1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Clement of Alexandria
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA (Clemens Alexandrinus), Greek Father of the Church. The little we know of him is mainly derived from his own works. He was probably born about A.D. 150 of heathen parents in Athens. The earliest writer after himself who gives us any information with regard to him is Eusebius. The only points on which his works now extant inform us are his date and his instructors. In the Stromateis, while attempting to show that the Jewish Scriptures were older than any writings of the Greeks, he invariably brings down his dates to the death of Commodus, a circumstance which at once suggests that he wrote in the reign of the emperor Severus, from 193 to 211 A.D. (see Strom. lib. i. cap. xxi. 140, p. 403, Potter's edition). The passage in regard to his teachers is corrupt, and the sense is therefore doubtful (Strom. lib. i. cap. i. 11, p. 322, P.).
"This treatise," he says, speaking of the Stromateis, "has not been contrived for mere display, but memoranda are treasured up in it for my old age to be a remedy for forgetfulness,—an image, truly, and an outline of those clear and living discourses, and those men truly blessed and noteworthy I was privileged to hear. One of these was in Greece, the Ionian, the other was in Magna Graecia; the one of them was from Coele Syria, the other from Egypt; but there were others in the East, one of whom belonged to the Assyrians, but the other was in Palestine, originally a Jew. The last of those whom I met was first in power. On falling in with him I found rest, having tracked him while he lay concealed in Egypt. He was in truth the Sicilian bee, and, plucking the flowers of the prophetic and apostolic meadow, he produced a wonderfully pure knowledge in the souls of the listeners."
Some have supposed that in this passage seven teachers are named, others that there are only five, and various conjectures have been hazarded as to what persons were meant. The only one about whom conjecture has any basis for speculating is the last, for Eusebius states (H.E. v. 11) that Clement made mention of Pantaenus as his teacher in the Hypotyposes. The reference in this passage is plainly to one whom he might well designate as his teacher.
To the information which Clement here supplies subsequent writers add little. By Eusebius and Photius he is called Titus Flavius Clemens, and "the Alexandrian" is added to his name. Epiphanius tells us that some said Clement was an Alexandrian, others that he was an Athenian (Haer. xxxii. 6), and a modern writer imagined that he reconciled this discordance by the supposition that he was born at Athens, but lived at Alexandria. We know nothing of his conversion except that he passed from heathenism to Christianity. This is expressly stated by Eusebius (Praep. Evangel. lib. ii. cap. 2), though it is likely that Eusebius had no other authority than the works of Clement. These works, however, warrant the inference. They show a singularly minute acquaintance with the ceremonies of pagan religion, and there are indications that Clement himself had been initiated in some of the mysteries (Protrept. cap. ii. sec. 14, p. 13, P.). There is no means of determining the date of his conversion. He attained the position of presbyter in the church of Alexandria (Eus. H.E. vi. 11, and Jerome, De Vir. Ill. 38), and became perhaps the assistant, and certainly the successor of Pantaenus in the catechetical school of that place. Among his pupils were Origen (Eus. H.E. vi. 7) and Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem (Eus. H.E. vi. 14.). How long he continued in Alexandria, and when and where he died, are all matters of pure conjecture. The only further notice of Clement that we have in history is in a letter written in 211 by Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, to the Antiochians, and preserved by Eusebius (H.E. vi. 11). The words are as follows:—"This letter I sent through Clement the blessed presbyter, a man virtuous and tried, whom ye know and will come to know completely, who being here by the providence and guidance of the Ruler of all strengthened and increased the church of the Lord." A statement of Eusebius in regard to the persecution of Severus in 202 (H.E. vi. 3) would render it likely that Clement left Alexandria on that occasion. It is conjectured that he went to his old pupil Alexander, who was at that time bishop of Flaviada in Cappadocia, and that when his pupil was raised to the see of Jerusalem Clement followed him there. The letter implies that he was known to the Antiochians, and that it was likely he would be still better known. Some have conjectured that he returned to Alexandria, but there is not the shadow of evidence for such conjecture. Alexander, writing to Origen (c. 216), mentions Clement as dead (Eus. H.E. vi. 14, 9).
Eusebius and Jerome give us lists of the works which Clement left behind him. Photius has also described some of them. They are as follows:—(1) Πρὸς Έλληνας λόγος ὁ προτρεπτικος, A Hortatory Address to the Greeks. (2) Ό Παιδαγωγός, The Tutor, in three books. (3) Στρωματεῖς, or Patch-work, in eight books. (4) Τἰς ὸ σωξὀμενος πλούσιος; Who is the Rich Man that is Saved? (5) Eight books of Ύποτυπώσεις, Adumbrations or Outlines. (6) On the Passover. (7) Discourses on Fasting. (8) On Slander. (9) Exhortation to Patience, or to the Newly Baptized. (10) The Κανὼν ἐκκλησιαστικός, the Rule of the Church, or to those who Judaize, a work dedicated to Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem.
Of these, the first four have come down to us complete, or nearly complete. The first three form together a progressive introduction to Christianity corresponding to the stages through which the μὐστης passed at Eleusis—purification, initiation, revelation. The Hortatory Address to the Greeks is an appeal to them to give up the worship of their gods, and to devote themselves to the worship of the one living and true God. Clement exhibits the absurdity and immorality of the stories told with regard to the pagan deities, the cruelties perpetrated in their worship, and the utter uselessness of bowing down before images made by hands. He at the same time shows the Greeks that their own greatest philosophers and poets recognized the unity of the divine Being, and had caught glimpses of the true nature of God, but that fuller light had been thrown on this subject by the Hebrew prophets. He replies to the objection that it was not right to abandon the customs of their forefathers, and points them to Christ as their only safe guide to God.
The Paedagogue is divided into three books. In the first Clement discusses the necessity for and the true nature of the Paedagogus, and shows how Christ as the Logos acted as Paedagogus, and still acts. In the second and third books Clement enters into particulars, and explains how the Christian following the Logos or Reason ought to behave in the various circumstances of life—in eating, drinking, furnishing a house, in dress, in the relations of social life, in the care of the body, and similar concerns, and concludes with a general description of the life of a Christian. Appended to the Paedagogue are two hymns, which are, in all probability, the production of Clement, though some have conjectured that they were portions of the church service of that time. στρωματεῖς were bags in which bedclothes (στρώματα) were kept. The phrase was used as a book-title by Origen and others, and is equivalent to our "miscellanies." It is difficult to give a brief account of the varied contents of the book. Sometimes Clement discusses chronology, sometimes philosophy, sometimes poetry, entering into the most minute critical and chronological details; but one object runs through all, and this is to show what the true Christian Gnostic is, and what is his relation to philosophy. The work was in eight books. The first seven are complete. The eighth now extant is really an incomplete treatise on logic. Some critics have rejected this book as spurious, since its matter is so different from that of the rest. Others, however, have held to its genuineness, because in a Patch-work or Book of Miscellanies the difference of subject is no sound objection, and because Photius seems to have regarded our present eighth book as genuine (Phot. cod. iii. p. 89b, Bekker).
The treatise Who is the Rich Man that is Saved? is an admirable exposition of the narrative contained in St Mark's Gospel x. 17-31. Here Clement argues that wealth, if rightly used, is not unchristian.
The Hypotyposes in eight books, have not come down to us. Cassiodorus translated them into Latin, freely altering to suit his own ideas of orthodoxy. Both Eusebius and Photius describe the work. It was a short commentary on all the books of Scripture, including some of the apocryphal works, such as the Epistle of Barnabas and the Revelation of Peter. Photius speaks in strong language of the impiety of some opinions in the book (Bibl. cod. 109, p. 89 a Bekker), but his statements are such as to prove conclusively that he must have had a corrupt copy, or read very carelessly, or grossly misunderstood Clement. Notes in Latin on the first epistle of Peter, the epistle of Jude, and the first two of John have come down to us; but whether they are the translation of Cassiodorus, or indeed a translation of Clement's work at all, is a matter of dispute.
The treatise on the Passover was occasioned by a work of Melito on the same subject. Two fragments of this treatise were given by Petavius, and are contained in the modern editions.
We know nothing of the work called The Ecclesiastical Canon from any external testimony. Clement himself often mentions the ἐκκλησιαστικὸς κανών, and defines it as the agreement and harmony of the law and the prophets with the covenant delivered at the appearance of Christ (Strom. vi. cap. xv. 125, p. 803, P.). No doubt this was the subject of the treatise. Jerome and Photius call the work Ecclesiastical Canons, but this seems to be a mistake.
Of the other treatises mentioned by Eusebius and Jerome nothing is known. A fragment of Clement, quoted by Antonius Melissa, is most probably taken from the treatise on slander.
Besides the treatises mentioned by Eusebius, fragments of treatises on Providence and the Soul have been preserved. Mention is also made of a work by Clement on the Prophet Amos, and another on Definitions.
In addition to these Clement often speaks of his intention to write on certain subjects, but it may well be doubted whether in most cases, if not all, he intended to devote separate treatises to them. Some have found an allusion to the treatise on the Soul already mentioned. The other subjects are Marriage (γαμικὸς λόγος), Continence, the Duties of Bishops, Presbyters, Deacons and Widows, Prophecy, the Soul, the Transmigration of the Soul and the Devil, Angels, the Origin of the World, First Principles and the Divinity of the Logos, Allegorical Interpretations of Statements made with regard to God's anger and similar affections, the Unity of the Church, and the Resurrection.
Two works are incorporated in the editions of Clement which are not mentioned by himself or any ancient writer. They are Έκ τῶν Θεοδότου καί τἦς ἀνατολικἦς καλουμένης διδασκαλίας κατὰ τοὺς Οὐαλεντίνου χρόνους ἐπιτομαί, and Έκ τῶν προφητικῶν ἐκλογαἰ. The first, if it is the work of Clement, must be a book merely of excerpts, for it contains many opinions which Clement opposed. Mention is made of Pantaenus in the second, and some have thought it more worthy of him than the first. Others have regarded it as a work similar to the first, and derived from Theodorus.
Clement occupies a profoundly interesting position in the history of Christianity. He is the first to bring all the culture of the Greeks and all the speculations of the Christian heretics to bear on the exposition of Christian truth. He does not attain to a systematic exhibition of Christian doctrine, but he paves the way for it, and lays the first stones of the foundation. In some respects Justin anticipated him. He also was well acquainted with Greek philosophy, and took a genial view of it; but he was not nearly so widely read as Clement. The list of Greek authors whom Clement has quoted occupies upwards of fourteen of the quarto pages in Fabricius's Bibliotheca Graeca. He is at home alike in the epic and the lyric, the tragic and the comic poets, and his knowledge of the prose writers is very extensive. Some, however, of the classic poets he appears to have known only from anthologies; hence he was misled into quoting as from Euripides and others verses which were written by Jewish forgers. He made a special study of the philosophers. Equally minute is his knowledge of the systems of the Christian heretics. And in all cases it is plain that he not merely read but thought deeply on the questions which the civilization of the Greeks and the various writings of poets, philosophers and heretics raised. But it was in the Scriptures that he found his greatest delight. He believed them to contain the revelation of God's wisdom to men. He quotes all the books of the Old Testament except Ruth and the Song of Solomon, and amongst the sacred writings of the Old Testament he evidently included the book of Tobit, the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus. He is equally full in his quotations from the New Testament, for he quotes from all the books except the epistle to Philemon, the second epistle of St Peter, and the epistle of St James, and he quotes from The Shepherd of Hermas, and the epistles of Clemens Romanus and of Barnabas, as inspired. He appeals also to many of the lost gospels, such as those of the Hebrews, of the Egyptians and of Matthias.
Notwithstanding this adequate knowledge of Scripture, the modern theologian is disappointed to find very little of what he deems characteristically Christian. In fact Clement regarded Christianity as a philosophy. The ancient philosophers sought through their philosophy to attain to a nobler and holier life, and this also was the aim of Christianity. The difference between the two, in Clement's judgment, was that the Greek philosophers had only glimpses of the truth, that they attained only to fragments of the truth, while Christianity revealed in Christ the absolute and perfect truth. All the stages of the world's history were therefore preparations leading up to this full revelation, and God's care was not confined to the Hebrews alone. The worship of the heavenly bodies, for instance, was given to man at an early stage that he might rise from a contemplation of these sublime objects to the worship of the Creator. Greek philosophy in particular was the preparation of the Greeks for Christ. It was the schoolmaster or paedagogue to lead them to Christ. Plato was Moses atticizing. Clement varies in his statement how Plato got his wisdom or his fragments of the Reason. Sometimes he thinks that they came direct from God, like all good things, but he is also fond of maintaining that many of Plato's best thoughts were borrowed from the Hebrew prophets; and he makes the same statement in regard to the wisdom of the other philosophers. But however this may be, Christ was the end to which all that was true in philosophies pointed. Christ himself was the Logos, the Reason. God the Father was ineffable. The Son alone can manifest Him fully. He is the Reason that pervades the universe, that brings out all goodness, that guides all good men. It was through possessing somewhat of this Reason that the philosophers attained to any truth and goodness; but in Christians he dwells more fully and guides them through all the perplexities of life. Photius, probably on a careless reading of Clement, argued that he could not have believed in a real incarnation. But the words of Clement are quite precise and their meaning indisputable. The real difficulty attaches not to the Second Person, but to the First. The Father in Clement's mind becomes the Absolute of the philosophers, that is to say, not the Father at all, but the Monad, a mere point devoid of all attributes. He believed in a personal Son of God who was the Reason and Wisdom of God; and he believed that this Son of God really became incarnate though he speaks of him almost invariably as the Word, and attaches little value to his human nature. The object of his incarnation and death was to free man from his sins, to lead him into the path of wisdom, and thus in the end elevate him to the position of a god. But man's salvation was to be gradual. It began with faith, passed from that to love, and ended in full and complete knowledge. There could be no faith without knowledge. But the knowledge is imperfect, and the Christian was to do many things in simple obedience without knowing the reason. But he has to move upwards continually until he at length does nothing that is evil, and he knows fully the reason and object of what he does. He thus becomes the true Gnostic, but he can become the true Gnostic only by contemplation and by the practice of what is right. He has to free himself from the power of passion. He has to give up all thoughts of pleasure. He must prefer goodness in the midst of torture to evil with unlimited pleasure. He has to resist the temptations of the body, keeping it under strict control, and with the eye of the soul undimmed by corporeal wants and impulses, contemplate God the supreme good, and live a life according to reason. In other words, he must strive after likeness to God as he reveals himself in his Reason or in Christ. Clement thus looks entirely at the enlightened moral elevation to which Christianity raises man. He believed that Christ instructed men before he came into the world, and he therefore viewed heathenism with kindly eye. He was also favourable to the pursuit of all kinds of knowledge. All enlightenment tended to lead up to the truths of Christianity, and hence knowledge of every kind not evil was its handmaid. Clement had at the same time a strong belief in evolution or development. The world went through various stages in preparation for Christianity. The man goes through various stages before he can reach Christian perfection. And Clement conceived that this development took place not merely in this life, but in the future through successive grades. The Jew and the heathen had the gospel preached to them in the world below by Christ and his apostles, and Christians will have to pass through processes of purification and trial after death before they reach knowledge and perfect bliss.
The beliefs of Clement have caused considerable difference of opinion among modern scholars. He sought the truth from whatever quarter he could get it, believing that all that is good comes from God, wherever it be found. He belongs therefore to no school of philosophers. He calls himself an Eclectic. He was in the main a Neoplatonist, drawing from that school his doctrines of the Monad and his strong tendency towards mysticism. For his moral doctrine he borrowed freely from Stoicism. Aristotelian features may be found but are quite subordinate. But Clement always regards the articles of the Christian creed as the axioms of a new philosophy. Daehne had tried to show that he was Neoplatonic, and Reinkens has maintained that he was essentially Aristotelian. His mode of viewing Christianity does not fit into any classification. It is the result of the period in which he lived, of his wide culture and the simplicity and noble purity of his character.
It is needless to say that his books well deserve study; but the study is not smoothed by simplicity of style. Clement professed to despise rhetoric, but was himself a rhetorician, and his style is turgid, involved and difficult. He is singularly simple in his character. In discussing marriage he refuses to use any but the plainest language. A euphemism is with him a falsehood. But he is temperate in his opinions; and the practical advices in the second and third books of the Paedagogue are remarkably sound and moderate. He is not always very critical, and he is passionately fond of allegorical interpretations, but these were the faults of his age.
All early writers speak of Clement in the highest terms of laudation, and he certainly ought to have been a saint in any Church that reveres saints. But Clement is not a saint in the Roman Church. He was a saint up till the time of Benedict XIV., who read Photius on Clement, believed him, and struck the Alexandrian's name out of the calendar. But many Roman Catholic writers, though they yield a practical obedience to the papal decision, have adduced good reason why it should be reversed (Cognat, p. 451).
Editions.—The standard edition of the collected works will be that of O. Stählin (first vol. containing Protrepticus and Paedagogus, Leipzig, 1905). Separate editions of Strom. vii., Hort and Major (1902); Q.D.S., Barnard in Texts and Studies, v. 2 (1897); W. Dindorf's edition in 4 vols. (Oxford, 1869) is little more than a reprint of the text of Bishop Potter, 1715. For the Fragments see Zahn, Forschungen zur Gesch. des neut. Kanons, part iii., or Harnack and Preuschen, Gesch. der altch. Litt., vol. i.Literature.—A copious bibliography will be found in Harnack, Chronologie, vol. ii., or in Bardenhewer, Gesch. der altk. Lit. Either of these will supply the names of works upon Clement's biblical text, his use of Stoic writers, his quotations from heathen writers, and his relation to heathen philosophy. A valuable book is de Faye, Clém. d'Alex. (1898). For his theological position see Harnack, Dogmengeschichte; Hort, Six Lectures on the Ante-Nicene Fathers; Westcott, "Clem, of Alex." in Dict. Christ. Biog.; Bigg, Christian Platonists of Alex. (1886). A book on Clement's relation to Mysticism is wanted.
- Zahn thinks we have part of them in the Adumbrationes Clem. Alex. in epistolas canonicas (Codex Lindum, 96, sec. ix.). They were perhaps intended as a completion of the preceding course.