Clement of Alexandria

Clement of Alexandria
Saint Clement of Alexandria
Church Father
Born ca. 150
Died ca. 215-217
Honored in Coptic Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Communion
Canonized Pre-congregation
Feast 4 December (Roman Catholic Church), 5 December (Episcopal Church (United States))

Titus Flavius Clemens (c.150 - c. 215), known as Clement of Alexandria (to distinguish him from Clement of Rome), was a Christian theologian and the head of the noted Catechetical School of Alexandria. Clement is best remembered as the teacher of Origen. He united Greek philosophical traditions with Christian doctrine and valued gnosis that with communion for all people could be held by common Christians specially chosen by God;[citation needed] vide, e.g., Stromata, VI.106.4f. Though he constantly opposes the concept of gnosis as defined by the Gnostics, he used the term "gnostic" for Christians who had attained the deeper teaching of the Logos.[1] He developed a Christian Platonism.[2] He presented the goal of Christian life as deification, identified both as Platonism's assimilation into God and the biblical imitation of God.[1]

Like Origen, he arose from Alexandria's Catechetical School and was well versed in pagan literature.[2] Origen succeeded Clement as head of the school.[2] Alexandria had a major Christian community in early Christianity, noted for its scholarship and its high-quality copies of Scripture.

Clement is counted as one of the early Church Fathers. He advocated a vegetarian diet and claimed that the apostles Peter, Matthew, and James the Just were vegetarians.[3][4][5]



Because Early Alexandrian Church fathers wrote their works in Greek, later scholars proposed they were not all Egyptians. Clement's birthplace is not known with certainty. Other than being Egyptian, Athens is proposed as his birthplace by the 6th-century Epiphanius Scholasticus. His parents seem to have been wealthy pagans of some social standing. The thoroughness of his education is shown by his constant quotation of the Greek poets and philosophers. He travelled in Greece, Italy, Palestine, and finally Egypt. He became the colleague of Pantaenus, the head of the Catechetical School of Alexandria, and finally succeeded him in the direction of the school. One of his most popular pupils was Origen. During the persecution of Christians by Septimius Severus (202 or 203) he sought refuge with Alexander, then bishop (possibly of Flaviada) in Cappadocia, afterward of Jerusalem, from whom he brought a letter to Antioch in 211.

Literary work

Great trilogy

The trilogy into which Clement's principal remains are connected by their purpose and mode of treatment is composed of:

  • the Protrepticus ("Exhortation to the Greeks")
  • the Paedagogus ("Instructor")
  • the Stromata ("Miscellanies")

Overbeck[citation needed]calls it the boldest literary undertaking in the history of the Church, since in it Clement for the first time attempted to set forth Christianity for the faithful in the traditional forms of secular literature.

The first book deals with the religious basis of Christian morality, the second and third with the individual cases of conduct. As with Epictetus, true virtue shows itself with him in its external evidences by a natural, simple, and moderate way of living.

Clement wrote of apocatastasis, the restoration of all things, in his Stromata. He wrote that the punishments of God are "saving and disciplinary, leading to conversion."

Other works

Besides the great trilogy, the only complete work preserved is the treatise "Who is the Rich Man that Shall Be Saved?" based on Mark 10:17-31, and laying down the principle that not the possession of riches but their misuse is to be condemned. There are extant a few fragments of the treatise on the Passover, against the Quartodecimanism position of Melito of Sardis, and only a single passage from the "Ecclesiastical Canon" against the Judaizers. Several other works are known only by their titles. His work Hypotyposes survives only in fragments.

Much of Clement's work has been published in recent years in the collection Sources Chrétiennes, in particular by Alain Le Boulluec.

Clement's "Shepherd of Tender Youth" may be the earliest Christian hymn with a named author.[6]

Significance for the Church

Down to the 17th century Clement was venerated as a saint. His name was to be found in the martyrologies, and his feast fell on December 4. But when the Roman Martyrology was revised by Clement VIII (Pope from 1592 to 1605), his name was dropped from the calendar on the advice of his confessor, Cardinal Baronius. Pope Benedict XIV in 1748 maintained his predecessor's decision on the grounds that Clement's life was little-known; that he had never obtained public cultus in the Church; and that some of his doctrines were, if not erroneous, at least suspect.

The significance of Clement in the history of the development of doctrine is, according to Adolf von Harnack, that he knew how to replace the apologetic method by the constructive or systematic, to turn the simple church tradition into a "scientific" dogmatic theology. It is a marked characteristic of his that he sees only superficial and transient disagreement where others find a fundamental opposition. He is able to reconcile, or even to fuse, differing views to an extent which makes it almost impossible to attribute to him a definite individual system. He is admittedly an eclectic (Stromata, i. 37). This attitude determines especially his treatment of non-Christian philosophy. Although the theory of a diabolical origin for it is not unknown to him, and although he shows exhaustively that the philosophers owe a large part of their knowledge to the writings of the Old Testament, yet he seems to express his own personal conviction when he describes philosophy as a direct operation of the divine Logos, working through it as well as through the law and his direct revelation in the Gospel to communicate the truth to men.

Thus he emphasizes the permanent importance of philosophy for the fullness of Christian knowledge, explains with special predilection the relation between knowledge and faith, and sharply criticizes those who are unwilling to make any use of philosophy. He pronounces definitely against the sophists and against the hedonism of the school of Epicurus. Although he generally expresses himself unfavorably in regard to the Stoic philosophy, he really pays marked deference to that mixture of Stoicism and Platonism which characterized the religious and ethical thought of the educated classes in his day. This explains the value set by Clement on gnosis. Faith is the foundation of all gnosis, and both are given by Christ. As faith involves a comprehensive knowledge of the essentials, knowledge allows the believer to penetrate deeply into the understanding of what he believes; and this is the making perfect, the completion, of faith. In order to attain this kind of faith, the "faith of knowledge," which is so much higher than the mere "faith of conjecture," or simple reception of a truth on authority, philosophy is permanently necessary. In fact, Christianity is the true philosophy, and the perfect Christian the true Gnostic—but again only the "Gnostic according to the canon of the Church " has this distinction. Also, he rejects the Gnostic distinction of "psychic" and "pneumatic" men; all are alike destined to perfection if they will embrace it.

From philosophy he takes his conception of the Logos, the principle of Christian gnosis, through whom alone God's relation to the world and his revelation is maintained. God he considers transcendentally as unqualified Being, who can not be defined in too abstract a way. Though his goodness operated in the creation of the world, yet immutability, self sufficiency, incapability of suffering are the characteristic notes of the divine essence. Though the Logos is most closely one with the Father, whose powers he resumes in himself, yet to Clement both the Son and the Spirit are "first-born powers and first created"; they form the highest stages in the scale of intelligent being, and Clement distinguishes the Son-Logos from the Logos who is immutably immanent in God, and thus gives a foundation to the charge of Photius that he "degraded the Son to the rank of a creature." Separate from the world as the principle of creation, he is yet in it as its guiding principle. Thus a natural life is a life according to the will of the Logos. The Incarnation, in spite of Clement's rejection of the Gnostic Docetism, has with him a decidedly Docetic character. The body of Christ was not subject to human needs. He is the good Physician; the medicine which he offers is the communication of saving gnosis, leading men from paganism to faith and from faith to the higher state of knowledge. This true philosophy includes within itself the freedom from sin and the attainment of virtue. As all sin has its root in ignorance, so the knowledge of God and of goodness is followed by well-doing. Against the Gnostics Clement emphasizes the freedom of all to do good.

Clement lays great stress on the fulfilment of moral obligations. In his ethical expressions he is influenced strongly by Plato and the Stoics, from whom he borrows much of his terminology. He praises Plato for setting forth the greatest possible likeness to God as the aim of life; and his portrait of the perfect Gnostic closely resembles that of the wise man as drawn by the Stoics. Hence he counsels his readers to shake off the chains of the flesh as far as possible, to live already as if out of the body, and thus to rise above earthly things. He is a true Greek in the value which he sets on moderation; but his highest ideal of conduct remains the mortification of all affections which may in any way disturb the soul in its career. As Harnack says, the lofty ethical-religious ideal of the attainment of man's perfection in union with God, which Greek philosophy from Plato down had worked out, and to which it had subordinated all scientific worldly knowledge, is taken over by Clement, deepened in meaning, and connected not only with Christ, but with ecclesiastical tradition.

The way, however, to this union with God is for Clement only the Church's way. The communication of the gnosis is bound up with holy orders, which give the divine light and life. The simple faith of the baptized Christian contains all the essentials of the highest knowledge; by the Eucharist the believer is united with the Logos and the Spirit, and made partaker of incorruptibility. Though he lays down at starting a purely spiritual conception of the Church, later the exigencies of his controversy with the Gnostics make him lay more stress on the visible church. As to his use of Scripture, the extraordinary breadth of his reading and manifold variety of his quotations from the most diverse authors make it very difficult to determine exactly what was received as canonical by the Alexandrian Church of that period. Clement uses both canonical and apocryphal Gospels, and often talks just about "the Gospel" without specifying any of them. For the other New Testament writings he seems not to have had as definite a line of demarcation; but whatever he recognized as of apostolic origin had for him an authority distinct from, and higher than, that of all other ecclesiastical tradition.

Clement opposed racism when it was used to justify slavery.[7]

An excerpt from the Mar Saba letter, attributed to Clement of Alexandria, is the only evidence for the existence of a possible Secret Gospel of Mark.

Clement quoted from the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles as scripture,[2] a book currently known as the Didache.


  1. ^ a b "Clement of Alexandria." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  2. ^ a b c d Durant, Will. Caesar and Christ. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1972
  3. ^, citing & linking to The Ante-Nicene Fathers edited by A. Roberts & J. Donaldson, Vol. 2 (of 10 vols), and The Ethics of Diet, by Howard Williams pub. 1883.
  4. ^ McLean Ministries (Rev. McLean was widely recognized as he led the ACLU & other clerics to successfully remove creationism from Arkansas schools: New Scientist, 26 Nov 1981, pg. 583 [1]) "Documents in the Clementine Homilies xii, ch. 6, Peter's diet consisted of 'only bread and oil and herbs (use sparingly),' and Matthew is said to have been content with seeds and nuts, hard-shelled fruits, and vegetables, without the use of flesh.' Hegesippus, in Euseb. H. E., 11, 23, says that James (the Lord's brother) was holy from his birth, drank no wine and ate no flesh."
  5. ^ ABC National Radio: James, the Brother of Jesus, part one: The Missing Story According to Hegesippus (as quoted by Jerome), "After the apostles, James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was made head of the Church at Jerusalem. Many indeed are called James. This one was holy from his mother's womb. He drank neither wine nor strong drink, ate no flesh, never shaved or anointed himself with ointment or bathed. To him alone it was permitted to enter the holy place; for he wore nothing woollen, but linen garments."
  6. ^ CyberHymnal
  7. ^ "Saint Clement of Alexandria." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 07 Jun. 2011. [2].


  1. Davide Dainese: Il Protrettico ai Greci di Clemente Alessandrino. Una proposta di contestualizzazione. In: Adamantius, 16 (2010)
  2. Davide Dainese: Clemente d'Alessandria e la filosofia. Prospettive aperte e nuove proposte. In: Annali di Scienze Religiose, 3 (2011)


  • This article includes text from the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religion, which is in the public domain.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Clement of Alexandria — • Fairly lengthy article on his life and writings Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Clement of Alexandria     Clement of Alexandria      …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA° — (Titus Flavius Clemens; 150?–?220 C.E.), a Church Father, writing in Greek. He was profoundly influenced by philo in his approach to Scripture, ethics, attitudes toward Jewish history, and metaphysics. Clement certainly knew no Hebrew and relied… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Clement of Alexandria — ( Titus Flavius Clemens) A.D. 150? 215?; Gr. Christian theologian …   English World dictionary

  • Clement of Alexandria — (c. 150–215)    Saint and Theologian.    Clement is thought to have been born in Athens. In 190 he became head of the Catechetical School in Alexandria, but was forced to flee from persecution in 202. His surviving works include the Protrepticos …   Who’s Who in Christianity

  • Clement of Alexandria,Saint — Clement of Alexandria, Saint. A.D. 150? 220?. Greek Christian theologian who attempted to combine Gnosticism with Platonism. * * * …   Universalium

  • Clement of Alexandria, Saint — Latin Titus Flavius Clemens born 150, Athens died between 211 and 215, Palestine; Western feast day November 23; Eastern feast day November 24 Christian apologist, missionary theologian to the Hellenistic world, and leader of the catechetical… …   Universalium

  • Clement of Alexandria — biographical name Saint circa 150 between 211 and 215 Titus Flavius Clemens Greek Christian theologian & church father …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Clement of Alexandria — A.D. c150 c215, Greek Christian theologian and writer. * * * …   Universalium

  • CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA — (150 215 A.D.)    Greek CHRISTIAN PLATONIST whose works helped create ALEXANDRIAN THEOLOGY. He emphasized the idea that in CHRIST the LOGOS of the UNIVERSE was INCARNATE. He attempted to reconcile Greek PHILOSOPHY with the CHRISTIAN RELIGION by… …   Concise dictionary of Religion

  • Clement of Alexandria — Clem′ent of Alexan′dria n. big (Titus Flavius Clemens) a.d. c150–c215, Greek Christian theologian and writer …   From formal English to slang

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