The Life of St. Clement


A. Harnack states that Clement's work is perhaps the most daring undertaking in the history of the Church. H.B. Swete says, "Perhaps nothing in the whole range of early patristic literature is more stimulating to the modern reader than (Clement's) great trilogy of graduated instruction in the Christian life. J. Patrick speaks of him as "the first systematic teacher of Christian doctrine, the formal champion of liberal culture in the Church." "I do not know," says Maurice, "where we shall look for a purer or truer man than this Clement of Alexandria... He seems to me to be one of the old Fathers whom we should all have reverenced most as a teacher, and loved most as a friend."

Titus Flavius Clement was the father of the Christian philosophy of Alexandria, and was well-versed in the Holy Scriptures. He was born around the year 150 A.D. Concerning his birth-place, there were already two traditions in the time of St. Epiphanius (in the fourth century), giving Athens or Alexandria. The second, arose from his long stay in that city, while the first agrees better with his book "Stromata" 1:11. Because of his Roman name, some historians consider him a member of the imperial family, or an offspring of a slave freed by the emperor Vasianus or his son.

His parents were not Christians. Clement was a converted person, not a birthright Christian. Nothing is known about the date, circumstances or the motives of his conversion. He was religious-minded. He was seeking God. But God had to satisfy him religiously, intellectually, and morally. He found that the God of the Christians could do this. The gods of the Greeks seemed to him empty of power, philosophically inept, and morally corrupt and corrupting. So, reluctantly, gradually, thoughtfully, he rejected them, and found among the Christians the God he was seeking. It is known that he made extensive travels to Southern Italy, Syria, and Palestine. His purpose is to seek instruction from the most famous Christian teachers. He was searching unceasingly for God. At the end of his journey, he reached Alexandria where St. Pantaenus' lectures attracted him to the extent that he settled there and made this city his second home.

Pantaenus is a shadowy figure. He was obviously a great teacher and a magnetic personality. Of his teacher, St. Pantaenus, he states, "When I came upon the last (teacher), he was the first in power, having pursued him out concealed in Egypt, I found rest. He, the true, the Sicilian bee gathering the spoil of the flowers of the prophetic and apostolic meadow, engendered in the souls of hearers a deathless element of knowledge."

He became the disciple, and assistant of St. Pantaenus. He was ordained a priest in Alexandria, discharged his catechetical duties with great distinction, and followed St. Pantaenus as head of the School before 190 A.D. Among his disciples were Origen and Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem. It is clear, alike from his general attitude and from specific references, that he was a shepherd of souls as well as a formal teacher, a minister to the needs of others.

Only a few years after the death of St. Pantaenus, in the time of severe persecution by Septimus Severus about 202 or 203 A.D, he was forced to leave Alexandria to take refuge (probably in Palestine and Syria).


Why did he escape from the persecution? St. Clement, St. Peter of Alexandria, and St. Athanasius give us a biblical answer, as we will see hereafter. However, his flight was for the benefit of the Church in Jerusalem. Its bishop Alexander wrote a letter to the Church in Antioch in c. 211, in which he mentioned that the letter was carried by the blessed priest Clement, a pious and blessed man, of whom he had heard and who had known him. He added that the coming of this priest to Jerusalem was through the divine providence, for the Church of the Lord was sustained and progressed by him. The letter concludes with the words: "I am sending this, my dear brethren, by the hand of the blessed elder Clement, a man whose quality has been amply proved. You have heard of him already and will come to know him better. His presence here, through the providential direction of the Master, strengthened and spread the church of the Lord."

Eusebius of Caesarea (260-340) notes that St. Clement was a priest and that he was regarded as a holy man of great learning by his contemporaries. He also describes him as "practiced in Scripture." St. Cyril of Alexandria describes him as "fond of learning" and "exceptionally expert in Greek History;" and St. Jerome as producing "notable volume full of learning and eloquence, using both Scripture and secular literature." Also in his letter to Magnus, an orator of Rome St. Jerome writes, "Clement, a presbyter of Alexandria, in my judgment the most learned of men." He mentions him as producing "notable volumes full of learning and eloquence using both Scripture and secular literature." Socrates also describes him together with Origen, as "men eminent for their information in every department of literature and science."

The persecution had ceased, but it seems that St. Clement did not return to Alexandria. In 215 A.D he died. By 216 A.D. Alexander of Antioch refers to him in such a way that he must have been dead; he is one of "those blessed men who have trodden the road before us."

St. Clement never indicates that he was married or that he had a family. He does, however, devote considerable attention to the Christian standard of sexual morality within marriage and cites the death of children as one of life's great tragedies. Still, this does no more than "prove" that he was a student of human nature. J. Ferguson believes that he was married, as he says, "He writes with sympathetic insight of married men rather than bachelors. The man without a home, he says, is missing a lot, and he writes, as if at first hand, of the wife’s concern in time of illness, of home-life on a winter night, of the quiet fellowship of the home. But we are only guessing."

In the West, St. Clement is regarded as a saint in many localities, but he has been excluded from the Roman Martyrology by Popes Clement VIII and Benedict XIV.


Why has St. Clement been obscuredd for a long time?

Perhaps for the following reasons:

1. His close relationship with his disciple Origen, who was considered a heretic, and almost all Origen’s Greek writings have been lost.

2. The confusion between him and his namesake St. Clement of Rome.

3. The obscurity of the theological system of St. Clement of Alexandria.