Best when viewed with Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome.

Clement of Alexandria...Chapter 2...Alexandria

Alexandria, as may be expected, was a voluptuous city. Quintilian alludes to the Alexandrinae deliciae. Such luxury was the result of its excessive wealth. In splendour it was second only to Rome, and it enjoyed many favours from the Roman emperors. It was the birth place of the Eclectic philosophy, and it contained in the second and third centuries a famous christian school, planted by Pantaenus, and successively governed by Clement and Origen. The general of the Caliph Omar describes this city as having 4000 palaces, 4000 baths,400 theatres, 12,000 shops for sale of vegetables, and 40,000 tributary Jews. ...Alexandria was finally overthrown by the Arabs in the year 640.... Its commercial prosperity was finally prostrated by the discovery of the passage to India and the East by the Cape of Good Hope. Source: Early Oriental history comprising the histories of John Eadie
Note: footnotes omitted; Greek words omitted and indicated by "..."
p. 31

CHRISTIANITY had its origin in Galilee, and the natural environment of its Founder's life and ministry was the village and the countryside. So soon as the scene changed, and the new Religion attempted to win its way among the people of a city, albeit that city was Jerusalem, the most religious city in the world, there occurs its apparently complete overthrow and the tragedy of the Cross. To "go up to Jerusalem," to pass from the country to the town, had been a transition involving, as Jesus Himself foresaw, this inevitable cost. The transition, once made, however, was made finally and without possibility of return. When Christianity had attained maturity and passed beyond its centuries of growth, the historian has to recognise, as among its most obvious features, that the new religion was "a religion of towns and cities"; and that "the larger the town or city, the larger (even relatively, it is probable) was the number of the Christians." For better or worse, the Faith has never gone back to Galilee, nor does the Christian world of our own age seem likely to fulfil the suggestion of M. Renan by building a common shrine for all its divided branches on the summit of the hills surrounding Nazareth.


Hence it comes that most of the Church's early guides and leaders are still distinguished for us by the town or city in which their principal activity had its scope. This was, of course, especially true of the Episcopate, for the Bishops from the first belonged not to a district, but to the city which was the centre of its life, Ignatius to Antioch, Melito to Sardis, and the like. But the principle held good even for other offices, pre-eminently for the Christian teacher, whether priest or layman. It was always in the centres of population that the conditions were most favourable to his task. So Tertullian's name remains permanently associated with Carthage; Justin and Origen were men of many towns; and Clement, born elsewhere, dying elsewhere, belonged to Alexandria for the most important twenty years of his working life. His name has ever since been rightly connected with this, the greatest city of the eastern half of the Roman Empire. No account of Clement would be even tolerably complete which did not attempt to portray the life of the great and complex community, in the midst of which he had found shelter and opportunity. The influence which Alexandria exerted upon his career and work must, in any case, have been considerable.

It was no very ancient city in which Clement settled down when he had met Pantaenus. Its story, unlike that of Athens his earlier home, ran up into no legendary past, and while the land of Egypt could boast of an antiquity for which men knew no parallel, and traditionally regarded all the Greeks as children, its chief city, Alexandria, was by strange contrast one of the most modern cities of the ancient world. Five hundred years before Clement arrived there, Alexander the Great had detected the possibilities of the bare, low-lying strip of sandy coast, which lay between the shelter of the island of Pharos and the waters of the Mareotic


Lake. So the city had been conceived and its lines drawn out after the symmetrical plans of Deinocrates, the architect. Where before there had been only the waste and the waters and the insignificant hamlet of Rhacotis, there grew up, with all the rapidity which royal resources could command, a great and fair habitation, which was to aid in perpetuating through the centuries the memory of its victorious founder's name. Alexandria indeed was, as Mommsen remarks, like Antioch, a " monarchical creation out of nothing." It passed, on the death of the conqueror, into the hands of the Ptolemies. Under their rule its population and its commerce grew extensively; its fine buildings were multiplied; above all, it acquired a Museum and a library and a type of culture peculiarly its own. But the earlier Ptolemies were better and stronger rulers than their successors, and hardly more than a century after Alexander's death, partly through the weakness of the government, partly through the growth of Roman power in the Mediterranean, the city began to lose its political independence, falling more and more with each turn of events under the influence or protection of the dominant state. The line of the Ptolemies went on; indeed, it ceased only with Cleopatra. But, other reasons apart, the very importance of Alexandria, as the chief city of Egypt, made it impossible for Rome to be indifferent to its fortunes. So great and influential a place could not for long remain dissociated from the main course of events. Thus, when the long turmoil of the civil war was over, after Pompey, Antony, and Caesar had each in turn claimed it as an important asset in their several struggles for the mastery of the world, Alexandria passed finally in 30 B.C. into the hands of Augustus to become, as it still was in Clement's time, the second city of the Roman Empire, and even, had the Empire


been divided into West and East, a possible rival to Rome.

Thus it was no mean city in which Clement had made his home. Little as he loved crowds and noise, he can hardly fail at times to have been conscious of a certain greatness in his immediate environment. It is possible to realise some elements of this from our various available sources of information. The plan and situation of the city, its population, its commerce, its institutions, its culture, are all worth some measure of consideration. To understand his surroundings is in part to understand Clement.

The little island of Pharos had been well known to the mariners of the Homeric world. Ulysses and his comrades had been detained here many weary days by contrary winds. It lay a mile away from a strip of the Egyptain coast, with which in later years it was connected by a mole or causeway, known from its length as the Heptastadium. Behind the island's shelter were the finest harbours to be found in the whole stretch of the Mediterannean coast line from Tyre to Carthage. In Vergilian phrase:

" Insula portum
Efficit objectu laterum."

And if the island made the harbour, the harbour made Alexandria. The city, cloak-shaped, four miles in length and more than one in width, lay along the line of the coast. It was divided into five districts, or, more conveniently, into three several areas, according to the nationality of the inhabitants, Greek, Jewish, or native Egyptian. Its streets were broad and well planned; the widest of them


was over one hundred feet in width, and wheeled vehicles could be driven along them all. Of the two principal thoroughfares the shorter continued the roadway from the Heptastadium southwards, to the gateway of the Sun. The longer crossed this at right angles and ran east and west through the city's whole extent. The houses, judged by the ancient standards of accommodation, were large and elaborately furnished, as those of a rich mercantile community are apt to be. On the whole the population was less crowded than in Rome. The water supply was excellent. Out of the somewhat confined and restricted site the builder and the architect had made undoubtedly the most.

The two harbours were known respectively as the "Great Harbour" and the "Harbour of Happy Return" Along their quays the Mediterranean be it remembered has hardly any tide the largest vessels could anchor at a gangway's distance, and there were granaries and ware houses for the accommodation of abundant merchandise. From the western harbour ran a canal, which united it with the Mareotic Lake and so with the river Nile, and herein lay the whole secret of Alexandria's unrivaled position, for her prosperity depended on the fact that she linked the great midland sea with the interior, and also with the lands and waters of the East. The port was thus a great and natural thoroughfare for trade, and from the days of Augustus onwards claimed an ever-growing proportion of the traffic between the oriental and the western worlds. Alexandria had also, as it has to-day, the advantage of an excellent climate, for the flooding of the Nile delivered it in the summer from the evils of stagnant


water, while northerly breezes and the proximity of the sea tempered the oppressive heat: ..., was the comment of an old traveller with ample justification.

Such was the city. What of the people? The population may, including slaves, have numbered three quarters of a million, Alexandria being smaller than Rome, but larger than Antioch or any other city of the Empire. Men of all races and of all callings found their place in this great focus of nationalities. The eastern trader was there, the Roman official, the itinerant philosopher, the unpopular Jew. The native population was no doubt the largest element. It had its own inferior franchise and also, in N Mommsen's judgment, its own considerable virtues. To the Greek community in Alexandria these people of the soil afforded the higher kinds of labour, and also an in exhaustible source of ridicule through such religious eccentricities as the cult of the cat and the crocodile. Of the Jewish element much is known, especially through the pages of Philo. A million Jews are said to have lived in Egypt; and in Alexandria two out of the five districts were reckoned to be theirs. They were governed by their own Arabarch, an office once filled by Philo's brother; they had their own council, their own immunities, and, by a decree of the city's founder, with which the Caesars had not interfered, equal rights of citizenship with the Greeks. Alexandrine Judaism was one of the intellectual forces of the first century, and it is a notable evidence of its religious coherence that in Alexandria we hear little of Jewish Christianity. After the fall of Jerusalem the city was the most


important centre of Jewish life, as even previously it had been the most populous and wealthy. Persecution and anti-Jewish tumults were correspondingly frequent and severe.

But it was, of course, neither with the native Copts nor with the Jews that Clement's interest lay. He came to the city as a Greek among the Greeks, and it is with this element of the population that the student of Clement is more particularly concerned. Descended from Alexander's original Macedonian colonists, losing something of their predominance under the later Ptolemies, yet never ceasing to be regarded as before all other nationalities the true citizens of Alexandria, the Greeks were conscious here as elsewhere of the line which separated the Hellene from the barbarian, and asserted their real or fancied superiority over Copt and Jew with as much assurance when they were ruled by a Roman prefect, as in the old free days when the Ptolemies were in power. They had their own quarter, the Brucheum, in which the finest buildings of the town were situated; and here, to wealthy traders and professors of every variety of intellectual culture, would be added year by year a numerous company of their restless race, drawn by different causes to a more or less permanent residence in this complex metropolis of the East. Primarily, it was the lowest class of the Hellenic population that gave its well-known character to the Alexandrian crowd. It was more turbulent and uncertain than any other crowd in the Roman Empire. Its passion for horse-racing was notorious. Its susceptibility to exciting music was curiously acute; while its absence of self-control in the theatre or at public meetings aroused the marvel of every sober traveller. It was clever, too, and quick-witted, especially in the conferring of nicknames, wherein hardly even Antioch had the advantage. An unhappy man who always came in second was known as " Beta." Vespasian was a "sardine-dealer,"


because of his tax imposed on salt fish. Speech was free in Alexandria, and street manners particularly bad. Even the prefects were criticised, and a violent demagogue could raise a following for any cause. Naturally the Emperors never loved the city, in spite of its immense importance. They visited it rarely and never seem to have stayed for long. Yet there are two sides to the account, for the Alexandrians in their way were proud of their city, and one authority at least credits them with a zeal for hard work, which is difficult to reconcile with their other characteristics. But life in Alexandria, least of all for a quiet student of Clement's type, did not wholly depend upon the excitable and uncertain nature of its populace. The great city had its other features, some notice of which is needful for a closer appreciation of the surroundings in which Clement's work was done. Prominent among these is the fact that it was, on the whole, well governed and well administered. The interests of the Empire indeed alone sufficed to make this secure. Egypt was so important a part of the Roman world that its principal city could never be allowed to get out of hand, and the prefects who held authority were for the most part capable governors, at once restrained and stimulated by their direct responsibility to Caesar. Flaccus, to judge by Philo's account, ruled well until Tiberius died; and even when he permitted the crowd to attack the Jews, it is clear that this was not from any lack of power to control them, had he so desired. Subordinate to the prefect were other officials, one of whom administered justice, while


another had supreme charge of the revenues and finances. There was always an adequate military force in Egypt, a portion of which was stationed at Alexandria, while among the various officers of the Ptolemaic regime, whose positions were retained under the Roman order, we hear significantly of the "Head of the Night Watch." All this tends to substantiate the claim that Alexandria gained by Roman rule. Both in matters of internal order and in respect of taxation and finance, the change from the ad ministration of the later Ptolemies to that of the Empire had been in reality a gain, however painful the transition may have been to wounded civic pride. In Clement's day the city was one in which a man might live unmolested and secure, provided only he obeyed the laws of Caesar and did not wantonly irritate the crowd. Till the persecution under Severus, there is no reason to suppose that the outward peace of Clement's life was in any way interrupted or disturbed.

Another feature of his adopted city was its commerce, with all the varied wealth and luxury which commerce brings. This is clearly evident in the pages of the Paedagogus. It had its baser side, as when men spoke of "Alexandrinae deliciae," though on the whole Alexandria was less immoral than Antioch, in part, no doubt, because it possessed so keen a counter interest in trade. One third of the corn supply of Rome came from Egypt and was shipped on the quays of Alexandria. The day was a high day for Puteoli when the first corn-ships of the year arrived and the bread of the capital was secure. Besides this, the main item in the port's commerce, there were


consignments of paper, glass, and linen for various destinations, all of which were extensively manufactured in the city. But Alexandria transmitted more than it produced, for it was essentially a port of transhipment. Leopard skins and frankincense came through from Arabia, while its traders distributed annually the cargoes of a hundred and twenty merchantmen which had sailed to Egypt from the Indian seas. The great vessels would at times attract crowds of spectators, when they sailed into foreign ports, and their crews would tell stories, with more truth than most tales of the sea possess, about the princely revenues of their owners. Thus had Alexander's city attained its recognised position as the greatest trade centre of the Roman world. Hence the sarcastic taunt that in Alexandria money was the only god, and hence, too, the fact that Clement's one extant sermon deals with the use of material wealth. Hardly in Rome itself would his environment have been more constantly and more evidently one of abundance and of this world's goods.

Scarcely less varied and plentiful than these material riches were the religious resources of the city. Every creed, every cult found a welcome, whether it came from Rome or from Persia, whether it were as ancient as the native faiths of Egypt or as recent as Christianity. At the shrine of Poseidon, by the great harbour, the mariner from the high seas might pay his vows. Emperors, dead or living, were worshipped in the Caesareum, a building whose elaborate magnificence even Jews were constrained to admire. The Egyptian Serapis had his extensive and magnificent


temple in the native quarter. It is possible that the so- called "Pompey's Pillar" is a relic of the peristyle of this famous shrine. Every year, at the festival of Adonis, the image of this dead god was borne in solemn ritual to the sea, and Clement himself has given a detailed account of certain officials of religion, with their cryptic symbols and attire, whom he must frequently have seen pass in long procession through the crowded thoroughfares of the busy and superstitious town. All the curious native cults of the country had their sanctuaries in Alexandria. The Jews had their many synagogues. The itinerant cynic teacher in his threadbare cloak spoke, like the Salvation Army captain of our time, to such listeners as he could collect in squares and streets, while quacks and charlatans found here a ready market for their wares." In Egypt," says Harnack, no doubt pre-eminently in Alexandria, was " the hotbed of religious frauds." And side by side with such sorcerers and impostors were the sincere teachers of pagan creeds in their most spiritual form. Ammonius Saccas, the Neoplatonist, must have been a younger contemporary of Clement.

With such variety of cult and faith and ritual, with such a gathering of the old and new, above all with such a fusion of the elements of East and West, there is little wonder that Alexandria became the stronghold of syncretism, originating nothing, discovering nothing, but blending together in complex combination the names, the customs, the ideas, the hopes, the divinities of many creeds and many lands. Here all the deities were sought by all the wor shippers; .... Fitly enough it was in Alexandria that the Old Testament had been translated


into Greek; here, too, that in the Jewish Alexandrine philo sophy, of which Philo was the supreme exponent, Hellene and Hebrew had come into even closer contact. And the modern traveller may still behold in one of the Catacombs remaining from Graeco-Roman times a curious and typical evidence of this same religious characteristic. Among the tombs of Kom el Chougafa is a sarcophagus with Greek emblems and ornamentation: above it, a series of figures in unquestionably Egyptian style. Such a fusion of symbols of different origins and associations was wholly in keeping with the syncretistic religious character of the city. In this atmosphere Clement did his work. If we may not determine exactly to what extent it influenced his theology, at least we shall recognise its singular affinity with the genius of his synthetic mind.

Intellectual culture lies near to the domain of religion, and here again Alexandria had its own history and position. The succession of Alexandrian learning, of the philosophy and literary culture of its schools, went back to the days of the early Ptolemies and the founding of the Museum. It connects itself with such well-known names as those of Euclid and Theocritus, and it is all to the city's credit that, side by side with the turbulence of the mob and the eager gathering of wealth, the higher interests of the mind never wholly lost their place. In Clement's day this culture was sometimes superficial enough. The sophist and the rhetorician were much in evidence; he knew men who resembled an old shoe only the tongue was left. Of the abundant literature of the time hardly any has proved itself of sufficient value to survive. The important favours, which Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius had recently conferred


on Athens, no doubt tended to diminish the prestige of Alexandria as a seat of learning, and it was always accounted promotion to move from Alexandria to Rome. In science, however, the Museum seems still to have held its own. Astronomy was a serious study here, and the references to this subject in Clement's pages are striking and appreciative. It had its religious aspects also, as a beautiful epigram of the time may show. So too with medicine. Erasistratus had been an Alexandrian: the great Galen had studied here. For experimental anatomy there were special advantages. Indeed, no physicians in the world had quite the same repute as those who had prepared for their calling in this school. There was small chance in Alexandria of bad drugs passing muster. So medical students found their way from all parts to share the training of the university. An inscription, not without its simple pathos, has been found in Pisidia, set up by his mother to the memory of Orestes, son of Antiochus," who determined to study the science of medicine and died in Alexandria."

So far, too, as culture depends on books, the city of the Ptolemies was without a rival. Even if for the point is not certain the great library of the Museum had been burned in Caesar's siege of the city, still that in the Serapeum remained intact. Caesar himself paid and appointed the librarian, and Tertullian was aware that both Greek and Hebrew versions of the Old Testament might be at any time consulted here.


As in every great city, the different classes of society would no doubt be much separated. The Roman official, the trader, the professors and philosophers, would tend to pursue their various interests upon distinct and diverging paths. The staff of the Museum, envied for their immunities, and sometimes made the butt of royal wits, were hardly of the calibre to exercise evident influence on the life of the great community in which they lived. The gap between the life of thought and the life of action was keenly felt, for example, by Philo, yet, with all deductions, the city was a real centre of intellectual life even in the days when Clement lived there. It was a kindly fortune which led this lover of learning to make Alexandria his residence for twenty years.

The history of Christianity in Alexandria probably commenced at least a century before Clement's arrival there, but unhappily our acquaintance with its earlier stages is extremely limited." The worst gap in our knowledge of early Church history is our almost total ignorance of the history of Christianity in Alexandria and Egypt up till A.D. 180." Tradition, as Eusebius and Epiphanius report it, assigned the foundation of the Church of Alexandria to Saint Mark, and the tradition may possibly be correct. It is also possible that Apollos, who travelled considerably, may have returned, after he had learned the way of God more perfectly, to his native city. There is an Alexandrian element in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and more evidently still in the Epistle of Barnabas. The succession of Alexandrian Bishops is given by Eusebius, but the first of whom we have any real knowledge is Clement's contemporary,


Demetrius (A.D. 189-231). A "Gospel according to the Egyptians " was current, and Clement quotes it more than once. The Church developed more slowly in Alexandria than elsewhere in regard to such important matters as the Creed, the Episcopate, and the Canon. To some extent it moved upon independent lines, and not, so Harnack thinks, in the direction of Catholicism. For the rest, the evidence makes it sufficiently clear that Christianity had established itself permanently in Alexandria long before Clement arrived there; but by what stages, under what guidance, and with what indebtedness to other Churches, the process of development had gone on, are matters on which no certain records are available. One fact, however, is clear amid many obscurities, and for Clement's career it was a fact of primary importance. Alexandria already possessed a Catechetical School. It was here, as the pupil and then as the colleague of Pantaenus, that he found his appropriate sphere of labour.

What was the nature and origin of this institution? We know nothing definite as to its foundation. In the first and second centuries, before doctrine had fallen under episcopal control, the teacher's office was of recognised importance and, to some extent, independent of authority. And where the teacher had pupils,a school, in germ at any rate, came into being. So Justin had his school in Rome, and again in Ephesus. The origin of these centres of Christian training lies indeed in the teacher, rather than in the institution. So, in default of more definite evidence, it must be supposed that some unknown master first imparted instruction to converts and inquirers in Alexandria. There was no separate building. There was no endowment. There was no formal appointment of a principal until after Clement's time. But the custom of such


instruction, once established, was maintained, and in earlier, as in later days, the task may have been discharged by several teachers simultaneously. Eusebius speaks very definitely of the ancient and established character of the institution, and also of the leading position and repute of Pantaenus. It is a little difficult to reconcile his account of the latter with Clement's own references, which seem rather to imply that Pantaenus was little known at the date of Clement's arrival in Alexandria. From very early times these Christian establishments must have been influenced by the methods and organisation of the numerous schools of pagan culture. Especially would this hold good in Alexandria, where the very existence of the Museum must have compelled the Christian community to realise the necessity for adequate instruction in the faith. Great Gnostic teachers had also expounded their doctrines in Alexandria, and orthodoxy was bound to give an account of itself to educated questioners unless the whole position was to be surrendered by default. Under such general conditions the famous Catechetical School had its origin. When Clement joined Pantaenus the work of the Christian teacher in Alexandria was already conducted on certain determined lines. Its method and character may be more clearly seen if the following facts are borne in mind.

(1) The instruction was given in the teacher's own house. Origen had to change his residence frequently during the persecution, though his work of instruction seems to have suffered no interruption. Clement's repute as a teacher, and the language of the Protrepticus, alike imply that his lecture-room was usually full, though there may also be a personal reminiscence in his remark that the true Gnostic is satisfied with a single hearer. The school can


hardly be said to have been a private institution because it was held in a private house, but the fact did no doubt emphasise the independence of the teacher. It was the succession of great teachers that really made the school.

(2) The instruction was designed to meet the needs of converts to Christianity and of inquirers. It did not provide for the education of the children of Christian families, who continued to receive the ordinary training from pagan teachers. Thus it approximated far more nearly to the philosopher's lecture-room than to the school as we know it in modern times. It was indeed a missionary college for educated persons, where the faithful were led on from stage to stage of Christian knowledge, and where Christianity was so presented as to win the assent of thoughtful inquirers, not wholly satisfied with heathendom. It had already this character before Clement began to teach. Pantaenus had come over from Stoicism, and it was largely through his training in philosophy that he became " the helper of many," to use again an old pupil's phrase. The number of educated people who came over to Christianity in Alexandria and elsewhere is an important feature of the period in this connection.

(3) In the main, the teachers concerned themselves with Scripture. It was primarily for the teaching and study of Scripture that Clement was associated with Pantaenus. One of his published works was a series of such expositions as he was doubtless wont to deliver in the way of oral teaching. The great work of Origen is a further evidence of the supreme interest of exegesis for the Alexandrine masters. It was, of course, quite possible in expounding the sacred text to wander far away into fields of philosophy and speculation. Clement's own pages are sufficient evidence of this, and Pantaenus, as we have seen, did not


forget his Stoicism. But the theory remained, and to some extent must have steadied the practice. When certain people criticised Clement's teaching as being unscriptural, he replied that he adhered to the sense, if not to the actual language, and that whatever inspiration and life his words possessed were derived from no other source. This is an interesting reflection of the practice and central principle of the school.

(4) Finally, it is important to notice that the school grew up side by side with the Church, but not as a strictly regulated part of its organisation or definitely under its authority. Bishop Demetrius took control when he appointed Origen to succeed Clement. But the earlier teachers were more independent. They owed their positions, of course, to the goodwill and support of the Christian community, and Clement is clearly unwilling to offend his brethren. Officially, however, he was free to take his own line, and his Bishop, even if he thought the lecture-room made too many concessions to philosophy, would probably have found it difficult to interfere effectively. In the second century, though the relation of the Christian ... to the local churches is wrapped in obscurity, it is still sufficiently clear that the schools were to some extent a danger to the authority of the Episcopate and to ecclesiastical unity. Yet the independence of the Christian teacher is an asset of great value: Clement could hardly have done his work in a position of more restricted liberty, though he was quite conscious that a school is something fundamentally different from a Church.

Such, in some of its more important features, was the great city with which Clement's name has always been associated. He came there as a travelling student in quest of knowledge; he left it as a Christian doctor of recognised


account. Alexandria had given him his opportunity and he had used it well. In certain marked respects his environment has left its impression on his work. Later chapters will lead us to consider such subjects as Clement's doctrine of the Divine Logos, his extensive use of allegory, his estimate of the Gnostics, his abstract characterisation of the Divine Being. In these and in many other portions of his teaching Clement is fundamentally Alexandrine. Here it will be worth while to mention one or two incidental or general traits, in which his pages seem to reflect his surroundings in this great and heterogeneous centre of commerce, nationalities, and ideas.

Many of Clement's expressions and favourite figures must have been consciously or unconsciously suggested to him by familiar scenes and circumstances. Alexandria, for example, was passionately devoted to music. The influence of music on its populace was extraordinary, though it was not always beneficial. Nero had been delighted by the skill of singers from Alexandria. And Clement's readiness to dwell on the harmony of the divine order in Nature and in Revelation, his account of the Gospel as a new and divine " melody," have in this way a special fitness and significance. So, too, there was the sea, with its waves surging against the rocks around the Pharos and then falling into unbroken calm in the harbour. And such figures as those of the divine " Pilot," of the dangerous waves of temptation, of the final anchorage of the soul unharmed in the heavenly Haven, while not by any means peculiar to Clement, acquire a fuller meaning, when we recollect how often he must have seen the great corn-ships come and go from the two harbours, and how, as the story of the shipwreck in the Acts makes clear, even these well-


found merchantmen did not in every case come back to the "Haven of Happy Return."

So, too, there is perhaps a tinge of local colouring in one or two of his favourite descriptions of the Lord. He is specially fond of the term " Saviour," and to a less degree of the figure of the "Good Physician." Philo before him had made frequent use of the term Saviour. It had its special appropriateness in a city in which Ptolemy Soter, the first of the succession, was still remembered as the "Saviour" of his allies and a prince devoted to the arts of peace; upon the famous lighthouse, too, of whose harbour stood the significant dedication, "To the Saviour Gods." The conception of the Good Physician is closely connected with the office of a Saviour. But this again gained additional meaning from the prominence, already noticed, of medical studies in Alexandria. Clement's curious liking for physiological illustrations and discussions is a reflection of the same circumstance. Again, there is the striking figure of the Divine Word stationed in his elevated "watch-tower," with the whole life of man, and of beings higher than man, stretched clear and open before his view. This figure again is not original. Philo, too, had thought of such a remote eminence for contemplation, high above the restless turmoil of busy life. Alexandria, built on level ground, a city without hills, had still two such vantage points from which the whole area of its populous activity might be surveyed in a moment's glance. The Serapeum was one. From its summit in A.D. 211 Caracalla beheld his soldiers massacre the citizens to requite their sarcastic taunts. The other was the Paneum,


an artificial tower, cone shaped, with a spiral staircase, from whose height also a similar view of Alexandria could be gained. Strabo has left a description of this structure; it may have aided Clement towards his striking conception of the "Watch-tower" of the unsleeping Word. Sometimes, too, he speaks more directly of what he had seen, as in his references to the disorderly crowd in the theatre or the stadium, to the image of the Serapis, to the be wildering number of books in a great library, or to the folly of cities which make mere amusement a serious interest. In such hints and phrases we may detect now and again the influence of familiar scenes upon Clement's thought. Through the pages of this Christian student we catch now and again the sights and sounds of an ancient city; its life, its people, its interests, its buildings, its ships, its surrounding sea, become once more real and living in spite of the intervening years.

Over and above such particular points of correspondence between Clement's writings and his environment in Alex andria, there is a general though indisputable similarity of tone between his intellectual qualities and the genius of Alexandrian culture. Neither Tertullian nor Irenaeus could have done their particular work under Clement's conditions, while even Origen belongs more definitely to the Church and less characteristically to Alexandria. Here men of all views came and went, all deities had their shrines, one doctrine passed current as readily as another. Christ and Serapis, said a later taunt, were worshipped by the same devotees. Amid this fusion of cults and interpenetration of ideas, a rigid, defined, antagonistic presentation of Chris tianity would have availed little. Saint Paul would hardly have been more successful in the city of Apollos than he


was in Athens. The whole intellectual atmosphere of Alexandria was one of views and principles, which passed imperceptibly one into the other with no sharp contrasts, no inviolable boundary lines. To win influence in the more thoughtful circles of such a city it was needful before all things to be many-sided, sympathetic, quick to recognise affinities, at home in alien domains of thought. Clement's extraordinary discursiveness, that varied learning to which he refers so often, half in apology, half in pride, his readiness to examine all views and all authorities, and, beyond these, the genuine breadth and comprehension of his fundamental religious teaching, are one and all in striking accordance with the distinctive tendencies of Alexandrian culture. And this was the man's real nature, developed no doubt by the similarity of his environment, but certainly too deeply his own to have been merely its product and result. The question has been often raised whether he was more Stoic or Platonist, more Christian or philosopher. It is best to leave such inquiries unanswered. These uncertainties are the evidence of a mental temperament which we can hardly desire should be universal, but which, in God's wide economy, has not the less its appointed place. Rarely has a man's outlook upon the serious things of life been more happily accordant with the environment in which his work was done, than was the case with Clement's task and lot in Alexandria.

On the other hand, there is the defect of the quality. Men who work for spiritual causes in a great city, more especially if they work in days of transition and in an age when many opinions are in the air, are peculiarly conscious of the lack of finality in their enterprise. Under such conditions, which occur in modern as they occurred in ancient times, we are apt to possess many ideas but few


convictions, to exert at best a diffused influence, to be conscious of much undertaken with small measure of per fected accomplishment as result. The movement of the great world around us goes on: the ships sail and the ships return: fresh ideas supplant the old the hurry of crowded streets grows not less but always more. The contact with great forces acting, as they commonly do, at high pressure in the centres of human activity, and wholly beyond the power of the individual to control, has driven men not infrequently to cynicism, pessimism, or despair. Clement, with his convinced optimism, his unfailing hopefulness, his abundant faith, never fell into this sombre attitude of mind. But something, perhaps, of the peculiar influence of a great city may be detected in the lack of finality which is certainly a characteristic of his work. His great enterprise of a com pleted scheme of Christian truth remained inevitably unfulfilled. He has his own place in the development of Christian theology, but he did not settle any one of its many problems. His work on the Scriptures was extensive rather than conclusive or profound. He is drawn by many interests; many ideas fill his mind; the inner world of his thoughts and meditation is as varied as the sights and philosophies of Alexandria. There is a sense, of course, in which no man's work, least of all in religion, can be final. At best, his labours remain, so that other men may enter in and carry them a stage further towards completion. But the lack of finality in Clement's work is more than this. In part it was the outcome of his temperament. Yet we shall hardly err, if in part also we assign it to the change and haste and variety of interests, which are ever character istic of the life of a great city, and from which not even the scholar who makes his home there can claim entire ex emption. But this, again, was the defect of a quality, and the quality was more than the defect. That he missed


completion should not blind us to the measure and the value of his contribution to the progress of Christian thought and to the building up of the Lord's household in the second city of the imperial Roman world.

Other writers besides Clement have left on record their estimate and impressions of Alexandria. Side by side with the many incidental hints which may be discovered in the pages of our learned Stromatist stand the accounts of Strabo, the imperial geographer; of Philo, the theologian of liberal Judaism; of Dion Chrysostom, the philosophic missionary. Though two centuries intervene between the earliest of these writings and the date of Clement's residence in the city, they may still be of service in our attempt to reproduce the characteristics of his populous surroundings.

Strabo was in Alexandria in 24 B.C., six years after the city had become definitely part of Caesar's Empire. He stayed there some time and saw the neighbourhood in company with AElius Gallus, a Roman officer and his friend. He is primarily the traveller and geographer, with an observant eye for fine buildings and natural advantages of situation, but he is something also of an imperialist, with an interest in government, taxation, and affairs. The importance of Alexandria was naturally his starting-point, though on this there was little need to insist; it was sufficiently recognised. He seems to have noticed four features of special interest in the city: they were its most evident characteristics from his particular point of view.

First, there was the double harbour, with its dividing causeway of the Heptastadium, two openings through which connected the Great Harbour with "Eunostos." He notes the narrowness of the eastern entrance and the dangerous rocks, many of them submerged, over which there is always broken water. But there is no lack of


depth inside. Large ships lie close to the quays. There are docks, too, on both sides of the Heptastadium. Nature has done her best to provide the trader with a splendid haven, and human skill has turned her endowment to good account. The second feature, closely connected with the first, is the prosperity of the city. The traffic with the East was even more extensive and important than the Mediterranean trade. The canal to Lake Mareotis brought in commerce of immense value, for Indian and Ethiopian cargoes arrived by this route. Imports from the south and east, exports to the north and west, was the common rule. For her particular trade Alexandria had no competitors: .... -- Sheer wonder at this abundance of material welfare seems to have filled the serious soul of the old geographer, as prosperity met his eye at every turn. Thirdly, there were the fine buildings, specially the wonderful Pharos tower, many stories high and built of white stone, of such peculiar service to the mariner on this low-lying coast. There were royal palaces with their grounds and public edifices, such as the Gymnasium and the Amphitheatre, till for one such purpose or another Strabo reckons that a quarter or even a third of the city had been enclosed. There was the Museum with its halls and covered walk, the royal tombs where Alexander's body lay and the Ptolemies were buried, the great pile of the Serapeum; then, east of the city in Nicopolis, where Caesar had conquered Antony, were a series of new structures which were threatening the popularity of the old. The whole city, it seemed, was full of shrines and noble build ings. Again, we catch the accents of unstinted admiration, and Strabo had seen many cities in his time. Finally, this traveller is quite decided in his estimate of the advantage of Roman rule. The Ptolemies, after the first Euergetes, had been spoiled by luxury and misgoverned in a disastrous


way. Then Rome came in to set things right. Her soldiers and officials discharged their duties well, and Caesar chose good men as prefects. The system of administration, partly new, partly Ptolemaic, was evidently working advantageously, and the abundant revenue imports and exports both paid duty was at once a testimonial and a profit to the Empire. This deliberate opinion of a man who knew the world is well worthy of note. Such was Strabo's estimate of Alexandria; harbours, commerce, buildings, administration, all were good. Two centuries later, when Clement arrived there, it is quite probable that the city was much as the geographer had found it.

About a generation later than Strabo comes Philo, the contemporary of Jesus and the greatest master of the Jewish Alexandrine school. He would have preferred the contemplative life, away from crowds and cities, after the manner of the Therapeutae of the Mareotic Lake, for whom, if the treatise De Vita Contemplativa be genuine, he had so sincere an admiration. But this was not to be, for Philo had wealth and position and important relatives, and many ties and claims bound him to the interests of the Jewish community in his city. So he lived, apparently, all his days in Alexandria, and late in life was sent as the chief of five delegates to extract, if possible, from the mad Emperor Caligula some abatement of the wrongs done by Flaccus, the Governor, and by the mob, to his unhappy and defenceless fellow-countrymen. Philo's references to Alexandria and its life are numerous and interesting, for with all his care for intellectual and religious interests he was no recluse, but went, like the rest of the world, to philosophic discussions, to the theatre, and even to a bull-fight. The climate of Alexandria, the haughty Egyptian character, the dangers of the entrance to the harbour, the laziness of the mob, the splendid buildings of the city, in particular the


Caesareum, the fatalistic and fruitless character of astronomy, a favourite study of its university, are all mentioned in his pages, and many a glimpse may be had through his, as through Clement's writings, into the ways and interests of an ancient city's life. Among other points, Philo illustrates the attitude of an educated provincial towards the Empire. This may be clearly seen in the speech against Flaccus. Philo is quite content to take the government of Alexandria on its merits. He judges as he finds. Flaccus, he tells us, had come out well qualified for his position and had quickly grasped the nature of his task. In his personal bearing as Governor, in his administration of justice, in his management of the revenues and in his control of the city mob, he had for five years proved himself an admirable ruler. It is a creditable picture of wise and capable administration. Then follows the contrast a demoralised chief magistrate, an uncontrolled and violent populace, pillaged houses, insulted women, the wild barbarities of a Jew hunt, and the crazy person of Caligula in the background of the whole disorder. The best and the worst of the Roman imperial administration are to be seen here side by side. Philo's narrative illustrates many a later scene of Christian persecution in Alexandria, and Clement, like Philo, was to experience both phases of the Empire's provincial rule.

Once again, it is easy to read in the following scene the varied and excitable character of the Alexandrian crowd. "I have frequently, "Philo writes," when in the theatre, observed some of the spectators so affected by a song of the performers on the stage tragedians or comedians, it made no matter as to jump up and sing the air, shouting out their applause without intending it. Others were so unmoved that in this point they might be thought to differ nothing from the lifeless seats on which they sat; others, again, would be so disgusted as to leave the play and go,


still stopping their ears with either hand, lest some lingering echo should disturb their morose and cross-grained spirit by its sound." This is interesting testimony from an eye witness. Behaviour in the theatre was a sort of index of character in Alexandria, as other observers had remarked.

Instructive also, in the light it throws on the decadence of the Museum and on the futile mania for discussion, is the account given in Philo's De congressu querende eruditionis gratia of an Alexandrian teacher's lecture-room. Every day the places where there was anything to hear were crowded. The philosophers spoke on, without stopping to take breath, in one long-continued discussion about virtue. But what was the gain of it all? Instead of attending, the minds of the audience were occupied with their ships, their business, their rents, their farms. Others were dreaming of public honours, or politics, or success in the professions or the arts. Others thought of sensual pleasure. Each seemed to have his own preoccupation, but as for the lecture, the audience were completely deaf, present in body, absent in mind. Even if a few did listen, they forgot the lecture the moment they went away. Those who attended and remembered most were not philosophers but sophists, powerful in rhetoric, incompetent in moral performance. So it was all a matter of words not deeds. There was no real desire to learn. Orations multiplied, but few cared by conduct and solitary meditation to turn the teacher's lesson into action. It is a sufficiently discouraging picture of a great centre of philosophy and thought. That it was not an exhaustive account of Alexandria's intellectual life is proved by the fact that Philo himself lived there. But his description justifies Clement's dislike of rhetoric and speaks eloquently of the opportunity which awaited Christianity, with its serious claims on men's attention and its


resolute demand that profession must be made good by a corresponding mode of life.

Strabo's interest in Alexandria centres in its buildings, position, government, and trade. To Philo it was the uncongenial environment, to which only occasional and incidental reference need be made. It is from an altogether different standpoint that Dion of Prusa, known as Chrysostom for his eloquence, regards the city in his thirty-second Oration. Dion was a sincere philosopher, with a genuine care for character and ideals, and the faith of a true Hellene in Reason and Education as remedies for all the moral failings of humanity. He is preacher rather than thinker, grave, dignified, remote, much troubled by the errors and wayward vices of his generation, and anxious to correct by philosophy the mistakes of Emperors and mobs alike. He was hated and exiled by Domitian, but Nerva and Trajan were his friends. He was in Egypt in his younger days, and in later life composed, among other orations, an address to the assembled Alexandrians. The speech betrays intimate knowledge of the character of the people, though it is hard to believe that even Dion's eloquence could have induced the turbulent multitude to hear so severe a criticism of their life and manners with patience to the end. It is well worth comparing with Clement's Pedagogus upon which it throws considerable light. The kind of people whom Clement was trying to win for Christianity may be recognised in the philosophic missionary's periods.

"Gentlemen," he begins, "will you consent for a little space to be serious and give me your attention." This strikes at once the keynote of his whole address. The utter want of seriousness, the proneness to frivolity and play, the flippant levity of character, which marked the Alexandrian crowd, are the theme of the speaker from his opening words right on to his sarcastic conclusion that, after all, he is only


"singing into a donkey's ears." The virtue of a crowd is the power to listen, but the theatre of Alexandria was turbulent and full of din. Unlike the wiser democracy of Athens, they would tolerate no criticism of their ways; so true guides and teachers rarely addressed them. Rhetoric for display, or a few serious words cut short for fear of a storm of violence, were the rule. But here was Dion, inspired to come among them, risking unpopularity, making in his friends eyes a fool's venture, confronting the crowd in his poor philosopher's cloak and ready to "speak out" for the good of the Alexandrine people on the true remedy for the ills of life. There is a clever appeal for their attention in his impressive description of that wonderful spectacle, an intently listening multitude; but a multitude indeed was like the sea, soon stirred and roused by the winds of dis order, and who would say a good word for them in their turbulent moods, when ribaldry and blows went free? He notes their demand for free bread, their passion for horse races (Troy was destroyed by a horse), and the loose women in the streets. Their city? Yes, it was glorious, the second in the Empire. Egypt itself was a mere appendage of Alexandria. The position ... the magnitude of it, the sea, the harbour, the abundant merchandise, the traffic of the Red and Indian seas, were all wonderful. But, after all, what is it to praise a city, a ...? A city is men, and Dion will praise anything in Alexandria rather than the Alexandrians. Their very greatness makes their defects notorious, and traders of all nationalities return to tell in distant places the story of this most populous city's shame. Could they not take their pleasures with more restraint? There was music and there were shows in other cities without disorder. In Rhodes no one ran tearing through the public streets. But in Alexandria people could not even keep their seats in the stadium


for a chariot race, so excitable was their nature. Let them remember the capture of Troy, and that a city was truly captured when it fell under the mastery of follies, revelries, and excitement, and lost all power to hear and see the things that made for its true salvation. So Dion goes on, referring significantly to the Museum. Why was it a place and a name merely, with no right to the title? The Alexandrians had no fellowship with the Muses. He tells them, too, how once a wise man, Theophilus by name, did come among them, but he made no speech in Alexandria, as it is not worth a merchant's while to display his wares among paupers. And once, ceasing for a moment to scold and lecture, he holds out a more concrete and mundane inducement, and suggests that, if they will amend their ways, perhaps the great Caesar himself will be moved to pay their magnificent city an honourable visit.

This is the substance of Dion Chrysostom's oration to the Alexandrians. It is an interesting evidence of the ways and character of this fickle and turbulent population, no doubt a little severe and one-sided in its estimate, difficult, too, to reconcile with the commercial activity and many manu factures of the city. Dion, like most philosophers, did not love the multitude, and he felt how sadly Hellas had fallen from her great estate. Where his grave and dignified reproof failed to change either men's interests or their manners, Christian philosophers, Clement not least among them, were to teach a century afterwards with more success.

Such, as other eyes saw it, and as we may attempt to reconstruct its life, was the city of East and West, with which Clement's name was to remain associated. The modern traveller will find little to recall the second century in the Alexandria of the twentieth. There are catacombs of the


Graeco-Roman era. There is the site of the Serapeum, with the so-called "Pompey's Pillar" to suggest to him the magnificence of its lofty colonnade. The modern Rue de la Porte de Rosette probably follows the line of the ancient city's greatest thoroughfare, and the waves break around the eastern extremity of the island of Pharos, as they did when the Alexandrian corn-ships sailed annually to Dicaearchia. We know where the Heptastadium was situated, and the position of the two Harbours is not greatly altered. But the subsidence of the ground has caused changes. The Arabs had no interest in conserving the antiquities of a civilisation not their own. Under Moslem influences Alexandria was despoiled for the embellishment of Cairo, while the demands of an active commercial life and the private ownership of the soil do not wholly facilitate excavation. So the explorer has won no great results in Alexandria, and the modern city lives its own varied life with little memory of ancient times. The Middle Ages irresistibly intervene.

Whoever cares in imagination to bridge this gap, may reflect, as he contemplates to-day the shipping which crowds the harbour, or the busy traffic of excellent streets, or the pleasant amenities of the suburb of Ramleh, that in ancient as in modern times life was full and keen and eager in this admirably chosen centre of civilisation. Here were thriving commerce, crowded theatres, magnificent temples of the ancient gods. Here came men of all nationalities. East met West, and Hebrew and Hellene borrowed of each other's stores. Here Alexander was buried, Ptolemy Philadelphus patronised literature, Cleopatra delighted Antony, Galen studied medicine, Hypatia pleaded the lost cause of Paganism. Here the great nameless crowd of a populous city's humanity had its thrills of pleasure in the amphitheatre, its moods of rabid violence in the streets. Here, too, for twenty years lived Clement, the Christian philosopher, making such


contribution as lay in his power to the movement of the Church's thought and the appropriation of Hellenism for the new religion, making this contribution, we can hardly doubt, with all the greater wealth and variety of result, because his surroundings and environment were those which this chapter has attempted to portray.
Back to Previous Level