CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA (Titus Flavius Clemens)
Born at Athens about A.D. 150 and head of the CATECHETICAL SCHOOL in Alexandria. After wandering in many lands he settled at Alexandria as a disciple of PANTAENUS. At the CATECHETICAL SCHOOL he spent his time lecturing, studying, and writing in defense of the Christian faith. In 202 persecution forced him to flee to Palestine, and in 211 he was still there, assisting in the work of the church of Jerusalem. He may have been ordained presbyter some time before his death about 215.
Clement was the first great Christian writer to claim that all learning, whatever its source, was sacred. Faith and knowledge were not opposed but complementary, and Christians who were afraid of philosophy were “like children who are afraid of ghosts.” Philosophy is the handmaiden of God, a schoolmaster to bring the Greeks to Christ. The Logos or Word of God is the divine enlightener of humanity, for “there is but one river of Truth, but many streams fall into it on this side or that.” Christianity is the creation, training, and bringing back of the world to God by the Logos.
Clement had three battles to fight: (1) the battle of education within the church; (2) the battle to show that at its best, philosophy is the foe of superstition, the champion of God’s unity, and a preparation for the Gospel; (3) the battle to restate the Christian position in the language of philosophy. He tended, however, to overemphasize knowledge and claimed the title “Gnostic” for Christians. He sharply distinguished between those who were “beginners” and the “true” Gnostics who had superior knowledge of love. This two-class theory is not found in the teaching of Jesus.
Clement possessed vast biblical and classical learning. His three main works were the Protrepticos (“Exhortation to Conversion”), the Paedagogus (“The Tutor”), and the Stromateis (“Miscellanies”). He is a difficult author to read because his style is diffuse and his thought often undisciplined. Yet he is very important, for few Christian thinkers, apart from his great successor ORIGEN, have done more to make Christianity an intelligent faith that is meant to be understood by the mind as well as the heart.
He set the tone of the Alexandrian school of Christian thought, which it retained throughout its later history. This tone never lost sight of the mystical side of Christianity and the hidden work of the Logos in the whole universe as well as in the Incarnation. Clement’s argument for a harmony between the best of the world’s thought and Christianity led to a rapprochement between the Roman Empire and the church.
In this, Alexandria was at the opposite pole to Carthage and North Africa, which had a different theology and where church and state were violently opposed. Clement’s name occurs in early martyrologies, but Pope Clement VIII (1424-1429) excised it because of the alleged doubtful orthodoxy of certain of Clement’s works.
- Bigg, C. The Christian Platonists of Alexandria. New York, 1913. Chadwick, H. Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition. New York, 1966.
- Floyd, W. E. G. Clement of Alexandria: Treatment of the Problem of Evil. London, 1971.
- Lilla, S. R. C. Clement of Alexandria: A Study of Christian Platonism and Gnosticism. Oxford, 1971.
- Osborn, E. F. The Philosophy of Clement of Alexandria. Cambridge, 1957.
LESLIE W. BARNARD