Porphyry, a Phoenician by birth, was a heathen philosopher of the new Platonist school toward the end of the third century, and taught and died at Rome A.D.304. [14] He wrote, besides a number of books which have no bearing upon the subject before us, an extensive work against the Christian religion, in fifteen books; [15] and a sort of text-book of heathen theology, under the title "The Philosophy of Oracles." [16] Both are lost, with the exception of some fragments in the writings of the fathers. A letter to his wife Marcella has been recently brought to light. Porphyry is more serious and profound in spirit, and respectful in tone toward Christianity, than Lucian and Celsus or any heathen opponent before him. He made an approach to some Christian ideas, or was unconsciously under the influence which they exerted over the intelligent and reflecting minds of that age. In the letter to his wife, he represents the ethical triad of St. Paul, -- faith, love, and hope, -- in connection with truth, as the foundation of true piety. [17] In the same letter, he utters other sentences which sound like reminiscences of Bible passages, although he no doubt put a different philosophical meaning into them. Like many Rationalists of more recent times, he made a distinction between the original, pure Christianity of Christ, and the corruption of Christianity by the apostles. In his work on the "Philosophy of Oracles," he says of Christ, as quoted by St. Augustine ("De Civitate Dei," l. xix. cap.23; comp. also Eusebius' "Demonst. Evang.," iii.6): --

"The oracle declared Christ to be a most pious man, and his soul, like the soul of other pious men after death, favored with immortality; and that the mistaken Christians worship him. And when we asked, Why, then, was he condemned? the goddess (Hecate) answered in the oracle: The body indeed is ever liable to debilitating torments; but the soul of the pious dwells in the heavenly mansion. But that soul has fatally been the occasion to many other souls to be involved in error, to whom it has not been given to acknowledge the immortal Jove. But himself is pious, and gone to heaven as other pious men do. Him, therefore, thou shalt not blaspheme; but pity the folly of men, because of the danger they are in."


[14] Comp. the author's "Church History from Christ to Constantine," p. 190 ff.

[15] Kata Christianon logoi. Comp. Eusebius, "Hist. Eccles." lib. vi. cap. 19; Socrates, "Hist. Eccl.," i. 9 (in a letter of Constantine, who boasts of having caused the destruction of the infamous writings of Porphyry), iii. 23; Euseb., "Præpar. Evang.," &c.

[16] Peri tes ek logion philosophias. Extracts from it are contained in Eusebius' "Præparatio Evangelica and Demonstratio Evangelica;" in Augustine's "De Civitate Dei;" and in Theodoret's "Twelve Apologetic Discourses." Lardner denies the genuineness of this work, on insufficient grounds; but Fabricius, Mosheim, Neander, and others, treat it as a production of Porphyry.

[17] Ep. ad. Marcellam (ed. by Card. Angelo Mai, Milan, 1816), cap. xxiv.: Tessara stoicheia malista kakratuntho peri theou, pistis, aletheia, eros [a Platonic substitute for the Christian agape], elpis. Angelo Mai inferred, without good reason, that Marcella was a Christian.

celsus and lucian
Top of Page
Top of Page