Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Mystery Surrounding the Person of Clement of Alexandria

I have been criticized by at least some 'bibliobloggers' with regards to the some of my published works. According to these people I engage in 'myth making' which compromises my ultimately efforts to get to the bottom of the person of St. Mark.

In coming days, I will review Thomas C Oden's new book about St. Mark which I am sure these people will find vastly superior to my Real Messiah. Nevertheless, it is hard not to concede that we are both dealing with material which is for the most part legendary and of little value. The question is always 'where is the truth to be found in all of these myths?' Oden's approach is to take the most 'historical sounding' details - i.e. that Mark was born in such a such a town and went to such and a place - and reconstruct a 'historical sounding' narrative. Mine, by contrast, was to assume that even these details are probably spurious, like a confusion arising from blending details of Sabellius or Arius or some other representative of St. Mark with the evangelist himself (I have demonstrated how this happened with Peter I in my Journal of Coptic Studies article).

In any event, my point isn't to review Oden's book just yet but rather to point to something I was noticing last night with respect to 'the historical sounding' story of Clement of Alexandria that every scholar repeats almost without thinking. You know, the story about him being originally from Alexandria, he left after the persecution of Severus and ultimately ended up in Jerusalem with Alexander of Jerusalem.  Even Jerome only repeats verbatim the account of Eusebius.  I started wondering to myself how much reliability there is with respect to even this historical narrative.

I can't help but feel that this story is almost as problematic as the inherited narrative of St. Mark. The reason is again that this particular narrative is developed almost exclusively from the arrangement of Eusebius's Church History and Eusebius's use of Clement is very, very strange. I don't think has been noticed before and I think it points to the shortcomings of scholarly journals and books and blogging as in fact a superior forum for investigating the lives of the Church Fathers.

You see whenever you write a book your publisher wants it to have a point. At bottom, it has to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Publishers generally don't like books which emphasize how unreliable and uncertain things are. They want to publish 'definitive statements' about topics. So it is that whether it is Eric Osborn or John Ferguson, a book about Clement is basically going to assume that Eusebius knows what he is talking about and actual go beyond what is written in the Church History about this elusive figure. Yet when we turn to Eusebius's treatment of Clement there is an obvious problem that few scholars ever mention and which I will address shortly.

Let's start with Eusebius's first attempt to give a general historical sense of when Clement was active. This occurs in Book Five of the Church History almost immediately following a reference to the reign of Commodus, Eusebius notes:

At this time Clement, being trained with him in the divine Scriptures at Alexandria, became well known. He had the same name as the one who anciently was at the head of the Roman church, and who was a disciple of the apostles. In his Hypotyposes he speaks of Pantænus by name as his teacher. It seems to me that he alludes to the same person also in the first book of his Stromata, when, referring to the more conspicuous of the successors of the apostles whom he had met, he says:

This work is not a writing artfully constructed for display; but my notes are stored up for old age, as a remedy against forgetfulness; an image without art, and a rough sketch of those powerful and animated words which it was my privilege to hear, as well as of blessed and truly remarkable men. Of these the one— the Ionian — was in Greece, the other in Magna Græcia; the one of them was from Cœle-Syria, the other from Egypt. There were others in the East, one of them an Assyrian, the other a Hebrew in Palestine. But when I met with the last, — in ability truly he was first—having hunted him out in his concealment in Egypt, I found rest. These men, preserving the true tradition of the blessed doctrine, directly from the holy apostles, Peter and James and John and Paul, the son receiving it from the father (but few were like the fathers), have come by God's will even to us to deposit those ancestral and apostolic seeds. [Church History 5.11]

Any informed reader can immediately see that Eusebius begins with the words of Julius Africanus in his Chronographiai. Eusebius has a habit of using copious extracts in compiling the early episcopal lists. The quotation from the beginning of the Stromata is important because it sets up a later statement in the Church History identifying Clement as a 'successor to the apostles.'

In any event, the important thing for us to see right now is that Eusebius is certainly aware that Africanus places Clement as becoming known during the Commodian period (180 - 192 CE). Yet what is so curious about Eusebius's treatment of Clement is despite this fact, a fuller treatment of Clement only occurs later on as a kind of appendage to the narrative about Origen in Book Six. I will argue that it is this bizarre arrangement of material which has misled scholars to place undue emphasis on Clement as principally a third century figure.

Indeed Eusebius's first statement about Clement is quite ambiguous saying:

Clement having succeeded Pantænus, had charge at that time of the catechetical instruction in Alexandria, so that Origen also, while still a boy, was one of his pupils. In the first book of the work called Stromata, which Clement wrote, he gives a chronological table, bringing events down to the death of Commodus. So it is evident that that work was written during the reign of Severus, whose times we are now recording. [Church History 6.6]

Now the truth is that because Africanus says that Clement 'began to become known' during the reign of Commodus and Origen was his student while a boy, almost everyone works backwards and assumes that Origen was born around 184 or 185 CE (i.e. the last possible date for Origen being a 'boy' student of Clement in the Commodian period and the statement elsewhere that he wanted to join his father as a martyr during the persecutions of 202 CE). Yet none of this helps give a date for Clement's activities in Alexandria.

It is worth noting that Origen never mentions Clement in his writings and that Eusebius can only connect the two men through a letter written by Alexander of Jerusalem. I would argue that the evidence would actually suggest that Origen was not a student of Clement for very long. This might well argue for Clement being forced to flee Alexandria long before the persecutions of 202 CE otherwise one would expect to find some statement linking Leonides's death and Clement's flight to this historical event. Instead all Eusebius says at the beginning of Book Six is that among the martyrs of Severus's persecution "these was Leonides, who was called the father of Origen, and who was beheaded while his son was still young." Yet notice even here that Leonides's identification as Origen's father is rather tentative. One could make the case that Leonides rather than Clement was Origen's real instructor and that Clement had left Alexandria long before the persecutions.

The next historical marker that we come across in the Sixth Book which helps with our historical knowledge of Clement is a reference to Origen being received by the same Alexander of Jerusalem. Eusebius makes reference to Origen being raised to the 'chair' of catechetical instruction in Alexandria and ritually castrating himself:

At this time while Origen was conducting catechetical instruction at Alexandria, a deed was done by him which evidenced an immature and youthful mind, but at the same time gave the highest proof of faith and continence. For he took the words, There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake, in too literal and extreme a sense. And in order to fulfill the Saviour's word, and at the same time to take away from the unbelievers all opportunity for scandal,— for, although young, he met for the study of divine things with women as well as men,— he carried out in action the word of the Saviour.

He thought that this would not be known by many of his acquaintances. But it was impossible for him, though desiring to do so, to keep such an action secret. When Demetrius, who presided over that parish, at last learned of this, he admired greatly the daring nature of the act, and as he perceived his zeal and the genuineness of his faith, he immediately exhorted him to courage, and urged him the more to continue his work of catechetical instruction.

Such was he at that time. But soon afterward, seeing that he was prospering, and becoming great and distinguished among all men, the same Demetrius, overcome by human weakness, wrote of his deed as most foolish to the bishops throughout the world. But the bishops of Cesarea and Jerusalem, who were especially notable and distinguished among the bishops of Palestine, considering Origen worthy in the highest degree of the honor, ordained him a presbyter. Thereupon his fame increased greatly, and his name became renowned everywhere, and he obtained no small reputation for virtue and wisdom. But Demetrius, having nothing else that he could say against him, save this deed of his boyhood, accused him bitterly, and dared to include with him in these accusations those who had raised him to the presbyterate.

These things, however, took place a little later. But at this time Origen continued fearlessly the instruction in divine things at Alexandria by day and night to all who came to him; devoting his entire leisure without cessation to divine studies and to his pupils. Severus, having held the government for eighteen years, was succeeded by his son, Antoninus. Among those who had endured courageously the persecution of that time, and had been preserved by the Providence of God through the conflicts of confession, was Alexander, of whom we have spoken already as bishop of the church in Jerusalem. On account of his pre-eminence in the confession of Christ he was thought worthy of that bishopric, while Narcissus, his predecessor, was still living. [Church History 6.8]

The interesting point here is that Eusebius has previously identified Narcissus as the Bishop of Jerusalem during the rule of Commodus. Yet interestingly the allusion to Narcissus immediately follows the reference to Clement in Julius Africanus from Book Five. The reason of course that this is so interesting is that when Clement is reintroduced again in Book Six as an appendage to the greater discussion with respect to Origen, the same figure of Narcissus is also reintroduced.

Even though Narcissus is said to be the bishop of Jerusalem, Eusebius introduces a story about him suffering 'slander' at the hands of many men and ultimately Narcissus has to run into hiding. We read:

But he could not in any wise endure the wickedness of these men; and as he had followed a philosophic life for a long time, he fled from the whole body of the Church, and hid himself in desert and secret places, and remained there many years. [Church History 6.9]

Now we have to remember that Narcissus has already been identified as Bishop of Jerusalem during the Commodian period around the same time Clement was last active in Alexandria. Now Eusebius is attempting to 'fill in the dots' to explain Origen's flight to Alexander of Jerusalem by developing a curious history of this Narcissus. Indeed we only return to the subject of Clement once again by means of this 'disappearing' figure of Narcissus. As we read in what follows in Church History:

Narcissus having departed, and no one knowing where he was, those presiding over the neighboring churches thought it best to ordain another bishop. His name was Dius. He presided but a short time, and Germanio succeeded him. He was followed by Gordius, in whose time Narcissus appeared again, as if raised from the dead. And immediately the brethren besought him to take the episcopate, as all admired him the more on account of his retirement and philosophy, and especially because of the punishment with which God had avenged him.

But as on account of his great age Narcissus was no longer able to perform his official duties, the Providence of God called to the office with him, by a revelation given him in a night vision, the above-mentioned Alexander, who was then bishop of another parish. Thereupon, as by Divine direction, he journeyed from the land of Cappadocia, where he first held the episcopate, to Jerusalem, in consequence of a vow and for the sake of information in regard to its places. They received him there with great cordiality, and would not permit him to return, because of another revelation seen by them at night, which uttered the clearest message to the most zealous among them. For it made known that if they would go outside the gates, they would receive the bishop foreordained for them by God. And having done this, with the unanimous consent of the bishops of the neighboring churches, they constrained him to remain.

Alexander, himself, in private letters to the Antinoites, which are still preserved among us, mentions the joint episcopate of Narcissus and himself, writing in these words at the end of the epistle:

Narcissus salutes you, who held the episcopate here before me, and is now associated with me in prayers, being one hundred and sixteen years of age; and he exhorts you, as I do, to be of one mind.

These things took place in this manner. But, on the death of Serapion, Asclepiades, who had been himself distinguished among the confessors during the persecution, succeeded to the episcopate of the church at Antioch. Alexander alludes to his appointment, writing thus to the church at Antioch:

Alexander, a servant and prisoner of Jesus Christ, to the blessed church of Antioch, greeting in the Lord. The Lord has made my bonds during the time of my imprisonment light and easy, since I learned that, by the Divine Providence, Asclepiades, who in regard to the true faith is eminently qualified, has undertaken the bishopric of your holy church at Antioch.

He indicates that he sent this epistle by Clement, writing toward its close as follows:

My honored brethren, I have sent this letter to you by Clement, the blessed presbyter, a man virtuous and approved, whom you yourselves also know and will recognize. Being here, in the providence and oversight of the Master, he has strengthened and built up the Church of the Lord. [Church History 6.10,11]

So now this already curious tale about a 'disappearing' and 'resurrecting' Narcissus gets even more curious owing to the re-introduction of 'Clement of Alexandria' delivering Alexander's letter to the Antiochenes at the death of Serapion (c. 211 CE). If we take the material at face value we would have Clement and Narcissus - the two figures linked as being active in the age of Commodus now both residing near Alexander of Jerusalem around the death of Severus.

We must keep in mind that all of these dates are necessarily quite vague as Eusebius generally only connects the lives of Church Fathers to the reign of Emperors. Nevertheless, it is curious at the very least that only after the death of Severus Clement of Alexandria decides to make a journey to Antioch. Both he and Narcissus appear as 'occultated' figures in Jerusalem. Absolutely nothing is said about the life of Clement before the trip to Antioch other than repeating Africanus's statement about his activity in the period and citing some absolutely vague biographical information from the opening lines of the Stromata.

Indeed in what immediately follows these lines we get our only comprehensive treatment of Clement in the Church History and it interestingly comes after a lengthy reference to 'Marcianus' in a section which tells a little about Serapion of Antioch (the bishop of Antioch whose death leads to Clement 'coming out' of his historical 'hole.' We read:

It is probable that others have preserved other memorials of Serapion's literary industry, but there have reached us only those addressed to a certain Domninus, who, in the time of persecution, fell away from faith in Christ to the Jewish will-worship; and those addressed to Pontius and Caricus, ecclesiastical men, and other letters to different persons, and still another work composed by him on the so-called Gospel of Peter.

He wrote this last to refute the falsehoods which that Gospel contained, on account of some in the parish of Rhossus who had been led astray by it into heterodox notions. It may be well to give some brief extracts from his work, showing his opinion of the book. He writes as follows:

For we, brethren, receive both Peter and the other apostles as Christ; but we reject intelligently the writings falsely ascribed to them, knowing that such were not handed down to us.

When I visited you I supposed that all of you held the true faith, and as I had not read the Gospel which they put forward under the name of Peter, I said, If this is the only thing which occasions dispute among you, let it be read. But now having learned, from what has been told me, that their mind was involved in some heresy, I will hasten to come to you again. Therefore, brethren, expect me shortly. But you will learn, brethren, from what has been written to you, that we perceived the nature of the heresy of Marcianus, and that, not understanding what he was saying, he contradicted himself.

For having obtained this Gospel from others who had studied it diligently, namely, from the successors of those who first used it, whom we call Docetæ; (for most of their opinions are connected with the teaching of that school) we have been able to read it through, and we find many things in accordance with the true doctrine of the Saviour, but some things added to that doctrine, which we have pointed out for you farther on.

So much in regard to Serapion.[Church History 6.12]

I have long noted that 'Marcianus' here is a connected with the Aramaic term marqiyone which means 'those of Mark.' Already we see our first reference to a possible connection between Clement, the Alexandrian tradition of St. Mark and the heresies associated with 'Mark' in the Patristic literature. Yet it can't be coincidental that Eusebius only includes a letter about this particular subject after mentioning Clement made a visit to Antioch at the death of Serapion. There must have been a well-known controversy associating Clement and various Alexandrian ex-pats living in and around Jerusalem with vestiges of the original Semitic Church of the Roman province of Syria (which included Jerusalem).

I will make the case to my readers that there is something in this description of a controversy between a 'gospel of Peter' which is at once related to a gospel 'of those of Mark' which bears a striking resemblance to the discussion in the Letter to Theodore. Perhaps Asclepiades was also known as Theodore? We shall likely never know for certain but it is remarkable that Clement should only resurface - or indeed 'come completely out of the water' as it were - at this historical juncture so late in his life in the Church History. Immediately after these words Eusebius introduces his most extensive statement about the person of Clement saying:

All the eight Stromata of Clement are preserved among us, and have been given by him the following title: Titus Flavius Clement's Stromata of Gnostic Notes on the True Philosophy. The books entitled Hypotyposes are of the same number. In them he mentions Pantænus by name as his teacher, and gives his opinions and traditions. Besides these there is his Hortatory Discourse addressed to the Greeks; three books of a work entitled the Instructor; another with the title What Rich Man is Saved? the work on the Passover; discussions on Fasting and on Evil Speaking; the Hortatory Discourse on Patience, or To Those Recently Baptized; and the one bearing the title Ecclesiastical Canon, or Against the Judaizers, which he dedicated to Alexander, the bishop mentioned above.

In the Stromata, he has not only treated extensively of the Divine Scripture, but he also quotes from the Greek writers whenever anything that they have said seems to him profitable. He elucidates the opinions of many, both Greeks and barbarians. He also refutes the false doctrines of the heresiarchs, and besides this, reviews a large portion of history, giving us specimens of very various learning; with all the rest he mingles the views of philosophers. It is likely that on this account he gave his work the appropriate title of Stromata. He makes use also in these works of testimonies from the disputed Scriptures, the so-called Wisdom of Solomon, and of Jesus, the son of Sirach, and the Epistle to the Hebrews, and those of Barnabas, and Clement and Jude. He mentions also Tatian's Discourse to the Greeks, and speaks of Cassianus as the author of a chronological work. He refers to the Jewish authors Philo, Aristobulus, Josephus, Demetrius, and Eupolemus, as showing, all of them, in their works, that Moses and the Jewish race existed before the earliest origin of the Greeks.

These books abound also in much other learning. In the first of them the author speaks of himself as next after the successors of the apostles. [Church History 6.13.1 - 8]

I have to interrupt the continuous narrative from Eusbius to draw attention to this very important statement for it connects back to something we noticed in the introduction in Book Five to Eusebius's citation of the opening lines of the Stromata i.e.:

It seems to me that he alludes to the same person [Pantaenus] also in the first book of his Stromata, when, referring to the more conspicuous of the successors of the apostles whom he had met [Church History 5:11]

Most people ignore these statements but I can't help but see that these references make a strong case for identifying Clement as Pantaenus who similarly is identified as being born in a period where he met the 'successors to the apostles.'  When Alexander says that Narcissus was 116 years old during the reign of Severus (d. 211) most commentators use this to date the bishop to the last generation of the first century.  This bears an uncanny resemblance to Clement's statements - and Eusebius's inferences - that Clement was also old enough to have met the successors to the apostles.

Indeed this idea that Clement had met the 'successors of the apostles' appears over and over again in Eusebius's narrative.  He says a little later in the same section on Clement Eusebius says that:

In his book on the Passover he acknowledges that he had been urged by his friends to commit to writing, for posterity, the traditions which he had heard from the ancient presbyters [Church History 6.13.9]

And again:

Again, in the same books, Clement gives the tradition of the earliest presbyters, as to the order of the Gospels [Church History 6.14.7]

Now I would be the last person to deny that Eusebius's account of Clement is confused.  Nevertheless it is important to acknowledge that there are strong circumstantial reasons for accepting that Clement somehow went into hiding in Jerusalem and assumed the name 'Narcissus' or at least that he went by another name to escape detection.  This becomes especially significant at the end of the section on Clement where almost every commentator since Eusebius has taken a 'wrong turn' at his mention of the name 'Adamantius' as we read:

Again the above-mentioned Alexander, in a certain letter to Origen, refers to Clement, and at the same time to Pantænus, as being among his familiar acquaintances. He writes as follows:

For this, as you know, was the will of God, that the ancestral friendship existing between us should remain unshaken; nay, rather should be warmer and stronger.

For we know well those blessed fathers who have trodden the way before us, with whom we shall soon be; Pantænus, the truly blessed man and master, and the holy Clement, my master and benefactor, and if there is any other like them, through whom I became acquainted with you, the best in everything, my master and brother.

So much for these matters. But Adamantius, — for this also was a name of Origen—when Zephyrinus was bishop of Rome, visited Rome, desiring, as he himself somewhere says, to see the most ancient church of Rome.  After a short stay there he returned to Alexandria. And he performed the duties of catechetical instruction there with great zeal; Demetrius, who was bishop there at that time, urging and even entreating him to work diligently for the benefit of the brethren. [Church History 6.14.10 - 11]

Almost everyone has taken Eusebius's allusion to the fact that Origen 'was also named Adamantius' to mean that Eusebius is here referring to Origen going to Rome during the episcopacy of Zephyrinus (undoubtedly Photius is the source of the confusion) and then to Alexandria.  Yet this completely contradicts the statement made at the beginning of Book Six that Demetrius was furious with Alexander for making Origen a presbyter. Scholars have to argue that somehow Demetrius 'forgave Origen' - something that Eusebius never says.

Indeed I would argue that we should note what the passage actually says.  Eusebius has taken a reference to Adamatius visiting Rome at this time (c. 199 - 217 CE) and inserted as the closing words of what is clearly an account of Clement's activities.  The term 'Adamantius' is clearly related to Ezekiel 28 (i.e. that Adam before the Fall was 'Adamantine' and so those who have regain the purity of that state are too) and must have been a title of 'the perfect' in Alexandria.  The idea that 'Adamatius' here refers to Origen simply doesn't make sense here.  The Adamantine individual returning to Alexandria at this time has to be Clement.  The inference being of course that the teacher who began his career in Alexandria and who fled to Jerusalem during the reign of Commodus (possibly being renamed 'Narcissus' to avoid capture) went to Antioch after the death of Severus and then Rome before returning to Alexandria having reconciled himself with the Imperial authorities.

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