and a prototype of European universities.
It is not always easy to divide the history of the Alexandrian school into periods because of a great variety of its meanings. In the late fourth century BC, in Alexandria, Ptolemy I Soter laid the foundations of the Museum –the first Academy of Sciences in history. Researchers such as Matter and Parthey considered it to be the place of origin of the Alexandrian school, for the spirit of this establishment left an indelible im pression on the whole pattern of the Alexandrian scientific thought for years to come. Its largest library was a great supplement to developing scholarship, especially the Humanities. There they used to keep the first complete translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Ancient Greek which was later on to become the main object of Alexandrian Hermeneutics. The further development of the Alexandrian school is linked with the Jewish scientific establishments of Alexandria. The starting point of this period was witnessed by Aristobulus» (2nd century BC) Commentary on the Law. Its extant fragments clearly show that Aristobulus readily used allegorism, that is a method elaborated in Antiquity for an allegorical interpretation of myths and well grounded in the works by Stoics Heraclitus of Pontus and Cornutus. Aristobulus presented the Bible's content as cosmology put into images; such interpretations were called in Antiquity physical (derived from the Greek word physis «nature»).
Of the mutual reception of philosophic and religious ideas between Jews and pagans in Alexandria speaks »the Wisdom Literature». Besides that, there w ere widely spread Jewish writings under Greek names which used to contain monotheistic interpolations. However, it was Philo of Alexandria (15 BC–AD 50) who became a real exponent of the Jewish Diaspora intellectual heritage. Philo based his philosophical views upon authors such as Plato, Aristotle, Posidonius, Antiochus of Ascalon, Arius Didymus; he was also nicknamed the Pythagorean. In order to explain the convergence of Greek Philosophy and Biblical Theology and Morals, Philo introduced a theory of «the plagiarism of Hellenes», according to which founders of ancient schools of Philosophy used the Bible as their primary source. For Philo himself, Theology takes the place of Metaphysics that fastens the fundamentals of Logic, Cosmology, Ethics and Aesthetics. He calls God »the Beauty» (Opif. 139), «the Sun» (Somn. 72), »the Creator» and "the Father of all the things in existence» (Alleg. I. 18), while at the same time denying pantheistic premises (Ibid. III. 7). God can be compared with no entity (Praem. 40). Philo's answer to the question concerning the link between God and the world is his doctrine on the mediator who forms an ideal plan of this world, which is later on realised in matter. Such a mediator is the Word (Logos), which is sometimes endow ed with personal features. The Logos is a whole set of Divine powers (energies) that constitute the world.
Philo's monotheistic eclecticism was thoroughly reconsidered in the Christian Alexandrian school. Its leaders Clement and Origen laid the foundations for the Alexandrian tradition of Theology and Philosophy. While borrowing Philo's system of allegorical Hermeneutics, Clement, however, inherited certain ideas of the second century Christian apologists. He presented the relatedness of historic Christ to the transcendental Logos as a hermeneutic task of the interpretation of the Divine Word. The boundaries of Alexandrian Cosmology turned out to be, as it were, both widened and deepened: the Logos is equal both to the Father and m an which is utterly im possible in Philo's teaching. The world has been created after the Logos» likeness (Strom. V. 38, 7). The Old and New Testament relationship is considered as a link between school and life: «Through Moses the Logos presented Himself as the Paedogogus,» or »Teacher» (Paed. I. 11). In his polemic against the Alexandrian Gnosticism Clement defended the role of cosmos as a school of spiritual creatures.
While developing Clement's ideas, Origen reached the acme of allegorical interpretation in consequence of which he became a mouthpiece of excesses of this method and was posthumously condemned by the Fifth Oecumenical Council. Origen's work of textual criticism Hexapla, representing an attempt to take into account all the possible variety of readings of the Old Testament translations, became a monument of Alexandrian Philology, while at the same time expressing one of his staple ideas concerning the text's multiple meanings. The didascalus» (i. e. the early Christian teacher's) mistakes were noticed both by representatives of the Antiochene school and by his own successors in the Alexandrian school, especially by St Peter the Martyr who reproached him for his disregard for the Bible's grammatical sense. Origen interprets the whole world as a parable of the Divine transcendental reality. In this connection, the Old Testament, as it had developed in history, was a parable of the New Testament, giving the fullness of moral norms, whereas the New Testament is a parable of the «Eternal Gospel», containing the mystery of the »age to come. «Origen understood this mystery, according to Hellenistic Philosophy and in defiance of the Church doctrine, as the timeless world of spirits who at times fall apart from their Maker. History is cyclic: »Before this world there had been other worlds» (Princ. III. 5, 3). No world, however, has resembled the previous one (Ibid. II. 3, 4). The worlds» profile is defined by the free will of the creatures who have failed to hold on contemplating the Good. On the one hand, Origen cannot ensure the safety of salvation; on the other hand, he is full of hope that nobody, even the devil himself, shall perish altogether. God leads everybody to the recovery of communion with Himself, theoretically speaking, it must be universal (the final Apocatastasis, that is, universal salvation). The blurred vision of God is connected with the fact that even the Logos Himself does not thoroughly know the Father, albeit He cannot fall apart from the Latter as He is not created. Relations among the Persons of the Holy Trinity are presented as a hierarchical subordination in the one nature.
Origen's heritage was quite controversial: his triadological subordinationism was laid into the basis of Arianism; his Cosmology and Anthropology engendered the movement of «Origenism », within which there developed a few sects; this notwithstanding, he did make a terminological basis for further Orthodox Christian theologising. St Athanasius the Great (295–373 AD) and St Cyril of Alexandria (380–444 AD) used the methodology elaborated by Origen, but on the basis of another principle: they recognised the consensus of reason and the catholic teaching of the Church as the standard of Truth. Thus, the rationalist com ponent of the Alexandrian school Philosophy was finally subordinated to its other original com ponent – that of faith. Reason obeys faith, and the latter obeys the Council, the exponent of the collective memory of Holy Tradition. This trend towards elaborating »the standard of Orthodoxy» was continued by representatives of the Cappadocian school which, due to its succession through St Athanasius, is also called the Neo-Alexandrian one. The existence of the Alexandrian school as an independent institution was first undermined by the activities of its scientific director Didymus the Blind (340–395 AD) who was preaching Origenism and arousing the Origenist disputes», and finally stopped with the departure of its last didascalus Rhodon for the town of Side in Pamphylia (405 AD). This notwithstanding, one can easily see certain ideas of the Alexandrian school in the works by St Maxim us the Confessor (7th century AD) and St John of Dam ascus (8th century AD), in the best com positions of Byzantine hymnography, and at all times of the development of European culture.