INTRODUCTORY NOTE TO 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 Weir. 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. Pantaenus, “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 Pantaenus to Egypt, and comes with his Attic scholarship to be his pupil in the school of Christ. After Justin and Irenaeus, 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 rounded 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 Pantaenus, 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 Pantaenus 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 Irenaeus 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 Pantaenus, 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 Stramata, all appear to have been alive when he wrote) can be with certainty identified, viz., Pantaenus, 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 Pantaenus 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 dose 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 (logos k protreptikos Ellhnas),The Instructor, or Poedagogus (paidagwgos), The Miscellanies, or Stromata (Strwmateis), are among the most valuable remains of Christia