A Sermon for
the Feast of
St. Clement of Alexandria
By Dr. Robert Crouse
"Destroy not the wise men of Babylon."
Daniel 2St. Clement of Alexandria has never been a very popular saint.
There are no legends about him, no miracles, no heroic asceticism, no martyrdom. He was really only an academic, and, as everyone knows, academics don't make very good saints. His name appears in ancient church calendars, but both the Reformation and the Counter Reformation firmly abolished him, probably in consequence of the anti-hellenic spirit which dominated the history of doctrine, both Catholic and Protestant, in Reformation and Post-Reformation times. "Hellenizing" meant corrupting the pure word of God by relating it to the worldly wisdom of the Greeks: and what more obvious "hellenizer" than St. Clement, head of the Catechetical School in Alexandria at the end of the second century? Clement's works are full of appreciation for the doctrines of the Greek philosophers, and he even attributes to them a measure of divine revelation, parallel to the Old Testament.
Does his return to our church's calendar in our 1959 Prayer Book herald a revival of Hellenism in the Anglican Church of Canada?
St. Clement was certainly a hellenist, but by no means an uncritical one. He saw in the wisdom of the Greeks a genuine dispensation of diving providence, a guide to righteousness, preparing mankind for justifying faith. The training of the Jews and the training of the Greeks were both providentially designed to fit mankind for the manifestation of God in Christ. Both were partial and imperfect, and were made more so by the imperfections of men. The various schools of philosophy, Jewish and Greek, says Clement, are like to devotees of Bacchus, who rend the body of Pentheus, and carry about the fragments in triumph, each one boasting that his morsel is the whole of the truth. But in the light of Christ, says Clement, all things are illumined, and those divided parts are united in a perfect whole, a perfect logos. In Christ, Jew and Greek are not opposed, but complementary. "He hath made both one". Thus, as Clement sees it, the Incarnation is the crown and consummation of the whole history of the world, and the supreme principle of inclusivity. "Destroy not the wise men of Babylon".
Formulated doctrines, Clement reminds us, are not ends in themselves, they are always partial; they are the means by which we rise through fragmentary propositions to a knowledge which is immediate and whole. Jew and Gentile have come by different roads; both providential, each a partial wisdom, and in Christ they have been made one and whole.
Clement himself was only an academic, and thus a rather one-sided saint. But perhaps even that one-sidedness should be celebrated. Aristotle remarks in his Politics that "the principle of reciprocity is the salvation of the state". That is to say, the unity of the state in a harmony of diverse elements, each contributing from its own one-sidedness. The kingdom of God is like that too. As St. Paul explains it, it's like a body which has many members with differing functions. But all are united in a common purpose and destiny. "We, being many, are one body in Christ".
The diversity of the saints exemplifies the principle of reciprocity in the Kingdom of God; and surely it's nice, especially in an academic community, to be able to celebrate a sanctity which is "only academic". In the church, we are a great diversity, and, at our very best, we are all one-sided. We see parts of the truth, and we emphasize important things in one-sided ways. But in and through that diversity - and not without it - we are one in Christ; one in the community of reciprocity - the community of charity - which is the fellowship of the saints.
And in this age, in which many church leaders are promoting a version of religious "inclusivity" (as they call it), such as to abrogate the finality of Jesus Christ, perhaps St. Clement can point the way to an authentically Christian inclusiveness, which can truly embrace the wisdom of the Greeks, and need not "destroy the wise men of Babylon".
"Destroy not the wise men of Babylon", says the prophet Daniel. Rather, let the star lead them from Babylon to Bethlehem, where the wisdom of all nations is summed up, and the desire of all nations is fulfilled. Amen. +
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