Wednesday, December 05, 2007

December 5--Clement of Alexandria

Christianity—the way of following Christ—developed in both a Jewish and a Greek context. Jesus was, of course, a Jew, and his teaching, and that of the rest of the New Testament is really thoroughly Jewish, with some important, particular emphases. But very quickly Jesus’ followers had to deal with the larger Greek world.

There is a story in the Acts of the Apostles (ch. 17) about St. Paul doing this very thing. In Athens, one of the great centers of the Greek world, he is said to be in conversation with “Epicurean and Stoic philosophers,” and suggests to them that the divine principles they espouse are fulfilled in the God revealed in Jesus.

This conversation went on for centuries, and one of its chief participants was Clement of Alexandria, who lived a hundred years after St. Paul in another one of the great centers of Greek learning. Clement did much to synthesize Greek philosophical and Christian thought, and is thought of by many of the first Christian humanist (meaning that he had a deep respect for human nature and dignity). Although critical of the Roman gods of the time, calling Zeus “an image of an image,” he was able to turn such criticism to good by saying that the authentic “image of the image” of God was the human mind.

Like John of Damascus from yesterday, Clement was also a poet and paraphrases of two of his hymns appear in the Hymnal 1982: “Sunset to sunrise” (163) and “Jesus, our mighty Lord” (478).

It is good in this week when we are contemplating “last things” and “the end of time” and the “second coming of Christ” that we hear that none of these things is meant to violate our God-given intelligence. Our human reason—and dignity—need not be “left behind.”

1 comment:

Michael Bindner said...

I would aver that Jesus was the first Christian humanist.