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Clement of Alexandria...Chapter I...Clement

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CLEMENT of Alexandria was born about the middle of the second century of the Christian era. His full name was Titus Flavius Clemens, and, in the absence of all clear evidence on the subject, the name he bore has suggested possibilities with regard to his ancestry. Half a century before, in the year A.D. 95, another Titus Flavius Clemens1 had held consular office under Domitian. This Clemens must have been a man of some account, for he was Vespasian's nephew and Domitian s cousin, and at one time it was even possible that his sons would succeed to the imperial position. He was married to Flavia Domitilla, herself also a relative of the reigning Caesar. The consul, however, lost his life, and his wife was exiled to the island of Pandateria, on the charge of "atheism," a charge which in Domitilla's case certainly meant that she was a convert to Christianity, and the same suspicion may have fallen upon her husband.

It is improbable that Clement of Alexandria was connected by any ties of birth with the imperial household. There is no hint of such an origin in his own writings

1Dion Cassius Ixvii. 14; Suetonius, Domitian, 15; H.E., iii. 18. VOL. I.

p. 2 Clement

or elsewhere, while it is not easy to associate a man of Clement's qualities with the official Roman world. But it is quite likely that some ancestor of the Alexandrine teacher, possibly his grandfather, was a freedman who owed his liberty to the Flavius Clemens who was consul in Domitian's reign. His origin may thus be sought within a Flavian household, though his connection with it was not one of actual kinship. That his ancestors, like many others of their class, were persons of culture and possessed of considerable property, may be regarded as sufficiently probable from what we know of Clement's own circumstances,1 and it is just possible that the Christianity and consequent exile of Flavia Domitilla may have had some influence in determining the fortunes and movements of his parents, and even their attitude towards the new religion. They were not converts, for Clement was clearly born in an environment of cultured paganism; but stories of martyrdom and exile and examples of Christian devotion from the closing years of the first century may not have been altogether unknown in the home of his childhood. Such possibilities lie suggested in the name Titus Flavius Clemens, but beyond this we know nothing of his ancestry. He has left no record of his debts to parentage and early environment, though the conjecture may well be hazarded that these were by no means inconsiderable.

In later years two traditions appear to have been current respecting his place of birth. He was frequently described as "the Alexandrine," no doubt to distinguish him from Clement of the Roman Church. From this description, rendered entirely natural by his close connection with Alexandria in later life, arose the theory that Alexandria had also been his birthplace. This would not appear to have been generally accepted. Certain people known to Epi-

1Cp. 950. The passage is probably suggested by his own experience.

p. 3 Ancestry and Place of Birth

phanius1 said so, but there is no other evidence to support their view, while it is clear from his own writings that Clement did not come to Egypt till he had reached the age of manhood. There is thus no reason to prevent our acceptance of the alternative tradition that he was born in Athens. Greek as he was in every fibre of his nature, he could hardly have had a more natural and appropriate birthplace. But the supposition, apart from its mere fitness, may claim some measure of positive support, and this it will be worth while to consider, since in certain important respects Clement's work and character appear to have been determined by influences which touched his life in its earlier stages. If it may be regarded as probable that he lived in Athens till he was twenty years of age or older, then it is easier to understand certain features in his teaching, and there is a legitimate interest in the attempt to reconstruct his surroundings.

Now, this view of his birthplace and early home is certainly supported by the fact that in later life he regarded Greece as the starting-point of his travels 2 and referred to Athens as to a city he had seen and known. The magnificent statue of Athena Polias had been a familiar sight to him.3 The temples of the city, the roads and mountains in its neighbourhood, the attire of its magistrates, all lived in his memory.4 Several times in his writings he makes reference to the peculiarities of the Attic dialect,5 and now and again scholars have caught in his pages a grace and charm they have deemed comparable to the beauty of the great writers of Athens in her ancient prime.6 But it is, no doubt, precarious to draw local infer-

1 Haeres^ xxxii. 6.   2322.   341, 46.  43, 16, 48, 233.   5103, 105,241, 244.
6"Genere dicendi tolerabili nee raro veterum Atticorum elegantiam
aemulante utitur," Dindorf, I. xxvii. He "shows a marked familiarity with
Attic usage," J. E. Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship, i. 332.

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ences from such literary distinctions in Clement's day.1 More significant is the fact that he mentions Athens more than once as a city with which, in his eyes, no other was on equal terms.2 He knew "Athens and the rest of Greece"; but the rest was of secondary account. The biography of Clement is throughout largely a matter of probabilities; but on the ground of such evidence as is available, and in default of any which would lead us to seek his origin else where, we may accept the statement that by birth he was an Athenian, and in that view may proceed to consider in what respects his career and character were influenced by the environment of his earlier years.

At Athens, in the first place, Clement must have received his education, and in later life he never forgets the importance of the influences which come through early training and the school. He was always himself a teacher and a learner. He chose such titles as the "Instructor" and the "Master" for his books. He constantly regarded religion as a gradual training of man's best nature, and delighted to present the scheme of salvation as a divine education of humanity. And so he gives us constant evidence of his high estimate of the value of true education, and doubtless reflects in this habitual standpoint the experience and indebtedness of his own youth. It was indeed no slight advantage for one of Clement's temperament to grow from childhood to man's estate in the Athens of the Antonine period. The Emperor Hadrian had done much to restore the external beauties of the city. Many a temple and many a school owed their inception or restoration to his cultivated fancy. But, beyond these extensive schemes of architecture, he had also spent large sums in providing emoluments for professional

1"Atticism" was a fashion of the period. See Galen, De ordine
librorum suorum
, 5 (Kuhn, xix. 60) ; and Lucian, Judicium vocalium, 7.

286, 87, 826.

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teachers, and his example in so furthering the cause of culture had been followed by Antoninus Pius. Further service of like character was done by Marcus Aurelius, who founded several professorial chairs and assigned permanent endowments to education, so repaying for the gain of posterity the debts which he has acknowledged to the guides and instructors of his own youth.

Thus Athens in the years A.D.150-175 had regained something of her old prestige as "the school of Hellas." If she no longer had a monopoly of education and of culture, at least she had once more resumed a certain primacy in their cause. Men whose interests lay in literature or philosophy delighted to settle in Athens and to become friends or patrons, or at times the critics, of the innumerable sages and professors who thronged her streets and schools. Among this number, well-known figures probably in the days when Clement was a student, would be Herodes Atticus, wealthiest and most liberal benefactor of art, oratory, and learning; Apuleius, who had left Carthage to study philosophy in the lecture rooms and libraries of the city of Plato ; Aulus Gellius, who in his country home in the neighbourhood beguiled the long tedium of winter evenings by a style of literary composition not unlike that of Clement's own principal work; possibly, too, as an old man, Demonax of Cyprus, the pagan philosopher whose character comes so near in many points to the Christian ideal; and finally Lucian from Samosata, charming satirist, universal critic, and most relentless sceptic of his time, who, at the age of forty, had laid aside rhetoric for literature, and whose pages give so vivid and remarkable a picture of the educated world of his day.

In such an environment Clemen would pass through the various stages of the educational system of the age,

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wearing the white student's gown, lately provided by the generosity of Herodes Atticus in the place of sombre black, and taking the "encyclical training" in its several divisions, music, geometry, grammar, rhetoric, and astronomy. From the school he would move on to the higher instruction provided by the discourses of travelling teachers and the lectures of the newly endowed professors. He tells us nothing in his extant works of his earliest teachers. Other instructors, in later days after Clement came over to Christianity, had taken up their task, and of his debt to these he makes frequent acknowledgment. But we find no direct mention of the masters at whose feet he sat in his early student years, though his work bears the abundant impress of this influence. Education, in his own figure, was as a "dye,"1 in which his whole intellectual nature was steeped and ineradicably tinged. Thus the purely Greek environment of his pre-Christian youth left its influence till the end. Of rhetoric and the traditional craft and skill of the trained speaker he had often hard things to say. The gift of speech had been frequently put to uses so poor and base by the professional debaters of the age, that the reaction of the Christian writers from its unreality was an entirely wholesome protest. Yet, with all his professed dislike of its affectations, Clement never escaped from his early rhetorical training, and his style as a writer bears the evident mark and impress of the oratorical practice of the schools. His thoughts are usually more simple than his words, and to the last a certain verbose artificiality characterises his written books, and must have been perceptible enough when he lectured to students in Alexandria. This he owed in part to his early environment in Athens, and it was the least valuable gift he received from his birthplace and "Alma Mater."1


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But Athens gave him better things than rhetoric, for it must have been in these student days that he also learned to recognise the value of philosophy and to love the literature of Greece. These interests became permanent elements in his nature. It is probable enough that, like Justin, Aristides, and Athenagoras, he retained the philosopher's cloak when he came over to Christianity. It is certain that all his life he remained a man of books. His favourite theme, that the world was prepared by Greek philosophy for the Christian religion, had its origin and counterpart in his own intellectual and spiritual development; and, as he moved in the receptive years of opening manhood among the many representatives of the various philosophic schools, he acquired that eclectic and assimilative temper of mind, which was so marked a feature of his later teaching and of his characteristic point of view. From all the schools, Platonic, Stoic, Cynic, Pythagorean, and even from that of Epicurus,1 he had something to gain, and, save the last mentioned, he abandoned none of them when he found his permanent resting-place within the Church. No man of his age knew better than Clement what philosophy could give and where philosophy fell short. And, in so far as he had learned this in his student days, Athens rendered him a great and abiding service.

Finally, it must have been in this period of his life that Clement laid the foundations of that remarkably wide knowledge of the literature of the Hellenic world. With Latin a man of his culture could hardly be altogether unacquainted. Once he refers to Varro,2 and among the historians whose writings on the affairs of Rome were familiar to him, some possibly used the imperial speech.3 But whoever wrote in the Greek language was Clement's

1 436-7. 241, but the reference may be indirect.
3406, 409.

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