We are currently looking at the writings of 3rd century Christian apologists. We started with Hippolytus and Clement of Alexandria. We’ve looked at Clement’s Exhortation to the Heathen, To The Newly Baptized, and Paedagogus Books I, II & III.
Before we move to another apologist, let’s see what Clement of Alexandria accomplished in his Stromta series and what a 21st century Christian apologist can learn from him.
[The Podcast version of this article is available at the end of post.]
The word Stromata (Στρώματα) means “patchwork” or “miscellanies.” Clement covered many topics in eight books. It is viewed as the third in Clement’s trilogy of theological works (Protreptikos, Paidagogos, & Stromateis).
Clement wrote in an interesting fashion as he addressed gnosticism in a way that sounded somewhat complimentary. He was writing the literati of his day and used words those people would recognize. Clement wrote about what he called “true philosophy,” which is Wisdom, the knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It’s helpful to keep that in mind as we read Stromata.
“We merely therefore assert here, that philosophy is characterized by investigation into truth and the nature of things (this is the truth of which the Lord Himself said, ‘I am the truth’; that, again, the preparatory training for rest in Christ exercises the mind, rouses the intelligence, and begets an inquiring shrewdness, by means of the true philosophy, which the initiated possess, having found it, or rather received it, from the truth itself.” Book I, Chapter V
“The apostle designates the doctrine which is according to the Lord, ‘the wisdom of God,’ in order to show that the true philosophy has been communicated by the Son.” Book I, Chapter XVIII
“Now those are called philosophers, among us, who love Wisdom, the Creator and Teacher of all things, that is, the knowledge of the Son of God.” Book VI, Chapter VII
“You see whence the true philosophy has its handles; though the Law be the image and shadow of the truth: for the Law is the shadow of the truth. But the self-love of the Greeks proclaims certain men as their teachers. As, then, the whole family runs back to God the Creator; so also all the teaching of good things, which justifies, does to the Lord, and leads and contributes to this.” Book VI, Chapter VII
“But the most ancient of the philosophers were not carried away to disputing and doubting, much less are we, who are attached to the really true philosophy, on whom the Scripture enjoins examination and investigation.” Book VIII, Chapter I
Clement of Alexandria addressed many of the heresies of the 3rd century in Stromata. Here are some examples that may be helpful to 21st century apologists in how to address the many heresies of our time:
“Although at one time philosophy justified the Greeks, not conducting them to that entire righteousness to which it is ascertained to cooperate, as the first and second flight of steps help you in your ascent to the upper room, and the grammarian helps the philosopher. Not as if by its abstraction, the perfect Word would be rendered incomplete, or truth perish; since also sight, and hearing, and the voice contribute to truth, but it is the mind which is the appropriate faculty for knowing it. But of those things which co-operate, some contribute a greater amount of power; some, a less. Perspicuity accordingly aids in the communication of truth, and logic in preventing us from falling under the heresies by which we are assailed. But the teaching, which is according to the Saviour, is complete in itself and without defect, being “the power and wisdom of God;” and the Hellenic philosophy does not, by its approach, make the truth more powerful; but rendering powerless the assault of sophistry against it, and frustrating the treacherous plots laid against the truth, is said to be the proper ‘fence and wall of the vineyard.’ And the truth which is according to faith is as necessary for life as bread; while the preparatory discipline is like sauce and sweetmeats.” Book I, Chapter XX
“Of the heretics we mentioned Marcion of Pontus as forbidding the use of this world’s goods on the ground of opposition to the Creator. The Creator himself is thus the reason for continence, if this can be called continence; for this giant thinks he can resist God is not continent by an act of free choice, in that he attacks the creation and the process by which is formed. ” Book III, Chapter IV
“It is not our aim to pursue this subject in further detail and to mention further senseless heresies. To put them to shame we should be forced to deal with each one, and to state our objections to each point, which would extend these notes to an un- conscionable length. Accordingly we may divide all the heresies into two groups in making answer to them. Either they teach that one ought to live on the principle that it is a matter of indifference whether one does right or wrong, or they set a too ascetic tone and proclaim the necessity of continence on the ground of opinions which are godless and arise from hatred of what God has created. First we may discuss the former group. If it is lawful to live any sort of life one likes, obviously one may live in continence; or if any kind of life has no dangers for the elect, obviously one of virtue and self-control is far less dangerous. If the “lord of the sabbath” has been given the right to pass uncorrected if he lives an immoral life, a fortiori there will be no correction for him who behaves decently. ” All things are lawful, but all things are not expedient,” says the apostle. If all things are lawful, obviously this includes self-control.” Book III, Chapter V
“If birth is something evil, let the blasphemers say that the Lord who shared in birth was born in evil, and that the virgin gave birth to him in evil. Woe to these wicked fellows! They blaspheme against the will of God and the mystery of creation in speaking evil of birth. This is the ground upon which Docetism is held by Cassian and by Marcion also, and on which even Valentine indeed teaches that Christ’s body was ‘psychic.’ They say: Man became like the beasts when he came to practice sexual intercourse. But it is when a man in his passion really wants to go to bed with a strange woman that in truth such a man has become a wild beast. ‘Wild horses were they become, each man whinnied after his neighbour’s wife.’ And if the serpent took the use of intercourse from the irrational animals and persuaded Adam to agree to have sexual union with Eve, as though the couple first created did not have such union by nature, as some think, this again is blasphemy against the creation. For it makes human nature weaker than that of the brute beasts if in this matter those who were first created by God copied them.” Book III, Chapter XVII
“Valentinian, in a homily, writes in these words: ‘Ye are originally immortal, and children of eternal life, and ye would have death distributed to you, that ye may spend and lavish it, and that death may die in you and by you; for when we dissolve the world, and are not yourselves dissolved, ye have dominion over creation and all corruption.’ For he also, similarly with Basilides, supposes a class saved by nature, and that this different race has come hither to us from above for the abolition of death, and that the origin of death is the work of the Creator of the world. Wherefore also he so expounds that Scripture, ‘No man shall see the face of God, and live,’ as if He were the cause of death. Respecting this God, he makes those allusions when writing in these expressions: ‘As much as the image is inferior to the living face, so much is the world inferior to the living Æon. What is, then, the cause of the image? The majesty of the face, which exhibits the figure to the painter, to be honoured by his name; for the form is not found exactly to the life, but the name supplies what is wanting in the effigy. The invisibility of God co-operates also in order to the faith of that which has been fashioned.’ For the Creator, called God and Father, he designated as “Painter,” and “Wisdom,” whose image that which is formed is, to the glory of the invisible One; since the things which proceed from a pair are complements, and those which proceed from one are images. But since what is seen is no part of Him, the soul comes from what is intermediate, which is different; and this is the inspiration of the different spirit, and generally what is breathed into the soul, which is the image of the spirit. And in general, what is said of the Creator, who was made according to the image, they say was foretold by a sensible image in the book of Genesis respecting the origin of man; and the likeness they transfer to themselves, teaching that the addition of the different spirit was made; unknown to the Creator. When, then, we treat of the unity of the God who is proclaimed in the law, the prophets, and the Gospel, we shall also discuss this; for the topic is supreme. But we must advance to that which is urgent. If for the purpose of doing away with death the peculiar race has come, it is not Christ who has abolished death, unless He also is said to be of the same essence with them. And if He abolished it to this end, that it might not touch the peculiar race, it is not these, the rivals of the Creator, who breathe into the image of their intermediate spirit the life from above — in accordance with the principle of their dogma — that abolish death. But should they say that this takes place by His mother, or should they say that they, along with Christ, war against death, let them own their secret dogma that they have the hardihood to assail the divine power of the Creator, by setting to rights His creation, as if they were superior, endeavouring to save the vital image which He was not able to rescue from corruption. Then the Lord would be superior to God the Creator; for the son would never contend with the father, especially among the gods. But the point that the Creator of all things, the omnipotent Lord, is the Father of the Son, we have deferred till the discussion of these points, in which we have under taken to dispute against the heresies, showing that He alone is the God proclaimed by Him.” Book IV, Chapter XIII
“The knowledge of the truth among us from what is already believed, produces faith in what is not yet believed; which [faith] is, so to speak, the essence of demonstration. But, as appears, no heresy has at all ears to hear what is useful, but opened only to what leads to pleasure. Since also, if one of them would only obey the truth, he would be healed.” Book VII, Chapter XVI
Clement of Alexandria was one of the great Christian thinkers, writers and teachers of the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries. As we have mentioned before, it is wise to compare any of the teachings of Christian apologists to the supremacy of God’s Word.
We invite you to join us soon for our next study as we continue to look at the writings of leading Christian apologists of the 3rd century AD.