Tag Archives: Cyril of Alexandria

Clement Of Alexandria, Romans 11, And Interreligious Dialogue

Hagia Sophia ; Empress Zoë mosaic : Christ Pan...

Hagia Sophia ; Empress Zoë mosaic : Christ Pantocrator; Istanbul, Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While reading Clement of Alexandria during a recent church service, I happened to read what good ole Clement thought of Romans 11, and, SURPRISE SURPRISE, he saw the language of engrafting as being very helpful too. I know, WHAT ARE THE ODDS!

This is a pretty extensive quote [Clement’s Stromata/The Carpets, Book 6, Chapter 15], so I am going to break it down, and mansplain this one:

Different modes of engrafting illustrative of different kinds of conversion.  They say that engrafting is effected in four modes: one, that in which   the graft must be fitted in between the wood and the bark; resembling   the way in which we instruct plain people belonging to the Gentiles,   who receive the word superficially.

First thing I would like to note by the first mode is that Clement makes use of the biblical category of GENTILE.  Our “conversion” to the faith is not the, ahem, one way to come to know the One True God that the prophets preached. In other words, the place where we Gentiles stands is one of incorporation.

Another is, when the wood is cleft,  and there is inserted in it the cultivated branch. And this applies to   the case of those who have studied philosophy; for on cutting through   their dogmas, the acknowledgment of the truth is produced in them. So  also in the case of the Jews, by opening up the Old Testament, the new  and noble plant of the olive is inserted.

The second mode is enlightenment, and this is primarily the place of where the Jews, God’s chosen ones stand.  Why do I say this? Because Clement argues that the philosophers stole or borrowed their best ideas (monotheism, ethics that line up with The Law), from the Jews.  On the hierarchy of philosophers, the ancient Hebrews are at the very top of the pyramid for Clement. While the language of enlightment brings its own set of problem, I think a limited use in this instance is valuable.

The third mode of engrafting   applies to rustics and heretics, who are brought by force to the truth.   For after smoothing off both suckers with a sharp pruning-hook, till   the pith is laid bare, but not wounded, they are bound together.

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–211/216).

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–211/216). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of the four modes, the third one is the most troubling for me. Even if Clement means in a not-so-PC fashion that verbal confrontation of heretics and pagans, I mean, rustics, will mean arrival at truth, there is something dominionist and violent about this approach to Christianity and other religions. A fellow Alexandrian, Cyril, years later, may have taken these words to heart, and lead mobs against Egyptian Jews. Of course, that would mean overlooking Clement’s second mode for engrafting.

And   the fourth is that form of engrafting called budding. For a bud (eye)   is cut out of a trunk of a good sort, a circle being drawn round in the   bark along with it, of the size of the palm. Then the trunk is   stripped, to suit the eye, over an equal circumference. And so the   graft is inserted, tied round, and daubed with clay, the bud being kept   uninjured and unstained. This is the style of gnostic teaching, which   is capable of looking into things themselves. This mode is, in truth,   of most service in the case of cultivated trees. And “the engrafting   into the good olive” mentioned by the apostle, may be [engrafting into]   Christ Himself; the uncultivated and unbelieving nature being   transplanted into Christ–that is, in the case of those who believe in   Christ. But it is better [to understand it] of the engrafting [3425] of   each one’s faith in the soul itself. For also the Holy Spirit is thus   somehow transplanted by distribution, according to the circumscribed   capacity of each one, but without being circumscribed.

 

Clement’s last mode is more about sanctification and perfection, what he referred to as assimilation, or the believer (gnostic) is participating in the life of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. This requires a Trinitarian understanding of personhood: an idea that all humanity has the potential to become involved in the divine life of YHWH.

I am just still trying to sort all of this out, but I think the implications of Clement’s use of engrafting are 75% helpful when it comes to discussing other religions, and possibly even mission work.  For Gentiles, our vocation is to approach other Gentiles, as Gentiles, in honesty, and not hiding (or denying this fact). To this effect, we can have a conversation about religion not on our terms, but on possibly others’ terms, and affirm the uniqueness of their experience, all the while, Christians can present the Good News of the Resurrection, and the truth about the person Christ Jesus. As for the problematic third mode, I would revise the budding language, and rather than aim it at the “rustics” as city slicker Clement would have us, but rather a verbal confrontation towards apostates and heretical Christians.  There’s good precedent set for this by the apostle Paul in his letters to the Corinthians.  So, the difference would be the “budding” as an interior critique that takes place inside the Body of Christ.

Wherefore also, though the wild olive be wild, it crowns the Olympic victors.

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On Alexandrian Christianity: A Few Principles

alexandria matrix

Out of jest, my former blogging partial pseudonym was “Rod of Alexandria” not because I have been anywhere near Alexandria, Virginia, but because at that time I was researching and writing a thesis on Clement of Alexandria. In the program for graduation formally, my thesis project was known to the general audience as “Black Theology and Alexandrian Christianity.” Years later I am re-reading some of the same texts I used for my thesis for renewed take on things, and I am making observations of things that never occurred to me in my research (the first time around). In Christian academic circles, there are women and men who embrace labels like “Augustinian” “Wesleyan” “Calvinist” “Kuyperian” “Yoderian” “Hauerwasian” and Barfian “Barthian.”

How come no one identifies themselves as “Alexandrian?” Isn’t Athanasius the Black supposed to be like the Superman of Church History according to some theologians? I’ll leave this all to your own speculation, but in a way if the Alexandrians were the 1980’s comic book world,

Justice League

Justice League (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

and Athanasius is Superman, Clement has to Batman, and Origen, well, he’s Plastic Man sitting on the Justice League bench. I don’t know how in depth scholars have gone, but some research suggests that Clement’s work was read by the Cappadocians, specifically Gregory the Theologian.  If this indeed the case, the eclectic writing of Clement may need to be re-examined

English: Clement of Alexandria, from book 1, f...

English: Clement of Alexandria, from book 1, folio 5 recto of Les vrais pourtraits et vies des hommes illustres grecz, latins et payens (1584) by André Thevet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think there are several markers of Alexandrian Christianity that are either dismissed or “misunderstimated.” These defining principles I see as a viable alternative, to lets say, oh, the ever popular Barthian or Augustinian proposals

1. Logos Christology: By Logos Christology, I mean not only the pre-existant Logos that that silly Gospel of Mark never mentions, but also Jesus as Word teaching his disciples in the past, as well as teaching his followers today. In other words, its a High (creedal affirming, participatory) Christology where Jesus’ own words and actions are taken seriously.  In this Logos Christology, the motions of the Word in both the “Old” and “New” Testaments are viewed as a consistent movement calling us to fellowship with YHWH and our fellow human beings.

2. The Persistent Defense of Both God’s Goodness and Human Free Will: The supremacy of God in Clement’s and Athanasius’ theology is found in God’s moral superiority. The God of Judaism and Christianity is of a supreme moral character, and has endowed humanity with a freedom to choose good or evil.  This freedom is important for a few purposes: first, God is good enough to give us space to repent, to change from our evil ways. Second. human beings testify to the One True Loving God, over and against the divinities found in the ancient world of Greeks and Roman Egyptians. A key evidence for this is Clement’s Exhortation To the Greeks.

3. Reliance on Allegorical Interpretation Of Scripture: This is where many critical thinking Christians must depart with the Alexandrians.  Allegorical interpretation is frowned upon in both liberal and conservative Christian communities. This is where I think we get the Alexandrians wrong. First, I am just recently noticing that Clement of Alexandria, UNLIKE SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO, knows HEBREW. Why is this important? Whereas Augustine is the Latin-Onlyist, using only the Vulgate, Clement is familiar with the original languages used to record Scripture.  Contrary to critics of allegorical interpretations, language is really important to Clement, and so are Jewish sources (again, unlike Mr. Augustine). What also gets overlooked when it comes to the Alexandrians’ allegorical interpretation is their tendency to depend upon a metaphor when addressing their interlocutors.  For Clement, the reigning metaphor in his theology is Christ as Teacher, humanity as children. This plays out in much of the works of his that we have.

4. A Commitment To Nonviolence: Clement does not look upon war favorably; he argues that while war takes a lot of preparation, the way of the Logos is one of peace and simplicity.  I don’t think John Howard Yoder himself could have articulated it much better. Both Origen and Clement had much to say about the evils of violence. As for Cyril, and his violence towards the Jewish community in his day? He unfortunately had to get cancelled like the Blue Beetle in the New 52. #SorryNotSorry!

5. A Vast Knowledge of Other Cultures: In Alexandria, Clement had no choice in being monocultural or multicultural.  He HAD to be aware of others stories in order to communicate with  his Greek and Roman Egyptian (and maybe Judean and maybe Turkish) audiences.  EXHORTATION is a wonderful example (or not so wonderful if Clement’s citations of various mythologies bores you to tears) of both Clement’s vision of Christian particularity in dialogue with general society.

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The Quest For the Historical Mary: Akin, Rape Culture, and Christianity

There Is Something About Mariology

“Virgin Mary, Mother of God, become a feminist
Become a feminist, become a feminist”-From Pussy Riot, via Bridget from Women in Theology “Virgin Mary Mother Of God, Become A Feminist”

“The Virgin Mary brings the maternal back into the theological picture, one might say, especially in so-called Alexandrian traditions that emphasize the union of human and divine natures in Christ in such a way that Mary may be seen not only as the mother of the human but also the “God-bearer” or “Theotokos.” “-Virginia Burris in an interview with Religion Dispatches, “Let It Be Unto Me”: Akin, Rape, and the Early Church

I have been thinking about Mariologies recently, and what they may mean for cultures. If Christologies can be used to interpret modes of human action (ethics) and the types of moral agents communities desire to see, I would argue that Mariologies equally play a role in this as well. Postcolonial theorists have criticized the use of the image of women as nation-states (God bless America, and her people, for example) because of the history of war and the war crime of rape. Along with Scripture, particularly 1st Samuel and the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, Chandra Talpade Mohanty‘s Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity as well as science fiction media featuring strong female protagonists have gotten me thinking about Mariologies in a different light. I am coming to the conclusion that there are secular Mariologies that very much parallel and mimic the New Testament witness to the Theoktos (Mother Of God).

Mary superimposed on its Hebrew source מרים (M...

Mary superimposed on its Hebrew source מרים (Miryam/Miriam). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

In the USA, the country serves as both Uncle (Uncle Sam) and Mother, delivering us into life, liberty, and the pursuit of property. The citizens are weened on false myths such as American Exceptionalism derived from exclusive notions of prosperity rather than justice. Nationalism is a false idol and Mariology, parodying Christianity, giving birth to the nationalist war hero (the messiahs). Of course, the thing about these secular Mariologies is that they all start with the premise of Gentile superiority, completely severing the ties between the theological Mary, the Historical Mary, and the nation-state’s pseudo-Mary. The Mariology of this MTV world’s generation is the woman-as-consumer, enjoying her “freedom” while being objectified simultaneously. In a sense, the Kim Kardashians, Paris Hiltons, and Basketball Wives engender the social performance of late capitalism’s “virgin” (re: innocent) birth. The system, it now works for women! It is beyond critique!

One of the frustrating parts about being Protestant is knowing where to start with the personhood of Mary, Mother of God’s Only Begotten Son. Should we start with Karl Barth, as Dustin Resch of Briercrest does? The Patristics? The New Testament? Tradition? The Creeds?

Separating theology from history, many so-called Christian thinkers ignore Mary’s history and Jewishness. Supersessionist theologians tend to inevitably turn a blind-eye to both Jesus’ & Mary’s Jewish roots, while also showing willful spite towards the marginalized and the less fortunate. An example of this is Congressman Todd Akin of Missouri, he of “Legitimate Rape” fame. Akin, a member of the Presbyterian Churches of America, whose leadership has worked to silence scholars mentioning anything positive about Second Temple Judaism: please see the Federal Vision Report: linked here, link to PDF. In sum, the New Perspective on Paul should be rejected because it is not in line with the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), which is THE standard for the PCA in interpreting Scripture.

Akin, like Augustine before him, and now with Jared Wilson and The Gospel Coalition, believes that the blame of rape falls solely on the victims. Rape victims are cast as liars, in conservative Reformed traditions, and so theologically, rape victims are violators of two of the Ten Commandments at the least: adultery and bearing false witness against her neighbor.

I start with a none-of-the-above approach. Rather, I choose to begin Mariology, as a self-imposed rule, with the story of Hannah, and her cry for justice, which resonates with Mary’s Magnificat. Both reflect a faith in a God of Justice, who takes a primary concern for victims first “YHWH raises the poor from dust”; “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones.” (1st Samuel 2; Luke 2:46-56). There is no Mariology without Mary’s Second Temple Jewish context, and quite literally, as Christians, we cannot reflect upon the story of King David, the monarchy, and the prophets without appropriately thinking about Mary, Jesus’ Mother.

“And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary”

– United Methodist Hymnal, traditional Apostles’ Creed

“For by Isaiah He says,: ‘Hear me, and yes shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you,” adding. ‘the sure mercies of David,’ in order that he might show that that covenant was to run its course in Christ. That he was the family of David, according to the genealogy of Mary [.]”-

Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book 5, Chapter 1

“And in the Gospel according to Matthew, the genealogy which begins with Abraham is continued down to Mary the mother of the Lord”

-Clement of Alexandria, who makes the connection between Israel’s story and the story of Mary, from Abraham to David, from David to exile, in Chapter 21 “The Jewish Institutions and Laws of Far Higher Antiquity the the Philosophy of the Greeks” of Book 1 of Miscellanies (my translation of the title is “Carpets”).

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