Clement of Alexandria
- LAST REVIEWED: 23 March 2020
- LAST MODIFIED: 24 September 2020
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0198
- LAST REVIEWED: 23 March 2020
- LAST MODIFIED: 24 September 2020
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0198
Clement of Alexandria (Titus Flavius Clemens) was one of the most erudite Christian writers of the 2nd century. As little is known of Clement’s life, the dates of his birth and death are approximate. Among scholars, they are usually appointed as 150–215 CE. His place of birth is unknown; some ancient sources suggest Athens, while others propose Alexandria (Epiphanius, Refutation, 32.6.1). Equally unknown is the place of his death after he left Alexandria during the persecution under Septimius Severus in 202. However, in the light of the epistle written by Alexander, Bishop of Jerusalem around 215 (Eusebius, HE, 6.11.6), we may conclude that by that time Clement was dead. Clement’s intellectual interests were open to the whole spectrum of the Greco-Roman cultural legacy. As an intellectual he was well acquainted with Greek drama and poetry. Apart from literature, his reflection was in an open dialogue with the richness of Greco-Roman philosophies; some doctrines such as Stoicism and Middle Platonism were closer to his own stance. As Alexandria was a lively center for different trends in Jewish literature, Clement was also familiar with the Jewish Scriptures, and he valued particularly highly the exegetical legacy of Philo of Alexandria (c. 15 BCE–after 41 CE). In addition, Clement was an intelligent apologist of his tradition (school) of Christianity. Thanks to his discussion with Basilides, Valentinus, Marcion, Carpocrates, and Epiphanes, we have some exclusive insights into the affluence of Christian thought of his time. Eusebius of Caesarea provides us with the list of Clement’s works (HE. 6.13.1–3). Clement’s main extant writings are usually introduced as his “trilogy”: 1: The Exhortation to the Greeks (Protrepticus); 2: The Instructor (Paedagogus), and 3: The Miscellanies (Stromateis). We have access to his homily “Who Is the Rich Man That Is Being Saved” (under its Latin title Quis Dives Salvetur); fragments with commentaries on the teaching of a Valentinian disciple, Theodotus (Excerpta ex Theodoto); and a selection from the Prophetic Sayings (Eclogae Propheticae). Eusebius’s note adds “Outlines” (Hypotyposeis). The work is lost except for some passages found in later authors (e.g., Photius’s Bibliotheca). Other lost works are On the Pascha, On Fasting, On Slander, and the Ecclesiastical Canon. The enormous spectrum of Clement’s legacy is explored in this article through the specific lens of his valuable contributions (a) to the biblical interpretation and (b) in the context of Early Christian history. This focus omits other important aspects of Clement’s legacy such as his Logos theology, ecclesiology, dealing with various philosophical ideas, and his polemic against other Christian doctrines. Nonetheless, even within this prism we can recognize Clement’s unique place among his contemporary thinkers and exegetes.
General Overviews of Clement’s Biblical Interpretation
The publications listed here introduce the direct context of Clement’s engagement with the Scriptures. Brooks 1992 offers a discussion on Clement’s views of the apostolic authority reflected in various treatises. As the crucial issue in Clement’s biblical interpretation is related to two levels of meaning of the Scriptural narrative (“hidden” or “plain”), Mullins 2006 provides readers with an elaboration of that distinction in Clement’s writings, together with the role of allegory in finding out the deeper, true meaning of the Scriptures. In addition, in faithfulness to Clement’s intention, the Scriptural exegesis is connected, as argued in Osborn 1997, with his larger theological and ethical project. The following resources are useful for undergraduate students and those readers who wish to acquire a general knowledge of Clement’s biblical interpretations; Simonetti 1994 offers a good introduction. Because the list contains older sources, such as Mondésert 1944 and Méhat 1972, and more recent publications, such as Dawson 1992, Kannengiesser 2004, and van den Hoek 2017, it is possible to see different approaches to Clement’s use of Scriptures, as well as the different emphases put on the role of Scriptural interpretation in his whole theological project.
Brooks, James A. “Clement of Alexandria as a Witness to the Development of the New Testament Canon.” Second Century 9.1 (1992): 41–55.
A good introduction to Clement’s knowledge of Christian literature, some of which would soon become the New Testament.
Dawson, David. “Clement: The New Song of the Logos.” In Allegorical Readers and Cultural Revision in Ancient Alexandria. By David Dawson, 183–234. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.
The chapter dedicated to Clement of Alexandria offers an insightful discussion of the motifs that ruled and stimulated Clement’s creative way of reading and commenting on the Scriptures. It places Clement’s methodology alongside other 2nd-century Christian authors and Philo’s legacy, as well as highlights Clement’s dependence on and assimilation of ancient Greek philosophy and literature.
Kannengiesser, Charles. Handbook of Patristic Exegesis: The Bible in Ancient Christianity. 2 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2004.
Two volumes present an ample survey of Patristic literature with good bibliographic references to editions and translations of all sources. In addition, selected references to modern studies are applied to each ancient author and document. This study is helpful for the context of Clement’s exegesis and comparative material. The section on Clement is rather short.
Méhat, André. “Clément d’Alexandrie et les sens de l’Écriture, Ier Stromate.” In Epektasis: Mélanges patristiques offerts au Cardinal Jean Daniélou. Edited by Jacques Fontaine and Charles Kannengiesser, 355–356. Paris: Beauchesne, 1972.
A good, initial reading that explores Clement’s attitude toward the Scriptures.
Mondésert, Claude. Clément d’Alexandrie: Introduction á l’étude de sa pensée religieuse à partir de l’Écriture. Paris: Edition Montaigne, 1944.
This study is still a valuable introduction to Clement’s methods of Scriptural interpretation.
Mullins, Pamela L. “Text and Gnosis: The Exclusive Function of Written Instruction in Clement of Alexandria.” Studia Patristica 41 (2006): 213–215.
The author introduces three important elements of Clement’s pedagogy, which is based on exegesis of the Scriptures: first, Clement’s assumption about the hidden meaning present in the narrative; second, his interpretation of a passage from the Gospel of Matthew; and third, the crucial link between exegesis and achievement of salvation in Clement’s theory.
Osborn, Eric. “The Bible and Christian Morality in Clement of Alexandria.” In The Bible in Greek Christian Antiquity. Edited and translated by Paul M. Blowers, 112–130. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997.
The chapter examines Clement’s exegetical strategies in closer relation to his ethical and spiritual theories. It lists the Scriptural documents that played the most important roles in Clement’s writings, but most of all it shows how the ancient scholar integrated into his theories various elements from Scriptural (Septuagint and the emerging New Testament literature) sources.
Plátová, Jana. “Comprehensive Bibliography on Clement’s Scriptural Interpretation.” In Clement’s Biblical Exegesis: Proceedings of the Second Colloquium on Clement of Alexandria (Olomouc, May 29–31, 2014). Edited by Veronika Černušková, Judith L. Kovacs, and Jana Plátová, 38–52. Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 139. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2017.
The most useful collection of the recent publications related to the topic.
Schneider, Urlich. Theologie als christlische Philosophie: Zur Bedeutung der biblischen Botschaft im Denken des Clemens von Alexandria. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1999.
The work argues the central position of Scriptures in Clement’s theology and philosophy while examining some selected themes such as incarnation.
Simonetti, Manlio. Lettera e/o allegoria: Un contributo alla storia dell’ esegesi patristica. Rome: Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum, 1985.
The study offers a comprehensive survey of Patristic authors and traditions, which contextualizes Clement’s approach to Scripture within the larger frame of various Christian and non-Christian theories of interpretations.
Simonetti, Manlio. Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church: A Historical Introduction to Patristic Exegesis. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1994.
The book offers a short, well-written introduction to Clement’s exegesis and his views on the Scriptures. It places Clement in relation to Philo of Alexandria.
van den Hoek, Annewies. “Clement of Alexander and the Book of Proverbs.” In Clement’s Biblical Exegesis: Proceedings of the Second Colloquium on Clement of Alexandria (Olomouc, May 29–31, 2014). Edited by Veronika Černušková, Judith L. Kovacs, and Jana Plátová, 181–211. Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 139. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2017.
This volume is made up of fourteen chapters. It discusses various aspects of Clement’s exegetical methods and the interconnection between his philosophy and biblical theology as well as offering selected examples of Clement’s interpretation of various biblical texts and motifs.
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