"De Vita Contemplativa" (on the different titles comp. Schürer, l.c. p. 535). This work describes the mode of life and the religious festivals of a society of Jewish/Christian ascetics, who according to the author, are widely scattered over the earth, and are found especially in every home in Egypt. The writer, however, confines himself to describing a colony of hermits settled on the Lake Mareotis in Egypt, where each lives separately in his own dwelling. Six days of the week they spend in pious contemplation, chiefly in connection with Scripture. On the seventh day both men and women assemble together in a hall; and the leader delivers a discourse consisting of an allegorical interpretation of a Scriptural passage. The feast of the fiftieth day is especially celebrated. The ceremony begins with a frugal meal consisting of bread, salted vegetables, and water, during which a passage of Scripture is interpreted. After the meal the members of the society in turn sing religious songs of various kinds, to which the assembly answers with a refrain. The ceremony ends with a choral representation of the triumphal festival that Moses and Miriam arranged after the passage through the Red Sea, the voices of the men and the women uniting in a choral symphony until the sun rises. After a common morning prayer each goes home to resume his contemplation. Such is the contemplative life (βίος θεωρητικός) led by these Θεραπευταί ("servants ").
The ancient Church looked upon these Therapeutæ as disguised Christian monks. This view has found advocates even in very recent times; Lucius' opinion particularly, that the Christian monkdom of the third century was here glorified in a Jewish disguise, was widely accepted ("Die Therapeuten," 1879). But the ritual of the society, which was entirely at variance with Christianity, disproves this view. The chief ceremony especially, the choral representation of the passage through the Red Sea, has no special significance for Christianity; nor have there ever been in the Christian Church nocturnal festivals celebrated by men and women together. But Massebieau ("Revue de l'Histoire des Religions," 1887, xvi. 170 et seq., 284 et seq.), F. C. Conybeare ("Philo About the Contemplative Life," Oxford, 1895), and Wendland ("Die Therapeuten," etc., Leipsig, 1896) ascribe the entire work to Philo, basing their argument wholly on linguistic reasons, which seem sufficiently conclusive. But there are great dissimilarities between the fundamental conceptions of the author of the "De Vita Contemplativa" and those of Philo. The latter looks upon Greek culture and philosophy as allies, the former is hostile to Greek philosophy (see Siegfried in "Protestantische Kirchenzeitung," 1896, No.42). He repudiates a science that numbered among Its followers the sacred baud of the Pythagoreans, inspired men like Parmenides, Empedocles, Zeno, Cleanthes, Heraclitus, and Plato, whom Philo prized ("Quod Omnis Probus," i., ii.; "Quis Rerum Divinarum Heres Sit," 43; "De Providentia," ii. 42, 48, etc.). He considers the symposium a detestable, common drinking-bout. This can not be explained as a Stoic diatribe; for in this case Philo would not have repeated it. And Philo would have been the last to interpret the Platonic Eros in the vulgar way in which it is explained in the "De Vita Contemplativa," 7 (ii. 480), as he repeatedly uses the myth of double man allegorically in his interpretation of Scripture ("De Opificio Mundi," 24; "De Allegoriis Legum," ii. 24). It must furthermore be remembered that Philo in none of his other works mentions these colonies of allegorizing ascetics, in which he would have been highly interested had he known of them. But pupils of Philo may subsequently have founded near Alexandria similar colonies that endeavored to realize his ideal of a pure life triumphing over the senses and passions; and they might also have been responsible for the one-sided development of certain of the master's principles. While Philo desired to renounce the lusts of this world, he held fast to the scientific culture of Hellenism, which the author of this book denounces. Although Philo liked to withdraw from the world in order to give himself up entirely to contemplation, and bitterly regretted the lack of such repose ("De Specialibus Legibus," 1 ), he did not abandon the work that was required of him by the welfare of his people.
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