Clement of Alexandria, martyred 215 AD

In 02 Apostolic Fathers on 2011/10/17 at 9:10 AM

The heresy of Gnosticism spread throughout the empire touting to the civilized world that they had secret knowledge which was reserved for the spiritual elite (themselves).

Clement of Alexandria called their knowledge plain bogus. He staunchly maintained that were was  a knowledge that could prepare the mind for revelation.  He said that “Greek philosophy purifies the mind and prepares it to receive the faith on which truth constructs knowledge.”  He maintained that philosophy gave Christians a language for articulating their doctrines. How could one describe the Incarnation of the Word without mastery of metaphysical concepts such as time, eternity, being, substance?  Clement’s position was summed up later by an axiom that called secular philosophy the “handmaid of theology.”

Clement founded and presided over the famous school at Alexandria and tried to rescue knowledge from heretical association. He put to good use his encyclopedic knowledge of the Scriptures,  pagan poetry, philosophy and the sciences.  Students came from all over the Roman world to study there, particularly many of the early Church Fathers.

St. Mark, the evangelist is believed to have been the founder of the Christian community in the important Roman city of Alexandria which at the time was one fourth Jewish.  Alexander the Great had ordered the construction of a library to contain all the written works of the world.  These were housed there until the Battle of Actium during which the library was set on fire and consummed the written heritage of the world.  However Alexandria continued as center of learning.

The martyr Deaconess, Appolonia,  was his secretary or trained recorder who received dictation and made multiple manuscripts of Clement’s Instructions to Catechumens. A copy in her handwriting, written on papyrus, is in the British Museum.

Clement had to flee Alexandria during a persecution and died in Cappadocia.  Because the persecution in Alexandria lasted over five years, his catechetical school broke up temporarily, but was re-established by Origen, the young genius Clement had tutored.  Origen, unlike his father and many friends, survived the persecution and lived to become the second head of the renowned school.

Clement’s monumental work, the STROMATA  is the trilogy on the Christian life which the prolific Clement wrote.  It is called ‘stromata” which means “patchwork” because it dealt with a great variety of topics.  It aims at perfecting Christian life by the acquisition of requisite and complete knowledge of the realities of belief.  Based on Scripture and Tradition, it gives an account of the Christian faith in such a way as to satisfy the inquiries of the learned  and the student.

Clement wrote: “God is love and He is knowable to those who love Him.”


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