CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA

Everyone, meet Clement.

We call him Clement of Alexandria so that we don’t confuse him with the other Clement – Clement of Rome.

Clement was born into a family far removed from the Christian faith. He grew up with the language and myth of Greco-Roman Paganism but it left him spiritually hungry. He converted to the Christian faith later on in life and decided to go off on a long spiritual journey. His mission on this journey was to find a worthy teacher who could instruct and disciple him in the faith. He searched high and low for his learned tutor and finally, after much seeking, Clement found him in Alexandria – a teacher by the name of Pantaenus.

At the time, Alexandria was a bustling metropolis – a second century New York City. It was home to some of the best schools and libraries of the day. It was a major economic and cultural hub where some of the finest minds of the day came to make their mark. It was simply the place to be! Clement was attracted to Alexandria and learned a great deal there from his teacher Pantaenus.

Clement wrote three books, which some scholars have come to call The Trilogy. The first installment is titled Protrepticus (Gr. Exhortation) and is a plea for pagan intellectuals to see the reasonableness and beauty of the Christian faith. The second installment Paedogogus (Gr. Tutor) is a description of the way of life under the tutelage of Christ while the third installment Stromata (Gr. Miscellanies) compiles an array of Clements uncategorized ideas.

Clement was infatuated with Greco-Roman philosophical thought. It became his personal mission to make the Christian faith appealing and attractive to the great philosophical minds of the day. This meant, finding ways to integrate Christian faith and the academy of Greco-Roman philosophy. He used ancient Greek philosophy to support the claims of the Christian faith; Christianity wasn’t just ignorant and foolish talk – no, to the contrary, even Plato himself, says Clement, would have converted to Christianity – had he lived in the second century.

This mission to reach the intelligentsia of Greek philosophy shaped the way Clement did theology. The influence is most noticeable in Clement’s Christology. He helped develop what some have called the Logos Christology. It goes a little something like this …

God is unapproachable in His essence. He cannot be understood or reasoned with – he is pure incomprehensible being [a very Platonic way of imagining God]. The only way God is understood is if he reveals Himself to us. As a Christian, Clement claims God indeed does reveal Himself to us in the Logos; the Word that becomes flesh in Christ is the Platonic essence of truth or wisdom incarnate. So, naturally, Christ must become our tutor in the way of wisdom and truth if we are going to live the divine life.

Clement also began a long tradition of allegorical interpretation of Scripture. He found a literal meaning in the text of Scripture. However, he thought that the literal meaning was only scratching the surface; the literal meaning was for simple minded people. The ‘true gnostic’ or the ‘mature Christian’ would delve deeper into a text and find an even more profound meaning than was initially discovered. Scripture became, in Clement’s mind, like an extended parable with many applications and meanings to explore.

Some have dismissed Clement as an elitist thinker – condescending in his distinctions between the simple Christian and the wise Christian. That may be true to some extent, but say what you will, Clement was a great influence on much of the Alexandrian Christian thought that would develop in years to come. The torch of Clement’s mission – integrating Greek thought with Christian faith – was carried on by the great teacher Origen who, in later years, strengthened the Catechetical School of Alexandria, one of the Church’s first Christian universities. Many of Clement’s ideas were adopted, teased out and reapplied there by Origen and his students.

Clement, meet the world!

World, meet Clement!

“Wherefore, since the Word Himself has come to us from heaven, we need not, I reckon, go any more in search of human learning […]For if we have as our teacher Him that filled the universe with His holy energies in creation […]we have the Teacher from whom all instruction comes; and the whole world, with Athens and Greece, has already become the domain of the Word. For you, who believed the poetical fable which designated Minos the Cretan as the bosom friend of Zeus, will not refuse to believe that we who have become the disciples of God have received the only true wisdom”

Protrepticus

  1. June 6, 2016

    Because of the persecution of Christians in Alexandria under the Roman emperor Severus in 201–202, Clement was obliged to leave his position as head of the catechetical school and to seek sanctuary elsewhere. His position at the school was assumed by his young and gifted student

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