Catechetical School of Alexandria

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The Catechetical School of Alexandria was the oldest and most renowned of the Christian schools of the early Christian Church. The school was the focus for the development of the first system of Christian theology and the allegorical method of biblical exegesis. After the Christological controversies of the fifth and sixth centuries its influence waned. During the last decade of the nineteenth century the Coptic Church of Alexandria in concept re-established the Catechetical school as the Coptic Theological Seminary.


In antiquity, the city of Alexandria was famous for its schools. Such schools as the Museum founded by Ptolemy, the Serapeum, and the Sebastium were noted for the scholarship of their directors and for their large libraries. The presence of these institutions as well as many Jewish schools formed an environment for Christian learning as well.

According to St. Jerome the origins of a Christian school in Alexandria can be traced the Apostle Mark who appointed the first leader of the school, St. Justus, who later was the sixth bishop of Alexandria. Other opinions point to an origin of the Catechetical school in the last decade of the second century. In form, the school was informal, that is, instruction was in the homes of the instructors not in designated buildings or facilities. In the beginning, the school functioned to ready candidates for admission to the Christian faith.

The Catechetical school grew in fame under the leadership of a long line of scholars, including Pantanaeus, Clement, Origen, Heraklas, and Didymus the Blind. Origen was considered the father of theology in the Christian Church and was active in the field of commentary and comparative Biblical studies, as demonstrated in his Hexapla. The school taught doctrine as well as instruction in Christian life, as Origen explained saying, If you want to receive Baptism, you must first learn about God’s Word, cut away the roots of your vices, correct your barbarous wild lives, and practice meekness and humility. Then, you will be fit to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit. In the broader sense, the school had a spiritual and educational effect on the clergy and layman throughout the church.

The school attracted students from all of the Christian world of its time. Many of the students became leaders and bishops in their own local churches. Many leaders of the school rose to become archbishops of Alexandria. Among these were Peter, Achillas, and Dioscorus.

In addition to theology, other subjects were included in the scope of studies at the school. The subjects included science, mathematics, humanities, and philosophy. The study of philosophy enabled the students to use philosophic techniques against the arguments of pagan philosophers.

After the times of the Christological controversies and the Muslim invasions of the fifth and sixth centuries the school lost its position in the Orthodox Church.