I am participating in the reading group Read the Fathers. In order to help me maintain this discipline I have been posting my notes each weekend. These are my notes from this week:
This week’s readings are from Clement of Alexandria’s Exhortation to the Heathen.
Clement of Alexander was an influential Christian philosopher from the second century (read more here). In Exhortation to the Heathen he challenges his pagan audience to see beyond their traditions in order to find Truth. According to Clement paganism turns “humans into animals” while Christianity turns “rocks into humans” and “beasts into humans.” The Gospel is a song that brings the dead to life. God’s Word and Spirit are presented as part of this melody that rings through the cosmos. Clement calls his pagan audience to hear the song, receive the grace of God, and experience the love and salvation of God.
Clement notes that God has spoken in a variety of ways (familiarity with Hebrews?) including everything from the writings of Moses, Isaiah, and Elijah to the burning bush, pillar of fire, pillar of cloud, etc. John the Baptist is an important one of those voices. He is the forerunner of the Word (Chapter 1).
In contrast Clement critiques pagan theology using the immorality of the gods and the worship of the gods as proof of their folly. He invites his readers to become children of God instead. This takes place by knowing the Word. The Word who became man was more than a man, but the gods, according to Clement, do not exist in reality, but rather are based on the memories of past humans (Chapter 2). The “gods” are demons and the worship of these gods is evil (Chapter 3).
Clement continues the Hebraic tradition of mocking pagan idols as being hand made. He lists many popular images in his day and explains the material used to create those images as well as the locations that sources the images. He observes that the true image of God–humans–is debased by the worship of these images (Chapter 4).
The philosophers are indicted for ignoring the true “First Cause” of all things: God. Instead other things like fire and water were proposed (Chapter 5). Yet, some philosophers like Plato and Socrates observed things that were in then direction of Truth (Chapter 6). The same is true of the poets (Chapter 7).
By contrast, the Scriptures direct people to the Truth. The Prophets point people toward the true God. Clement calls his audience to turn to the one true God revealed by these sources (Chapter 8). Clement reminds his readers of God’s grace and judgment urging them to come to him through his Word (Chapter 9). Against those who respond that they cannot become Christians because it would mean rejecting the traditions handed to them by their forefathers Clement calls them to come to the true, heavenly Father as adopted sons. Clement exalts God the Father and his Word using moving rhetoric to attract his hearts to Truth. He calls people to be saved by Christ (Chapter 10; Chapter 11). The work ends with a final call to abandon their old worldview to follow the Teacher, Jesus (Chapter 12).
– Clement shows familiarity with Pauline literature.
– The Word becomes the Teacher, Jesus.
– Satan is called, “that wicked reptile monster.” Satan is depicted as the one who deceived Eve, then all humanity.
– John the Baptist is mentioned as Elijah. Clement explains that he is a forerunner for the Word.
– Clement turns the accusation of atheism against the pagans saying that if one doesn’t worship the true God then one is an atheist.
– Paganism’ ability (read: idolatry) to turn humans into animals is a point Clement makes in Chapters 1 and 2.
– Jeremiah’s wisdom is said to be “the Holy Spirit within Jeremiah.”
– Great line: “wisdom, which is His word, raises us up to the truth, who have fallen prostrate before idols, and is itself the first resurrection from our fall.”
– A lot of Scripture quoted in this chapter.
– The Holy Spirit speaking is connected with Scripture.
– “For think not that stones, and stocks, and birds, and serpents are sacred things, and men are not; but, on the contrary, regard men as truly sacred, and take beasts and stones for what they are.”
– Adam is presented as a child in Eden: “The first man, when in Paradise, sported free, because he was the child of God; but when he succumbed to pleasure (for the serpent allegorically signifies pleasure crawling on its belly, earthly wickedness nourished 203for fuel to the flames), was as a child seduced by lusts, and grew old in disobedience; and by disobeying his Father, dishonoured God.”