Thursday, August 7, 2014

Clement of Alexandria - The Teacher

Clement of Alexander was an advocate of  integrating Christian teaching and philosophical knowledge. He was a teacher in the school of Alexandria.  He has left us various, not very systematic, writings dealing with assorted subjects, but focusing on the need for a broad knowledge in many disciplines. He is useful in preserving a number of interesting details on a variety of subjects. He represents a clear contrast to Tertullian, who looked askance at philosophical learning, seeing it as the source of false Christian teaching. Clement worked to bring the various sources of knowledge together.

This is a controversy that has raged down the ages of the church until today. And it is a difficult one. It is undesirable to live in an intellectual ghetto and not interact with the secular thought of our time. But it is also undesirable to bend or twist our own thought to fit in with that of our age. And if we have nothing to say but what our age already says, why bother? The truly ironic thing is when you come upon a theology that went to great trouble to conform itself to a secular mindset that no longer exists and that no one would take seriously today. On this, I have a certain respect for those on both sides of the controversy. For Clement for trying to put together all knowledge and for Tertullian for trying to protect Christian truth from contamination. But while I lean a little more in the direction of Tertullian, both are needed, and both are dangerous if taken to the extreme. It is important to make our way between the two extremes.

The school of Alexandria went on to educate Christians in the truth of God and defend it against those who opposed it. It also produced individuals like Origen (who I intend to deal with next), who had rather off-the-wall theological opinions. It also advocated a more allegorical approach to interpreting Scripture, which remains a matter of contention. But it did make a real contribution to the teaching of Christianity, and Clement was an important part of that. Even if the legacy is not totally unmixed.    

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