Clement of Alexandria

Clement of Alexandria

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Titus Flavius Clemens known as Clement of Alexandria (to distinguish him from Clement of Rome), was a Christian theologian and the head of the noted Catechetical School of Alexandria
Catechetical School of Alexandria
The Catechetical School of Alexandria was and is a place for the training of Christian theologians and priests in Alexandria. The teachers and students of the school were influential in many of the early theological controversies of the Christian church.The earliest recorded instructor at the...

. Clement is best remembered as the teacher of Origen
Origen
Origen , or Origen Adamantius, 184/5–253/4, was an early Christian Alexandrian scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. As early as the fourth century, his orthodoxy was suspect, in part because he believed in the pre-existence of souls...

. He united Greek philosophical traditions with Christian doctrine and valued gnosis
Gnosis
Gnosis is the common Greek noun for knowledge . In the context of the English language gnosis generally refers to the word's meaning within the spheres of Christian mysticism, Mystery religions and Gnosticism where it signifies 'spiritual knowledge' in the sense of mystical enlightenment.-Related...

that with communion for all people
Catholic
The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase , meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words meaning "about" and meaning "whole"...

 could be held by common Christians specially chosen by God; vide, e.g., Stromata, VI.106.4f. Though he constantly opposes the concept of gnosis as defined by the Gnostics, he used the term "gnostic" for Christians who had attained the deeper teaching of the Logos. He developed a Christian Platonism
Platonism
Platonism is the philosophy of Plato or the name of other philosophical systems considered closely derived from it. In a narrower sense the term might indicate the doctrine of Platonic realism...

. He presented the goal of Christian life as deification, identified both as Platonism's assimilation into God and the biblical imitation of God.

Like Origen, he arose from Alexandria's Catechetical School and was well versed in pagan literature. Origen succeeded Clement as head of the school. Alexandria had a major Christian community in early Christianity, noted for its scholarship and its high-quality copies of Scripture.

Clement is counted as one of the early Church Fathers
Church Fathers
The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, Christian Fathers, or Fathers of the Church were early and influential theologians, eminent Christian teachers and great bishops. Their scholarly works were used as a precedent for centuries to come...

. He advocated a vegetarian diet and claimed that the apostles Peter
Saint Peter
Saint Peter or Simon Peter was an early Christian leader, who is featured prominently in the New Testament Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. The son of John or of Jonah and from the village of Bethsaida in the province of Galilee, his brother Andrew was also an apostle...

, Matthew, and James the Just
James the Just
James , first Bishop of Jerusalem, who died in 62 AD, was an important figure in Early Christianity...

 were vegetarians.

Life


Because Early Alexandrian Church fathers wrote their works in Greek, later scholars proposed they were not all Egyptians. Clement's birthplace is not known with certainty. Other than being Egyptian, Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 is proposed as his birthplace by the 6th-century Epiphanius Scholasticus
Epiphanius Scholasticus
Epiphanius Scholasticus was a sixth-century translator of Greek works into Latin.Little is known of his life, aside from his works. It seems he bore the name Scholasticus "not so much because of any devotion to literature or theology, but in the sense that that word frequently had in the Middle...

. His parents seem to have been wealthy pagans
Paganism
Paganism is a blanket term, typically used to refer to non-Abrahamic, indigenous polytheistic religious traditions....

 of some social standing. The thoroughness of his education is shown by his constant quotation of the Greek
Greek literature
Greek literature refers to writings composed in areas of Greek influence, typically though not necessarily in one of the Greek dialects, throughout the whole period in which the Greek-speaking people have existed.-Ancient Greek literature :...

 poets and philosophers. He travelled in Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

, Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, Palestine
Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

, and finally Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

. He became the colleague of Pantaenus
Pantaenus
Saint Pantaenus was a Christian theologian who founded the Catechetical School of Alexandria about AD 190. This school was the earliest catechetical school, and became influential in the development of Christian theology....

, the head of the Catechetical School of Alexandria
Catechetical School of Alexandria
The Catechetical School of Alexandria was and is a place for the training of Christian theologians and priests in Alexandria. The teachers and students of the school were influential in many of the early theological controversies of the Christian church.The earliest recorded instructor at the...

, and finally succeeded him in the direction of the school. One of his most popular pupils was Origen
Origen
Origen , or Origen Adamantius, 184/5–253/4, was an early Christian Alexandrian scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. As early as the fourth century, his orthodoxy was suspect, in part because he believed in the pre-existence of souls...

. During the persecution of Christians by Septimius Severus
Septimius Severus
Septimius Severus , also known as Severus, was Roman Emperor from 193 to 211. Severus was born in Leptis Magna in the province of Africa. As a young man he advanced through the customary succession of offices under the reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. Severus seized power after the death of...

 (202 or 203) he sought refuge with Alexander, then bishop (possibly of Flaviada) in Cappadocia
Cappadocia
Cappadocia is a historical region in Central Anatolia, largely in Nevşehir Province.In the time of Herodotus, the Cappadocians were reported as occupying the whole region from Mount Taurus to the vicinity of the Euxine...

, afterward of Jerusalem, from whom he brought a letter to Antioch
Antioch
Antioch on the Orontes was an ancient city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. It is near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.Founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the...

 in 211.

Great trilogy



The trilogy into which Clement's principal remains are connected by their purpose and mode of treatment is composed of:
  • the Protrepticus ("Exhortation to the Greeks")
  • the Paedagogus
    Paedagogus
    Paedagogus , second in the great trilogy of Clement of Alexandria.Having laid a foundation in the knowledge of divine truth in the first book, he goes on in the Paedagogus to develop a Christian ethic...

    ("Instructor")
  • the Stromata
    Stromata
    The Stromata is the third in Clement of Alexandria's trilogy of works on the Christian life. Clement titled this work Stromateis, "patchwork," because it dealt with such a variety of matters...

    ("Miscellanies")


Overbeckcalls it the boldest literary undertaking in the history of the Church, since in it Clement for the first time attempted to set forth Christianity for the faithful in the traditional forms of secular literature.

The first book deals with the religious basis of Christian morality, the second and third with the individual cases of conduct. As with Epictetus
Epictetus
Epictetus was a Greek sage and Stoic philosopher. He was born a slave at Hierapolis, Phrygia , and lived in Rome until banishment when he went to Nicopolis in northwestern Greece where he lived the rest of his life. His teachings were noted down and published by his pupil Arrian in his Discourses...

, true virtue shows itself with him in its external evidences by a natural, simple, and moderate way of living.

Clement wrote of apocatastasis
Apocatastasis
Apocatastasis is reconstitution, restitution, or restoration to the original or primordial condition.-Etymology and definition:The Liddell and Scott Lexicon entry, gives the following examples of usage:* “τοῦ ἐνδεοῦς” Aristotle MM, 1205a4; into its nature εἰς φύσιν id...

, the restoration of all things, in his Stromata. He wrote that the punishments of God are "saving and disciplinary, leading to conversion."

Other works


Besides the great trilogy, the only complete work preserved is the treatise "Who is the Rich Man that Shall Be Saved?" based on Mark
Gospel of Mark
The Gospel According to Mark , commonly shortened to the Gospel of Mark or simply Mark, is the second book of the New Testament. This canonical account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth is one of the three synoptic gospels. It was thought to be an epitome, which accounts for its place as the second...

 , and laying down the principle that not the possession of riches but their misuse is to be condemned. There are extant a few fragments of the treatise on the Passover
Passover
Passover is a Jewish holiday and festival. It commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt...

, against the Quartodecimanism
Quartodecimanism
Quartodecimanism refers to the custom of some early Christians celebrating Passover beginning with the eve of the 14th day of Nisan , which at dusk is Biblically the "Lord's passover".The modern Jewish Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread is seven days, starting with the sunset at...

 position of Melito of Sardis
Melito of Sardis
Melito of Sardis was the bishop of Sardis near Smyrna in western Anatolia, and a great authority in Early Christianity: Jerome, speaking of the Old Testament canon established by Melito, quotes Tertullian to the effect that he was esteemed a prophet by many of the faithful...

, and only a single passage from the "Ecclesiastical Canon" against the Judaizers. Several other works are known only by their titles. His work Hypotyposes survives only in fragments.

Much of Clement's work has been published in recent years in the collection Sources Chrétiennes
Sources chretiennes
Sources Chrétiennes is a bilingual collection of patristic texts founded in Lyon in 1942 by the Jesuits Jean Daniélou, Claude Mondésert, and Henri de Lubac....

, in particular by Alain Le Boulluec
Alain Le Boulluec
Alain le Boulluec is a contemporary French patristics scholar working mainly in the sphere of Clement of Alexandria and of Origen of Alexandria. He has recently retired from the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris....

.

Clement's "Shepherd of Tender Youth" may be the earliest Christian hymn
Hymn
A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of praise, adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity or deities, or to a prominent figure or personification...

 with a named author.

Significance for the Church



Down to the 17th century Clement was venerated as a saint. His name was to be found in the martyrologies, and his feast fell on December 4. But when the Roman Martyrology
Roman Martyrology
The Roman Martyrology is the official martyrology of the Roman Rite of the Roman Catholic Church. It provides an extensive but not exhaustive list of the saints recognized by the Church.-History:...

was revised by Clement VIII
Pope Clement VIII
Pope Clement VIII , born Ippolito Aldobrandini, was Pope from 30 January 1592 to 3 March 1605.-Cardinal:...

 (Pope from 1592 to 1605), his name was dropped from the calendar on the advice of his confessor, Cardinal Baronius. Pope Benedict XIV
Pope Benedict XIV
Pope Benedict XIV , born Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini, was Pope from 17 August 1740 to 3 May 1758.-Life:...

 in 1748 maintained his predecessor's decision on the grounds that Clement's life was little-known; that he had never obtained public cultus in the Church; and that some of his doctrines were, if not erroneous, at least suspect.

The significance of Clement in the history of the development of doctrine is, according to Adolf von Harnack
Adolf von Harnack
Adolf von Harnack , was a German theologian and prominent church historian.He produced many religious publications from 1873-1912....

, that he knew how to replace the apologetic method by the constructive or systematic, to turn the simple church tradition into a "scientific" dogma
Dogma
Dogma is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or a particular group or organization. It is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from, by the practitioners or believers...

tic theology. It is a marked characteristic of his that he sees only superficial and transient disagreement where others find a fundamental opposition. He is able to reconcile, or even to fuse, differing views to an extent which makes it almost impossible to attribute to him a definite individual system. He is admittedly an eclectic (Stromata, i. 37). This attitude determines especially his treatment of non-Christian philosophy. Although the theory of a diabolical origin for it is not unknown to him, and although he shows exhaustively that the philosophers owe a large part of their knowledge to the writings of the Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

, yet he seems to express his own personal conviction when he describes philosophy as a direct operation of the divine Logos, working through it as well as through the law and his direct revelation in the Gospel to communicate the truth to men.

Thus he emphasizes the permanent importance of philosophy for the fullness of Christian knowledge, explains with special predilection the relation between knowledge and faith, and sharply criticizes those who are unwilling to make any use of philosophy. He pronounces definitely against the sophists and against the hedonism of the school of Epicurus
Epicurus
Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher and the founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism.Only a few fragments and letters remain of Epicurus's 300 written works...

. Although he generally expresses himself unfavorably in regard to the Stoic philosophy
Stoicism
Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early . The Stoics taught that destructive emotions resulted from errors in judgment, and that a sage, or person of "moral and intellectual perfection," would not suffer such emotions.Stoics were concerned...

, he really pays marked deference to that mixture of Stoicism and Platonism which characterized the religious and ethical thought of the educated classes in his day. This explains the value set by Clement on gnosis
Gnosis
Gnosis is the common Greek noun for knowledge . In the context of the English language gnosis generally refers to the word's meaning within the spheres of Christian mysticism, Mystery religions and Gnosticism where it signifies 'spiritual knowledge' in the sense of mystical enlightenment.-Related...

. Faith is the foundation of all gnosis, and both are given by Christ
Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

. As faith involves a comprehensive knowledge of the essentials, knowledge allows the believer to penetrate deeply into the understanding of what he believes; and this is the making perfect, the completion, of faith. In order to attain this kind of faith, the "faith of knowledge," which is so much higher than the mere "faith of conjecture," or simple reception of a truth on authority, philosophy is permanently necessary. In fact, Christianity is the true philosophy, and the perfect Christian the true Gnostic—but again only the "Gnostic according to the canon of the Church " has this distinction. Also, he rejects the Gnostic distinction of "psychic" and "pneumatic" men; all are alike destined to perfection if they will embrace it.

From philosophy he takes his conception of the Logos, the principle of Christian gnosis, through whom alone God's relation to the world and his revelation is maintained. God he considers transcendentally as unqualified Being, who can not be defined in too abstract a way. Though his goodness operated in the creation of the world, yet immutability, self sufficiency, incapability of suffering are the characteristic notes of the divine essence. Though the Logos is most closely one with the Father, whose powers he resumes in himself, yet to Clement both the Son and the Spirit are "first-born powers and first created"; they form the highest stages in the scale of intelligent being, and Clement distinguishes the Son-Logos from the Logos who is immutably immanent in God, and thus gives a foundation to the charge of Photius that he "degraded the Son to the rank of a creature." Separate from the world as the principle of creation, he is yet in it as its guiding principle. Thus a natural life is a life according to the will of the Logos. The Incarnation, in spite of Clement's rejection of the Gnostic Docetism
Docetism
In Christianity, docetism is the belief that Jesus' physical body was an illusion, as was his crucifixion; that is, Jesus only seemed to have a physical body and to physically die, but in reality he was incorporeal, a pure spirit, and hence could not physically die...

, has with him a decidedly Docetic character. The body of Christ was not subject to human needs. He is the good Physician; the medicine which he offers is the communication of saving gnosis, leading men from paganism to faith and from faith to the higher state of knowledge. This true philosophy includes within itself the freedom from sin and the attainment of virtue. As all sin has its root in ignorance, so the knowledge of God and of goodness is followed by well-doing. Against the Gnostics Clement emphasizes the freedom of all to do good.

Clement lays great stress on the fulfilment of moral obligations. In his ethical expressions he is influenced strongly by Plato and the Stoics, from whom he borrows much of his terminology. He praises Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 for setting forth the greatest possible likeness to God as the aim of life; and his portrait of the perfect Gnostic closely resembles that of the wise man as drawn by the Stoics. Hence he counsels his readers to shake off the chains of the flesh as far as possible, to live already as if out of the body, and thus to rise above earthly things. He is a true Greek in the value which he sets on moderation; but his highest ideal of conduct remains the mortification of all affections which may in any way disturb the soul in its career. As Harnack says, the lofty ethical-religious ideal of the attainment of man's perfection in union with God, which Greek philosophy from Plato down had worked out, and to which it had subordinated all scientific worldly knowledge, is taken over by Clement, deepened in meaning, and connected not only with Christ, but with ecclesiastical tradition.

The way, however, to this union with God is for Clement only the Church's way. The communication of the gnosis is bound up with holy orders, which give the divine light and life. The simple faith of the baptized Christian contains all the essentials of the highest knowledge; by the Eucharist the believer is united with the Logos and the Spirit, and made partaker of incorruptibility. Though he lays down at starting a purely spiritual conception of the Church, later the exigencies of his controversy with the Gnostics make him lay more stress on the visible church. As to his use of Scripture, the extraordinary breadth of his reading and manifold variety of his quotations from the most diverse authors make it very difficult to determine exactly what was received as canonical by the Alexandrian Church of that period. Clement uses both canonical and apocryphal Gospels, and often talks just about "the Gospel" without specifying any of them. For the other New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 writings he seems not to have had as definite a line of demarcation; but whatever he recognized as of apostolic origin had for him an authority distinct from, and higher than, that of all other ecclesiastical tradition.

Clement opposed racism when it was used to justify slavery.

An excerpt from the Mar Saba letter
Mar Saba letter
The Mar Saba Letter is an epistle attributed to Clement of Alexandria and discovered by Morton Smith in 1958. It contains the only known references to the Secret Gospel of Mark.-Discovery and disappearance:...

, attributed to Clement of Alexandria, is the only evidence for the existence of a possible Secret Gospel of Mark
Secret Gospel of Mark
The Secret Gospel of Mark is a putative non-canonical Christian gospel known exclusively from the Mar Saba letter, which describes Secret Mark as an expanded version of the canonical Gospel of Mark with some episodes elucidated, written for an initiated elite.In 1973 Morton Smith , professor of...

.

Clement quoted from the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles as scripture, a book currently known as the Didache
Didache
The Didache or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles is a brief early Christian treatise, dated by most scholars to the late first or early 2nd century...

.

Sources

  • This article includes text from the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religion, which is in the public domain
    Public domain
    Works are in the public domain if the intellectual property rights have expired, if the intellectual property rights are forfeited, or if they are not covered by intellectual property rights at all...

    .

External links