Ammonius Saccas

2nd – 3rd Century CE


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Ammonius Saccas.

Entries from the Theosophical Glossary

Ammonius Saccas

A great and good philosopher who lived in Alexandria between the second and third centuries of our era, and who was the founder of the Neo-Platonic School of Philaletheians or “lovers of truth”. He was of poor birth and born of Christian parents, but endowed with such prominent, almost divine, goodness as to be called Theodidaktos, the “god-taught”. He honoured that which was good in Christianity, but broke with it and the churches very early, being unable to find in it any superiority over the older religions.

Theodidaktos (Gr.)

Lit., “God-taught”. Used of Ammonius Saccas, the founder of the Neo-Platonic Eclectic School of the Philalethæ in the fourth century at Alexandria.


The disciples of Ammonius Saccas (q.v.), so called because of their practice of interpreting all sacred legends, myths and mysteries by a principle of analogy and correspondence, which is now found in the Kabbalistic system, and pre-eminently so in the Schools of Esoteric Philosophy, in the East. (See “ The Twelve Signs of the Zodiac,” by T. Subba Row in Five Years of Theosophy.)


Lit.,“The new Platonism” or Platonic School. An eclectic pantheistic school of philosophy founded in Alexandria by Ammonius Saccas, of which his disciple Plotinus was the head (A.D. 189-270). It sought to reconcile Platonic teachings and the Aristotelean system with oriental Theosophy. Its chief occupation was pure spiritual philosophy, metaphysics and mysticism. Theurgy was introduced towards its later years. It was the ultimate effort of high intelligences to check the ever-increasing ignorant superstition and blind faith of the times; the last product of Greek philosophy, which was finally crushed and put to death by brute force.

Philaletheans (Gr.)

Lit., “the lovers of truth”; the name is given to the Alexandrian Neo-Platonists, also called Analogeticists and Theosophists. (See Key to Theosophy, p. 1, et seq.) The school was founded by Ammonius Saccas early in the third century, and lasted until the fifth. The greatest philosophers and sages of the day belonged to it.

Eclectic Philosophy

One of the names given to the Neo-Platonic school of Alexandria.

Alexadrian School (of Philosophers)

This famous school arose in Alexandria (Egypt) which was for several centuries the great seat of learning and philosophy. Famous for its library, which bears the name of “Alexandrian”, founded by Ptolemy Soter, who died in 283 B.C., at the very beginning of his reign ; that library which once boasted of 700,000 rolls or volumes (Aulus Gellius); for its museum, the first real academy of sciences and arts ; for its world-famous scholars, such as Euclid (the father of scientific geometry), Apollonius of Perga (the author of the still extant work on conic sections), Nicomachus (the arithmetician); astronomers, natural philosophers, anatomists such as Herophilus and Erasistratus, physicians, musicians, artists, etc., etc. ; it became still more famous for its Eclectic, or the New Platonic school, founded in 193 A.D., by Ammonius Saccas, whose disciples were Origen, Plotinus, and many others now famous in history. The most celebrated schools of Gnostics had their origin in Alexandria. Philo Judæus Josephus, lamblichus, Porphyry, Clement of Alexandria, Eratosthenes the astronomer, Hypatia the virgin philosopher, and numberless other stars of second magnitude, all belonged at various times to these great schools, and helped to make Alexandria one of the most justly renowned seats of learning that the world has ever produced.

See also: Clemens Alexandrinus, Hypatia, Iamblichus, Panænus, Plato, Platonic School, Plotinus, Porphyry, etc.

Theosophical Glossary

Biographical notes from The Key to Theosophy

ENQUIRER. What is the origin of the name [Theosophy]?

THEOSOPHIST. It comes to us from the Alexandrian philosophers, called lovers of truth, Philaletheians, from phil “loving,” and aletheia “truth.” * The name Theosophy dates from the third century of our era, and began with Ammonius Saccas and his disciples, who started the Eclectic Theosophical system.

* Also called Analogeticists. As explained by Prof. Alex. Wilder, F. T. S., in his “Eclectic Philosophy,” they were called so because of their practice of interpreting all sacred legends and narratives, myths and mysteries, by a rule or principle of analogy and correspondence: so that events which were related as having occurred in the external world were regarded as expressing operations and experiences of the human soul. They were also denominated Neo-Platonists. Though Theosophy, or the Eclectic Theosophical system, is generally attributed to the third century, yet, if Diogenes Laertius is to be credited, its origin is much earlier, as he attributed the system to an Egyptian priest, Pot-Amun, who lived in the early days of the Ptolemaic dynasty. The same author tells us that the name is Coptic, and signifies one consecrated to Amun, the God of Wisdom. Theosophy is the equivalent of Brahm-Vidya, divine knowledge.

ENQUIRER. What was the object of this system?

THEOSOPHIST. First of all to inculcate certain great moral truths upon its disciples, and all those who were “lovers of the truth.” Hence the motto adopted by the Theosophical Society: “There is no religion higher than truth.” * The chief aim of the Founders of the Eclectic Theosophical School was one of the three objects of its modern successor, the Theosophical Society, namely, to reconcile all religions, sects and nations under a common system of ethics, based on eternal verities.

* Eclectic Theosophy was divided under three heads: (1) Belief in one absolute, incomprehensible and supreme Deity, or infinite essence, which is the root of all nature, and of all that is, visible and invisible. (2) Belief in man’s eternal immortal nature, because, being a radiation of the Universal Soul, it is of an identical essence with it. (3) Theurgy, or “divine work,” or producing a work of gods; from theoi, “gods,” and ergein, “to work.” The term is very old, but, as it belongs to the vocabulary of the MYSTERIES, was not in popular use. It was a mystic belief — practically proven by initiated adepts and priests — that, by making oneself as pure as the incorporeal beings — i.e., by returning to one’s pristine purity of nature — man could move the gods to impart to him Divine mysteries, and even cause them to become occasionally visible, either subjectively or objectively. It was the transcendental aspect of what is now called Spiritualism; but having been abused and misconceived by the populace, it had come to be regarded by some as necromancy, and was generally forbidden. A travestied practice of the theurgy of Iamblichus lingers still in the ceremonial magic of some modern Kabalists. Modern Theosophy avoids and rejects both these kinds of magic and “necromancy” as being very dangerous. Real divine theurgy requires an almost superhuman purity and holiness of life; otherwise it degenerates into mediumship or black magic. The immediate disciples of Ammonius Saccas, who was called Theodidaktos, “god-taught” — such as Plotinus and his follower Porphyry — rejected theurgy at first, but were finally reconciled to it through Iamblichus, who wrote a work to that effect entitled “De Mysteriis,” under the name of his own master, a famous Egyptian priest called Abammon. Ammonius Saccas was the son of Christian parents, and, having been repelled by dogmatic spiritualistic Christianity from his childhood, became a Neo-Platonist, and like J. Boehme and other great seers and mystics, is said to have had divine wisdom revealed to him in dreams and visions. Hence his name of Theodidaktos. He resolved to reconcile every system of religion, and by demonstrating their identical origin to establish one universal creed based on ethics. His life was so blameless and pure, his learning so profound and vast, that several Church Fathers were his secret disciples. Clemens Alexandrinus speaks very highly of him. Plotinus, the “St. John” of Ammonius, was also a man universally respected and esteemed, and of the most profound learning and integrity. When thirty-nine years of age he accompanied the Roman Emperor Gordian and his army to the East, to be instructed by the sages of Bactria and India. He had a School of Philosophy in Rome. Porphyry, his disciple, whose real name was Malek (a Hellenized Jew), collected all the writings of his master. Porphyry was himself a great author, and gave an allegorical interpretation to some parts of Homer’s writings. The system of meditation the Philaletheians resorted to was ecstacy, a system akin to Indian Yoga practice. What is known of the Eclectic School is due to Origen, Longinus, and Plotinus, the immediate disciples of Ammonius — (Vide Eclectic Philos., by A. Wilder.)

ENQUIRER. In the days of Ammonius there were several ancient great religions, and numerous were the sects in Egypt and Palestine alone. How could he reconcile them?

THEOSOPHIST. By doing that which we again try to do now. The Neo-Platonists were a large body, and belonged to various religious philosophies * ; so do our Theosophists. In those days, the Jew Aristobulus affirmed that the ethics of Aristotle represented the esoteric teachings of the Law of Moses; Philo Judaeus endeavoured to reconcile the Pentateuch with the Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy; and Josephus proved that the Essenes of Carmel were simply the copyists and followers of the Egyptian Therapeutae (the healers). So it is in our day. We can show the line of descent of every Christian religion, as of every, even the smallest, sect. The latter are the minor twigs or shoots grown on the larger branches; but shoots and branches spring from the same trunk — the WISDOM-RELIGION. To prove this was the aim of Ammonius, who endeavoured to induce Gentiles and Christians, Jews and Idolaters, to lay aside their contentions and strifes, remembering only that they were all in possession of the same truth under various vestments, and were all the children of a common mother. This is the aim of Theosophy likewise.

* It was under Philadelphus that Judaism established itself in Alexandria, and forthwith the Hellenic teachers became the dangerous rivals of the College of Rabbis of Babylon. As the author of “Eclectic Philosophy” very pertinently remarks: “The Buddhistic, Vedantic, and Magian systems were expounded along with the philosophies of Greece at that period. It was not wonderful that thoughtful men supposed that the strife of words ought to cease, and considered it possible to extract one harmonious system from these various teachings. . . . Panaenus, Athenagoras, and Clement were thoroughly instructed in Platonic philosophy, and comprehended its essential unity with the Oriental systems.”

† Says Mosheim of Ammonius: “Conceiving that not only the philosophers of Greece, but also all those of the different barbarian nations, were perfectly in unison with each other with regard to every essential point, he made it his business so to expound the thousand tenets of all these various sects as to show they had all originated from one and the same source, and tended all to one and the same end.” If the writer on Ammonius in the Edinburgh Encyclopoedia knows what he is talking about, then he describes the modern Theosophists, their beliefs, and their work, for he says, speaking of the Theodidaktos: “He adopted the doctrines which were received in Egypt (the esoteric were those of India) concerning the Universe and the Deity, considered as constituting one great whole; concerning the eternity of the world . . . and established a system of moral discipline which allowed the people in general to live according to the laws of their country and the dictates of nature, but required the wise to exalt their mind by contemplation.

ENQUIRER. What are your authorities for saying this of the ancient Theosophists of Alexandria?

THEOSOPHIST. An almost countless number of well-known writers. Mosheim, one of them, says that:

“Ammonius taught that the religion of the multitude went hand-in-hand with philosophy, and with her had shared the fate of being by degrees corrupted and obscured with mere human conceits, superstitions, and lies; that it ought, therefore, to be brought back to its original purity by purging it of this dross and expounding it upon philosophical principles; and the whole Christ had in view was to reinstate and restore to its primitive integrity the wisdom of the ancients; to reduce within bounds the universally-prevailing dominion of superstition; and in part to correct, and in part to exterminate the various errors that had found their way into the different popular religions.”

This, again, is precisely what the modern Theosophists say. Only while the great Philaletheian was supported and helped in the policy he pursued by two Church Fathers, Clement and Athenagoras, by all the learned Rabbis of the Synagogue, the Academy and the Groves, and while he taught a common doctrine for all, we, his followers on the same line, receive no recognition, but, on the contrary, are abused and persecuted. People 1,500 years ago are thus shown to have been more tolerant than they are in this enlightened century.

ENQUIRER. Was he encouraged and supported by the Church because, notwithstanding his heresies, Ammonius taught Christianity and was a Christian?

THEOSOPHIST. Not at all. He was born a Christian, but never accepted Church Christianity. As said of him by the same writer:

“He had but to propound his instructions according to the ancient pillars of Hermes, which Plato and Pythagoras knew before, and from them constituted their philosophy. Finding the same in the prologue of the Gospel according to St. John, he very properly supposed that the purpose of Jesus was to restore the great doctrine of wisdom in its primitive integrity. The narratives of the Bible and the stories of the gods he considered to be allegories illustrative of the truth, or else fables to be rejected.” Moreover, as says the Edinburgh Encyclopoedia, “he acknowledged that Jesus Christ was an excellent man and the ‘friend of God,’ but alleged that it was not his design entirely to abolish the worship of demons (gods), and that his only intention was to purify the ancient religion.”

ENQUIRER. Since Ammonius never committed anything to writing, how can one feel sure that such were his teachings?

THEOSOPHIST. Neither did Buddha, Pythagoras, Confucius, Orpheus, Socrates, or even Jesus, leave behind them any writings. Yet most of these are historical personages, and their teachings have all survived. The disciples of Ammonius (among whom Origen and Herennius) wrote treatises and explained his ethics. Certainly the latter are as historical, if not more so, than the Apostolic writings. Moreover, his pupils — Origen, Plotinus, and Longinus (counsellor of the famous Queen Zenobia) — have all left voluminous records of the Philaletheian System — so far, at all events, as their public profession of faith was known, for the school was divided into exoteric and esoteric teachings. — The Key to Theosophy, Section 1, Pages 1-7

Biography from Theosophy Magazine

Ammonius Saccas

The influence of the great Alexandrian Schools had not helped the early Christians in their work of propaganda. While the Church of Rome held up the Jewish Bible as the sole authority upon every subject, the Gnostic Schools of Alexandria and Ephesus had turned out thousands of students who recognized the absurdity of such a claim. The scattered communities of orthodox Christendom, echoing the church in Rome, were teaching that the Jewish Scriptures were the only revelation of God, and therefore not to be compared with the Scriptures of other nations. But three prominent Jewish scholars had already proved the similarity between the Laws of Moses and the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras. Christians claimed that Jesus was a unique character, while the entire pagan world knew that the legends surrounding Jesus’ life were identical with those of the pagan gods. Students of comparative religion recognized their similarity to the traditions of great spiritual Teachers who had preceded Jesus.

The Church now found herself in conflict not only with the religious ideas of her self-chosen adversaries, but with their scientific views as well. The orthodox Church Fathers declared that God made the world out of nothing. The Gnostic Fathers denied this unphilosophical assertion and held that the universe was the result of a gradual unfoldment from within without. Christianity asserted that the earth was flat, and against this theory was pitted that of Aristarchos of Samos, who had been a member of the Alexandrian School in 280 B.C., and had taught the sphericity of the earth as Pythagoras had taught it before him.

In the fourth century, Science and orthodox Christianity came to a deadlock, the bone of contention being the idea of the sphericity of the earth. Criticizing the ancient theory of the roundness of the earth, Lactantius, one of the most polished rhetoricians among the Christians, indignantly inquired:

“Is it possible that men can be so absurd as to believe that the crops and trees on the other side of the earth hang downward, and that men have their feet higher than their heads? If you ask them how they defend those monstrosities, how things do not fall away from the earth on that side, they reply that the nature of things is such that heavy bodies tend toward the center, like the spokes of a wheel, while light bodies tend from the center to the heavens on all sides. Now I am really at a loss what to say of those, who, when they have once gone wrong, steadily persevere in their folly and defend one absurd opinion by another.”

But this statement, although written by a prominent member of their own faith, was objected to by the Christians themselves. When had they ever claimed that there were people on the other side of the earth? The Bible stated that the only persons who survived the Flood were the three sons of Noah, and their work was clearly described. Shem had re-populated Asia, Ham had done the same thing for Africa, and Japhet was the ancestor of the European peoples. Therefore, to quote St. Augustine: “It is impossible that there should be inhabitants on the other side of the earth, since no such race is recorded in the Scriptures among the descendants of Adam.”

As if that were not enough of an argument to convince any thinking man, St. Augustine offered another which was certainly irrefutable! It would be impossible, he said, for men to be on the other side of the earth, for in that case “in the Day of Judgement, men on the other side of the earth would not be able to see the Lord descending through the air.”

By the sixth century, the flatness of the earth had been definitely established by the Christian Church. In his great work, Christian Topography, Cosmos Indicopleustes describes the earth as a quadrangular plane, extending four hundred day’s journey east and west and exactly half as much north and south. This quadrangular plane he said to be enclosed by mountains, upon which the sky rests. As the mountain on the north is larger than the others, it intercepts the sun’s rays and produces night. The plane of the earth is not exactly horizontal, but inclines slightly from the north. Therefore rivers like the Tigris and Euphrates, which run southward, have a rapid motion, while the Nile, which runs northward, naturally moves more slowly.

In addition to the pagan and idolatrous religions of the “heathen” and their absurd scientific views concerning the sphericity of the earth, there were the teachings of the great pagan philosophers which had to be refuted also if the Christian Church were to become the ruling force of the day. The orthodox Fathers devoted all their time and energy to this task. But in spite of their best efforts, the Pagans laughed quietly at Christian ignorance. The Church was in a quandary. How could she continue to refute the pagan doctrines unless she understood the theories she was trying to combat?

In self-defence, the Church decided to adopt new tactics. She would establish a School of her own in Alexandria, the city of Schools. This School would serve two purposes: first, it would enable her to introduce Christianity into this hotbed of heresy; second, it would give the Church Fathers an opportunity to study the pagan doctrines, and thus give a greater appearance of authority to their Refutations. As the Reverend Father Stebbing points out, this School

. . . aimed at using philosophy, especially the speculations of Plato, to serve the cause of the Church, and to answer the objections of pagan philosophers on their own grounds, demonstrating that true philosophy led the way to Christianity and not to Paganism.

Early in the second century, then, a Christian School was established in Alexandria. At first it was a school for children only, located almost at the doors of the Old Museum, from which the majority of Christians, owing to their ignorance of science, art, and philosophy, had hitherto been debarred. Out of this grew the famous Catechitical School. Its first director was Pantænus, a converted Stoic, who was deposed and sent to India as a missionary in the year 191. He was followed by Clement of Alexandria, whose study of Greek and Egyptian philosophy had convinced him that truth could be found even in the heathen systems. But Clement’s eclecticism met with no enthusiasm from his superiors, and in the year 203 he was deposed and replaced by his pupil Origen, who was only eighteen years old at the time.

Origen’s work for Christianity commenced with a deep and profound study of the Hebrew Scriptures. Dissatisfied with the translations which were then extant, Origen determined to make his own translation. He brought out what is known as the Hexapala, or six-fold edition of the Old Testament, in which he set forth, in parallel columns, the various versions of the Scriptures, including his own. In addition to this, he brought out three Greek versions of the Psalms. Some notion of the magnitude of Origen’s work (which occupied twenty-eight years of his life) is gained by an examination of some recently discovered manuscripts. One may be found in the Abrosian Library in Milan, and another in the collection of palimpsests discovered in Cairo.

Origen’s knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures convinced him that the orthodox Church was making a fatal mistake by denying the authenticity of certain documents. He openly rebuked the Church for rejecting the Book of Enoch, which contained the history of the early races of mankind and completely destroyed the Jewish chronology. He also called attention to the esoteric doctrines of Moses which the Church had failed to notice. He discovered that Moses, in addition to the teachings of the Covenant, had communicated some very important secrets to the seventy elders, enjoining them to disclose these facts only to the worthy.

Origen’s fearless attitude toward the accepted Scriptures of the Christians, as well as his openly-professed interest in Neoplatonism, aroused the wrath of the Patriarch of Alexandria. Origen was banished from the city in the year 232. But his thirty years of study had convinced him of the truth of Neoplatonism, and in the School which he subsequently founded in Caesarea, Origen openly taught the doctrines that he had learned from Ammonius Saccas.

Ammonius, who later became the teacher of both Clement and Origen, received his early education in the children’s school which preceded the Catechitical School. He was born in Alexandria about the middle of the second century. His parents were very poor, and the boy was obliged to add his share to the family earnings by working as a porter on the docks located in the Egyptian, or Rhakotis portion of the city. There he saw ships from far-off lands, heard queer dialects and met many strange people. Perhaps he gained his first acquaintance with the philosophies of the East from some Hindu sailor. The Song of Krishna is always on the lips of the son of Hindustan.

The parents of Ammonius were devout Christians, and Ammonius was sent to the Christian School, where he learned about the Christian Christ. He must have heard that Krishna, too, had been immaculately conceived, was persecuted by a wicked King, and had finally died upon a cross. Why were the stories of the two Christs so similar? Could it be possible that both were legends? If that was the case, there must be other legends of Christs in other lands. The priest told him there was only one Christ. All the others were impostors. The priest told him to believe, but he wanted to know. So he left the Christian School, and started out upon his journey of honest investigation.

When he grew older he attended some of the lectures in the pagan schools and eventually became acquainted with the basic ideas underlying all the great philosophies. He pondered over the profound statements that he heard, and often in the night their meaning, it is said, was revealed to him in dreams and visions. In the course of time people began to speak of him as theodidaktos, the “god-taught.” But Ammonius was a modest man, and called himself merely a Philalethian, or lover of truth. He started the Neoplatonic School in Alexandria in the year 193 A.D.

The objects which Ammonius Saccas had in view were the same as those of H. P. Blavatsky in founding the Theosophical Society in 1875. The first of these objects was to form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood without distinctions of any kind. Ammonius knew that Brotherhood means unity on every plane. He saw that without this idea of unity the entire manifested universe would be an expression of chaos. With unity as a basis, it would appear as an expression of law and order.

The second century of the Christian era was marked by tolerance, but not by unity. The ancient Wisdom-Religion, which is the only true basis of unity, was now forgotten. The Schools of the Mysteries were gradually dying, and with them the knowledge of the Wisdom-Religion. The various Schools of the Gnosis were presenting different aspects of the Wisdom-Religion, but their underlying unity was still unperceived, in spite of Valentinus’ efforts to disclose it. Ammonius recognized that religious tolerance was not enough. For even tolerance, without a philosophical basis, soon sinks into apathy. He saw that the only way to establish the brotherhood of religions was to show the identical source from which all of them had sprung; and from that point to explain the diversities. He began by postulating the existence of the ancient Wisdom-Religion, and showed how all religions sprang from that, as the branches of a tree from a common trunk.

Using that One Source as a basis of comparison, Ammonius proved the essential identity of all religions by making his students acquainted with all the different systems of thought. In his School the Vedantic, Zoroastrian and Buddhist systems were studied side by side with the philosophies of Greece. The doctrines of Plato and Pythagoras were compared with the philosophies of the ancient East, the teachings of the Jewish Kabala with those of the ancient Egyptians. This comparative study of the religions and philosophies of all nations accomplished the second of Ammonius’ objects, and gave to his School the name of Eclectic.

The third object that Ammonius had in view was to make the study of philosophy a living power in the lives of his students. In order to accomplish this he consistently used the method of correspondence and analogy, demonstrating to his students that the myths and legends found in the different systems were but symbolical representations of the experiences through which every soul must pass. Therefore the members of his School were known as Analogeticists.

The School of Ammonius Saccas was divided into two sections: exoteric and esoteric. This was merely the continuation of an ancient custom, for all the religious and philosophical schools of the past were divided in the same manner. The Mysteries of every nation consisted of the “lesser” and the “greater.” The “lesser” mysteries were given to the public and consisted mainly in ethical teachings. The “greater” mysteries were reserved for the few. All of the great Adepts of olden times gave out their secret teachings only to those who had pledged themselves to silence. Even the Jews had their Mercavah, or outer vehicle, which concealed their highest knowledge. Northern Buddhism has its “greater” and “lesser” vehicle, known as the Mahayana, or esoteric, and Hinayana, or exoteric School. Pythagoras called his Gnosis “the knowledge of things that are”, and revealed it only to his pledged disciples. Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables and kept his secret teachings for the few. Therefore Ammonius, in dividing his own School into two sections, was following the lines of his predecessors.

The Alexandrian Theosophists were divided into three classes: neophytes, initiates and masters. Their Rules were copied from those which had been used in the ancient Mysteries of Orpheus, who, according to Herodotus, had brought them from India. These Rules had come down to the Neoplatonists as their natural inheritance: “What Orpheus delivered in hidden allegories, Pythagoras learned when he was initiated into the Orphic Mysteries, and Plato next received a perfect knowledge of them from Orphic and Pythagorean writings.” (Neoplatonism and Alchemy, Alexander Wilder.)

The Rules of Orpheus have again descended as a natural inheritance to the Theosophists of the present day. For Orpheus is no other than Arjuna, the disciple of Krishna who went around the world teaching the ancient Wisdom-Religion and establishing the Mysteries. Every time the modern Theosophist reads the Bhagavad-Gita he is acquainting himself with the ancient Orphic discipline. The system of Orpheus is one of the strictest morality, and the Orphic concept of duty one of the noblest known to mankind. The philosophical ideas of Orpheus are known to every student of The Secret Doctrine. In the Orphic system, the divine Essence is inseparable from whatever is in the manifested universe, all forms being concealed from all eternity in it. At determined periods these forms are manifested through the process known as Emanation. All things having proceeded from this divine Essence, all things must of necessity return to it. Innumerable transmigrations or reincarnations and purifications are needed before this final consummation can take place.

The philosophical system of Orpheus was revived in Egypt by Ammonius Saccas. The central idea of the Eclectic Theosophy was that of a single Supreme Essence, Unknown and Unknowable. The system was characterized by three distinct features: first, the theory of this Supreme Essence; second, the doctrine of the human soul, called an emanation of the Supreme Essence and therefore considered to be of the same nature; third, Theurgy, the art of using the divine powers of man to rule the blind forces of nature.

The aim and purpose of Ammonius was to reconcile all sects, peoples and nations under one common faith — a belief in one Supreme Eternal Unknown and Unnamed Power which governs the universe by immutable and eternal laws. His object was to prove a primitive system of Theosophy, which in the beginning was known alike in all countries; to induce men to lay aside their quarrels and strifes and unite in purpose and thought as the children of one common mother; to purify the ancient religions, now corrupted and obscured, from all dross of human element by expounding their philosophical principles. His chief object was to extract from the various religious teachings, as from a many-stringed instrument, one full and harmonious chord which would find response in every truth-loving heart.

Ammonius Saccas, like many other of the great sages, left nothing in writing. The records of his teachings have come down to us through the works of Plotinus, Porphyry and Iamblicus. In relation to the school founded by Ammonius Saccas, Alexander Wilder writes:

Their doctrines were adopted by pagans and Christians in Asia and Europe, and for a season everything seemed favorable for a general fusion of religious belief. The Emperors Alexander Severus and Julian embraced them. Their predominating influence upon religious ideas excited the jealousy of the Christians in Alexandria. The School was removed to Athens, and finally closed by the Emperor Justinian — The Eclectic Philosophy.

THEOSOPHY, Vol. 25, No. 2, December, 1936, Pages 53-59


As with many great teachers, Ammonius Saccas committed nothing of his own to writing. However, several of his students, among them Herennius, Origen, Plotinus, and Longinus, wrote at length on the Platonic system he taught, as did their own students, such as Porphyry and Iamblicus (see, for instance, the translations of such works by Thomas Taylor).

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