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
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 (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, 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.