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
2.4 The Hidden Nature of Stromateis
We have seen that Clement claims to be the recipient of an apostolic oral tradition and that he intends to put this tradition into writing in the Stromateis; it is also clear that he intends this tradition to be hidden. Why does he hide this tradition? He addresses this question numerous times;
Some things I purposely omit, in the exercise of a wise selection, afraid to write what I guarded against speaking: not grudging--for that were wrong--but fearing for my readers, lest they stumble by taking them in a wrong sense; and, as the proverb says, we should be found "reaching a sword to a child." Strom. I.1.14,3.
But since this tradition (paradosis) is not published alone for him who perceives the magnificence of the word; it is requisite, therefore, to hide in a mystery the wisdom spoken, which the Son of God taught...And even now I fear, as it is said, "to cast the pearls before swine, lest they tread them under foot, and turn and rend us." For it is difficult to exhibit the really pure and transparent words respecting the true light, to swinish and untrained hearers..."But what ye hear in the ear," says the Lord, "proclaim upon the houses;" bidding them receive the secret traditions of the true knowledge, and expound them aloft and conspicuously... Strom. I.12.55.1,3-4; 56,2.
This paradosis is guarded so that the heretics do not make claim to it. We have already seen (according to the Ltr.Theo.) what happened to the SGM when it fell into the wrong hands. This gives us another example of how Clement deals with shared points of contact and the Gnostics; he refuses to abdicate this tradition, but in wisdom he will keep it hidden. Also, Clement assumes that his writing will be available to a wider audience and he fears that this gnosis could be misunderstood to the detriment of the hearer. A young, untrained believer could misuse the gnosis, bringing trouble both to himself and to others. There is also possibly a "marketing" concern. Clement is competing for students in an environment rich with philosophical/religious ideas. As we have seen, many of these systems included some kind of esoteric teaching. There is a certain attraction which a "secret" doctrine brings. Perhaps Clement is offering his coursework with this in mind. All of these are more practical reasons for hiding this paradosis, and I believe each plays a part (some more than others) in Clement's motivation. But I think his main reason for hiding this tradition is a philosophical/historical one. Let us briefly consider this issue.
Clement takes great care to illustrate to his reader the historical precedents for hiding Truth; he turns to the philosophers, the OT, Jesus, and to the apostle Paul. Clement actually only discusses this hidden nature of truth on four occasions, but his main discussion covers a large section of Book V. We need to pause here to look more closely at this very important section of Stromateis.
2.4.1 Books I-IV: A Plan Hidden by Disorder
We cannot at this time become engrossed in a dicussion on the layout and plan of Stromateis; we do this in Chapter Four. But to get an understanding of the importance of Stromateis V, we need a brief explanation. Books I-IV seem to be the extension of Clement's discussion of ethics which he began in Paidagogus, a work largely used to train catechumens. Mondésert's list of the basic theme of the books in Stromateis is probably about as close as one can get in one sentence. Although the feel in Stromateis is not as parochial as Paidagogus, Clement is really still acting as an instructor. We have already seen (§2.2.1, pp.39-46) Clement's warning that he would hide the oracles amongst philosophical categories; the whole of Book I is an apology for using philosophy. In Book II he promises to get into different subject matter, "the department of symbol and enigma," (II.1.1,2) but this does not happen until Book V. Before we get there, Clement discusses numerous other topics, some important, others redundant: faith, hope, the response to God from fear or love, second repentance, then back to the Mosaic Law and ethics (somewhat like the end of Book I), and as he comes to the end he seems to stumble onto one last subject - marriage. Then we come to Book III, his most polemical writing against the Gnostics concerning marriage and the proper understanding of sexuality. Book III was most likely a separate work which Clement simply stuck into Stromateis because it fit the immediate need to discuss marriage. Here is the wandering style, what I believe to be the purposeful haphazard approach which Clement has chosen to hide the paradosis. He tells the reader where he wants to go (II.1.1,2), and then wanders around hoping to lose the easily discouraged; the diligent reader, he knows, will continue the hunt.
The main reason we must jump ahead to Book V is that our study is concerned with Clement's use of theoria. It is obvious from the frequency of our term (see Appendix 1, p.296) that Books II-IV are not as critical. Book I has numerous occurrences of theoria, but it is mostly introductory in nature. Book II has only a few passages which are important for our purposes; we will discuss these few texts as we move along in our study, but they are, in Clement's words, "hints." It will be noted in Appendix 1 that there are no occurrences of theoria in Book III. We see this as evidence that this was a separate treatise written prior to the remainder of Stromateis, but more importantly, shows the lack of relevance for our study. When we come to Book IV Clement again mentions his most immediate target, "in the sequel...we shall set forth the department of symbols." (IV.1.1,2) Here we must also note that he alerts the reader to yet another topic he wants to discuss, first principles. (IV.1.2,1) But he admits that before he gets to this, he must "complete the discourse on ethics." (IV.1.3,2) Book IV is very much like Book II for our study: there are a few hints dropped here and there, but mainly Clement is going over ground of little use to us. The main thrust of Book IV is on martyrdom. To conclude our comments on Books I-IV we need to make one more observation.
We will see as our study progresses that Clement does leave hints along the way, foreshadowings of important things to come. He does this at the end of Book IV,
Those, then, who run down created existence and vilify the body are wrong; not considering that the frame of man was formed erect for the contemplation of heaven...
Then follows a strange discussion, facilitated with what appears to be gnostic allegorical exegesis, on communicating with heaven (IV.26.169-170) which ends with another promise of future discussion, "...the Pythagoreans....[did not think] the Divinity could not hear those who speak silently....We shall, however, treat of prayer in due course by and by." (IV.26.171,1-2) Here Clement mentions the concept of silent prayer for the first time; we will see that this is an extremely important topic (see §5.6, pp.237-255). This brings us to Book V.
2.4.2 Book V: the Revealing Begins to take Shape
"Of the gnostic so much has been cursorily, as it were, written." (V.1.1,1) What a beginning to one of the most important books in the Stromateis. As Mondésert correctly points out, Book V is critical as evidence for the esoteric teaching which Clement claims to produce. The entire book is given to the discussion which he has previously promised (II.1.1,2 and IV.1.2,1), how the ancients used symbols and enigmas to conceal their teaching. Very early in the chapter he reveals why he will spend so much time on this symbolism,
For, bound in this earthly body, we apprehend the objects of sense by means of the body....But if one expect to apprehend all things by the senses, he has fallen far from the truth. Spiritually, therefore, the apostle writes respecting the knowledge of God, "For now we see as through a glass, but then face to face." For the vision of the truth is given but to few. Strom. V.1.7,4-5
Mondésert says that the main idea in Book V is "symbolisme, et non pas de l'ésotérisme," but he fails to see why symbolism is so important to Clement. He tells us in the passage above that anyone who expects to understand higher things with only the senses will fail miserably - this understanding is only given to a few. The whole point of Book V is to bring the astute reader to the understanding that one must go beyond the senses to understand the gnostic teaching. Symbolism has always been used to hide the esoteric truths which Clement wants to reveal here in Stromateis. The focus for Clement is not the symbolism, but to show what those symbols have been concealing.
Mondésert is correct when he says that Clement misunderstands the text of Paul quoted in V.10.64,4. He then attempts to show with an outline of Book V how the context proves his point, but his entire argument fails on one simple fact which seems to escape him (and those who take his lead on this point): the main idea of Book V is symbolism, but Clement is showing how esoteric teachings have been hidden through symbolism. Mondésert eventually points to the allegorical method as Clement's esoteric tradition. In the same way that he has missed the purpose of symbolism, he has missed the point of the allegorical method. The allegorical method is important, but more important is the purpose for that special reading of Scripture. The allegorical method reveals the hidden teachings.
This brings us back to Clement's reason for citing the historical precedents in Strom. V.4-10. Clement shows the use of this symbolism and allegorical method in the philosophers, the OT, Jesus, and finally in the apostle Paul. He does this to justify his own methodology of hiding the esoteric teachings he has promised. We obviously cannot go over this whole section, but we should look at some examples which Clement uses in each of these four categories listed above.
Clement cites numerous examples of philosophers hiding their teachings; in V.4 he cites the Egyptian use of letters and shapes and in V.5 the symbols of the Pythagoreans. In V.9 and 10 he reveals the secrecy of the Greeks,
It was not only the Pythagoreans and Plato, then, that concealed many things; but the Epicureans too say that they have things that may not be uttered, and do not allow all to peruse those writings....And the disciples of Aristotle say that some of their treatises are esoteric, and others common and exoteric. 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 of realities to be concealed? Strom. V.9.58,1-5
Rightly then, Plato, in the epistles, treating of God, says: "We must speak in enigmas; that...he who reads may remain ignorant." For the God of the universe, who is above all speech, all conception, all thought, can never be committed to writing, being inexpressible even by His own power. Strom. V.10.65,1-2
One interesting thing to note in his citations of the philosophers is that he consistently sprinkles biblical witnesses into the discussion, as if to keep "the orthodox" from reacting against it. Yet overall, the philosophers are shown in a positive light. In V.10.66,3 Plato is cited as "truth loving;" the Pythagorean vow of silence is shown to be not only good, but something taken from Moses.
The OT gets sprinkled in here and there, but V.6 is devoted to the mystical meaning of the Tabernacle and the High Priest. The chapter opens; "It were tedious to go over all the Prophets and the Law, specifying what is spoken in enigmas; for almost the whole Scripture gives its utterances in this way." This section on the High Priest begins; "Now the high priest's robe is the symbol of the world of sense." (V.6.37,1) Though we do not want to discuss this critical passage here, it must be noted how the gnostic sheds his robe (the senses, V.6.39,3) in order to be "replenished with insatiable contemplation face to face." (V.6.40,1) Again, we see the direction of Book V leading the reader away from the senses.
It is interesting that this lengthy section in Book V only has one quotation of Jesus speaking about hidden Truth (V.12.80,6). Only four other times in all of Stromateis does Clement quote the words of Jesus referring to hidden Truth. When Clement seeks NT prooftexts for the hidden nature of Truth he prefers Paul.
The apostle Paul is cited many times throughout Book V to support hidden tradition. We will focus our attention on a section which contains three Pauline passages;
"Howbeit we speak wisdom among those that are perfect; yet not the wisdom of this world, nor or the princes of this world, that come to nought. But we speak the wisdom of God hidden in a mystery..."
Wherefore he adds, "But we preach, as it is written, what eye hath not seen, and ear hath not heard, and hath not entered into the heart of man, what God hath prepared for them that love Him. For God hath revealed it to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searcheth all things, even the deep things of God..."
..."Brethren, I could not speak to you as to spiritual, but as to carnal, to babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, not with meat: for ye were not able..." . V.4.25,2-26,1. Clement is citing: 1 Cor. 2 and 3
Three separate NT texts are quoted here by Clement, two of them used again in Book V, and one which is a significant text used elsewhere. All three come from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, the important second and third chapters. These are important chapters because Paul appears to be speaking about an esoteric knowledge; this is exactly why Clement is drawn to these texts. The first text (1 Cor. 2:6-8) contains the important phrases, "we speak wisdom among the perfect...the wisdom of God hidden in a mystery." Clement's use of this text seems obvious within the larger context of Book V where he seeks NT verification of the hidden nature of Truth. He uses this text twice more in Book V with the same purpose in mind.
To continue the V.4.25 text, Clement continues in almost commentary fashion with 1 Cor. 2:9,10 where he quotes, "God hath revealed it to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searcheth all things, even the deep things of God." (V.4.25,4) This passage is not used again in Book V, but is cited in two other places to indicate this same revealing of hidden Truth. Finally, he cites 1 Cor. 3:1-3, a text which is critical to Clement, "Brethren, I could not speak to you as to spiritual, but as to carnal...I have fed you with milk, not with meat..." We have already seen (§2.2.1, pp.39-46) the importance of the "food" theme; in our next section we will discuss the significance of this "milk...meat" passage in more detail - right now we just want to notice that it represents the pistis and the gnosis of the believer. In Book V Clement is urging the reader to become a gnosis believer: to embrace this movement, expressed through symbols and enigmas, away from the senses and towards something better - his paradosis.
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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