The Teachers of the Church: Clement of Alexandria (Part 1)

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The History of Christianity #47

Our Scripture verse today is Romans 10:17 which reads: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Our quote today is from Clement of Alexandria. He said: “We should think about the Messiah as God…for when we diminish Him, we diminish our hope.”

Today, we are looking at “The Teachers of the Church” (Part 4) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Clement of Alexandria
The life story and the interests of Clement of Alexandria were very different from those of Irenaeus. Clement was probably born in Athens, the city that had long been famous for its philosophers. His parents were pagans; but young Clement was converted in unknown circumstances, and then undertook a vast search for a teacher who could give him deeper instruction in the Christian faith. After extensive travels, he found in Alexandria a teacher who satisfied his thirst for knowledge. This was Pantaenus, of whom little is known. Clement remained in Alexandria, and when his teacher died Clement took his place as the main Christian instructor in Alexandria. In 202 AD, when Septimius Severus was emperor, persecution broke out, and Clement had to leave the city. He then traveled along the Eastern Mediterranean – particularly Syria and Asia Minor – until his death in 215 AD.

Alexandria, where Clement spent much of his career, was the most active intellectual center of the time. Its Museum, or temple of the muses, with its adjacent library, was similar to our modern universities, in that it was a meeting place for scholars in various fields. Furthermore, because it was also a trad center, Alexandria was a meeting place, not only for scholars and philosophers, but also for charlatans and adventurers. Therefore, the syncretistic spirit of the time reached its high point in that city at the mouth of the Nile.

It was in that context that Clement studied and taught, and therefore his thought bears the mark of Alexandria. He was not a pastor, like Irenaeus, but rather a thinker and a searcher; and his goal was not so much to expound the traditional faith of the church – although he did hold that faith – as to help those in quest of deeper truth, and to convince pagan intellectuals that Christianity was not the absurd superstition that some claimed it was.

In his Exhortion to the Pagans, Clement shows the gist of his theological method in making use of Plato and other philosophers. “I seek to know God, and not only the works of God. Who will aid me in my quest?…How then, oh, Plato, is one to seek after God?” Clement’s purpose in the passage is to show his pagan readers that a good part of Christian doctrine can be supported by Plato’s philosophy. Thus, pagans would be able to approach Christianity without taking for granted, as many supposed, that it was a religion for the ignorant and the superstitious.

Next time, we will look at The Teachers of the Church: Clement of Alexandria (Part 2).