Clement of Alexandria: Evangelist and Intellectual

Clement of Alexandria was a Christian apologist, polymath and biblical exegete. He was a key figure in the Early Church at the turn of the second and third centuries, and his extant works are some of the most detailed to have survived from the first few centuries of the global church.

Clement was born around AD 160, most likely to pagan parents. Though the location of his birth is not known exactly, the church historian Epiphanius writes in the fourth century that some say Alexandria, some Athens. What is known is that he was richly educated, and moved to Alexandria in search of continued learning.

There he met a Christian teacher named Pantaenus, who led a Catechetical school in the city. Clement studied under this man, eventually converting to Christianity and later leading the school himself. He stayed in Alexandria until a flare up of persecution led him to flee the city just after the turn of the century. He fled to Antioch and then to Jerusalem, before dying in that city in around AD 215.

Not much can be securely pieced together about his life, but his writings are a different matter. His most famous works form a trilogy. His Protrepticus (Exhortation), Paedagogus (Teacher) and Stromateis (Miscellanies, literally: patchwork quilt) form a corpus of texts that guides the reader from pagan unbelief (Protrepticus) through to enlightened and considered faith in Christ (Stromateis). These works show the ethos of Clement’s writings. Through his work he wants to challenge unbelievers to faith, and new believers to a considered faith, where their mind is as engaged as their heart.

One of his other surviving works is a short fragment from a document Clement wrote To the Newly Baptised. In this short work Clement encouraged new Christians, fresh from believers baptism, to live lives worthy of the God they had publicly professed to trust in.

Let everything you do be done for God, both deeds and words; and refer all that is yours to Christ.”

Clement of Alexandria, To The Newly Baptised.

Clement writes to encourage the new Christian to live a life worthy of their calling (Eph 4:1). He wants the newly baptised to hold fast to Christ, to die to sin and to live for Him.

The fragment ends with the encouragement:

For God will grant grace to His friend when he asks, and will provide assistance for those in distress, wishing to make His power known to men, in the hope that, when they have come to full knowledge, they may return to God and may enjoy eternal blessedness when the Son of God shall appear and restore all good things to His own.”

Clement of Alexandria, To the Newly Baptised.

Clement’s style of writing and appeal was intellectual. He used poetry, drama, philosophy and history to challenge his readers. But as these closing words remind us, he did so with the Gospel in mind. At the end of it all, says Clement, I write so that you may hold fast to Christ until the day He returns in glory.

Here is the message of this short work, and all of Clement’s writings. Engage with your faith, work through it, wrestle with it, but in all that, grow in it as you cling to Christ until the day He returns. Christ is coming back: live for His glory today, looking to His glory in eternity.

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