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
3.3 The Concept of Mystery
Because God is transcendent and categorically other in essence, the knowledge of God is a mystery. Clement comments on this theme in a great many places; there are 91 occurrences of musterion in Clement. With such an amount of text to analyse, it is amazing that just what Clement means by musterion is not completely clear. We will look at some of these texts which will give us some indication, then move to our focus: how Clement uses musterion with theoria. But first, we must briefly examine two possible sources which may have influenced him: the mystery religions and the Apostle Paul.
3.3.1 The Mystery Religions
The first thing to recognise is how Clement has adopted the religious language around him. Bigg proposed that Clement was personally involved with Eleusinian mysteries because he shows familiarity with the ideas and shares the language, but he also admits that the language was common with Platonists of the day. It is most likely, as Mayor maintains, that Clement is simply using the mystery language to show how the Church had something better; his polemical attack in Protrepticus 12-24 indicates his lack of acceptance of their veracity. At the same time, he does use the language of the mysteries, but hangs that language on a Christian framework: in Protrepticus 12.120,1-2 he speaks of the "holy mysteries" and says "My way is lighted with torches...I become holy whilst I am initiated. The Lord is the hierophant..." Yet is also "the only true God, the Word of God....This Jesus, who is eternal, the one great High Priest of the one God and of His Father..." Clement is clearly co-opting the language of the mysteries. We will now look briefly at his use of Paul when he speaks of mystery.
3.3.2 The Apostle Paul, musterion and Clement
Clement quotes the Apostle Paul in many of his sections where musterion is the focus. Six times in Strom V.10 Clement quotes Paul referring to a mystery text. We have already seen the importance of Book V in Clement's overall scheme (§2.4.2, pp.76-81); we confirm this here by recognising the prominent place given in this book to mystery. In §2.4.2 we have seen how Clement devotes the whole of Book V to the hidden nature of God's wisdom; Clement confirms this with his use of Paul. Almost every Pauline quotation (see notes 62 and 63 below) speaks of the mystery being hidden. Although there is a concentration of such quotations in Strom V.10, there are others in Book V which point to Clement's use of Paul to substantiate his position on mystery.
It is not altogether clear just what Paul means when he uses musterion, but most agree that it includes the revealing of something which has been concealed, or hidden. At times he seems to be referring to the gospel as a whole, which was a stumblingblock and foolishness because it did not seem to make sense; "human wisdom...is unwilling, indeed unable, to embrace the apparently absurd message of the crucified messiah." Among the many NT themes referred to as mystery: the doors of salvation have been opened wide for the Gentiles (Eph. 3:3; Col. 2:2), the transforming of the corporeal body into something incorporeal (1 Cor. 15:51), the analogical relationship of husband-wife/Christ-Church (Eph. 5:32), and probably many other things which he had seen in his vision (2 Cor. 12:1-4). Add to all of these items the implication that Paul carried an esoteric message for those who were able to receive it (1 Cor. 2:6-15 and 3:1-3) and we realize that the concept of musterion for Paul was vast. Commenting on 1 Cor. 2:6,7 Welborn says, "Paul understood that if he was to regain his position as the teacher and guide of the community, he must persuade the Corinthians that he possessed sof…a ™n musthr…J (2:7)." Regardless of whether Paul really had an esoteric tradition, Clement clearly believed he did and uses Paul's mystery texts extensively.
Clement follows Paul (probably by default) in his use of musterion, using it in many different ways. The allegorical method seems to be the most obvious, but he also uses the word referring both to the Incarnation and the Eucharist. Marsh points to two texts where Clement seems to use musterion in a way which means "symbol." However, as we have already stated, the bulk of Clement's use of the term is difficult to pin down. Before we move on to investigate whether there is a link between musterion and theoria, we should quickly summarize what we know for certain about Clement's use: first, he is mostly influenced by the Apostle Paul. Following this, he represents musterion in terms of being hidden, yet available to the gnostic. Lastly, though he does use musterion to refer to several key categories, the allegorical method of biblical interpretation - but chiefly what that allegorical reading reveals - seems to be at the heart of Clement's understanding of the word.
3.3.3 Clement's use of musterion and theoria
There are only a few examples where Clement clearly links musterion with theoria. Nevertheless, three of these passages seem to be quite significant. We will look at these three passages closely to see if we can make any conclusions.
As we have already discussed (pp.39-46) and will mention again (§4.2.4, pp.168-174), Strom I.1 is the key for understanding the whole work. In his opening chapter Clement wrestles with the idea of putting into writing these "apostolic seeds," this "blessed tradition." It is after he seems to have convinced his reader (and himself) that it is best to leave a written account of this tradition, that we find the first example of musterion and theoria mentioned together:
Some things my treatise will hint; on some it will linger; some it will merely mention. It will try to speak imperceptibly, to exhibit secretly, and to demonstrate silently. The dogmas taught by remarkable sects will be adduced; and to these will be opposed all that ought to be premised in accordance with the profoundest contemplation of the knowledge (epopteia n theoria n gnosis), which, as we proceed to the renowned and venerable canon of tradition, from the creation of the world, will advance to our view; setting before us what according to natural contemplation (theoria) necessarily has to be treated of beforehand, and clearing off what stands in the way of this arrangement. So that we may have our ears ready for the reception of the tradition of true knowledge; the soil being previously cleared of the thorns and of every weed by the husbandman, in order to the planting of the vine. For there is a contest, and the prelude to the contest; and there are some mysteries before other mysteries (musteria...mustherion).
Here we have a passage which uses the language of the mysteries (epopteia and musterion), but in the context of ecclesiastical terms such as "apostolic," "tradition," and "canon." Clement is preparing the reader (advanced catechumens in the first instance, see §4.2.4, pp.168-174) to enter into the mysteries which belong to the Church. He has already introduced musterion (13,1-2) as that which Christ has spoken and is now being communicated to others, and he has already introduced theoria (10,4). Though the use of theoria in this passage is not completely clear, it is safe to assume (without clear evidence to the contrary) that it refers to a spiritual "seeing." This position is strengthened here with the use of epopteia (see §3.4, pp.114-121) and by the fact that "natural contemplation" (fusike theoriaj) seems to be held in opposition to it.
Clement is presenting the process of moving from the physical to the metaphysical, and then to the spiritual. This is what makes this passage important for our purposes: in this introductory chapter Clement gives us a hint of his spiritual pathway. He describes the use of "natural contemplation" as "clearing off what stands in the way....the thorns and of every weed by the husbandman." This is needed to prepare the reader for these "apostolic seeds." After this, one is ready for the epoptikes theorias, the "seeing" of spiritual things, just as in the mystery religions "there are some mysteries before other mysteries."
As was clear in our discussion of the opening chapter of Stromateis (pp.39-46), the nature of the work is described in terms of being hidden and secret, and thus declared in a cryptic fashion. The next two passages we will look at come from Book V, which we have seen (pp.76-81) contains Clement's critical discussion of the hidden nature of Truth.
Towards the end of a section where Clement has been pointing to the practice of the Egyptian religions and the Greek philosophers to conceal certain teachings, he says this,
Further, those who instituted the mysteries, being philosophers, buried their doctrines in myths, so as not to be obvious to all. Did they then, by veiling human opinions, prevent the ignorant from handling them; and was it not more beneficial for the holy and blessed contemplation (theoria) of realities to be concealed?
We see the use of mystery and theoria here, but the interest for us is that we have Clement referring to theoria specifically among the philosophers. We have already seen this, but here he goes on to say that the philosophers followed "the tenets of the Barbarian [Jewish] philosophy" and both must be "expounded allegorically, not absolutely in all their expressions." (V.9.58,6) Here we have a reference which links allegory to theoria as Hanson has insisted (§2.2.3, p.57 n119), but Clement could easily be indicating that theoria is being hidden by the texts which only the allegorical reading brings out. This passage follows the exposition in Strom V.6 where Clement does just this: he uses an allegorical reading to show that the High Priest represents the theoria of the gnostic.
Strom V.10 follows this last passage; this chapter is Clement's reading of how the Apostle Paul (and other biblical writers) hid the mysteries of the faith. This is the beginning of a critical section of Chapter 10 which runs from V.10.60-12.82. After establishing the hidden nature of the Scriptures by the quotation of various biblical texts, Clement comes to his point: quoting 1 Cor. 2:6,7, he intends to reveal "the wisdom of God hidden in a mystery." Next he quotes 1 Cor. 3:1-3, linking it to this previous passage,
...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."
In effect, Clement is offering his commentary on St. Paul throughout this chapter; he reads in Paul the teaching of a higher level, the meat, which is a mystery. Now he gives us his explanation of what Paul is referring to,
...ye are yet carnal." 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 (epopteia theoria); for this is the flesh and blood of the Word, that is, the comprehension of the divine power and essence.
Because of the use of the "milk/meat" analogy, this is perhaps the most important text linking musterion with theoria. We have already seen (pp.76-81) and will see again (pp.167-172) just how critical this analogy to food is for Clement in his discussion on theoria. Here we need to notice that Clement says the knowledge of the divine essence (ousias) is theoria. We will discuss this point more fully later (Chapter Five); for now we simply want to notice the inclusion of this philosophical category in Clement's working definition of theoria.
3.3.4 Conclusions on musterion and theoria
We can now draw some conclusions as to how musterion fits into Clement's understanding of theoria. It is clear that Clement uses the term and concept of musterion with the mystery religions in mind; he co-opts this language to show that Christianity has the greater mysteries. It is also clear that his understanding and use of musterion is highly influenced by Paul; Clement sees in Pauline mystery a hidden aspect which only the mature can receive. The allegorical method of biblical interpretation is part of musterion for Clement, but mainly in that it hides the deeper sense of a text. The allegorical method in itself could hardly be a hidden mystery since Paul used it quite openly in his writings, as did Philo. Though we only find three passages which clearly link the two, we conclude that theoria is a mystery which Clement has chosen to reveal in Stromateis through the allegorical method. This is exactly what Clement does in his allegorical discussion of the High Priest text in Strom V.6. This is also made clear, not just on the weight of the passages we have considered above, but also by the important context of the last passage: it not only appears in the midst of the extremely important section of V.10.60-12.82, but it is tied directly to the critical "milk/meat" analogy.
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Clement of Alexandria and Christian Spirituality
Origins of Christian Theoria
what is spirituality?
- studies on clement
oral tradition II
hidden - Stromateis
- theoria and oral tradition
Technical Aspects of Theoria
- apophatic theoria
- apatheia and theoria
- concept of mystery
more sections coming...
- the threefold pathway
- theoria - spirituality
- stromateis book VII
- practical spirituality
- silence, silent prayer
- egyptian christianity
- clement's theoria
- clement's influence