Clement of Alexandria
Teacher of Wisdom
(c. 150 - 210)
In every age of man, there have been seekers of truth. In the second century, one such man was Titus Flavius Clemens, known better today as Clement of Alexandria. Although born to pagan parents, Clement realized that there must be a deeper meaning to life than the mundane pursuit of material riches and sensual pleasures. He heard about men who renounced the ordinary pursuits of life in order to seek after truth. These men were called philosophers, which means 'lovers of wisdom.'
So Clement studied the works of all the great philosophers who had lived before him, including the writings of thinkers from faraway lands such as Persia. From studying the works of these men, Clement learned that there was one true God who was above all the gods and goddesses worshiped by people of his day. He also learned that there was a more satisfying way of life than that sought after by most people.
From his years of study, Clement came to be one of the most learned men of his day. Yet, he sensed that the philosophers had only knocked on the door of truth—that there was still greater truth that they had never discovered. When he finally heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, he knew this was the great truth he had been seeking all of his life.
After his conversion, Clement traveled throughout the ancient world to learn Christianity firsthand from the most respected teachers of his age—men who taught by deeds, not just words. Clement eventually settled in Alexandria, Egypt, where he served as a leader. In recognition of Clement's gift of teaching, the church of Alexandria appointed him as the instructor of new Christians.
Clement and Philosophy
Clement firmly believed that the author of all truth is God. He also believed that God had planted seeds of truth in every nation of men. So unlike most Christians of his time, Clement had no qualms about quoting bits of poetry and passages of wisdom from the secular poets, writers, and philosophers. However, it is a mistake to think that Clement formulated his Christian beliefs from those sources. He himself described Greek philosophy as having only "a slender spark, capable of being fanned into flame, a trace of wisdom." He also noted that it was "destitute of strength to perform the commandments of the Lord." In the final analysis, Clement was a man of the Bible. His beliefs came from Scripture and from the oral understandings handed down by the apostles—not from philosophy.
Through his spoken and written words, and by his godly lifestyle, Clement discipled hundreds of Christians. He led them into a life of undying love for God and fellow humans, following in the footprints of Jesus. Among his noted students were Origen, the foremost Christian teacher in the third century, and Alexander, who became the overseer or bishop of the church at Jerusalem.
After Clement's death, his writings continued to instruct and inspire men and women of God through the centuries. The fifth century church historian, Theodoret, wrote about Clement, “He surpassed all others, and was a holy man." Jerome said that he was “the most learned of all the ancients." Even John Wesley was influenced by Clement's works. A more recent scholar wrote about him, "He read voluminously—there are more than 700 quotations from more than 300 authors in his works. ...He was gentle and considerate to all people, and was particularly understanding of women and children."
The Works of Clement
The three major works of Clement are Exhortation to the Greeks, which points out both the worthwhile elements of Greek philosophy and also its deficiencies; the Tutor, a guide to Christian morality; and the Stromata or Miscellanies, which points to a deeper Christianity.
This latter work, the Miscellanies, is Clement's longest. It's a loose amalgamation of Clement's thoughts on a variety of subjects, both spiritual and scientific. As one scholar put it, “Clement has the happy faculty of rarely sticking to the point. At the sight of the smallest hare running across the landscape, Clement is immediately after it."
Clement wrote his Miscellanies around 190 A.D. At that time, the major heresy confronting the church was Gnosticism. The Gnostics claimed to have special knowledge (Gr. gnosis) about God, either through special revelation or through secret knowledge handed down by the apostles. Among other things, they taught that the God of the Old Testament was a different person than the God of the New Testament. They also taught that the Son of God had never really become human. (2 John 7-11). In his Miscellanies, Clement attacked their claims by describing the lifestyle and prayer life of one who truly knows God (i.e. a true “gnostic”). He argued that those who deny or twist the Scriptures are not really "gnostics," for they have not come to know God in truth.
Another work of Clement's is Who Is the Rich Man Who Shall Be Saved? This short work is the most eloquent and readable of all of Clement's writings. In it, Clement discusses sentence by sentence Jesus' words to the rich young man, as recorded in Mark 10:17-31. His refreshing insights argue that Jesus' words are addressed to each one of us, regardless of how much wealth we have.
Admittedly, Clement is not always easy to read. For that reason, we publish a translation of selections from the Miscellanies, along with the tract, Who Is the Rich Man Who Shall Be Saved, in a flowing, readable translation in today's English. We have entitled it, The One Who Knows God, based on one of the themes of the Miscellanies.
1Robert Payne, The Holy Fire (New York: Harper & Rowe, 1957), p. 27.
2Clement, Miscellanies bk. 1, chap. 17.
3Ibid., chap. 16.
4Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, "Introductory Note To Clement of Alexandria," in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 2:166.
6Payne, p. 25.