"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).

Friday, September 2, 2016

Clement of Alexandria's Moral Psychology

What is it about the great city of Alexandria that so many of its leading Christian intellectuals seem to have never shaken off a certain soupçon of heterodoxy? Whether we're talking Origen, Cyril, or Clement (inter alia--to say nothing of the infamous Arius of course) there remains in the minds of some just a bit of doubt, a bit of unease, as to how sound these men are.

Among them, Clement of Alexandria occupies a pivotal if at times controverted position within early Christianity, as I noted here. Some traditions have canonized him and recognize him as a patristic figure of great authority; others have done neither; still others view him as guilty of  heresy. A new book, set for September release, may shed more light on him: Kathleen Gibbons, The Moral Psychology of Clement of Alexandria: Mosaic Philosophy (Routledge, 2016), 208pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:

In The Moral Psychology of Clement of Alexandria, Kathleen Gibbons proposes a new approach to Clement’s moral philosophy and explores how his construction of Christianity’s relationship with Jewishness informed, and was informed by, his philosophical project. As one of the earliest Christian philosophers, Clement’s work has alternatively been treated as important for understanding the history of relations between Christianity and Judaism and between Christianity and pagan philosophy. This study argues that an adequate examination of his significance for the one requires an adequate examination of his significance for the other.
While the ancient claim that the writings of Moses were read by the philosophical schools was found in Jewish, Christian, and pagan authors, Gibbons demonstrates that Clement’s use of this claim shapes not only his justification of his authorial project, but also his philosophical argumentation. In explaining what he took to be the cosmological, metaphysical, and ethical implications of the doctrine that the supreme God is a lawgiver, Clement provided the theoretical justifications for his views on a range of issues that included martyrdom, sexual asceticism, the status of the law of Moses, and the relationship between divine providence and human autonomy. By contextualizing Clement’s discussions of volition against wider Greco-Roman debates about self-determination, it becomes possible to reinterpret the invocation of “free will” in early Christian heresiological discourse as part of a larger dispute about what human autonomy requires.
We are also given the table of contents:

Note on Translations
Chapter 1: The Mosaic Law in early Christianity
Chapter 2: Miming Moses: Clement’s Self-Presentation and the Dependency Theme
Chapter 3: Moses, Statesman and Philosopher
Chapter 4: The Logos of God, the Problem of Evil, and Clement’s Transformation of Providence
Chapter 5: Right Reason and the Gnostic’s Grasp of the Mosaic Law
Chapter 6: Clement’s Idiosyncratic Concept of Autonomy in the Context of Ancient Thought

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