Tag Archives: early Christianity

Clement on Romans 8:38 & 39

It is inevitable, then, that those who confess themselves to belong to Christ, but find themselves in the midst of the devil’s works, suffer the most hostile treatment. For it is written, ‘ Lest he deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officers of Satan’s kingdom.’ [Luke 11:17-19] ‘For I am persuaded that neither death,’ through the assault of persecutors, ‘ nor life’ in this world, ‘nor angels.’ the apostate ones, ‘nor powers’ (and Satan’s powers is the life which he chose, for such are the powers and principalities of darkness belonging to him), ‘nor things present,’ amid which we exist during the time of life, as the hope entertained by the soldier and the merchant’s gain, ‘nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature,’ in consequence of the energy proper to a man,— opposes the faith of him who acts according to free choice. ‘Creature’ is is synonymous with activity, being our work, and such activity ‘shall not be able to separate us from the the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our LORD. [Romans 8:38, 39]

-Clement of Alexandria, The Carpets [Stromata], Book 5, Chapter 14

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Kidding With Adam And Eve Part 2: Irenaeus Of Lyons & ReThinking Genesis 3

For the first two posts on this series see:

Kidding With Adam and Eve: A Brief Series On Re-Thinking Genesis 3: Introduction

Kidding With Adam And Eve Part 1: Clement of Alexandria and ReThinking Genesis 3

In the first part of this mini-series, I wrote about Clement of Alexandria and his belief that Adam and Eve were children when they led to the beginning of humanity’s fall. Clement of Alexandria was addressing a literate, pluralistic society, 2nd century Alexandria, Egypt where the Greco-Roman pantheon held the most power at that time. Clement’s arguments about Eve & Adam are found in his major address to non-Christians, Exhortation to the Greeks.

For the story of Irenaeus, it is significantly different. As I will show, Irenaeus of Lyons was contending for the Christian faith with persons INSIDE the Christian community of his day. Valentinian churchianity was a new phenomenon in Irenaeus’ day. It was the latest craze, and very little is known about these persons except for what Christian apologists say about them (obviously, negative). In Valentinus’ system, human beings were classified into three groups of people: spiritual people, the ensouled normal people, and the earthly/material people who were destined for damnation forever. For more see, Valentinus, NT Canon.org. Now, these Valentinian Gnostics were preaching a religion that was offensive to Irenaeus for two major reasons (I am limiting it here to only TWO for my purposes in Kidding with Adam and Eve): first, the idea that there are THREE classes of people who are HAVE THREE PREDETERMINED destinies does not sit well with Irenaeus, especially since it did not speak of such things in the Old Testament (story of Israel). Secondly, this deterministic deity, is a real douchebag. What’s the point in worshiping a god who created you and me and everything that has matter as naturally evil?

Now, in order to use Scripturally-influenced logic to refute the Valentinians’ erroneous claims, Irenaeus had to argue what the beginning origin of humanity was all about. Irenaeus was a disciple of a Christian presbyter (church leader) who was martyred, his name was Polycarp of Smyrna. Before he was burned alive, Polycarp prayed to “the God of angels and powers, and of every creature,” a God who would bring about “the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost.” The Martyrdom of Polycarp, NewAdvent.org Irenaeus somehow migrated to a place what we now call Southern France where he served as a pastor whose goal was it to care for souls, give instruction to laity, and fight heresy. Being a disciple of Polycarp,one of the themes in Irenaeus’ theology is the in-corruptibility of human body & soul at the Resurrection. This comes as part of God’s goodness, God sharing God’s eternality with human beings who freely choose to fellowship with God. “For there is no coercion with God, but a good will [towards us] is present with Him continually.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 37).

Irenaeus continues, “But if some had been made by nature bad, and others good, these latter would not be deserving of praise for being good, for such they were created; nor would the former be reprehensible, for thus they were made [originally]. But since men are all of the same nature, able both to hold to what is good; and on the other hand, also the power to cast it from them and not to do it.”(Ibid) Notice what Irenaeus is arguing against: the THREE CLASSES OF PEOPLE argument from the Valentinian Gnostics of his day. Irenaeus goes on to argue against the Valentinian arguments that God COULD HAVE made humanity perfect from the beginning. This is a rather silly argument, Irenaeus notes, because God as divine, is UNCREATED, human beings (like Adam and Eve) are created beings. God made Adam and Eve as infants so that could grow up in maturity to be like the Logos who became FLESH (AH Book 4, Chapter 38). It is only when Adam and Eve are eating real spiritual food (the Bread of Immortality/The perfect Bread of the Father) do they become perfect (share in God’s eternal existence).

As for human destinies, Irenaeus is a big-time advocate for free-will. He contends, “The light does NEVER ENSLAVE ANYONE by necessity, nor again, does God exercise compulsion upon anyone unwilling to accept the exercise of His skill.” (AH Book 4, Chapter 39) If human beings become heretics, apostates, or immoral it is only because we do so by our own fault, since we are, in Irenaeus’ eyes, free agents born with rationality, mental powers that allow us to reject or submit to God. Angels, fyi, also have free will in IoL’s theology, and their superiority over humanity is really just temporary.

As for Eve, Irenaeus does not really mention her by name (and the same with Adam). He sees Eve as having fallen into Heresy by listening to the serpent.

In part 3, the conclusion of this mini-series, I will sum up what Clement and Irenaeus’ “Adam and Eve as Kids” understanding of Genesis 2-3 means for us today, and why.

Kidding With Adam And Eve Part 1: Clement Of Alexandria & ReThinking Genesis 3

For the introduction to this brief series, see Kidding With Adam and Eve: An Introduction

“Contemplate a little, if agreeable to you, the divine beneficence. The   first man, when in Paradise, sported free, because he was the child of   God; but when he succumbed to pleasure (for the serpent allegorically   signifies pleasure crawling on its belly, earthly wickedness nourished   for fuel to the flames), was as a child seduced by lusts, and grew old   in disobedience; and by disobeying his Father, dishonoured God. Such   was the influence of pleasure. Man, that had been free by reason of   simplicity, was found fettered to sins.”

Clement of Alexandria, Sermon To The Greeks, Chapter 11

Traditionally, Adam and Eve have been received in the Church as having been grown, mature adults on their honeymoon in the Garden of Eden. This reception history in the United States has become politicized on the left and the right for the sake of the culture wars.  Conservatives use Adam and Eve promoting the Christian ideal of marriage, while liberals continue to work for the primary concerns of adults (education reforms come to mind) to the neglect of children. Both positions marginalize the subjectivity of children and they also ignore an earlier tradition in the early church that interpreted Adam and Eve as children.

A few reasons why the “Adam and Eve as immature trope” is important theologically. First, in the case of today, which we find with Clement, and later this week, with Irenaeus, holding the view that Adam and Eve were little kids when they started the fall into sin for humanity is a defense of God’s goodness and perfection.  Greek philosophical readings of Genesis LXX were popular in Clement’s day, and these readings understood phrases such as “God made them good–them being humanity” as God making human beings perfect and mature. This, according to the logic of Clement, was just not a healthy view. God has given humanity free will, and since we are equipped with such a weapon, there is space for growth.  No created being is made whole or perfect.  If this were the case, God is fully to blame for the fall, for evil.  That is the way that both atheist and Calvinist theodicies end up agreeing with each other.

Yet, if Adam and Eve are children, immature, but perfect in that they have free will, as Clement argues, the responsibility for the fall lies squarely on humanity’s infantile shoulders. In Clement’s view, from the quote I took from “Sermon to the Greeks,” Adam initiated the fall because he wanted to wear pants that were to big for him, his Daddy’s pants.  Not to take Clement’s argument out of context, for the first several chapters of Sermons/Exhortations, Clement uses a combination of sarcasm, shaming, Scripture, and a vast knowledge of Greek myths to argue how cruel and sexually immoral the Greco-Roman divinities and legends are. Rather than leave his argument as a complete dismantling of the imperial civil religion of his day, he wrote about the omnibenevolence of the Triune God of Judaism and Christianity.

As for the role of Eve, Clement presents a two-fold approach. First, he levies his familiarity of the Hebrew language to attack the cult of Dionysus, who butcher their orgy victims as the victims scream out, “Eva!” Hevia, similar to the word Eve, is also the Hebrew word, as Clement points out, for “serpent.” The bacchanals make the unholy holy, by desecrating women’s bodies (Sermon to the Greeks, Chapter 1). Clement wonders aloud, “why is it the gods and not the goddesses that are so immoral?” The second part of Clement’s approach is to separate the image of Eve as a sex symbol to that of an ideal student.  Adam represents the Jewish prophetic tradition (from Adam to Moses to the judges to Jeremiah to Jesus), while Eve is a type of learning community (Israel/Church).

“But among the Hebrews the prophets were moved   by the power and inspiration of God. Before the law, Adam spoke   prophetically in respect to the woman, and the naming of the creatures;   Noah preached repentance; [2080] Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob gave many   clear utterances respecting future and present things. Contemporaneous   with the law, Moses and Aaron; and after these prophesied Jesus the son   of Nave, Samuel, Gad, Nathan, Achias, Samæas, Jehu, Elias, Michæas,   Abdiu, Elisæus, Abbadonai, Amos, Esaias, Osee, Jonas, Joel, Jeremias,   Sophonias the son of Buzi, Ezekiel, Urias, Ambacum, Naum, Daniel,   Misael, who wrote the syllogisms, Aggai, Zacharias, and the angel among   the twelve. These are, in all, five-and-thirty prophets. And of women   (for these too prophesied), Sara, and Rebecca, and Mariam, and Debbora,   and Olda, i.e., Huldah.”

-Clement Of Alexandria, The Stromateis/(my translation: The Weavings), Book 1, Chapter 21

Now notice, that Eve does not exist just to give Adam a plaything. Eve learns the names of the creatures that Adam taught. She is meant to be a rational being just like Adam. The role of the prophet was not limited to males. Clement, again knowledgeable in Hebrew and Greek LXX, recognized Huldah, Miriam, Sara, Rebecca, and Deborah as prophets of YHWH.

There remains a tricky problem with Clement’s reading of Adam and Eve as children. That is, he doesn’t address what Scripture meant by Adam and Eve being naked and unashamed at the conclusion of Genesis 2. Some will just say well, Clement is just a theologian, and theologians ruin everything! No,not necessarily. I think we need to consider Clement’s context, that he was trying to defend the goodness of YHWH in the midst of a sex-obessessed major city (Alexandria) occupied by the world’s largest empire (Rome). Clement’s interpretation is a reasonable alternative in the creation of a counter-narrative against the colonizing mythologies of Greco-Roman religion.

In the next part of this series, I shall turn to Irenaeus of Lyons, and his use of Adam and Eve as children.

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