St. Clement
Philsophy Knowledge and the Scriptures

 

Justo L. Gonzalez states that the writings of St. Clement and Origen are very different from those of St. Irenaeus and Tertullian. Their theology is much wider in scope than an apology or a refutation of heresies, but rather is free to rise in high speculative flights, and this is what makes their works the beginning of a new type of theological activity, with its values and its dangers.

 


1. PHILOSOPHY

I have already mentioned St. Clement's view of philosophy when I spoke of "The School of Alexandria and Philosophical Attitudes."

Henry Chadwick says,

He (Clement) has conventional complaints against Aristotle that he disallows providence in the sublunary sphere, and against the Stoics that their principles are materialist, pantheist and determinist. But much use is made of Aristotelian logic in Clement's discussion of the nature of assent, and on the ethical side he owes a large debt to the Stoics. The philosopher for whom he consistently reserves the highest praise is Plato. Even here he has his critical reservations. He rejects the Platonic notion that the stars are ensouled with divine souls that cause their orderly motion. In Clement's view the heavenly bodies primarily exist to indicate the passage of time; in so far as they control things on earth it is in obedience to their Creator, not with any independence.

 


2. KNOWLEDGE (GNOSIS)

I have already mentioned St. Clement's view of gnosis when I spoke of "The School of Alexandrian and Gnosticism." We see how instead of rejecting Gnosticism in totality, St. Clement attempted to create a true, an authentic Christian "gnosis." This allowed Christianity to utilize truth wherever it was found.

Knowledge (GNOSIS) is the life of the soul

The Alexandrians were interested in the "gnosis," not merely for the delight of their minds, but rather for the satisfaction of the soul. The "knowledge" for them is an experience of the unity with the Father in the Only-begotten Son by the Holy Spirit. Through the true knowledge of the Holy Trinity we attain the new risen life in Christ, by the work of the Holy Spirit, instead of spiritual death which we had suffered..

Just as death is the separation of the soul from the body, so is the knowledge as it were the rational death urging the spirit away, and separating it from the passions, and leading it on to the life of well-doing, that it may then say with confidence to God, "I live as You wish." For he who makes it his purpose to please men cannot please God, since the multitude choose not what is profitable, but what is pleasant. But in pleasing God, one in consequence gets the favor of the good ones among men. How, then, can what relates to meat, and drink, and amorous pleasure, be agreeable to such an one? such he views with suspicion even a word that produces pleasure, and a pleasant movement and act of the mind."

KNOWLEDGE AND MAN'S REDEMPTION

The early church offers no better example of an intellectual Christian than St. Clement, who distinguishes between "simple believers" and the more advanced "Gnostics" (Christians), but not as two classes, for all believers must struggle unceasingly to grow through grace to be advanced Gnostics. He, however, insists that the goal of Christian education is "practical, not theoretical. Its aim is to improve the soul, not to teach, and to train it up to a virtuous, not an intellectual, life."

A man of understanding and perspicacity [he wrote] is then a Gnostic. And his business is not abstinence from what is evil (for this is a step to the highest perfection), nor the doing of good out of fear . . . nor is he to do so out of hope of a promised reward . . . but only the doing of good out of love and for the sake of its own excellence is to be the Gnostic’s choice.

The Alexandrians, especially St. Clement, did not separate knowledge (gnosis) from redemption, because they considered ignorance the first cause of evil. The person who enjoys the redeeming action of God is called "Gnostic" by St. Clement, which means a person who has spiritual knowledge. More than any other Father, and quite differently from St. Irenaeus, St. Clement uses the noun gnosis to refer to the true, spiritual meaning of Scripture, and its adjectival and adverbial forms to describe the Christian life.

The Gnostic (believer) who has spiritual knowledge or (gnosis) is consequently divine, and already holy. God bearing, and God-borne...

He who, therefore, has God resting in him will not desire to seek elsewhere. At once leaving all hindrances, and despising all matter which distracts him, he cleaves to heaven by knowledge, and passing through the spiritual essences, and all rule and authority, he touches the highest thrones, hasting to that alone for the sake of which he alone knows... For works follow knowledge, as the shadow follows the body.

The succession of virtues is found in the Gnostic, who morally, physically and logically occupies himself with God.

The Gnostic must, as far as possible, imitate God.

It appears to me that there are three effects of Gnostic power: first the knowledge of things;

second, the performance of whatever the Word suggests;

and the third, the capability of delivering, in a way suitable to God, the secrets veiled in the truth.

St. Clement speaks of our Lord as the Physician of the souls and as the Divine Teacher. He considers healing our souls as a way to attain divine knowledge, at the same time divine knowledge grants the believer spiritual healing.

Health and knowledge are not the same; one is a result of study, the other of healing. In fact, if a person is sick, he cannot master any of the things taught him until he is first completely cured. We give instruction to someone who is sick for an entirely different reason than we do to someone who is learning; the latter, we instruct that he may acquire knowledge, the first, that he may regain health. Just as our body needs a physician when it is sick, so, too, when we are weak, our soul needs the Educator to cure its ills. Only then does it need the Teacher to guide it and develop its capacity to know, once it is made pure and capable of retaining the revelation of the Word. Therefore, the all-loving Word, anxious to perfect us in a way that leads progressively to salvation, makes effective use of an order well adapted to our development; at first, He persuades, then He educates, and after all this He teaches.

Darkness is ignorance, for it makes us fall into sin and lose the ability to see the truth clearly. But knowledge is light, for it dispels the darkness of ignorance and endows us with keenness of vision.

 

Christian education

His theology concentrates on Christian education. He assures that the Logos is the Educator who practices his educational work throughout the history of mankind. He worked through the prophets, and the philosophers, until finally He descended to our world, to renew it.

He not only offers commandments but renews the life of the Gnostic by Himself in its entirety. He educates man enabling him to discover the divine truth, and creating a zeal and desire to know, love, and possess the Truth.

According to St. Clement, the Gnostic, illuminated through knowledge of the true Light, becomes a new being equipped to answer the basic questions that troubled humanity then as now: "Whence is man and what is his destiny?" The Gnostics sought to know "who we were and what we have become, where we were, and where we were placed [in time] and whither we are hastening, and from what we are redeemed and what is birth and re-birth.

For St. Clement, the Church is the place or the divine school where Christ teaches and educates His believers.

 

 

KNOWLEDGE AND GOOD WORKS

The truth that is revealed in Christ is not theoretical nor philosophical ideas, but a power to follow our Educator, to practice goodness, virtue, and to love.

Works follow knowledge, as shadow the body.

 

Who is the Gnostic?

In his second book of the Stromata, St. Clement indicated three conditions for the Gnostic life which the philosopher (true Christian) practices; i.e., Contemplation, fulfilling the commandment, and having the form of good men. If a believer looses one of these conditions his Gnosticism is being revoked. In other words, the Gnostic must have a divine knowledge (gnosis); which he called contemplation or speculation, and he must practice it by performing the commandments, and live by the spirit of the church" for the formation of good men."

Walther Volker states that Gnosticism, according to St. Clement, is nourished by men's self-control, and the acknowledgment of the Holy Scriptures and is attained by illumination by the work of Christ, which is in harmony with the work of the church.

 

 

THE PURPOSE OF GNOSIS

As we have already said true Gnosticism is enjoying the knowledge of God, His vision and possessing Him. This knowledge in fact is practicing the heavenly life, through which we become equal to the heavenly hosts and in the likeness of God.

The true Gnostic knows that spiritual insight is granted to those who are humble and pure in heart, who deal with God as children with their own father. Through this knowledge they are raised up from faith to the blessed vision of the divine life, by union with God. "The Gnostic is consequently divine, and already holy, God-bearing, and God-borne."

 

 

SOURCES OF GNOSIS

a. St. Clement believes that Gnosticism is a divine gift, granted by God the Father through the Logos; it is the gift of Christ Himself. Christ, who is true Wisdom reveals to us knowledge of matters of past, present and future, as trustworthy rhinos.

If, then, we assert that Christ Himself is Wisdom, and that it was His working which showed itself in the prophets, by which the Gnostic tradition may be learned, as Himself taught the apostles during His presence; then it follows that the gnosis, which is the knowledge and apprehension of things present, future, and past, which is sure and reliable, as being imparted and revealed by the Son of God, is wisdom.

b. He grants us gnosis through the habit of contemplation on the Holy Bible, with the Church's spirit, so that we (the believers) do not misunderstand the biblical texts, as the heretics do.

c. He also assures that through baptism gnosis become possible to us, by illuminating our inner eyes.

d. Our Lord Jesus Christ who is Love, is the source of gnosis, for Love is the foundation of true gnosis. We know God, who is Love, by practicing love, i.e. practicing the divine life.

Finally, St. Clement warns us from self-dependence in attaining knowledge.

The Gnostic is therefore fixed by faith; but the man who thinks himself wise touches not what pertains to the truth, moved as he is by unstable and wavering impulses. It is therefore reasonably written, "Cain went forth from the face of God, and dwelt in the land of Naid, over against Eden." Now Naid is interpreted commotion, and Eden delight; and Faith, and Knowledge, and Peace are delight, from which he that has disobeyed is cast out. But he that is wise in his own eyes will not so much as listen to the beginning of the divine commandments.

 

THE GNOSTIC AND PERFECTION

St. Clement believes that the Gnostics attain a kind of perfection, even while they are living here in this world, for by divine grace they become Christlike. He also assures that no man is perfect in all things at once. "I know no one of men perfect in all things at once, while still human, though according to the mere letter of the Law, except Him alone who for us clothed Himself with humanity... But Gnostic perfection in the case of the legal man is the acceptance of the Gospel, that he that after the Law may be perfect."

 

Gnosticism is not theoretical, but it is a participation in the perfection of Christ, by struggling to ascend from the Law to Christ Himself, the fulfiller of the Law.

This perfection is realized in the life of the believer as a whole, in his body, soul and mind. Consequently, the Gnostic is perfect morally, physically, and logically.

Those, then, who run down created existence and vilify the body are wrong not considering that the frame of man was formed erect for the contemplation of heaven, and that the organization of the senses tends to knowledge; and that the members and parts are arranged for good, not for pleasure. Whence this abode becomes receptive of the soul which is most precious to God; and is dignified with the Holy Spirit through the sanctification of soul and body, perfected with the perfection of the Savior. And the succession of the three virtues is found in the Gnostic, who morally, physically, and logically occupies himself with God. For wisdom is the knowledge of things divine and human; and righteousness is the concord of the parts of the soul; and holiness is the service of God...

Now the soul of the wise man and Gnostic, as sojourning in the body, conducts itself towards it gravely and respectfully, not with inordinate affections, as about to leave the tabernacle if the time of departure summon. "I am a stranger in the earth, and a sojourner with you," it is said (Gen. 23:4; Ps. 39:12).

Thus the Gnostic, by occupying himself with God through his behavior and thoughts, he succeeds to be glorified in his soul as in his body. He becomes like Moses, whose face was glorified through his inner righteousness. Thus gnostic's body has the seal of righteousness on his soul.

 

 

VARIOUS KINDS OF KNOWLEDGE

As, then, knowledge is an intellectual state, from which results the act of knowing, and becomes apprehension irrefragable by reason; so also ignorance is a receding impression, which can be dislodged by reason. And that which is overthrown as well as that which is elaborated by reason, is in our power. Akin to knowledge is experience, cognition, comprehension, perception, and Science.

Cognition is the knowledge of universals by species;

and Experience is comprehensive knowledge, which investigates the nature of each thing.

Perception is the knowledge of intellectual objects;

and Comprehension is the knowledge of what is compared, or a comparison that cannot be annulled, or the faculty of comparing the objects with which Judgment and Knowledge are occupied, both of one and each and all that goes to make up one reason.

And Science is the knowledge of the thing in itself, or the knowledge which harmonizes with what takes place.

Truth is the knowledge of the true; and the mental habit of truth is the knowledge of the things which are true.

 


3. The Holy Scripture

Although many scholars see that Clement is directly or indirectly, the cause of Hellenism in Christianity, they state that he is not another Minucius Felix or Boethius, whose writings give more evidence of pagan rather than Christian humanism. Commentators may call him Platonist or Neo-Platonic, Stoic or Aristotelian, but they must also call him an exegete of the Scriptures. Mondésert does not hesitate to say that his style is above all else Scriptural. There are copious quotations from Old and New Testaments, constant allusions and turns of thought too numerous to be noted. And for Clement, Scripture is the final appeal; when he says, as he often does: graphetai ('it is written'), he is invoking an authority from which he feels there is no appeal. The Alexandrian school may have stressed Christian philosophy, but it is a philosophy drawn from the pages of the Scriptures.

St. Clement states that the Holy Scripture is the voice of God who works for man's goodness. It also, as interpreted by the Church, is the source of Christian teaching. St. Clement loved the Holy Scriptures, especially the book of Psalms, Proverbs, Wisdom, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the sermon on the mount, Gospel of St. John, etc.

I could adduce for you a myriad of Scriptures, of which not one letter shall pass away without being fulfilled; for the Mouth of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, has spoken these things.

St. Clement also offers solid endorsement of the Jewish Scriptures as part of Christian revelation. "Now the law is ancient grace given through Moses by the Word. Wherefore also the Scripture says, "The law was given through Moses," not by Moses, but by the Word and through Moses His servant. Wherefore it was only temporary; but eternal grace and truth were by Jesus Christ. Mark the expressions of Scripture: of the law only is it said "was given"; but truth being the grace of the Father, is the eternal work of the Word; and it is not said to be given, but to be by Jesus, without whom nothing was." In other words, the link between the Christian era and that which preceded it in Israel is absolute and without contradiction.

St. Clement blames the mistakes of heretics their habit of "resisting the divine tradition," by which he means their incorrect interpretation of Scripture; the true interpretation, he believes, is an apostolic and ecclesiastical inheritance. The heretics quoted and warped the meaning of some verses, so as to render them fruitless.

And if those also who follow heresies venture to avail themselves of the prophetic Scriptures, in the first place they will not make use of all the Scriptures, and then they will not quote them entire, nor as the body and texture of prophecy prescribe. But selecting ambiguous expressions, they wrest them to their own opinions, gathering a few expressions here and there, not looking to the sense, but making use in the mere words. For in almost all the quotations they make, you will find that they attend to the names alone while they alter the meanings, neither knowing as they affirm, nor using the quotations they adduce, according to their true nature. But the truth is not found by changing the meanings, for so people subvert all true teaching, but in the consideration of what perfectly belongs to and becomes the Sovereign God, and establishing each one of the points demonstrated in the Scriptures again from similar Scriptures. Neither then do they want to turn to the truth being ashamed to abandon the claims of self-love; nor are they able to manage their opinions by doing violence to the Scriptures.

He uses the allegorical interpretation of the Bible which hides the truth and at the same time reveals it. It hides the truth from the ignorant, whose eyes are blinded by sin and pride, hence they are prevented from knowledge of the truth. At the same time it always reveals what is new to the renewed eyes of the believers.

He is considered as the first Christian theologian who used the allegorical interpretation, giving a cause of using it in a practical way. He says that the Bible has hidden meanings to incite us to search and discover the words of salvation, and to be hidden from those who despise them. The truth is in the pearls which must not be offered to the swines.

The Bible looks like St. Mary the virgin who brought forth Jesus Christ and her virginity was preserved. Thus we discover spiritual meanings of the Bible, but its meaning is still virgin, as it has many hidden spiritual meanings.

The genuine Gnostic has "grown old in the holy Scriptures" and "lives and breathes" from them. His study is the search for the mystical sense concealed beneath the letter of the Bible. According to Clement, the biblical authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, use allegory for much the same purpose he had set himself in the composition of the Stromata: allegory keeps simple Christians from doctrines they are not mature enough to handle and piques the curiosity of the more intelligent and spiritually advanced. Finding the deeper meaning is thus the process by which God would guide the more mature in spirit .

St. Clement states that the understanding of the Holy Scriptures belongs not to all, but to the Gnostics who are guided by the Holy Spirit, the Giver of knowledge.

 

 

the allegorical interpretation of Scripture

St. Clement believes that the allegorical interpretation of Scripture is one of the main instruments of hermeneutics.

For many reasons, then, the Scriptures hide the sense. First, that we may become inquisitive, and be ever on the watch for the discovery of the words of salvation. Then it was not suitable for all to understand, so that they might not receive harm in consequence of taking in another sense the things declared for salvation by the Holy Spirit. Wherefore the holy mysteries of the prophecies are veiled in the parables -preserved for chosen men, selected to knowledge in consequence of their faith; for the style of the Scriptures is parabolic.

However, one must be careful not to exaggerate Clement's proneness to allegorism, for he tries not to abandon the historical sense of Scripture, as has often been done by many an allegorical interpreter. St. Clement says once and again that the Scriptures do have a literal historical sense. This is why, referring to Clement, Claude Mondésert can say that "the Bible is for him . . . the narration of a revelation which has been experienced in history; it is the story, in concrete facts and in personal actions, of the acts of God towards men, and of repeated divine interventions in world history."

Every text has at least two meanings: a literal and a spiritual one. This is the basic rule of Clement's exegesis, although sometimes he finds several levels within the spiritual sense.

The literal sense is that which is found directly in the text itself, without attempting to discover any hidden meaning. This does not mean that the literal sense is always that which follows from a literalistic or naive interpretation of the text, and for this reason it may be more accurate to call this the "first meaning," in contrast with the "further meanings" that may be discovered through allegorical interpretation. There are cases in which this first meaning coincides with the literal sense of the words found in the text. Such is the case in the historical texts of the Old Testament. But there are also instances in which the first meaning is not strictly the literal or naive one, for such an interpretation would be completely false. This is the case of the many parables, metaphors, and allegories that can be found in Scripture, and whose first meaning is not their literalistic interpretation, but their figurative sense.

This primary meaning of a biblical text is certainly not the highest, and the Christian who hopes to achieve a profound understanding of his faith must not be content with it; but this does not imply that the "first meaning" is unimportant, or that it can be left aside without forsaking biblical truth. On the contrary, the "first meaning" is the point of departure of every other meaning of the text. Especially in the case of historical and prophetic texts, to deny this first and literal sense of Scripture would imply a denial of God's action and promises. There is only one reason that can be adduced in order to deny the literal meaning of a particular text: that it says something that is unworthy of God. Thus, for example, the texts that refer to God in anthropomorphic terms must be interpreted in such a way that it is clearly seen that their anthropomorphism is an allegory that points to profound truths.

 

 

The exegetical principles are:

a. The allegorical interpretation must not discard the primary meaning of the text, except when this meaning is such that it contradicts what is already known of God's character and dignity.

b. Each text must be interpreted in the light of the rest of Scripture. This means primarily that every text must be understood within its proper and immediate context.

c. Mondésert states that meditating on the text of the Scripture Clement discovers at least five senses:

a historical sense;

a doctrinal sense;

a prophetic signification;

a philosophical sense;

and a mystical sense.