Friday, August 5, 2011

Why Clement and Origen Were So Popular

Philo underlines Clement's Alexandrian identity. Since the dissemination of the Philonic corpus came through Alexandrians, particularly Clement and Origen, we must conclude that Alexandria contained a scriptorium for copying texts. This is supported by the lack of Philonic citations in the last three books of Clement's Stromateis, composed probably after he left Alexandria during the persecutions of 202. When Origen later went to Caesarea he took a collection of books and scrolls, including works by Philo, which was to become the basis of the library of Pamphilus and Eusebius. The Christian library in Jerusalem had been founded earlier by Alexander, Clement's student, who would have used his experience in Alexandria under Clement as a model. All of this confirms that there existed in Alexandria a school, library and scriptorium with a strong tradition of biblical scholarship as early as the middle of the second century. [Eric Osborne, Clement of Alexandria p. 20]

A quick note. I know I am egghead and many of my readers are eggheads but doesn't anyone wonder how people like Clement and Origen became popular in any respect. Irenaeus is easy to figure out. He was anti-popular. His books read like commands or decrees. He either had power or wanted power. He wasn't trying to be 'popular' through his writing. Irenaeus was using written words to carry out changes in the Church.

But Clement and Origen are another story completely. They don't make anything explicit. Everything is veiled in a shroud of secrecy. All of which brings me to my main point. How did these guys become famous? Who were they writing for?

In one sense we get the picture that Clement had money so we can imagine that he represented the 'mystical aristocrat' typology. You know 'I have it all and now I am going to play the part of mystagogue.' This type has always existed throughout history. No one should be surprised that such individuals existed in the early Alexandrian Church. Ambrose the deacon of the Alexandrian Church in the mid third century represents the perpetuation of his typology in the next generation.

Yet Origen was broke. You can feel the palpable disappointment among the 'Origenists' that Ambrose 'only' commissioned Origen to write books. Jerome seems to be disturbed that Ambrose didn't put Origen in his will.

But then, aren't those the facts of life? Scholars and bloggers are very aware that they aren't going to be well compensated for what they do. Origen must have known that setting out along the 'philosophical path' would not lead to a hoard of riches. Yet I have always been puzzled that Origen ever made it big. I mean, which of us contemporaries were reading his books.

He had students certainly. Yet Origen was much bigger, much more influential than a mere 'teacher.' I have a hard time making sense of how he and Clement 'fit' into the third century Church in Palestine.

We must believe that Clement must have started off in Alexandria as the typical 'rich patron' who had a Church built around him. Yet when he ran off to Palestine he must have left his riches behind. Maybe that's why he returned to Alexandria. Maybe that's why he wrote Quis Dives Salvetur. But what kind of audience could the rich mystagogue 'sugar daddy' have hoped to attract in Palestine?

I noted in my last post that I don't even see why the Palestinian Church would have had any need for 'philosophers.' Surely they couldn't have provided an essential function in the Church. If anything having these learned men engaging in speculative research (even if it was couched as 'tradition') could only confuse the lay church members.

The only thing I can come up with is the fact that:
  1. there were a lot of Alexandrian ex-pats in Palestine fleeing the violence in Alexandria as early as the revolt of the Bucoli (c. 172 CE). 
  2. these people couldn't have had access to the books that were available to the learned in Egypt
  3. so Clement and Origen represented something of a 'living library' of texts and traditions in exile
In this way the learned scholars served a definite function.  They provided a valuable service to the Alexandrian ex-pats in Palestine.   Perhaps this is why Alexander went to such lengths to establish a library at Jerusalem.   The Alexandrian Christian community missed having access to good books.

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