“We have as a limit the cross of the Lord, by which we are fenced and hedged about from our former sins. Therefore, being regenerated, let us fix ourselves to it in truth, and return to sobriety, and sanctify ourselves.”
Clement of Alexandria was one of the major Greek-speaking thinkers of the early church. He came from a pagan background at Athens and his Christian theology was strongly influenced by Greek philosophy. Clement taught at the catechetical school in Alexandria, Egypt, where he was succeeded by another great teacher, Origen of Alexandria. Clement's best-known work is a set of three treatises entitled Protrepticus, Paedagogus, and Stromata.
“For the wounds of the sinner are the rents of the garment of the flesh, the holes made by lusts, through which the shame of the soul within is seen; namely sin. Because of this it will not be easy to save the garment that has been torn away all round, that has rotted away in many lusts, and has been rent asunder from salvation.”
Clement was born probably c. 150 of heathen parentage at Athens. The circumstances of his conversion are not known. It is supposed that he was troubled, like Justin, by the problem of God and, like him, was attracted to Christianity by the nobility and purity of the evangelical doctrines and morals. His conversion, if it had not yet taken place, was at least imminent when he undertook the journeys spoken of in his writings. He set out from Greece and traveled through southern Italy, Palestine, and finally Egypt, seeking everywhere the society of Christian teachers.
“Let us haste, let us run, my fellow men; us, who are God-loving and God-like images of the Word, let us haste, let us run, let us take his yoke, let us receive, to conduct us to immortality, the good charioteer of men. Let us love Christ.”
Clement was naturally of a broad and noble mind. His character was sympathetic and generous, and he was always eager to help his disciples and readers. His erudition was prodigious; no other ancient writer, not even Origen, knew or cited so many pagan and Christian authors as he. No doubt his was not all first-hand knowledge but obtained largely by reading florilegia and miscellaneous collections of extracts. His learning is none the less surprising and, in any case, proves that he had read widely and remembered much of what he had read. Add to this a fluent, agreeable, and florid style, and you will be able to form some idea of Clement's ability as a writer.
“Thus the apostle, in his solicitude for us, discriminates in the case of entertainments, saying, that “if any one called a brother be found a fornicator, or an adulterer, or an idolater, with such an one not to eat;” neither in discourse or food are we to join, looking with suspicion on the pollution thence proceeding, as on the tables of the demons.”
Towards 180, he met Pantaenus at Alexandria, and took up his permanent residence in that city. There he was ordained a presbyter and, from being a disciple of Pantaenus, became, in 190, his associate and fellow-teacher. In 202 or 203, he was forced to suspend his lessons on account of the persecution of Septimius Severus, which closed the Christian school of Alexandria. He withdrew into Cappadocia, residing there with his former disciple, Bishop Alexander. We meet him again in 211, carrying to the Christians of Antioch a letter from Alexander, in which are mentioned the services he, Clement, had rendered in Cappadocia.
“It is good, then, neither to eat flesh nor to drink wine" (Rom. 14:21), as both Paul and the Pythagoreans acknowledge. For … the fumes arising from them being dense, darken the soul. If one partakes of them, he does not sin. Only let him partake temperately, not dependent on them, nor gaping after fine fare. For a voice will whisper to him, saying, "Destroy not the work of God for the sake of food" (Rom. 14:20) For it is the mark of a silly mind to be amazed and stupefied at what is presented at vulgar banquets, after having tasted the rich fare which is in the Word.”
In 215 or 216, the same Alexander, now bishop of Jerusalem, writes to Origen and speaks of Clement as having gone to his rest. Clement must therefore have died between 211 and 216. Ancient authors speak of him as St. Clement, but his name was not admitted to the Roman Martyrology by Benedict XIV.