Clement of Alexandria

c.155-c.220. The first known Christian scholar. Titus Flavius Clement, probably an Athenian, succeeded his teacher Pantaenus as head of the Catechetical School at Alexandria in 190. Clement's greatest literary activity was displayed while he held that post (190-202). His principal works extant are the Protrepticos (Exhortation to Conversion), the Paidagogos (The Tutor), and Stromateis (Miscellanies). The three works constitute a trilogy. The Logos,* Clement says, first of all “converts” us, then “disciplines” us, and finally “instructs” us.

Clement engaged in a perpetual debate with the Gnostics who disparaged faith as an inferior possession of ordinary Christians while they rejoiced in their possession of esoteric gnosis. He maintained that faith, instead of being the “prop of the ignorant,” was the means by which mankind arrived at true gnosis (“knowledge”). The doctrine of the Logos is the mainspring of Clement's whole system of theology. The Logos is conceived of as eternally with the Father and the principal cause of all things that are. Some of Clement's statements concerning the person of Christ have a docetic echo, but he defended vigorously the reality of the Incarnation, even though the humanity of Jesus has little importance in his theology. The work of the Logos, or Christ, is considered as the redemption from the bondage of sin and error which has left mankind blind and helpless. Clement's most characteristic thought is that Christ is the true “teacher” who gives men the true gnosis which leads to freedom from sin, to immortality, and to righteousness. By contemplation of the Logos man is deified. Thus Clement's soteriology is a Christ-mysticism in which the Lord's passion and death have little or no redemptive part to play.

Clement's other surviving works include the Hypotyposes, a commentary on the Scriptures, and Quis Dives Salvetur? (Who is the Rich Man that shall be Saved?), the theme of which is the stewardship of wealth. This last attractive homily concludes with the well-known story of the aged Apostle John rescuing and restoring a young Christian who had become a bandit.

C. Bigg, The Christian Platonists of Alexandria (2nd ed., 1913); G.W. Butterworth, Clement of Alexandria (1953); J.E.L. Oulton (ed.), Alexandrian Christianity (1954); J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (1958); F. L. Cross, The Early Christian Fathers (1960); H. Chadwick, Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition (1966).