Bio page | Statement of Faith
Chapter 1 Introduction
Chapter 2 The Origins of Christian theoria
Chapter 3 Technical Aspects of theoria
Chapter 4 Theoria: Final Stage in the Spiritual Pathway
Chapter 5 The Practical Aspects of theoria
Chapter 6 Conclusion
Addendum Appendices, Bibliography
(You can now download the PDF of my Ph.D. Thesis, University of St Andrews - March 2001)
I will present various sections of my research in summary form with very few citations. PDF files of each chapter can be downloaded above - these represent the "official" work with page numbers and footnotes - these should be used if you plan to cite this work.
Clement of Alexandria
2.5 Theoria: Part of the Secret Paradosis
There are two significant sections of Stromateis which give us some evidence that this oral tradition includes theoria, a mystical teaching of spirituality and prayer. In these sections Clement introduces his discussion on theoria with comments about oral tradition.
We have just seen that Book V is the most lengthy presentation of the hidden nature of Truth. In Chapter 10 Clement demonstrates how and why the apostle Paul concealed and revealed both in his writings and ministry. He cites several texts to show this, then he says,
For there were certainly, among the Hebrews, some things delivered unwritten. "For when ye ought to be teachers for the time...ye have again need that one teach you which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food.....solid food belongs to those who are of full age...let us go on to perfection."
Here we have the "food" theme again; this alerts the reader that a revealing section has come. This text leads the reader to another very important one; to avoid a long citation I will give V.10.63,1-66,1 in an elliptical fashion,
Barnabas, too, who in person preached the word along with the apostle in the ministry of the Gentiles, says, "I write to you most simply, that ye may understand." Then below, exhibiting already a clearer trace of gnostic tradition....Blessed be our Lord, brethren, who has put into our hearts wisdom, and the understanding of His secrets.
For the prophet says, "Who shall understand the Lord's parable but the wise and understanding, and he that loves his Lord?" It is but for few to comprehend these things....[several OT texts which speak of hidden truth]
Wherefore instruction, which reveals hidden things...."For I know," says the apostle, "that when I come to you, I shall come in the fulness of the blessing of Christ;" designating the spiritual gift, and the gnostic communication, which being present he desires to impart to them....
But only to a few of them is shown what those things are which are contained in the mystery. Rightly then, Plato, in the Epistles, treating of God, says: "We must speak in enigmas..."
...this is what the holy Apostle Paul says, preserving the prophetic and truly ancient secret from which the teachings that were good were derived by the Greeks: "Howbeit we speak wisdom among them who are perfect... but we speak the wisdom of God hidden in a mystery." Then proceeding, he thus inculcates the caution against the divulging of his words to the multitude in the following terms: "And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual, but as to carnal, even to babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, not with meat: for ye were not yet able; neither are ye now able. For ye are yet carnal."
Here Clement uses various citations, mainly Paul and OT, to support the argument he has been presenting throughout Book V - God's truth is hidden. But notice, he inserts comments along the way which imply that he is about to reveal some "gnostic communication" (64,5). We also notice that he uses some of the same Pauline texts which he had introduced earlier (V.4.25,2-26,1; see note 197), ending with the "milk...meat" analogy. This section introduces a very important passage,
If, then, "the milk" is said by the apostle to belong to the babes, and "meat" to be the food of the full-grown, milk will be understood to be catechetical instruction--the first food, as it were, of the soul. And meat is the mystic contemplation (he epoptike theoria); for this is the flesh and the blood of the Word, that is, the comprehension of the divine power and essence...For the knowledge of the divine essence is the meat and drink of the divine Word.
Three times in Book V he uses the analogy of "milk...meat" to illustrate two levels of believers, and now "meat" is "the mystic contemplation." We need to note the connection Clement has made: he uses the symbolic nature of philosophy coupled with the Scriptures to "awaken in the perceptive reader a desire for the true gnosis." Then he uses Paul's references to an esoteric teaching (the "milk...meat" analogy), and now he has revealed: "meat is mystic contemplation." This confirms what we have seen in our discussion of Clement's use of the "food" theme in Strom. I.1 - this gnostic "food" is theoria. We have just seen how Clement ends Strom. V.10; V.11 then begins with the following pronouncement;
Now the sacrifice which is acceptable to God is unswerving abstraction from the body and its passions...For he who neither employs his eyes in the exercise of thought, nor draws aught from his senses, but with pure mind itself applies to objects, [this man] practises the true philosophy.
From this context, this abstraction appears to be Clement's definition of theoria, his understanding of what it means to receive this spiritual "meat." Notice also, he says this person "practises the true philosophy." He then proceeds with a discourse on apophatic theory, which covers Strom. V.11 and 12.
The remainder of Book V represents a digression into the familiar topic of "the plagiarism of the Greeks from the Barbarian [Hebrew] philosophy." This digression will last through Book VI.5, but not without a hint of the revealing discussion he has left behind. Book VI opens with a reminder of the "meat;" "For the Lord enjoined 'to labour for the meat which endureth to eternity'." We have already mentioned (§2.2.1, pp.39-46) that Clement uses the gnostic "food" theme to cue the reader of a revealing section. Here he is not revealing, but reminding the reader of the important topic he had discussed in Book V. He reminds the reader of the role the Paidagogus played in preparing the believer for this meat. He also brings the layout of the Stromateis to remembrance;
...promiscuously variegated like a meadow. And such being the case, my notes shall serve as kindling sparks; and in the case of him, who is fit for knowledge, if he chances to fall in with them, research made with exertion will turn out to his benefit and advantage. For it is right that labour should precede not only food, but also, much more knowledge...
So just as our discussion here has taken a slight detour, Clement throws the casual reader off the trail with "the truth mixed up in the dogmas of philosophy, or rather covered over and hidden." But he does continue, as was his announced plan, to give hints along the way. After this extended amount of wandering, he comes back to this theme of mystical contemplation (Book VI.7), again introducing it with a comment on oral tradition;
[Christ] Himself taught the apostles during His presence; then it follows that the gnosis...which is sure and reliable, as being imparted and revealed by the Son of God, is wisdom. And if, too, the end of the wise man is contemplation, that of those who are still philosophers aims at it, but never attains it....And the gnosis itself is that which has descended by transmission to a few, having been imparted unwritten by the apostles. Hence, then, knowledge or wisdom ought to be exercised up to the eternal and unchangeable habit of contemplation.
So we see that the concept of contemplation is clearly introduced, or connected with, oral tradition in at least two major sections. We also must note that Clement is challenging the philosophers - they can never attain true theoria, only the gnostic "practises the true philosophy." (V.11.67,1-2)
In Strom. VI.8 Clement returns again to this "milk...meat" theme saying that "milk" is the study of philosophy, which must mean that "meat" is again contemplation. As we have mentioned, this "milk...meat" analogy is an example of Clement's subtle way of dropping hints to the reader and is part of his revealing.
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