Clement of Alexandria

Who was Clement of Alexandria?

Clement of Alexandria was one of the major Greek-speaking thinkers of the early church. He came from a pagan background at Athens and his Christian theology was strongly influenced by Greek philosophy. Clement taught at the catechetical school in Alexandria, Egypt, where he was succeeded by another great teacher, Origen of Alexandria. Clement's best-known work is a set of three treatises entitled Protrepticus, Paedagogus, and Stromata.

According to a tradition cited by Eusebius, St. Mark is the founder of the Church of Alexandria. Between St. Mark and Bishop Demetrius, who governed that church in 221, Julius Africanus counts ten bishops. Valentine, Carpocrates, and Basilides went out from Alexandria to establish their dissident sects, a circumstance which alone implies that, already in the middle of the second century, the intellectual activity there was intense.

Life and ministry

A catechetical school had been founded there, dependent, to a certain extent, upon the official authority, without being precisely its organ. In this school not only were the elements of faith explained to the catechumens, but a more substantial theological teaching was given to those Christians desirous of learning, and the grounds of Catholic belief were discussed even before pagans. This school must have existed in the early part of the second century, although it does not appear to us before 180, with two of its earliest known presidents, Pantaenus and Clement.

Pantaenus, "The Sicilian Bee," was the teacher of Clement. He was appointed president of the catechetical school of Alexandria after he had been a missionary. He explained "by word of mouth and in writing the treasures of the Divine Scriptures."[3] Notwithstanding the assertion of Eusebius, it is doubtful whether Pantaenus published any works. The most ancient orthodox writer of Alexandria of whom we can be sure is Clement.

Clement was born probably c. 150 of heathen parentage at Athens. The circumstances of his conversion are not known. It is supposed that he was troubled, like Justin, by the problem of God and, like him, was attracted to Christianity by the nobility and purity of the evangelical doctrines and morals. His conversion, if it had not yet taken place, was at least imminent when he undertook the journeys spoken of in his writings. He set out from Greece and travelled through southern Italy, Palestine, and finally Egypt, seeking everywhere the society of Christian teachers.

Towards 180, he met Pantaenus at Alexandria, and took up his permanent residence in that city. There he was ordained a presbyter and, from being a disciple of Pantaenus, became, in 190, his associate and fellow-teacher. In 202 or 203, he was forced to suspend his lessons on account of the persecution of Septimius Severus, which closed the Christian school of Alexandria. He withdrew into Cappadocia, residing there with his former disciple, Bishop Alexander. We meet him again in 211, carrying to the Christians of Antioch a letter from Alexander, in which are mentioned the services he, Clement, had rendered in Cappadocia.[4]

In 215 or 216, the same Alexander, now bishop of Jerusalem, writes to Origen and speaks of Clement as having gone to his rest. Clement must therefore have died between 211 and 216. Ancient authors speak of him as St. Clement, but his name was not admitted to the Roman Martyrology by Benedict XIV.

Clement's Thought

Clement was naturally of a broad and noble mind. His character was sympathetic and generous, and he was always eager to help his disciples and readers. His erudition was prodigious; no other ancient writer, not even Origen, knew or cited so many pagan and Christian authors as he. No doubt his was not all first-hand knowledge but obtained largely by reading florilegia and miscellaneous collections of extracts. His learning is none the less surprising and, in any case, proves that he had read widely and remembered much of what he had read. Add to this a fluent, agreeable, and florid style, and you will be able to form some idea of Clement's ability as a writer.

Unfortunately, these marvellous qualities are disparaged by considerable defects, which render the study of his works fatiguing. He never analyses the subjects he is treating, so as to present them in an orderly manner to the reader. He exposes his subject all at once and, as he never exhausts it, is constantly forced to retrace his steps and make up for omissions. Hence, a tiresome prolixity, aggravated by an excess of digressions and quotations.

It is in the Stromata especially that this absence of plan and discrimination is felt the most. Again, his style, although fluent and easy, lacks finish and is often incorrect in both Attic grammar and syntax. Clement wrote very fast and cared little for Hellenic elegance of structure. We must remark, however, that many of his defects are less personal ones than defects of his sphere and time. At the end of the IInd century Greek had already lost much of its classical purity.

From a theological point of view, one of the chief aims of Clement was to determine the relations between faith and reason and to show what philosophy has achieved to prepare the world for Christian Revelation and how it must be used in order to transform the data of this revelation into a scientific theology. The solution given by Clement is, on the whole, exact. He is accused of a few errors in the details of his work which are not always proved to be such. It would be surprising if, in so vast and so new a subject, there could be found everywhere the finest discrimination and absolute exactness of expression.

  1. The best edition of his works is that of Staehlin, Leipzig, 1905-1909, in the collection of Christliche Schriftsteller in Berlin. That of Potter (1715) is reproduced in the Patrologia Graeca, VIII, IX. See Freppel, Clement d'Alexandrie, Paris, 1865. E. de Faye, Clement d'Al., 2nd edit., Paris, 1906. J. Patrick, Clement of Alexandria, Edinburgh, 1914.
  2. H. E., ii, 16.
  3. Eusebius, H. E., V, 10.
  4. Eusebius, H. E., VI, 11, 5-6.
  5. De Faye sees in the Stromata only a series of essays destined as a preface to serve Clement in the composition of the "Master," but forming no part of that work.
  6. 13, 3, 9.
  7. H. E., iii, 23, 5 ff.
  • J. Tixeront, Handbook of Christian Patrology, translated by S.A. Raemers. This article incorporates some public domain text from this source.
  • "Clement of Alexandria " - Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911. <>
  • "Bede the Venerable" - Patron Saints Index. < saints/saintb10.htm>
  • "St. Bede's Tomb" - University of Durham, 2004. <>
Related Articles
  • Library: Clement's Stromata
  • The Church Fathers
  • Origen of Alexandria
  • Christian History
External Links on Clement of Alexandria
  • Clement of Alexandria - Catholic Encyclopedia
  • Clement of Alexandria and the NT Canon - Development of the Canon of the New Testament