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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Interface between Christian and Classical Tradition: An Examination of Logic in the Writings of Cyril of Alexandria

  • Author(s): Zarrin, Sarah
  • et al.

Perhaps one of the most significant features of Late Antiquity is the diverse interaction between different ethno-religious groups. Alexandria, quite a cosmopolitan city during this time, was no exception, and a home for Jews, Christians and pagans alike. In Alexandria, interactions between these groups ranged from peaceful, scholastic exchange at academies to outbreaks of public violence, most notably the destruction of the Serapeum in 391.  Further evidence of the tense interaction between these groups can be found in an examination of the city’s intellectual history: namely, Christians’ fraught relationship with the classical tradition. On one hand, Homer and other classical authors for over a century had formed the educational canon; on the other, these pagan works contained what Christians believed to be questionable morals. In this paper I examine the use of the logic tradition in the polemical writings of Cyril of Alexandria. Logic was developed primarily by Aristotle in the Organon and further expanded by his followers and later philosophers. I argue that Cyril does not use logic out of any great admiration of its efficacy, but merely because it is the tool that his opponents use in their own polemical writings: he essentially attempts to beat his enemies with their own weapons. Understood this way, Cyril’s use of logic demonstrates a rather ambivalent attitude toward the classical tradition – indeed, the direct quotation of Aristotle and the creative use of his tools, but seemingly without any great admiration for Aristotle or the logic tradition.

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