*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 5th of December 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
As we did on yesterday’s show today, we will introduce you to a giant in the history of the Christian church- especially in the early church.
The 5th of December is the feast day in many churches for Clement of Alexandria- one of the most important church fathers and a man we might glean something from today.
First: look at his name. Not Clement of Rome (who we recently talked about) but Clement of Alexandria. Note the location. Alexandria, in Egypt, was one of the major centers of the Mediterranean in the ancient world. It was on par with Athens for its culture and centers of learning. Note that Clement of Alexandria was born in Athens in about 150 AD- so you might suppose that Greek culture and philosophy would be vital to him.
As far as his life is concerned, he was peripatetic (a favorite word on the Alamanac- it means, moves around a lot). Raised by pagan parents, he traveled through Greece, Italy, the Middle East, and northern Africa. In Alexandria, he sat under and was converted by Pantaenus: a Christian that synthesized modern thought and Christianity. Let’s break down a few things.
Clement is known primarily thought his work produced at Alexandria from 190 to about 200. These are his years at the Catechetical School of Alexandria and where he would oppose thinkers like Tertullian and teach students like Origen. Let’s break that down:
Tertullian famously wrote, “what has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” By this, he meant that Christians did not need pagan philosophy. Clement of Alexandria and his school would oppose this. Using the idea of Christ as the logos (or word) from the Gospel of John, Clement would argue that philosophy was a historical tutor- pointing to Christ in the same way that the divine law was a historical tutor to the Jewish people. The law prepared the Jews, and philosophy prepared the Greeks. Clement stressed that neither could save, but God ordained to lead all people to Christ.
Clement had to flee around 200 because of persecution (remember, pre 325, all these dudes could get in trouble). But he left his most famous pupil behind to lead the school of Alexandria. It was Origen. We’ve talked about him on this show before and certainly will again- some folks hated this guy. Others loved him. The school of Alexandria and the school of Antioch- its rival- represent one of the first schisms in the church.
The Alexandrians- led by Pantaenus, Clement, and Origin, stressed an allegorical approach to Scripture. Following the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament, they would highlight the spiritual meanings of the text and that which pointed to Christ. The Antioch school would stress literal historical readings and the physical nature of Christ to combat the Gnostics (who were seen to spiritualize everything).
Like so many in this era, Clement had to combat the gnostics, but he wouldn’t cut the whole branch off like some in the school of Antioch and elsewhere; for Clement “gnosis” means knowledge. He was raised in greek philosophy and knew that “knowledge” wasn’t opposed to Christ, but rather what he would call “false gnosis.” For Clement, “false gnosis” was that which:
- Rejected the material world (like the radical dualists)
- Rejected the Old Testament (as representative of an evil god opposed to Jesus in the NT)
- Sought to attain godliness by punishing the physical body (as many radical sects taught)
- Rejected the philosophical methodology of the schools as incompatible with Christianity. He believed all truth was God’s truth and would lead earnest seekers to him.
Clement of Alexandria is one of the most critical early teachers in the church. His school would provide one of the bulwarks in the early Christian controversies surrounding the place of secular knowledge in Christian theology.
Today we remember Clement of Alexandria on his feast day, the day he is said to have died in 215.
The last word for today comes from 1 Corinthians:
20 Where are the wise? Where are the legal experts? Where are today’s debaters? Hasn’t God made the wisdom of the world foolish? 21 In God’s wisdom, he determined that the world wouldn’t come to know him through its wisdom. Instead, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of preaching. 22 Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. 24 But to those who are called—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom. 25 This is because the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 5th of December 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite Alexandria’s include cities in Egypt, Indiana, and Ohio. The Font, the toad, and the fictional city in the game Halo. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who feels good about today… C’mon, it’s the Jags. What could go wrong? I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.