CHURCH FATHERS (18) – Clement of Alexandria


The School of Alexandria, was one of the most important theological schools in the earliest centuries of Christianity.  A tradition said that the school was initiated by the apostle Mark. Alexandria, in Egypt, was a city renown also for the influences of the Hellenistic (Greek) culture. One of the main teacher in this school was Clement.

He was born around the year 150. His family was pagan. He received a very in depth education; we cannot say at what point he converted to Christianity. After his conversion (that should have happened when he was very young) he started to study day and night the doctrines of Christianity and to travel, meeting also with some Bishops that were direct disciples of the Apostles. In 180 he arrived in Alexandria. In 189 he substituted his teacher, Pantaenus, in the school of Alexandria starting his career as a teacher and a writer. In the meantime he was ordained a priest. Among his students will be Origen. In the year 202, he had to go away from Alexandria because of the persecution of the Roman Emperor Severus. We don’t know much about the date and place of his death. Some said that he died around the year 215 in Jerusalem. We can also say that some Christian Churches regard him as a saint, but the Catholic Church removed him at some point in history from its canon of saints.

He was the writer of many works in defense of Christianity. Among the most famous there are the Protrepticus, the Paedagogus and the Stromata.  About him we can read this critical review: “Scholars have found it no easy task to sum up the chief points of Clement’s teaching. As has already been intimated, he lacks technical precision and makes no pretense to orderly exposition. It is easy, therefore, to misjudge him. We accept the discriminating judgment of Tixeront. Clement’s rule of faith was sound. He admitted the authority of the Church’s tradition. He would be, first of all, a Christian, accepting ‘the ecclesiastical rule,’ but he would also strive to remain a philosopher, and bring his reason to bear in matters of religion. ‘Few are they,’ he said, ‘who have taken the spoils of the Egyptians, and made of them the furniture of the Tabernacle.’ He set himself, therefore, with philosophy as an instrument, to transform faith into science, and revelation into theology. The Gnostics had already pretended to possess the science of faith, but they were, in fact, mere rationalists, or rather dreamers of fantastic dreams. Clement would have nothing but faith for the basis of his speculations. He cannot, therefore, be accused of disloyalty in will.

But he was a pioneer in a difficult undertaking, and it must be admitted that he failed at times in his high endeavour. He was careful to go to Holy Scripture for his doctrine; but he misused the text by his faulty exegesis. He had read all the Books of the New Testament except the Second Epistle of St Peter and the Third Epistle of St John. ‘In fact,’ Tixeront says, ‘his evidence as to the primitive form of the Apostolic writings is of the highest value.’

Unfortunately, he interpreted the Scripture after the manner of Philo. He was ready to find allegory everywhere. The facts of the Old Testament became mere symbols to him. He did not, however, permit himself so much freedom with the New Testament” (Havey, F. (1908). Clement of Alexandria. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New Advent).