Saint of the Week: St. Clement of Alexandria

Unless your church translates lesser feasts and commemorations every time they turn up on a Sunday, this coming Sunday, December 4, is the feast of Titus Flavius Clemens — St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 140/50-215).

Trained in philosophy by various teachers in Greece, southern Italy, Syria, Palestine, and Alexandria, Clement became a Christian as a young adult and settled in Alexandria, the cultural centre and capital of Roman Egypt. There, having sat at the feet of Pantaenus, he established his own school of Christian philosophy.

H. Drobner maintains that this school was not the catechetical school but a philosophical school devoted to Christianity, akin to that of Justin Martyr. If you disagree, take it up with him.

Regardless of whether he was training catechumens or the wider Christian public in philosophy, he was engaged in the systematic, philosophical treatment of Christian theology — and in the ancient world, philosophy encompasses the entirety of one’s life. Thus his work ‘Who Is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved?‘ which we discussed previously as an antidote to the Prosperity Gospel of today.

Alongside the Christians, he probably also addressed pagans, people of the same origins as himself, seeking to demonstrate to them the superiority of the philosophy of the Christians. Thus his three major works the Protrepticus, Paedagogus (or The Instructor — aimed at converts & discussing ethics), and Stromata, a miscellany of ideas, apologetic and otherwise.

In his philosophy, St. Clement elucidated the ‘logos‘ theology of St. Justin Martyr that had its roots in John 1 as well as the Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Bible, discussing the coming of the Word of God in the man Jesus Christ. Such thought is part of the backbone both of Trinitarian thought and of Christian mysticism (both of which flourish under the skilfull eye of the Cappadocians in the late fourth century!).

In 202/203, St. Clement’s days of teaching Christian philosophy in Alexandria came to an end with the onset of Septimius Severus’ persecution of Christians. He relocated to Palestine and dwelt there with his friend Alexander, future bishop of Jerusalem. He died at some point before 215/16.

St. Clement is a reminder to all of us who are engaged in the world of scholarship and education that the shaping of minds is, indeed, an activity of holiness and worthy of a saint.

For Further Reading

Besides the links to the Christian Classics Ethereal Library above, the following are worthy of consultation:

Drobner, Hubertus. The Fathers of the Church. Trans. Siegfried S. Schatzmann. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2007. Pp. 132-136 deal with St. Clement.

Bigg, Charles. The Christian Platonists of Alexandria. New York: Macmillan & Co, 1886. ‘Lecture II’ deals with St. Clement and can be found here (hopefully); I’ve not read it, but the lecture on Origen was quite good.

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3 thoughts on “Saint of the Week: St. Clement of Alexandria

  1. Clement is a wonderful example of Justin Martyr’s position that all truth belongs to God and an encouragement to me as one who seeks to bring together theology, biblical exegesis, and philosophy. I really enjoy your “Saint of the Week” series. Keep it up!

    By the way, I haven’t forgot about my advisor’s article on Didymus. Whenever it gets published, I’ll give you the details.

    • Thanks, Ryan! I would, indeed, still be interested in the article on Didymus. Sorry that my grand designs on Origen herein have fallen to the wayside. Leo and western Christology take precedent as regards my own reading, and the Saint of the Week is way more fun to write!

      • I completely understand. I’m still planning on doing some posts on Plotinus, his “trinity” and how it relates to early Christian understanding of God, but life has other plans at the moment. 🙂

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