Clement of Alexandria   ca 150-213 CE  

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Titus Flavius Clemens was the intellectual leader of the Christian community in Alexandria (Egypt) for the last two decades of the 2nd c. CE.  The son of pagan parents from Athens, Clement became a Christian sometime before 180 CE, when he succeeded his mentor, Pantaenus, as head of the catechetical school at Alexandria. Against sectarians who professed esoteric knowledge (gnosis), Clement argued that a moral life was the test of real wisdom. Against anti-intellectual pietists, he championed the ideal of spiritual enlightenment. His characterization of the real Christian as an intellectual whose life is a moral example for others influenced the development of the monastic ideal. During the persecution of Alexandrian Christians (201 CE), Clement found refuge in Jerusalem. He was succeeded at Alexandria by his brilliant prot g , Origen.

While several works of Clement have survived, many others, including his biblical Outlines (Hypotyposes) were lost, except for passages quoted by 3rd & 4th c. writers. Eusebius of Caesarea (Eccles. Hist. 6.14.5-7) ascribed this information about the origin of the gospels to him:

And again Clement has inserted in the same books a tradition of the primitive elders concerning the order of the gospels as follows. He said that the gospels that include genealogies [Matthew & Luke] were written first; but that the gospel according to Mark came about in this way: When Peter had publicly proclaimed the word & by the Spirit preached the gospel at Rome, those who were present, being many, urged Mark---as one of his [Peter's] long-time followers who remembered what was said---to make a record of what had been spoken. And he did this and distributed the gospel among those who had asked him. And when this matter came to Peter's attention, he neither strongly forbid it, nor urged it on. But, last of all, John---aware that the outward facts had been set out in the [synoptic] gospels, --- was encouraged by his disciples & divinely motivated by the Spirit, composed a spiritual gospel. This is Clement's account.

It is hard to know how much of Eusebius' comments are to be credited directly to Clement, since he only describes Clement's position indirectly. If this passage represents the actual content of Clement's text, his views on the origin of the gospels were distinct from other early Christian writers in two respects:

  • the claim that not only Matthew but Luke was written before Mark and
  • the claim that Mark was written during Peter's lifetime.

Recently another work credited to Clement has added fuel to the fires of scholarly controversy over gospel origins. In 1958 a letter in which Clement quotes previously unknown passages from a secret edition of the gospel of Mark was discovered by Morton Smith in Jerusalem.

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last revised 13 December 2003


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