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Clement of Alexandria

Clement of Alexandria (Titus Flavius Clemens)

Properly known as Titus Flavius Clemens but traditionally referred to as Clement of Alexandria to differentiate him from Clement of Rome. Little is known of Clement, so many of his details of his life are disputed. It is thought that he was born c.150 and died c. 215, though exact dates are unknown. He was born into a pagan family, possibly in Athens. As an adult Christian convert, he traveled extensively for study beginning in Greece, and then southern Italy, Syria, Palestine, and finally to Alexandria. In Alexandria, he came under the tutelage of Pantaenus, a highly esteemed educator.

Later Clement assumed the direction of a catechetical school in Alexandria. In 202, he left Alexandria and traveled to Jerusalem to be with his friend, the bishop Alexander. The principal reason for Clement’s departure from Alexander is debated. Many believe that he fled Alexandria because of the threatening persecution of Septimius Severus. Some suggest it was due to a deteriorating relationship with the local bishop of Alexandria, Demetrius. In any case, Clement did not return to Alexandria.

Clement’s school differed from the local community catechetical schools and mostly like resembled the philosophical school opened by Justin in Rome. He offered a cycle of seminars on philosophical and cultural topics. He addressed the daily problems posed by the wealth and education and presented Christianity as the true desire of all the ancient wisdom of Hellenistic philosophy. By doing so, he opened Christianity to the wealthy and governing class of Alexandrian society.

His major works seem to compose a trilogy: Exhortation to the Greeks (Protreptikus), Christ the Educator (Paedagogus), and Miscellanies (Stromata). The first, it is argued, draws students into the philosophical life. The second presents Jesus as the preeminent guide of the ethical life and the way to wisdom. This forms the basis for a standard for ethical conduct necessary for the acquiring of wisdom. The last major work is a varied collection of teachings and sayings. Their inscrutable nature suggests they were primarily used to train advance students interested in higher levels of learning. This ‘trilogy’ theory has been long disputed. It is in all probability better to view the works separately. Exhortation to the Greeks is a piece of Christian missionary literature addressed to the educated person that views Christianity as the true way to life. This work is similar to Aristotle’s lost work of the same name, which perceived philosophy as the true means to life. Christ the Educator is a manual on Christian ethics with Christ serving as the educator, composed with the intent to expand and deepen the faith of his readers. The Stromata employs literary techniques to communicate the deeper spiritual truths of Christianity in a means suitable to interior appropriation.

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