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Clement of Alexandria

Category: Mystic

Titus Flavius Clemens [around 150AD – date of death not known] known as Clement of Alexandria, was a convert to Christianity, but also 'an educated man who was familiar with classical Greek philosophy and literature'.

In reality, Clement embraced the moral wisdom of Jesus' teachings whilst preserving the spiritual and philosophical teachings of Plato, the Stoics and the Mystery religions.

His secret works, which exist only in fragments, suggest that he was also familiar with the Kabbalah. In one of his works “he even argued that Greek philosophy had its origin among non-Greeks, claiming that both Plato and Pythagoras were taught by Egyptian scholars”. In essence all mysticism has a common spiritual root. So we can classify Clement as a mystic.

 

His writing

Clement is now best known for his writings. But what is perhaps intriguing is that his major works do not always seem to accord with the fragments of his secret teachings, leading one to suspect the major works may have been extensively doctored after his death. I will describe the fragments first, then the works supposedly attributed to him so that you can compare.

 

The Fragments

The fragments appear to be about the only works of Clement that have not been doctored and they describe true mystic beliefs. The fragments include the four eschatological works in the secret tradition:

  • Hypotyposes
  • Excerpta ex Theodoto
  • Eclogae Propheticae and
  • the Adumbraetiones

These cover Clement's celestial hierarchy, - in effect the Intelligence hierarchy - a complex schema in which the universe is headed by the Ultimate Intelligence – God. Below lie seven protoctists – the Planets - followed by archangels, angels – Spirit helpers - and then humans. Clement identifies the Planets as the "Eyes of the Lord". Clement describes the celestial forms as entirely spiritual and different from anything earthly, although he argues that members of each order only seem incorporal to those of lower orders. According to the Eclogae Propheticae, every thousand years every member of each order moves up a degree, and thus men can become angels!

Photios I of Constantinople wrote against Clement's theology in the Bibliotheca, and his criticisms also give us a tantalising insight into what might have been lost from his more mystic writing. Photius is highly critical, for example, of the Hypotyposes, of which only a few fragments have survived. Among the particular ideas Photius deemed heretical were:

  • Clement's belief that matter and thought [Atoms and Perceptions] are eternal - spiritual

  • His belief in cosmic cycles

  • His ambivalence towards the 'heretical doctrine' that Christ's earthly body was an illusion.

  • His belief that Genesis 6:2 implies that angels indulged in coitus with human women [and before you laugh, there are examples of people who claim to have been seduced by spirit helpers on this site - see Succubus.]

 

The Trilogy

Three of Clement's major works have survived in full, and they are collectively referred to as the trilogy:

  • the Protrepticus (Exhortation) – written c. 195.

  • the Paedagogus (Tutor) – written c. 198.

  • the Stromata (Miscellanies) – written c. 198 – c. 203.

All the books set out arguments for adopting Christianity, that is the Christian moral values espoused by Jesus, but within the books Clement also spends a lot of time explaining Greek and other religious concepts and mythology.

There are some very odd anomalies in the books as a whole. Clement criticizes Greek paganism in the Protrepticus, for example, on the basis that its deities are both false and poor moral examples, and he attacks the mystery religions for their 'obscurantism and trivial rituals'. In particular, the worshippers of Dionysus 'are ridiculed for their ritual use of children's toys'. But this does not accord at all with a man whose parents were pagan and who wrote fragments suggesting he actually participated in the Mystery ceremonies.

Despite its explicitly Christian nature, Clement's works also draw on Stoic philosophy and pagan literature; Homer alone is cited over sixty times in one work. Plato is extensively used.

Androgyny

But some aspects of his true beliefs do seep through “Clement argues for the equality of sexes, ...and unusually, he suggests that Christ is neither male or female, and that God the Father has both male and female aspects”. Thus we have the symbol of androgyny and the symbol of Christ as Higher spirit.

In the second book, Clement provides practical rules on living a Christian life. He argues against drunkenness [overload], but promotes the drinking of alcohol in moderation [suppression]. He argues against overly passionate music and perfumes [overload] but argues that the Christian should be able to express his joy in God's creation through gaiety and partying [suppression]. He opposes the wearing of garlands, because the picking of the flowers ultimately kills a beautiful creation of God [suppression].

And then comes some very intriguing teaching. Clement treats sex at some length. He argues that both promiscuity [overload] and sexual abstinence [Repression – overload] are unnatural. He does not go so far, however, as to include the use of sex as a spiritual aid, as it is in the Mystery religions.

The third book continues along a similar vein, he argues that whilst material wealth is no sin in itself, it is too likely to distract one from the infinitely more important spiritual wealth which can be found in Reducing desires.

So what Clement was trying to do was add more detail to the Suppression based activities described by Jesus, whilst attempting to point out the dangers of overload. I'm not sure he entirely succeeded, but it was a valiant effort.

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The Stromata

The contents of the Stromata, as its title suggests, are miscellaneous. The Stromata is less systematic and ordered than Clement's other works. Although Eusebius wrote of eight books of the work, only seven survive.

  • The first book describes Greek philosophy, the origins of Greek culture, and the links with other mystic cultures such as the Jewish [kabbalah] He dates the birth of Christ to 25 April or May, 4-2 B.C.
  • The second book is largely devoted to the respective roles of faith and philosophical argument. Clement contends that while both are important, believing in the spiritual world is foremost, because through faith one receives divine wisdom.
  • The third book covers asceticism. Clement rejects asceticism completely. He rejects the Gnostic opposition to marriage, arguing that only men who are uninterested in women should remain celibate. Furthermore he states that sex is a positive good if performed within marriage [a stable partnership]. He argues against the idea that Christians should reject their family for an ascetic life, contending that Jesus would not have included "Honour thy Father and thy Mother" as one of the Ten Commandments if he had wanted this.
  • The fourth book focuses on martyrdom. While all good Christians should be unafraid of death, Clement condemns those who actively seek out a martyr's death, arguing that they do not have sufficient respect for God's gift of life.
  • The fifth book returns to the subject of faith. Clement argues that truth, justice and goodness can be appreciated only by the mind; faith is a way of accessing 'the unseeable'.
  • The sixth book is used to show that the works of Greek poets shared much with the prophetic books of the Bible. Interpreters of this book have assumed that Clement believed that the Greeks were inclined towards plagiarism, but of course it could also mean he spotted the extraordinary similarity of the poems myths and songs across all cultures of this time – in effect there may be one common source for all the legends and myths.
  • The final extant book begins with a description of the nature of Christ, then criticizes the simplistic anthropomorphism of most ancient religions, quoting Xenophanes' famous description of African, Thracian and Egyptian deities. Prayer, and the relationship between love and knowledge are then discussed. Following Socrates, he argues that 'vice' arises from a state of ignorance, not from intention.
 

His life

We know practically nothing about Clement's life. He taught for a while in Alexandria, but during the Severian persecutions of 202–203, Clement left Alexandria and settled in either Cappadocia or Jerusalem. The date and location of his death are unknown. Among his pupils were Origen and Clement is regarded as a Church Father, and venerated in Oriental Orthodoxy, Eastern Catholicism and Anglicanism. He was previously revered in the Roman Catholic Church, but his name was removed from the Roman Martyrology in 1586 by Pope Sixtus V on the advice of Baronius.

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