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In recent years scholars from a broad spectrum, including classicists, patristic and biblical scholars, ancient historians, and specialists in ancient Judaism, (1) have demonstrated an increasing interest in universalism. There has been very little written, however, on Porphyry's search for universal salvation, and whether Eusebius of Caesarea's understanding of universalism (2)--here defined as the universality of a particular cult's soteriology (or even more briefly stated, the belief in universal salvation)--was influenced polemically by Porphyry. Eusebius's great apologetic works, Praeparatio evangelica and Demonstratio evangelica (henceforth P.E. and D.E.), written ca. 313-318 and ca. 318-324 C.E., respectively, (3) provide many passages in which he artistically weaves universalist themes into his overall theological argument: P.E. contains 187 such passages, while D.E. has 417, more than twice that number. (4) While some of the sub-themes of each work are either identical to one another or very similar in scope and content, the different audiences addressed-P.E. is primarily written to pagans against the charge that Christianity is new and thus lacks the authenticity of an ancient tradition, while D.E. responds to Jewish criticisms and gives pastoral guidance for the bishop's flock--can account for differences in both rhetorical method and theological emphases.
My aims in this paper are twofold. First, the central thesis is that Porphyry's search for universalism ultimately led him to devise a hierarchical, tripartite soteriology substantially influenced by Neoplatonic concepts, and that Eusebius is responding to this Porphyrian universalism in both P.E. and D.E. Thus the debate concerning Christian universalism (i.e., the Church's (5) claim that Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah and he alone is the one way of salvation for all humankind, whether Jew, Greek, or barbarian) took place during the decades preceding the Council of Nicaea. In showing this to be the case, I shall argue that we cannot assert that Eusebius is responding to the universalist argument which Porphyry developed in De regressu animae, quoted by Augustine in De civitate Dei 10.32, simply because there is no evidence that Eusebius had ever read this work in which Porphyry claims to have searched for the via universalis salutis animae liberandae ("the one way for the universal salvation of the soul's liberation"). However, this is not the only Porphyrian work which addresses the universalist theme, and thus I shall argue that it is De philosophia ex oraculis, of which Eusebius had indisputable knowledge and from which he quotes in both P.E. (many times) and D.E. (only once), to which he is polemically responding. The second aim, although subordinate to the central thesis, is to demonstrate that the conventional chronology of De philosophia ex oraculis is defective and should be discarded, and that the work coheres better with a date ca. 300 C.E., just before the outbreak of the Diocletianic Persecution when universalism was central to the pagan-Christian conflict. It is therefore to be regarded as one of Porphyry's later writings, and not a youthful work produced in his pre-Plotinian period (i.e., before 263 C.E.) as many have hitherto thought.
* Porphyry's Three Ways and the Sententiae ad intelligibilia ducentes
In De civitate Dei 10.32, Augustine informs us that after intensive research, Porphyry failed to find the one via universalis salutis:
Cum autem dicit Porphyrius in primo iuxta finem de regressu animae libro nondum receptum in unam quandam sectam quod universalem contineat viam animae liberandae, vel a philosophia verissima aliqua vel ab Indorum moribus ac disciplina, aut inductione Chaldaeorum aut alia qualibet via, nondumque in suam notitiam eandem viam historiali cognitione perlatam, procul dubio confitetur esse aliquam, sed nondum in suam venisse notitiam. (6)
Initially, the most striking element of this passage is that Porphyry's meticulous and methodical searching through the teachings of the various philosophical sects and the many religious traditions of his age, including those of the Indians and the Chaldaeans, logically presupposes a lengthy period of time in which he was involved in extensive research. I shall come back to this later. Secondly, although Augustine is most probably not giving us all the pertinent information from the De regressu animae, I would posit that the passage quoted above is authentic and thus reveals the accurate contents of this Porphyrian work. The gist is that Porphyry attempted to find the universal way for the soul's salvation--which I assume meant one way for all souls--but after much searching finally concluded that, although there undoubtedly was such a way, he had not found it.
Another Porphyrian work, however, De philosophia ex oraculis, tells us a different story altogether. In the prologue to that collection of oracles aimed at edifying the religious faith of the pagans of the early fourth century, (7) Eusebius informs us that Porphyry now claims to have found the way of salvation for everyone:
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (8)
One might deduce from this passage that Porphyry now claims the teaching contained in his collection of oracles is the only sure source for the salvation of all souls, clearly revealing his discovery of one via universalis. I would suggest, however, that in the Philos. orac. Porphyry attempted to offer not one identical way for everyone, but three different ways which virtually encompass all humans, and thus, in a true sense, he did essentially create his own distinct universalism: It was religiously and philosophically integrative, characterized by ascending gradations and hence hierarchical, something that we should expect from a neoplatonic philosopher. (9) Porphyry's soteriological system was universalist, and it was probably designed, on the authority of pagan oracles, to counter the universalist claims of the Christians of the late third/early fourth centuries.
Augustine provides evidence for these three ways. In Civ. 10.27, we are told that Porphyry believed the philosopher can cleanse the intellectual part of the soul by virtue of his intellectual life, (10) and therefore does not need theurgy for such purification. Yet only an elite few possess the aptitude for philosophy, so for the masses--and here I suggest he means the uneducated--theurgy can be implemented for the cleansing of at least the spiritual part of the soul, so that when they depart this temporal life, although they will not return to the Father, they will dwell (temporarily) "above the realm of air among the aetherial deities" before their next incarnated life on earth:
ut videlicet quicumque a philosophiae vitute remoti sunt, quae ardua nimis atque paucorum est, te auctore theurgos homines, a quibus non quidem in anima intellectuali, verum saltem in anima spiritali purgentur, inquirant (11)
Theurgy can thus cleanse only the spiritual soul, not the intellectual soul, and the latter, although purified in itself, cannot be made immortal or eternal. (12)
To sum up, there is one way of salvation for the (neoplatonic) philosopher by which the intellectual soul is cleansed, and another way for the uneducated masses by means of theurgy, which brings about the purification of the spiritual soul. There is nothing surprising here: Scholars have acknowledged such a dual soteriology in Porphyry's thought for some time. (13)
According to Augustine, however, Porphyry offered another way for the cleansing of the spiritual soul, distinct from both philosophical and theurgical salvation:
Confiteris tamen etiam spiritalem anirnam sine theurgicis artibus et sine teletis, quibus frustra discendis elaborasti, posse continentiae virtute purgari. (14)
Although Andrew Smith in his seminal work on Porphyry in 1974 acknowledged another way to salvation by virtue in Porphyry's thought, (15) in addition to theurgy and philosophy, no one to my knowledge has noticed that Augustine does not just say by virtue here, but "by the virtue of continence" (posse continentiae virtute purgari). This brings me to the relationship between the neoplatonic scala virtutum and the Porphyrian phrase, "posse continentiae virtute purgari." In Sententiae ad intelligibilia ducentes 32 Porphyry, following Plotinus, analyzes the four classes of virtues (scala virtutum): the civic, purificatory, contemplative, and exemplary virtues. (16) Each of these, however, contains the four cardinal virtues of Platonism: Prudence, Courage, Temperance, and Justice. (17) This means that the definition of continentia/[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is determined by which class of the four virtues into which it falls:
1) Civic Virtue (18): [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] consists in the agreement and harmony of appetite and reason (Sent. 32: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and moderates the passions so human conduct conforms to the laws of human nature (Sent. 32: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]),19 making human beings benevolent toward each other and mutually uniting citizens. (20)
2) Purificatory Virtues: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] consists in the soul's purifying itself of passions (Sent. 32): [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].
3) Contemplative Virtues: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is the conversion of the soul toward intelligence (Sent. 32): [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (21)
4) Exemplary Virtues: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is conversion toward oneself/residing in intelligence (Sent. 32): [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].
These are understood to be on an ascending scale within the divinization of the human soul--that is, the civic virtues are inferior to the purificatory, which, in turn, are inferior to the contemplative, reaching an apex in the exemplary virtues. (22) As well, Porphyry says: "Whoever possesses the superior virtues, we may note, also necessarily possesses the lower ones, but the converse is not the case." (23) So to whichever class of the four virtues we assign Porphyry's other way, we must keep in mind this principle of ascending ontological and spiritual values. (24)
If each class of the four virtues mentioned (Civic, Purificatory, Contemplative, and Exemplary) contains temperance (Augustine's continentia or Porphyry's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), and according to Civ. 10.28, as noted above, the other way of salvation for the soul is by the virtue of continence, we must now ask ourselves to which class of virtue within the scala virtutum is Porphyry referring? I suggest that the key is in posse continentiae virtute purgari (Civ. 10.28), with continentia corresponding to [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and purgari relating to the Greek [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (25) If this is correct, then there is only one class that is possible, and that is the second, or the Purificatory Virtues--especially if we recall that according to Augustine, Porphyry taught that by the virtue of continence the lower soul can be cleansed. In the Sententiae Porphyry says that the Purificatory Virtues, the second class, are superior to the Civic Virtues because they free the soul from its union with lower things. (26) They also enable one to rise to contemplation--the third class has not yet been achieved, but one at the second class is ideally moving toward contemplation ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of intelligible reality. (27) Furthermore, the Purificatory Virtues detach the soul from things here ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and enable one to abstain from the carnal affections. (28) Temperance--Augustine's continentia and Porphyry's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--within the Purificatory Virtues is defined as the soul's not sharing or obliterating bodily passions, (29) purifying itself from the brutal desires characteristic of the body. (30) The object of the Purificatory Virtues is to detach the soul completely from the passions and raise the soul to true existence by assimilating it to the divinity, (31) another way of expressing the Platonic principle being like God, which "could suggest greater continuity in the process of divinization, to the extent that the divine appears as a more graduated structure in which levels are linked by means of more intermediate terms." (32)
Two passages from the Sententiae …