The Original Christian Philosopher
                                                  MARK MOUSSA



OUT  OF  THE CATACOMBS AND "HOUSE"-CHURCHES  of early  Christendom  rose a  new
brand of Christian Orthodoxy under the leadership of the Alexandrian fathers of
the  second and  third  century.   It  is these  ancestors   that  defended the
Christian faith against the disdain and hatred launched  against them and their
religion.   Yet, while their pains to  defend the legitimacy of Christianity is
still  remembered  today,  it  is their  innovative  theology, their  Christian
philosophy in particular, that set  so many precedents  for later believers  to
behold and effectively use.  In essence, it is these fathers - Clement, Origen,
Athenagoras, and many others - that developed new ways to manifest Christianity
as a philosophical religion in response to pagan humiliation.

Why, though,  did these  theologians have to   defend themselves at   all?  The
answer is the fact that Christianity was never going to remain an enclosed sect
of believers.   At one point or another  Christianity was going to  diffuse and
spread across imperial society.  Thus, the religion had to  be presented as the
least  bit legitimate in its doctrines  and yet on  par intellectually with the
philosophical  sciences  of the age.  Otherwise,  Christianity  would have been
ridiculed and refuted as too mysterious and not  liable to be understood by the
human mind.  In one way  or another, Clement and his  followers had to  present
Christianity as a form of  philosophy without ever  compromising the essence of
the Christian faith.

At the same time, these  early defenders of the faith  worked against a twofold
danger.   While they genuinely  tried to   resolve  the pagan  antagonisms they
experienced so much of  for simply being Christians,  it  was their  own fellow
believers  who were also hostile for  any sort of   theological compromise.  As
Lilla observed, it seemed that  a chance of any peace   between the Greeks  and
Christians was virtually impossible:
      On   the one  hand,   the completely  negative    attitude  of many
      uneducated  Christians   towards  Greek       philosophy  prevented
      Christianity   from  assuming   a    scientific  and  philosophical
      character, and thus limited greatly its chances  of success; on the
      other hand, the pagan world did not refrain  from attacking the new
However, the Alexandrian  fathers  found a  solution.  It was  contained in the
mission of the Alexandrian school and its teachers  to develop once and for all
a  coherent synthesis of Greek science  and religion.  The result was Christian
philosophy, which, Clement realized, was the only hope of joining the pagan and
Christian parties together     under one  rational  and acceptable    Christian
religion.  While those in the  like  of Tertullian  renounced the remolding  of
Christian doctrine to fit philosophical ideals[2], the Alexandrian party became
a pioneer in both its fresh theological endeavors and in its success to finally
spread the Christian faith among the intellectual circles of imperial society.

Clement of Alexandria, one of the most revered deans of the Catechetical School
for his philosophical theology and intellectual acumen, was one of the foremost
figures  who  succeeded in  uniting the missions   of religion and science.  In
setting the stage for the  feats of such theologians as   Gregory of Nyssa  and
Athanasius the Apostolic, Clement had to  first understand the origins of Greek
philosophy and then apply his learning to  form a readily accepted "rapport" of
sorts with  Greek intellectualism.[3] Yet,  before  turning to Clement  and his
teaching, an  essential historical and  intellectual background of sorts is due

By the middle of the second  century the city  of Alexandria was already one of
the intellectual capitals of the Roman Empire.  Philosophy was prominent in the
capital,   and yet  Christianity  was also  rising  despite  the popular hatred
against it.  For   this the Coptic   Church had  already  instituted its  known
Catechetical School to train pagan converts.  As Dawson  points out, the school
was an ecclesiastically  sponsored institution devoted to preparing  candidates
for Christian baptism by teaching   them the basic    tenets of the   Christian
faith.[4] While its earliest known dean was the Sicilian Pantaenus, Clement and
Origen became its most famous leaders.   As will be  shown, Clement's goals and
motivations for his theology were clearly influenced  by the school in which he
taught and was most known.

The school itself was built on a tradition that always emphasized allegory more
than literalism.  Its approach to  scripture and its overall exegesis  mirrored
"otherworldly" concerns.[5]  Its teachers as  a result tended  to look  for the
hidden and spiritual  meanings of what  they confronted.  Alexandrian theology,
just like Platonism, was idealistic, not  materialistic.  From this one can see
how  easy  it  was  for the school's  teachers  to  reformulate  their ideas to
effectively  unite Christianity with Greek thought.   Clement of Alexandria was
no exception to his school's line of thought.

Titus Flavius Clemens was  born towards the middle  of  the century  from pagan
parents and grew up in  Athens.  Like most of the  students of his time, he was
trained in all the classical works.   Yet, his attraction towards the Christian
faith brought him to Alexandria,  where his philosophical and religious  ideals
were both met.  He was tutored by the  above mentioned Pantaenus, and took over
the leadership of the school towards the end of the  second century.  Clement's
writing  was   not voluminous.  His  three  chief  works  were   Exhortation to
Conversion (Protrepticus), the   Tutor   (Paedagogus),  and   the  Miscellanies
(Stromateis).  While he also had other treatises  written specifically to guide
rich converts in living by true Christian ethics, he strove, more than anything
else, to unite the Christian faith and science.

Clement realized  that before he  could start on  his philosophical theology he
had to prove that Christian philosophy was  itself a justified solution for the
enmity between the pagan and Christian communities.  First,  he had to convince
Greek philosophers that their doctrines were actually very similar to Christian
doctrines.   Both  share  doctrines  that are  fundamental  to their respective
religions.  Secondly, he had to  present  to his  Christians a coherent  enough
argument  that philosophy is not  inherently  evil.  Instead, philosophy agrees
for the most part with every Christian notion of both  this world and eternity.
While   during Clement's time  Christianity was  still   predominant only among
slaves and  uneducated women, he  showed that  his faith was  not just  for the
ignorant.  Christianity,   depending on  both   faith and reason,   crossed all
intellectual  boundaries, from the  ignorant to the  most educated, in imperial
society.  When Clement finally proved  that Christianity was the ultimate  goal
of philosophers, and that at the same time philosophy was a necessary but not a
dangerous   means to convert   more pagans,   he  went ahead   and  showed that
Christianity and philosophy were actually   a perfect match.  Their unity   and
compatibility was all too easily derived by the Alexandrian pioneer.

As for Christians, Clement perceived that if Christianity was to be more than a
religion for  the uneducated it must come  to  terms with Greek  philosophy and
Greek science; simple-minded  Christians  must no  longer "fear  philosophy  as
children fear a     scarecrow".[6] Clement  encouraged   Christians to    study
philosophy.  He felt that doing so would provide protection to a faith that was
always under much  attack.  "Rather than  attempting to define and restrict the
concept    of  the Christian  dogma, Clement   searched    even among heretical
literature for material he could utilize, and as Quasten puts it '... it is not
exaggeration to praise him as the founder of speculative theology.'"[7]

In  his Stromateis  he  listed several hypotheses as  to  why  his argument was
right.  The first, as Lilla explains, was that he believed in the divine origin
of Greek philosophy.[8] Secondly, he tried to prove that Christianity, instead,
was actually the  "true philosophy".  The  Greeks had absorbed some elements of
truth, but their  knowledge was mostly  constrained in comparison to the  light
that Christians have been presented with.  Greek  thought, Clement claimed, was
actually "stolen"  from the Old Testament.  He  concluded that Greek philosophy
was inferior to the perfection of the Christian faith.  Even then, it was still
very useful   for  the Christians,  who  could  find  it  to be   an  excellent
preparation to study Christian doctrines.[9]

Clement also focused on how to convince his Greek foes.  While Greek philosophy
was clearly  seen as "at  least essentially and  consistently rational,  in the
efforts of its earliest representatives  to frame a rational interpretation  of
the  cosmos and  in connection with   every  problem to  which their successors
addressed  themselves"[10],  Clement considered it critical  to  go  further in
regarding the philosophy     of his day.    For him,   philosophy was a    true
preparation for  the gospel.   Until the incarnation,  he says,  philosophy was
essential to the Greeks for  righteousness, but even  after the incarnation  it
may still prove  useful in leading them to  Christ.[11] What  the Law of  Moses
provided for the life of a Jew, philosophy enlightened the mind  and heart of a
learned Greek.  Moreover, because the practice of  philosophy was bestowed upon
the best  and most virtuous  among the Greeks, the source  of such learning was
granted  by  the providence of    God.[12]  The Creator himself  brought   this
righteousness upon both Gentiles  and  supposed barbarians, having  a universal
calling for one united faith.   Philosophy was not  unique it its own right but
rather wholly depended on Christianity for its own ideology.

attract Gentiles to  the faith, and  yet prove that  Christianity is actually a
"higher" philosophy, and therefore quite rational  in itself.  It is here then,
that Clement comes forward with his presentation of "Christian" philosophy.  He
had  a three-step  approach  for formulating  his ideas.   The   first and most
obvious  was his effort  to prove that  philosophy had its  origins  not in the
minds of Aristotle, Plato, or Pythagoras, but rather in the writings of the Old
Testament itself.  After    proving  his  case,   he goes  on  to  show    that
philosophical and  Christian perspectives  of  human reason,  mind and soul are
particularly similar, deriving from the same supreme God.  At the same time, it
is  this supreme Creator and divine  Being that is present in  and  out of this
world, with  His Logos appearing in flesh  and providing the fulfillment of all
promises for both pagans and Jews.  Both philosophers  and Christians alike had
premonitions of  a supernatural  existence,  but only  the  latter had  a clear
perspective of Him,  due to  the  supremacy of their  faith.   As Charles  Bigg
explains, the Gospel in his  view is not   a fresh departure, but actually  the
meeting point of  two converging lines  of progress, of  Hellenism and Judaism.
To  him all  history  is one,  because  all truth  is   one.[13] Philosophy and
Christianity, then, are the product of "one river of truth".[14]

Clement  claimed  that there  existed an  identity,  arising from  their common
origin in God, between the law of nature  and the law of instruction.[15] Eager
to show the agreement between Greek philosophical doctrines and the teaching of
Scripture, he adds that the followers of Pythagoras  and of Plato had also held
the view that reason was   something which had   been given by God to  man.[16]
Timothy  relates that Greek science itself  had one dominant source.  "There is
an element of  truth which  each of them   contains, a fragment  torn from, but
still a part of, eternal truth,  for many of  the dogmas of the sects, although
pitched on different keynotes, compose one harmony, and  he who reassembles the
separate fragments and restores their unity 'will without peril ... contemplate
the perfect Logos, who is truth'".[17]

As  was a common  characteristic of the teachers at  the Catechetical School of
Alexandria, Clement  had looked up  to the great  master-minds of  the Hellenic
schools  with  a  generous admiration, and  infused  the  same spirit into  his
teachings and   theology.[18] It is within the   philosophical spectrum that he
attempted to  define the Christian man and  the Christian  God.  While he would
use  Plato's system   of   this and  the supernatural  world    to explain less
understandable  Christian mysteries    to pagan  proselytes,   he took    every
opportunity to fuse the  system of Stoic virtue to  the mannerisms and behavior
of a true Christian.  Philosophy for Clement, and specifically the Stoic ideals
of virtue, were not static but actually dynamic qualities for pagan converts to
utilize in their Christian endeavors as new humans[19] in a new faith.[20] Yet,
even though  the  Church and  its school used   philosophical ideals to explain
one's conduct to a pagan proselyte, it still  possessed purer morals and a more
reasonable creed than  pagan philosophy as  evidence of its superior quality of

Even if a negative attitude could be accepted  against certain negative aspects
of philosophy, like Stoic  pantheism or the  subordinate view of the Logos, the
merits of philosophy were strenuously asserted by Clement not only for its past
but its continuous necessity for church members.[22] While Stoicism clearly had
a defined materialistic  view of the   universe, denying any  separate world of
"spirit" and  maintained that the  universe only contained matter, Stoicism was
still  used with Christianity  in two main  areas.  Clement  used  this side of
philosophy to show that all human beings are rational and  have within them the
"spark of reason"  or the "divine  spark".[23] Secondly,  Stoicism was used  to
show to pagan converts that Christian morals were actually quite similar to the
ethics they had somewhat embraced in their Stoic beliefs.

Clement  here developed a doctrine quite  unique to himself.   He believed in a
"seminal" Christ.  Clement  supposed that God  had installed a  notion in every
human of an eternal God who had the essential role in creation of the world and
humanity itself.  Clement also   supposed that humanity  as a  whole understood
Christ and the eternal existence of another world in some form  or another.  It
is  obvious  that Christians    have  the  fullest understanding of    Him, but
philosophers  alike  received a  clue to at  least who   the  ultimate focus of
worship really was.

Clement gives examples of some of those that were given  that "spark" of divine
knowledge.   Pythagoras, his disciples, and  Plato  are inspired "prophets" who
had attained a  partial knowledge of  the truth.[24] "Plato  in  fact reaches a
position not very far from that of the Psalmist who says  'The knowledge of God
is the  beginning of wisdom'    - though he  reaches this   position by a  very
different road.  Although  Plato does not  formally identify the Good with God,
he speaks of its divine  nature in such  a way that formal identification would
make little difference."[25] Moses, David and Plato were all "Christians before

Secondly, Platonism held that every human being is comprised  of soul and body.
However, since the  soul is a spiritual, not  a material, entity, its true home
is not in the  material world and thus is  imprisoned, in some sense,  until it
attains its freedom.  One of the most famous sayings of the Platonists was "the
body is a  tomb" (ho soma  sema)[26], which indicates the philosophy's distinct
differentiation and  separation of the spiritual  and  earthly realms.  Against
this, though, Clement had his objections and agreements.

Clement clarified his Christian  beliefs  against Greek speculation  by stating
that  their was an eternal unity  between soul and  body  once a human being is
created.  While indeed flesh and spirit continuously  fight each other[27], one
will rise  again with  both soul and  a transformed  body  of a   different and
glorious nature.  Thus, as is clear about Clement, the body  has a definite use
and value.  Clement, then,  used Platonic thought  in this case to  reach pagan
converts, but  at  the same time  purified  their beliefs to a  more  Christian
standard.  The end  result is a  Christianized philosophy, whether in Stoic  or
Platonic terms.

Besides a human  being's innate divine  qualities, he must  be admired also for
his reasoning capabilities, even  if it was not  initially  used for  belief in
Christ.  "Philosophy for  one and all  is a  gift,  not of  devils, but of  God
through the Logos,    whose  light ever  beams upon   his  earthly image,   the
intelligence of man."[28]  The  Alexandrian theologian even  used  scripture to
prove his theory.  Biblical passages (Gen.   1:26, 27) showed that God bestowed
upon man a  rational principle  which was an  imitation of  his own image,  the
Logos.[29] Thus,  it does not matter whether  one was a   philosopher or a Jew.
All had the same  gift to realize the power,  wisdom,  and teachings of  God by
which they should live  their  lives.  For Clement,  there  is a  close kinship
between the human mind and  the universal Logos, the Son  of God.[30] No matter
how distorted their beliefs  were, there was a divine  element dwelling in them
which allowed them to attain even the faintest reflection of the eternal truth.

GOD.  Platonists had no doubt of the existence of a  spiritual realm, and their
main concern was trying to   relate it to  the impure  and lustful world   that
humanity exists in.  Their answer was that there exists a Source of All Things,
named "The One", who has been existing eternally  from the beginning and is the
potential for all things.  Secondly, Platonic thought assumed that creation was
not possible without  The Divine Mind,  who is actually  the thought process by
which The One can possibly cause creation at  any level.  However, for the full
mode of creation to occur The World-Soul has to join the above two entities and
thus all concrete particular  ideals of the  world can come to fruition through
their united action.

It is  obvious, first of  all, that the   Platonic view of   the world had some
correct intuition.  As with the Christian Trinity, there exists a triune entity
in the Platonic spiritual  world.  At the  same time, creation for either party
is impossible  without the participation of all  members of that entity.  There
is ample evidence in the creation  story of the  Trinitarian involvement of the
seven days of creation.[31] Yet, neither Jesus Christ the Logos of God[32], who
corresponded to  The Divine Mind of Platonic  thought, nor the Holy Spirit, the
equivalent of  The World-Soul,  are subordinate  to the  Father.  As opposed to
Platonism in  this note, all three hypostases  in the Trinity are equal, unlike
the   pagan   argument.   Hence,  the  Christian   religion   is still superior
theologically despite a quite coherent argument from the Greeks.

Indeed, Clement actually proved that  what was taught  in the classical schools
abroad was actually the same teachings that Christianity held so dear.  One had
to incorporate all that is believed in by Greek society,  and finally produce a
faith that is both appealing  to the learned  in philosophy yet profound to the
believers.  Clement, arguably, never failed  to accomplish his goals of uniting
the opposite ends of faith and science.  All the more surprising, his Orthodoxy
remained intact for  later generations to take example  from and marvel at.  In
doing so, he was apparently a professional teacher of the kind who in all parts
dispensed  the   ideas of both  philosophy  and  rhetoric.[33]  He set both the
example  and the  method by which   the School  would  present Christianity  to
prospective proselytes  and how a  Christian was to  approach and  benefit from
secular learning.

In order for one to attempt to  understand Clement's motives,  one has to grasp
both  the role and the popularity  of the Catechetical  School during his time.
The  school   itself was   motivated  to teach    of  the allegorical   side of
Christianity.  It was famous for its role in developing catechisms of scripture
far from a literal approach.  Though Origen might have admittedly went too far,
Clement's   allegory  itself related  quite strongly  to  the highly idealistic
philosophy he fought.

There are a few implications that lie behind our interpretations and portrayals
of Clement of Alexandria.  The first and most obvious is  the fact that Clement
was  quite successful in  his endeavors.  While  this work does  not do him any
justice  whatsoever,  he was the first  and  probably most adventurous, next to
Athanasius, in  presenting Christianity in  pagan terms, as explained above, to
pagan   proselytes.  The sudden  rise of  pagan  conversion during his time are
quite a testimony to his  success.  Secondly, he philosophized Christianity  in
order  to develop a  Christian  system  of  rational  and  quite understandable
doctrines.  He was  able to  speak  of the mysterious  Trinity  in an  Orthodox
standard and yet  reach out to Greek intellect.   Thirdly, Clement proved  that
Christianity  is  not  really  an   ignorant religion.   He   showed that  both
philosophers and Christians believed in the  same doctrines, and that the faith
was actually  for  one and all, regardless  of  their education.  If  Plato and
Moses  believed in the  same God, then  neither can really be called unlearned.
On the contrary, both were geniuses in their own right.  In setting a precedent
for later   generations, he showed   that all  the  negative nuances   of one's
environment can actually be used and incorporated into theory  and practice.  A
pure faith can indeed afford the sciences and new discoveries of everyday life.
For that particular  reason, more than any other,  Clement  of Alexandria fused
Greek philosophy and the "true" religion,  Christianity, to produce what we now
know as Christian  philosophy.   While  he  pointed out  the  faults  in  Greek
learning,  he still used it without  ever compromising the righteousness of his
faith.  As none can object, Clement was justified in Lilla's view:

      Since the universal truth represented  by the Logos is scattered in
      the different systems of Greek philosophy, it naturally follows, in
      Clement's opinion, that  he who wants  to know the whole truth must
      gather together the best  doctrines  of the different  systems;  in
      this way he can  build up a kind  of  absolute philosophy  which is
                              also identical with the truth.[34]

[ 1] S. Lilla, Clement of Alexandria (London: Oxford University Press, 1971),

[ 2] "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" (Prescription Against Heretics 7)
     is a much quoted saying of his that exemplifies his hostile attitude
     towards Greek thought in general.  The quotation could be found in
     E. Daily, etc., Tertullian: Apologetical Works. FOTC.  (Washington: CUA
     Press, 1950). 

[ 3] H. B. Timothy, The Early Christian Apologists and Greek Philosophy (Assen:
     Van Gorcum, 1973), 13.

[ 4] D. Dawson, Allegorical Readers and Cultural Revision in Ancient Alexandria
     (Oxford: University of California Press, 1992), 219.

[ 5] D. Bell, A Cloud of Witnesses (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1989), 44.

[ 6] E. R. Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety (Cambridge:
     Cambridge University Press, 1965), 106; cf. Strom. 1.6.80.

[ 7] C. W. Griggs, Early Egyptian Christianity (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1991), 60.
     J. Quasten's quote is from his Patrology, vol. II (Westminster, Maryland:
     Christian Classics, 1986), 20.

[ 8] Lilla, p. 10; cf. Strom. 1.20.1-2.

[ 9] Lilla, p. 11; cf. Strom. 1.28.3, 1.80.5,6, and 1.28.4 for example.

[10] Timothy, 10.

[11] Bell, 46.

[12] Timothy, p. 60.

[13] C. Bigg, The Christian Platonists of Alexandria (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
     1968 [repr. from 1913]), 76.

[14] Strom. 1.5.29.

[15] Timothy, p. 59.

[16] C. Roth's introductory notes in her translation of Gregory of Nyssa, On
     the Soul and the Resurrection (Crestwood, New York: Saint Vladimir's
     Seminary Press, 1993), 14.

[17] Strom. 1.8.57 quoted in Timothy, pp. 60-61.

[18] Bigg., p. 70.

[19] Eph. 4:24.

[20] Bigg, p. 71.

[21] Ibid., p. 72.

[22] Ibid., p. 79.

[23] Bell, p. 22.

[24] Lilla, p. 17.

[25] H. D. F. Kitto, The Greeks (Edinburgh, 1951), pp. 193-194, quoted from
     Timothy, p. 23.

[26] Bell, pp. 23-26.

[27] Gal. 5:17.

[28] Bigg., p. 77.

[29] Lilla, p. 15.

[30] Ibid., p. 15.

[31] Genesis 1 containing God speaking in the first person plural, only the
     beginning of Orthodox evidence that the creation was an act of the
     Trinity, not the Father alone.

[32] John 1:1.

[33] Stuart Hall, Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church  (Grand Rapids:
     Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1992) 95.

[34] Lilla, p. 54.


(All three of the  following have both  patristic translations and introductory
biographies of each respective   author. None of  them, however,  give complete
presentations of Clement's three chief works.)

Bettenson,  H.   THE  EARLY CHRISTIAN    FATHERS   (London: Oxford   University
Press,  1991 [eleventh ed.]).

St.  Gregory  of Nyssa, trans.  by C. Roth.  ON THE   SOUL AND THE RESURRECTION
Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1993.

Jurgens, W.  A.    THE  FAITH OF   THE  EARLY FATHERS   (Collegeville,  MN: The
Liturgical Press, 1970).

MacMullen, R. and  E.  Lane,  eds.   PAGANISM  AND  CHRISTIANITY;  A SOURCEBOOK
(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992).

Bell, D. N.  A CLOUD OF WITNESSES Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1989.

Bigg, C.  THE  CHRISTIAN   PLATONISTS OF ALEXANDRIA  London:  Oxford University
Press, 1968, [repr.].

Blair, H.  A.  THE KALEIDOSCOPE  OF TRUTH Worthing: Churchman Publishing, 1986.

Oxford University Press, 1966.

______.  THE EARLY CHURCH New York: Penguin Books, 1967.

Oxford: University of California Press, 1992.

University Press, 1965.

Ferguson, J.  CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA New York: Twayne Publishers, 1974.

Griggs, C.  W.  EARLY EGYPTIAN CHRISTIANITY Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1991.

Gruner, R.  "Science, Nature, and Christianity"  JOURNAL OF THEOLOGICAL STUDIES
26 London, April 1975.

Lilla, S. R.  CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA London: Oxford University Press, 1971.

Osborn, E.   THE   BEGINNING OF    CHRISTIAN  PHILOSOPHY Cambridge:   Cambridge
University Press, 1981.

Gorcum, 1972.

Wagner, W.  AFTER THE APOSTLES Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994.