Practically nothing is known of the life of the theologian Clement of Alexandria. Perhaps born in Athens, after studying Christianity and philosophy in several places he became of pupil of Pantaenus, the head of the Catechetical School in Alexandria. Clement later became a teacher himself, continuing after Panteanus’ death, but he fled from Alexandria in the persecution under the emperor Severus, around 202.
The early church historian Eusebius mentions several of Clement’s works, including the Protrepticus, or “Exhortation to the Greeks”; the Paedagogus, on Christian life and manners; and eight books of Stromateis, or “Miscellanies”. His learning and allegorical exegesis of the Scriptures helped to commend Christianity to the intellectual circles of Alexandria. His work prepared the way for his pupil Origen, the most eminent theologian of early Greek Christianity, and his liberal approach to secular knowledge laid the foundations of Christian humanism.
Clement lived in the age of gnosticism, a comprehensive term for many theories, schools, or ways of salvation current in the second and third centuries, all emphasizing gnosis or “knowledge.” Salvation for the gnostic was to be had through a secret and rather esoteric knowledge or insight accessible only to a few. It was salvation from the world, rather than salvation of the world. Clement asserted that there was a true Christian gnosis, found in the Scriptures and available to all. Although his understanding of this Christian knowledge – ultimately knowledge of Jesus Christ – incorporated several notions of Greek philosophy which the gnostics also held, Clement dissented from the negative gnostic view of the world, its denial of the role of free will, and its view of Jesus.
“What Rich Man Will Be Saved?” (Quis dives salvetur?) was the title of a homily by Clement on Mark 10:17-31, and the Lord’s words, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” His interpretation sanctioned the “right use” of material goods and wealth. It has been contrasted to the interpretation of Athanasius in his Life of Anthony, which emphasized strict renunciation. Both interpretations can be found in early Christian spirituality: Clement’s, called “liberal”, and that of Athanasius, “literal”.
Also among Clement’s writings are two hymns, translated into English as “Sunset to sunrise changes now” and “Master of eager youth”.
- Taken from Lesser Feasts and Fasts and The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.
O Lord, you called your servant Clement of Alexandria from the errors of ancient philosophy that he might learn and teach the saving Gospel of Christ: Turn your Church from the conceits of worldly wisdom and, by the Spirit of truth, guide it into all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
O God, the King of saints, we praise and magnify your holy Name for all your servants who have finished their course in your faith and fear; for the blessed Virgin Mary; for the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs; remembering especially this day Clement, presbyter and teacher in your Church at Alexandria; and for all other of your righteous servants, known to us and unknown; and we beseech you that, encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The propers for the commemoration of Clement of Alexandria are published on the Lectionary Page website.