Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume II/CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA/Introductory Note
CLement of Alexandria
[a.d. 153–193–217.] The second century of illumination is drawing to a close, as the great name of this Father comes into view, and introduces us to a new stage of the Church’s progress. From Britain to the Ganges it had already made its mark. In all its Oriental identity, we have found it vigorous in Gaul and penetrating to other regions of the West. From its primitive base on the Orontes, it has extended itself to the deltas of the Nile; and the Alexandria of Apollos and of St. Mark has become the earliest seat of Christian learning. There, already, have the catechetical schools gathered the finest intellectual trophies of the Cross; and under the aliment of its library springs up something like a Christian university. Pantænus, “the Sicilian bee” from the flowery fields of Enna, comes to frame it by his industry, and store it with the sweets of his eloquence and wisdom. Clement, who had followed Tatian to the East, tracks Pantænus to Egypt, and comes with his Attic scholarship to be his pupil in the school of Christ. After Justin and Irenæus, he is to be reckoned the founder of Christian literature; and it is noteworthy how sublimely he begins to treat Paganism as a creed outworn, to be dismissed with contempt, rather than seriously wrestled with any longer.
His merciless exposure of the entire system of “lords many and gods many,” seems to us, indeed, unnecessarily offensive. Why not spare us such details? But let us reflect, that, if such are our Christian instincts of delicacy, we owe it to this great reformer in no small proportion. For not content to show the Pagans that the very atmosphere was polluted by their mythologies, so that Christians, turn which way they would, must encounter pestilence, he becomes the ethical philosopher of Christians; and while he proceeds to dictate, even in minute details, the transformations to which the faithful must subject themselves in order “to escape the pollutions of the world,” he sketches in outline the reformations which the Gospel imposes on society, and which nothing but the Gospel has ever enabled mankind to realize. “For with a celerity unsurpassable, and a benevolence to which we have ready access,” says Clement, “the Divine Power hath filled the universe with the seed of salvation.” Socrates and Plato had talked sublimely four hundred years before; but Lust and Murder were yet the gods of Greece, and men and women were like what they worshipped. Clement had been their disciple; but now, as the disciple of Christ, he was to exert a power over men and manners, of which they never dreamed.
Alexandria becomes the brain of Christendom: its heart was yet beating at Antioch, but the West was still receptive only, its hands and arms stretched forth towards the sunrise for further enlightenment. From the East it had obtained the Scriptures and their authentication, and from the same source was deriving the canons, the liturgies, and the creed of Christendom. The universal language of Christians is Greek. To a pagan emperor who had outgrown the ideas of
Nero’s time, it was no longer Judaism; but it was not less an Oriental superstition, essentially Greek in its features and its dress. “All the churches of the West,” says the historian of Latin Christianity, “were Greek religious colonies. Their language was Greek, their organization Greek, their writers Greek, their Scriptures and their ritual were Greek. Through Greek, the communications of the churches of the West were constantly kept up with the East. . . . Thus the Church at Rome was but one of a confederation of Greek religious republics founded by Christianity.” Now this confederation was the Holy Catholic Church.
Every Christian must recognise the career of Alexander, and the history of his empire, as an immediate precursor of the Gospel. The patronage of letters by the Ptolemies at Alexandria, the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into the dialect of the Hellenes, the creation of a new terminology in the language of the Greeks, by which ideas of faith and of truth might find access to the mind of a heathen world,—these were preliminaries to the preaching of the Gospel to mankind, and to the composition of the New Testament of our Lord and Saviour. He Himself had prophetically visited Egypt, and the idols were now to be removed before his presence. There a powerful Christian school was to make itself felt for ever in the definitions of orthodoxy; and in a new sense was that prophecy to be understood, “Out of Egypt have I called my Son.”
The genius of Apollos was revived in his native city. A succession of doctors was there to arise, like him, “eloquent men, and mighty in the Scriptures.” Clement tells us of his masters in Christ, and how, coming to Pantænus, his soul was filled with a deathless element of divine knowledge. He speaks of the apostolic tradition as received through his teachers hardly at second-hand. He met in that school, no doubt, some, at least, who recalled Ignatius and Polycarp; some, perhaps, who as children had heard St. John when he could only exhort his congregations to “love one another.” He could afterwards speak of himself as in the next succession after the apostles.
He became the successor of Pantænus in the catechetical school, and had Origen for his pupil, with other eminent men. He was also ordained a presbyter. He seems to have compiled his Stromata in the reigns of Commodus and Severus. If, at this time, he was about forty years of age, as seems likely, we must conceive of his birth at Athens, while Antoninus Pius was emperor, while Polycarp was yet living, and while Justin and Irenæus were in their prime.
Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, speaks of Clement, in turn, as his master: “for we acknowledge as fathers those blessed saints who are gone before us, and to whom we shall go after a little time the truly blest Pantænus, I mean, and the holy Clemens, my teacher, who was to me so greatly useful and helpful.” St. Cyril of Alexandria calls him “a man admirably learned and skilful, and one that searched to the depths all the learning of the Greeks, with an exactness rarely attained before.” So Theodoret says, “He surpassed all others, and was a holy man.” St. Jerome pronounces him the most learned of all the ancients; while Eusebius testifies to his theological attainments, and applauds him as an “incomparable master of Christian philosophy.” But the rest shall be narrated by our translator, Mr. Wilson.
The following is the original Introductory Notice:—
Titus Flavius Clemens, the illustrious head of the Catechetical School at Alexandria at the close of the second century, was originally a pagan philosopher. The date of his birth is unknown. It is also uncertain whether Alexandria or Athens was his birthplace.
On embracing Christianity, he eagerly sought the instructions of its most eminent teachers; for this purpose travelling extensively over Greece, Italy, Egypt, Palestine, and other regions of the East.
Only one of these teachers (who, from a reference in the Stromata, all appear to have been
alive when he wrote) can be with certainty identified, viz., Pantænus, of whom he speaks in terms of profound reverence, and whom he describes as the greatest of them all. Returning to Alexandria, he succeeded his master Pantænus in the catechetical school, probably on the latter departing on his missionary tour to the East, somewhere about a.d. 189. He was also made a presbyter of the Church, either then or somewhat later. He continued to teach with great distinction till a.d. 202, when the persecution under Severus compelled him to retire from Alexandria. In the beginning of the reign of Caracalla we find him at Jerusalem, even then a great resort of Christian, and especially clerical, pilgrims. We also hear of him travelling to Antioch, furnished with a letter of recommendation by Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem. The close of his career is covered with obscurity. He is supposed to have died about a.d. 220.
Among his pupils were his distinguished successor in the Alexandrian school, Origen, Alexander bishop of Jerusalem, and, according to Baronius, Combefisius, and Bull, also Hippolytus.
The above is positively the sum of what we know of Clement’s history.
His three great works, The Exhortation to the Heathen (λόγος ὁ προτρεπτικὸς πρὸς Ἕλληνας), The Instructor, or Pædagogus (παιδαγωγός), The Miscellanies, or Stromata (Στρωματεῖς), are among the most valuable remains of Christian antiquity, and the largest that belong to that early period.
The Exhortation, the object of which is to win pagans to the Christian faith, contains a complete and withering exposure of the abominable licentiousness, the gross imposture and sordidness of paganism. With clearness and cogency of argument, great earnestness and eloquence, Clement sets forth in contrast the truth as taught in the inspired Scriptures, the true God, and especially the personal Christ, the living Word of God, the Saviour of men. It is an elaborate and masterly work, rich in felicitous classical allusion and quotation, breathing throughout the spirit of philosophy and of the Gospel, and abounding in passages of power and beauty.
The Pædagogus, or Instructor, is addressed to those who have been rescued from the darkness and pollutions of heathenism, and is an exhibition of Christian morals and manners,—a guide for the formation and development of Christian character, and for living a Christian life. It consists of three books. It is the grand aim of the whole work to set before the converts Christ as the only Instructor, and to expound and enforce His precepts. In the first book Clement exhibits the person, the function, the means, methods, and ends of the Instructor, who is the Word and Son of God; and lovingly dwells on His benignity and philanthropy, His wisdom, faithfulness, and righteousness.
The second and third books lay down rules for the regulation of the Christian, in all the relations, circumstances, and actions of life, entering most minutely into the details of dress, eating, drinking, bathing, sleeping, etc. The delineation of a life in all respects agreeable to the Word, a truly Christian life, attempted here, may, now that the Gospel has transformed social and private life to the extent it has, appear unnecessary, or a proof of the influence of ascetic tendencies. But a code of Christian morals and manners (a sort of “whole duty of man” and manual of good breeding combined) was eminently needed by those whose habits and characters had been moulded under the debasing and polluting influences of heathenism; and who were bound, and were aiming, to shape their lives according to the principles of the Gospel, in the midst of the all but incredible licentiousness and luxury by which society around was incurably tainted. The disclosures which Clement, with solemn sternness, and often with caustic wit, makes of the
prevalent voluptuousness and vice, form a very valuable contribution to our knowledge of that period.
The full title of the Stromata, according to Eusebius and Photius, was Τίτου Φλαυίου Κλήμεντος τῶν κατὰ τὴν ἀληθῆ φιλοσοφίαν γνωστικῶν ὑπομνημάτων στρωματεῖς—“Titus Flavius Clement’s miscellaneous collections of speculative (gnostic) notes bearing upon the true philosophy.” The aim of the work, in accordance with this title, is, in opposition to Gnosticism, to furnish the materials for the construction of a true gnosis, a Christian philosophy, on the basis of faith, and to lead on to this higher knowledge those who, by the discipline of the Pædagogus, had been trained for it. The work consisted originally of eight books. The eighth book is lost; that which appears under this name has plainly no connection with the rest of the Stromata. Various accounts have been given of the meaning of the distinctive word in the title (Στρωματεύς); but all agree in regarding it as indicating the miscellaneous character of its contents. And they are very miscellaneous. They consist of the speculations of Greek philosophers, of heretics, and of those who cultivated the true Christian gnosis, and of quotations from sacred Scripture. The latter he affirms to be the source from which the higher Christian knowledge is to be drawn; as it was that from which the germs of truth in Plato and the Hellenic philosophy were derived. He describes philosophy as a divinely ordered preparation of the Greeks for faith in Christ, as the law was for the Hebrews; and shows the necessity and value of literature and philosophic culture for the attainment of true Christian knowledge, in opposition to the numerous body among Christians who regarded learning as useless and dangerous. He proclaims himself an eclectic, believing in the existence of fragments of truth in all systems, which may be separated from error; but declaring that the truth can be found in unity and completeness only in Christ, as it was from Him that all its scattered germs originally proceeded. The Stromata are written carelessly, and even confusedly; but the work is one of prodigious learning, and supplies materials of the greatest value for understanding the various conflicting systems which Christianity had to combat.
It was regarded so much as the author’s great work, that, on the testimony of Theodoret, Cassiodorus, and others, we learn that Clement received the appellation of Στρωματεύς (the Stromatist). In all probability, the first part of it was given to the world about a.d. 194. The latest date to which he brings down his chronology in the first book is the death of Commodus, which happened in a.d. 192; from which Eusebius concludes that he wrote this work during the reign of Severus, who ascended the imperial throne in a.d. 193, and reigned till a.d. 211. It is likely that the whole was composed ere Clement quitted Alexandria in a.d. 202. The publication of the Pædagogus preceded by a short time that of the Stromata; and the Cohortatio was written a short time before the Pædagogus, as is clear from statements made by Clement himself.
So multifarious is the erudition, so multitudinous are the quotations and the references to authors in all departments, and of all countries, the most of whose works have perished, that the works in question could only have been composed near an extensive library—hardly anywhere but in the vicinity of the famous library of Alexandria. They are a storehouse of curious ancient lore,—a museum of the fossil remains of the beauties and monstrosities of the world of pagan antiquity, during all the epochs and phases of its history. The three compositions are really parts of one whole. The central connecting idea is that of the Logos—the Word—the Son of God; whom in the first work he exhibits drawing men from the superstitions and corruptions of heathenism to faith; in the second, as training them by precepts and discipline; and in the last, as conducting them to that higher knowledge of the things of God, to which those only who devote themselves assiduously to spiritual, moral, and intellectual culture can attain. Ever before his eye is the grand form of the living personal Christ,—the Word, who “was with God, and who was God, but who became man, and dwelt among us.”
Of course there is throughout plenty of false science, and frivolous and fanciful speculation.
Who is the rich man that shall be saved? (τίς ὁ σωζόμενος πλούσιος;) is the title of a practical treatise, in which Clement shows, in opposition to those who interpreted our Lord’s words to the young ruler as requiring the renunciation of worldly goods, that the disposition of the soul is the great essential. Of other numerous works of Clement, of which only a few stray fragments have been preserved, the chief are the eight books of The Hypotyposes, which consisted of expositions of all the books of Scripture. Of these we have a few undoubted fragments. The Adumbrations, or Commentaries on some of the Catholic Epistles, and The Selections from the Prophetic Scriptures, are compositions of the same character, as far as we can judge, as The Hypotyposes, and are supposed by some to have formed part of that work.
Other lost works of Clement are:—
The Treatise of Clement, the Stromatist, on the Prophet Amos. On Providence. Treatise on Easter. On Evil-speaking. Discussion on Fasting. Exhortation to Patience; or, To the newly baptized. Ecclesiastical Canon; or, Against the Judaizers. Different Terms.
The following are the names of treatises which Clement refers to as written or about to be written by him, but of which otherwise we have no trace or mention:—On First Principles; On Prophecy; On the Allegorical Interpretation of Members and Affections when ascribed to God; On Angels; On the Devil; On the Origin of the Universe; On the Unity and Excellence of the Church; On the Offices of Bishops, Presbyters, Deacons, and Widows; On the Soul; On the Resurrection; On Marriage; On Continence; Against Heresies.
Preserved among Clement’s works is a fragment called Epitomes of the Writings of Theodotus, and of the Eastern Doctrine, most likely abridged extracts made by Clement for his own use, and giving considerable insight into Gnosticism.
Clement’s quotations from Scripture are made from the Septuagint version, often inaccurately from memory, sometimes from a different text from what we possess, often with verbal adaptations; and not rarely different texts are blended together.
The works of Clement present considerable difficulties to the translator; and one of the chief is the state of the text, which greatly needs to be expurgated and amended. For this there are abundant materials, in the copious annotations and disquisitions, by various hands, collected together in Migne’s edition; where, however, corruptions the most obvious have been allowed to remain in the text.
The publishers are indebted to Dr. W. L. Alexander for the poetical translations of the Hymns of Clement.
- Milman, vol. i. pp. 28, 29, condensed. He fails, however, to observe the immense importance of the facts he chronicles.
- I have felt that Pantænus and his school require a few words in my elucidations.
- Epiph., Hær., xxxii. 6.
- Strom., lib. i. c. v.
- Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., vi. 6.
- Hieron., Lib. de Viris Illustribus, c. 38; Ph., Bibl., 111.
- [The reader is already acquainted (Hermas, p. 12, note 9) with permissive canons, by which bishops might commend to their brethren, books fit to be read, which they sent, authenticated, not only by hand and seal, but by a clerical messenger whose duty it was (in the language of Bingham) “to go on the bishop’s embassies, with his letters or messages to foreign churches; for in those days, by reason of the persecutions, a bishop did not so much as send a letter to a foreign church, but by the hands of one of his clergy. Whence Cyprian calls them literæclericæ.” Antiquities, book iii. cap. ii. 3.]
- Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., vi. 13; Phot. Bibl., 111.
- Hist. Eccl., vi. 6.
- [I am glad that our learned translator makes nothing of the statement of Photius, that one of the works of Clement (now lost) contained many things unworthy of his orthodoxy and piety; but it may be well to say here, that Photius himself suggests that heretics had corrupted some of his writings, and that his genuine works testify against these very corruptions. Dupin thinks that if Clement ever wrote such things they much have crept into his works from fragments of his earlier writings, while he was a mere Platonist, at most an inquirer into Christianity. But his great repute in the Catholic Church after his decease, is sufficient to place his character far above all suspicions of his having ever swerved from the “faith of the Church.”]