Allegorizations of the Active and Contemplative Lives in Philo, Origen, Augustine, and Gregory

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Allegorizations of the Active and Contemplative Lives in Philo, Origen, Augustine, and Gregory

This paper examines the allegorical interpretations given to several Scriptural pairs as they relate to the idea of the active and contemplative lives in Philo, Origen, Augustine, and Gregory. As will be shown, Augustine combines elements found in the two previous writers to form his allegory of the two wives of Jacob as representative of the active and contemplative lives.

In Philo, most of the essential elements of later Christian thought on the active and contemplative lives are already present. The superiority of the contemplative life is given at the beginning of his treatise on it: "I have discussed the Essenes, who persistently
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For the former is mortal, the latter immortal, and indeed all the things that are precious to the senses are inferior in perfection to beauty of soul, though they are many and it but one" (Sob. 12). Elsewhere Leah is effortless, perfected virtue, while Rachel is active, combative virtue fighting against the temptations of the sensory world:

Thus one of the lawful wives is a movement, sound, healthy, and peaceful, and to express her history Moses names her Leah or 'smooth'. The other is like a whetstone. Her name is Rachel, and on that whetstone the mind which loves effort and exercise sharpens its edge. Her name means 'vision of profanation', not because her way of seeing is profane, but on the contrary, because she judges the visible world of sense to be not holy but profane, compared with the pure and undefiled nature of the invisible world of the mind. (Congr. 25)

Later in the same passage, Philo identifies Leah with the reasoning and Rachel with the unreasoning faculties of the soul: "For since our soul is twofold, with one part reasoning and the other unreasoning, each has its own virtue or excellence, the reasoning Leah, the unreasoning Rachel. The virtue we call Rachel, acting through the senses and the other parts of our unreasoning nature, trains us to despise all that should be held of little account" (Congr. 26-27).

Since Philo consistently takes Leah as representing the superior or perfected virtue that should
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