Monday, May 10, 2010

Clement of Alexandria's "Exhoration to the Heathen" and The God Who Shares of Himself (part 1)

Clement of Alexandria (155 - 220 A.D.) lived during a time of growth for early Christianity. The early Alexandrian church was surrounded by pagan culture, pressed on all sides by either the obscure principles of religious orthodoxy, or outright heresy. [1] The Alexandrian school taught doctrine to early Christians in their preparations for baptism into the Christian faith. Clement (not to be confused with Clement of Rome, but of Alexandria) became the second leader of this school, followed by Origen. The Alexandrian school became more formalized and eventually laid the foundation for what has become the calendar period commonly known as Lent [2] (Lent as currently observed is nothing near what Clement and others taught or intended for the school). “The crucial achievement of Clement and Origen was to put over the gospel in terms which could be understood by people familiar with the highest forms of Greek culture. They established once for all the intellectual respectability of the new faith.” [3]

Clement cultivated the biblical worldview within a pagan culture, and spurred the pursuit of truth from the biblical perspective through teaching and writing. One particular work known as “Exhortation to the Heathen,” the reader is able to sample both the tension of the early churches’ context as well as the bold stand for the biblical worldview. Additionally, this work is relevant today, for the same difficulties Clement helped the early church through are still present today. From Chapter VI "By Divine Inspiration Philosophers Sometimes Hit on the Truth" of his exhortation we read:

Why, I beseech you, fill up life with idolatrous images, by feigning the winds, or the air, or fire, or earth, or stones, or stocks, or steel, or this universe, to be gods; and, prating loftily of the heavenly bodies in this much vaunted science of astrology, not astronomy, to those men who have truly wandered, talk of the wandering stars as gods? It is the Lord of the spirits, the Lord of the fire, the Maker of the universe, Him who lighted up the sun, that I long for. Whom shall I take as a helper in my inquiry?”

Some argue that paganism has been around longer than Christianity; or, that worship of pagan deities has been practiced longer than Theism. This sounds plausible and perhaps threatening to the monothestic cause; but, without the work of The Creator, where else would these things occur? Man's rebellion against God does not occur in a vacuum. Alexandrian Clement wrote further:

For into all men whatever, especially those who are occupied with intellectual pursuits, a certain divine effluence has been instilled wherefore, though reluctantly, they confess that God is one, indestructible, unbegotten, and that somewhere above in the tracts of heaven, in His own peculiar appropriate eminence, whence He surveys all things, He has an existence true and eternal.”

Those influenced by the New Age and similar movements hold that within every person is a divine spark. This is not what Clement means by “a certain divine effluence.” Clement is pointing to what the conscience knows to be true concerning God (“con” means “with” and “science” means “knowledge”= “with knowledge). Every person knows that GOD IS and exists as a unified whole without beginning or end as a heavenly and spiritual personality who sees all, knows all, "in His own peculiar appropriate eminence." Clement's choice is simple: give me The One who sparked the sun. Where else can we turn?

The conscience is aware that The Divine Person is efflluent; that is, He shares Himself. This is seen in His attributes, some of which He shares with man and some He does not share. For example, God does not share His omniscience, omnipresence or omnipotence; on the other hand, God does share His love, grace, mercy and truth. No other thing percieved as god has attributes to share. What more can the sun share than it's golden apples (heat, light and elements) until it withers and fizzles? There is no personality. The moon has no light, no heat and is bound in the dance of gravitational forces as it already has for so long--what contribution does the moon volitionally grant to a person?

David, the shepherd and king, saw God's majestic name in all the earth: high, above the heavens; low, on the earth in the babbling of infants and the raging of God's enemies. He looked at the moon and stars and saw evidence of God. He looked at man, the crown of God's creation and saw evidence of God. Man is not an "in-between" creature, but the one who stands as God's representative on the earth. Man can only fulfill this responsibility with God as the reference point. Read Psalm 8.

Think of it: the swirling galaxies and delicacies of nature do not get to share God's love, mercy and grace. God created all things with His words and with words, David and mankind creatively uses words to praise the Creator. Even the pagans by using words in their worship of the creation demonstrate that they, too, are made in God's image.

Like Clement of Alexandria, with God as our reference point, we are to move throughout all creation declaring the excellent majesty of God in all the earth.


[1] Chadwick, Henry. The Early Church. Penguin Books: London, 1990.
[2] Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity. Lion Publishing: Grand Rapids, 1977. p. 86
[3] Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity. Lion Publishing: Grand Rapids, 1977. p. 77

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