Now keep this system in mind; you cannot understand the relationship of Christianity to mysticism, to Greek philosophy, or to anything of the period out of which Christianity came, without having this system in your minds.
This system was developed in Alexandria, and it was the same teacher, Ammonius Saccus, who taught Origen that taught Plotinus; Origen was the great Alexandrian theologian and philosopher. But before we come to him, we must look for a certain time at this school in Alexandria, of which he was by far the greatest teacher. This school was called a school for catechetes, for people who should instruct the future ministers how to teach the people, to introduce them into Christianity. It was a kind of theological seminary, and the earliest – in spite of Union Seminary! – and up to now the most famous in the history of Christianity. The first great teacher in it was Clement of Aexandria. We already quoted from a Clement among the Apostolic Fathers, who is usually called Clement of Rome, and has nothing to do with Clement of Alexandria. Clement uses the Logos doctrine very radically. In this respect he is more dependent on Stoicism than on the Platonic school. But there are many Platonic elements in later Stoicism anyhow. All these schools converged slowly in Neo-Platonism. God is the One and beyond one-ness, in numbers. The Logos, however, is the mediator of everything in which the Divine becomes manifest. He calls the Logos the man-loving organ of God, and therefore the educator of mankind in past and present. There is always a working of the Logos in human minds, there is always self-manifestation of the Divine. The Logos has prepared the Jews by the law, the Greeks by philosophy. But he has prepared them; he has prepared all nations. The Logos is never lacking; God is never without self- manifestation. When Clement speaks of philosophy, he doesn’t think so much of a special philosophy – although probably Stoicism has influenced him most – but he thinks of the result of this converging movement in philosophy: that which is true in all philosophers. Therefore in his writing, many Greek materials are mixed with Biblical materials. He quotes whole sections from Stoic sources. Some people have tried to distinguish a genuine from an amended Clement, but there is no generally accepted conviction about this. In any case the way in which he was given to us is that in which he was always inf luential.
What he did was to introduce Christianity not only into philosophy but also into a philosophical life – we would say a civilized or educated life, also. Philosophein was defined by him as striving for a perfect life. It was not defined as sitting at home and calculating possible logical figures. But living philosophical life was the striving to become as near to God as possible, in late Greek development. Therefore his system is not basically ascetic, but he accepts the bodily reality and the intellectual culture. His idea is to live according to the logos, in unity with the logos, a logikon life – perhaps best translated by a “meaningful” or “reasonable” life, a life in terms of objective meanings. Christians start first with faith, pistis, a word which is only badly translated by “faith.” It is a state of being in faith. Faith in this sense is a state of participation in the reality of the new being. Faith in this sense includes conversion, ascetic tendencies, passions and hope. This is the presupposition of all other developments within Christianity. And here he deviates from all Greek philosophers. Living according to the logos means participation in the realm of faith and love, namely the realm of the congregation of the church. The Alexandrian theologians were not free philosophers — it is doubtful whether there were any anyhow, but certainly they were not. They were leading members of the Christian Church and therefore they all belonged to the state or stage of faith, which is the presupposition for all knowledge. But the state of faith is not sufficient since – and here the first Catholic sound appears – it is only understood as assent and obedience. But this is not sufficient. A real participation demands more. It drives beyond itself towards knowledge. This knowledge is called gnosis. The Christian is the perfect gnostic, and therefore he can reject Gnosticism. It is cognitive faith, as he calls faith: a faith which develops its own contents cognitively. It is a scientific explanation of the traditions, (“scientific” not in the sense of natural science, but in the sense of methodological.) Everybody is on the way of this development. . . Only a few reach the aim. The perfect ones are only those who are, as he says, “Gnostics according to the ecclesiastical canon..” Keep this phrase in mind; it means that philosophers, with all the means of philosophy, are at the same time bound by the ecclesiastical tradition which they accepted when they entered the Church. The highest good of these perfect Gnostics is the knowledge of God. But this knowledge is not a theoretical knowledge in terms of arguments or analyses, but it is participation in God. It is not epistem , scientific knowledge; it is gnosis , mystical or participating knowledge. This is what he also calls anti-gnostic knowledge. It is a gnosis of participation, in the congregation and in God. It is not a gnosis of a free speculation. The tradition remains the canon, i. e., the criterion, and the Church is the mother without which no gnosis is possible.
Now this is what we have to know about Clement. It is worthwhile reading him. But in any case, here you have one great example of Christian thinking and Greek philosophy forming a synthesis. Before I come to Origen, I want to say that Christianity had to cope with this universal and extremely impressive system of Neo-Platonism, in which all the values of the past were united. Christianity had to use it and to conquer it at the same time. This was done by the school of which Clement was the first important head. It was the elevation of Christianity to a state of highest education. Let us look at the Neo-Platonists. One of the most important for theology is Porphyry, who acknowledges the high educated standing of the school of Alexandria, especially of Origen. But he regrets that Origen lived in a barbaric and irrational way as a Christian. Participation in the congregation was incomprehensible to the Neo- Platonist Porphyry, The philosophical creativity of Origen was completely acknowledged by him, and of this philosophical creativity Porphyry said that he “hellenized” in his thoughts, especially by interpreting the strange myths by Greek thought. What these people were – Clement and Alexandria – can be stated in these terms: they were both passionate Greek philosophers and faithful and obedient members of the Catholic church of that time. And they were not in doubt that it is possible to combine these two sides.