"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Clement of Alexandria: Heretic?

It is a fascinating time in the world of early Christian studies, especially concerning figures once reprobated as suspect or heterodox. Our views of figures such as Evagrius have been undergoing considerable revision in recent scholarship. Now it seems it is Clement of Alexandria's turn.

Five years ago, in his Clement of Alexandria and the Beginnings of Christian Apophaticism (Oxford Early Christian Studies), Henny Fiska Hagg recognized--as I noted in my review in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies--that Clement occupies a very uneasy for most Christians today, who, thinking him vaguely suspect, usually prefer to ignore him.

But the time has now come to attempt to understand what, if anything, was the problem in the first place that led Clement to be placed under a cloud of suspicion. Part of the difficult with either "clearing" or "condemning" Clement has to do--as it does in similar cases with Origen and Evagrius--with the question of the sources, the agenda of those sources, and the availability of those sources to us today: many have been lost or corrupted, but the condemnation perdures. Piotr Ashwin-Siejkowski, author of a previous work on Clement, has attempted to grapple with these source questions in a new book from Brill: Clement of Alexandria on Trial: the Evidence of 'Heresy' from Photius' Bibliotheca (Vigiliae Christianae) (Brill, 2010), 186pp.

About this book, Brill tells us:
Clement of Alexandria (c.150–215 CE) is one of the most significant theologians of the second-century, and his work is still the subject of intense academic debate. This book provides a new perspective on Clement’s thought, through a critical examination of the work of one of his critics, Photios (c.820–893 CE). Photios, the Patriarch of Constantinople, based his critique on Clement’s (now lost) treatise ‘Hypotyposeis’, claiming the work contained eight ‘heresies’. The book examines each ‘error’ listed in the 109th codex of Photios’ ‘Bibliotheca’ in depth, using evidence from Clement’s existing work to consider the likely accuracy of Photios’ critique. Focusing on these eight ‘heresies’ offers a unique opportunity to illuminate what in terms of post-Nicene orthodoxy are Clement’s most problematic opinions, setting them in the context of their original philosophical and theological frame.

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