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
3.2 Apatheia, the Absence of all Passion
Apatheia is a category in Clement which has received a great amount of attention over the years. Clement's use of this mainly Stoic category leads him into a questionable Christology. It is because of apatheia that Clement holds forth Jesus as having something more than a normal corporeal body:
The Gnostic is such, that he is subject only to the affections that exist for the maintenance of the body, such as hunger, thirst, and the like. But in the case of the Saviour, it were ludicrous [to suppose] that the body, as a body, demanded the necessary aids in order to its duration. For He ate, not for the sake of the body, which was kept together by a holy energy, but in order that it might not enter into the minds of those who were with Him to entertain a different opinion of Him; in like manner as certainly some afterwards supposed that He appeared in a phantasmal shape. But He was entirely impassible (apatheia) inaccessible to any movement of feeling--either pleasure or pain.
Here Clement has opened the door to a docetic Christ while, at the same time, he mentions the need to keep the same door shut. This passage occurs in the most important chapter on the subject of apatheia, Strom VI.9. In another place (Strom III.7.59,3) Clement approvingly cites a letter of Valentinus which supports this same position. It should be added that Clement does not hesitate to attack the docetists. To conclude our comments on Clement's apatheia with respect to Jesus, it is important to see that Clement had been influenced by the philosophical current around him; since God is apathes, the Logos must be as well. Now we must move on to see how this concept of apatheia affects Clement's anthropology.
Clement's gnostic is to "become like his Teacher in impassibility." The whole of Strom VI.9 is devoted to this concept:
The Gnostic is such, that he is subject only to the affections that exist for the maintenance of the body, such as hunger, thirst, and the like. (71,1)
Nor, consequently, does he fall into any desire and eagerness... (72,1)
For it were ridiculous to say that the gnostic and perfect man must not eradicate anger and courage... (72,3)
For knowledge (gnosis) produces practice, and practice habit or disposition; and such a state as this produces impassibility, not moderation of passion. (74,1)
And what necessity for self-restraint to him who has not need of it? For to have such desires, as require self-restraint in order to their control, is characteristic of one who is not yet pure, but subject to passion. (76,2)
This state of passionlessness is expressed in numerous other places; this gnostic is not even subject to temptation. Here we see where Clement's understanding of sanctification has been overly influenced by his eclectic philosophy. The apostles, according to Clement, had mastered all passions, even those "as seem good, [like] courage, zeal, joy, desire..." Though Clement stood against various Gnostic groups who opposed marriage, his gnostic does not engage in sexual relations with his wife, treating her instead "as a sister." Clement does, however, distinguish his apatheia from the philosophical equivalent; the gnostic cannot attain this state on his own.
According to Clement, apatheia is only attained by a process of discipline and purification assisted by the Logos:
As then, for those of us who are diseased in body a physician is required, so also those who are diseased in soul require a paedagogue to cure our maladies; and then a teacher, to strain and guide the soul to all requisite knowledge when it is made able to admit the revelation of the Word. Eagerly desiring, then, to perfect us by a gradation conducive to salvation, suited for efficacious discipline, a beautiful arrangement is observed by the all-benignant Word, who first exhorts, then trains, and finally teaches.
We will discuss how this aspect fits into Clement's spiritual pathway later (§4.2.3, pp.157-160). It is sufficient here to note that the Logos acts as the doctor to heal and purify, but the gnostic has the duty to train himself; "It is good if for the sake of the kingdom of heaven a man emasculates himself from all desire." However, our discussion here is concerned with how this category relates to theoria.
3.2.1 Prerequisite for theoria
For Clement, one had to be pure in heart to "see" God. As we will see in §4.3.3 (pp.177-184), the use of "seeing" God "face to face" is a recurring theme in Clement's use of theoria; being pure in heart is required for the gnostic to have this encounter. There are only four passages where apatheia and theoria occur linked together; we will look at the clearest one of these first,
And since there are two paths of reaching the perfection of salvation, works and knowledge, He called the "pure in heart blessed, for they shall see God"....Pure then as respects corporeal lusts, and pure in respect of holy thoughts, he means those are, who attain to the knowledge of God, when the chief faculty of the soul has nothing spurious to stand in the way of its power. When, therefore, he who partakes gnostically of this holy quality devotes himself to contemplation (theoria), communing in purity with the divine, he enters more nearly into the state of impassible (apatheia) identity...
This passage contains each of the three elements we have mentioned: apatheia, theoria, and "seeing" God. It also indicates what we have already established, apatheia is a prerequisite for theoria; but Clement is also saying that when the gnostic engages in theoria "he enters more nearly into the state of impassible identity." This could be an allusion to the state of perfection in the next life, but for now we recognise this to be the only occasion where Clement gives this reading. Lilla points to this passage saying that "apatheia and theoria cannot be separated from each other." Two of the other passages confirm this connection,
...and man, when deified purely into a passionless (apatheian) state, becomes a unit....In the contemplative life (theoria), then, one in worshipping God attends to himself, and through his own spotless purification beholds the holy God holily...IV.23.152,1-3
...the soul, which is ever improving in the acquisition of virtue and the increase of righteousness, should obtain a better place in the universe, as tending in each step of advancement towards the habit of impassibility, till "it come to a perfect man," to the excellence at once of knowledge and of inheritance....to the transcendent and continual contemplation (theoriaj) of the Lord in eternity. VII.2.10,1-2
It is clear that to have the encounter of "seeing" God (theoria), the gnostic must first be purified (apatheia).
3.2.2 Abstraction from the Senses
We have seen (pp.89-91) how Clement seems to follow a common method of abstraction; we now need to examine two particular texts where he does this:
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. This is, then, the import of the silence of five years prescribed by Pythagoras, which he enjoined on his disciples; that, abstracting themselves from the objects of sense, they might with the mind alone contemplate the Deity.
...the greater mysteries, in which nothing remains to be learned of the universe, but only to contemplate (epopteia) and comprehend nature and things....If, then, abstracting all that belongs to bodies and things called incorporeal, we cast ourselves into the greatness of Christ, and thence advance into immensity by holiness, we may reach somehow to the conception of the Almighty, knowing not what He is, but what He is not. And form and motion, or standing, or a throne, or place, or right hand or left, are not at all to be conceived as belonging to the Father of the universe, although it is so written. But what each of these means will be shown in its proper place. The First Cause is not then in space, but above both space, and time, and name, and conception. - Strom. V.11.67,1-3 and V.11.71,1-4
Lilla shows the presence of this kind of abstraction in Plato, then in Philo as well. This makes it all the more likely that Clement is simply building on the systems of these two which is consistent with most of the other data we have seen.
I would suggest that Clement is struggling to reconcile the philosophical concept of transcendence and the ineffable nature of God with his understanding of immanence, neither of which he is willing to relinquish. In the discussion of transcendence Clement sees this immateriality, this abstraction, as a way to hold on to transcendence without giving up immanence. If "like understands like," then the gnostic must somehow be able to shed this corporeal essence in order to have the "face to face" communion which Clement seems to think is possible.
Both of the above texts include the use of epopteia but both are used to indicate intellectual contemplation. We will look more closely at Clement's use of this term in §3.4 (pp.114-121), but for now we simply want to note the concept of abstraction linked with the "seeing" of the mind.
It is also important to see the flow of Strom V (§2.4.2, pp.76-81 and §2.5, pp.81-85); this will help to understand Clement's use of abstraction. Clement has used the entire discussion of symbols in Strom V to bring the reader to the place of understanding that "if one expect to apprehend...by the senses, he has fallen far from the truth." Kovacs maintains that one purpose of Clement's exegesis of the Temple in V.6 is to prepare the reader for "the insatiable vision of God." After this text where the High Priest is shown to be "putting off his consecrated robe" (V.6.39,3), the world of the senses, these abstraction texts follow to reinforce the message. Then, Clement goes back to old material, a short defense of philosophy followed by what Mondésert calls "a long, very long chapter. One of those which tested the patience of the reader...[with] the monotony, and weakness of the arguments..." We have seen that this is how Clement conceals the paradosis - he bogs the reader down with extraneous material. As we have seen in §2.5 (pp.84-85), he opens Strom VI with a promise to reveal more, but he digresses again. These abstraction texts are part of Clement's symphonic movement carrying the reader (he hopes!) to Strom VII where he says he will give the clearest presentation of the gnostic.
3.2.3 Conclusions on apatheia and theoria
We conclude that apatheia is an integral part of Clement's system of gnîsij and therefore it affects his concept of theoria. Clement's assumption is that the soul which enjoys the contemplation of God must be pure. If one ceases from this purity, theoria would also cease. The abstraction from the senses, another aspect of theoria, facilitates the attainment of purity; when one leaves the senses behind, he is ascending into the realm of pure mind and thought. We will see in our discussion of silent prayer (§5.6.3, pp.243-245) that purity of thought also concerns Clement; the concept of purity touches every aspect of his gnosis.
We will see that apatheia, or purity, will never be far removed from any aspect of this study. The concept of discipline, the building of virtue, will come up again in our overview of Paidagogus (§4.2.3, pp.157-160). This is part of Clement's plan which leads to apatheia and theoria. We will see throughout the discussion in Chapter Five that purity is a critical element of Clement's practical presentation of the gnostic. Finally, we will see this concept to be one of the three main objectives of the gnostic in life (§5.7.2, p.257). As Lilla has correctly said, "apatheia and theoria cannot be separated from each other."
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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