St. Clement of Alexandria (150 – 220)
The Basis of a Beautiful Lifestyle
On the whole, gold and silver, both publicly and privately, are an invidious possession when they exceed what is necessary, seldom to be acquired, difficult to keep, and not adapted for use. …Silver couches and pans and vinegar-saucers… and bowls, vessels of silver and gold…, proofs of tasteless luxury, … are all to be relinquished, as having nothing whatsoever worth our pains. …For my part, I approve of Plato, who plainly lays it down as a law, that a man is not to labor for wealth of gold or silver, nor to possess a useless vessel which is not for some necessary purpose….The Lord ate from a common bowl, and made the disciples recline on the grass on the ground, and washed their feet, girded with a linen towel. He did not bring down a silver foot-bath from heaven. He made use, not extravagance His aim. …
In food and clothes, and vessels, and everything else belonging to the house, I say that one must follow the institutions of the Christian man, as is serviceable and suitable to one’s person, age, pursuits, time of life. For it becomes those that are servants of one God, that their possessions and furniture should exhibit the tokens of one beautiful life; and that each individually should be seen in faith, which shows no difference, practicing all things which are comfortable to this uniform mode of life, and harmonious with this one scheme.
~ The Instructor, Book II.3. In The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II. Ed. Alexander Roberts. Christian Literature Company, 1885, p. 247.
The Right Use of God’s Gifts
We ought not to misuse the gifts of the Father, then, acting the part of the spendthrift like the rich son in the Gospel. Let us rather, make use of them with detachment, keeping them under control.
~ Christ the Educator, Book 2, Chapter 1. In The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 23. CUA Press, 2010, p. 100.
God’s Gifts of Creation Belong to Everyone
It is God Himself Who brought our race to possession of things in common, first by sharing Himself and by sending His Word to all men alike, and by making all things for all. Therefore, everything is in common, and the rich should not grasp a greater share.
The expression, “I own something and have more than enough; why should I not enjoy it?” is not worthy of man nor does it indicate any community feeling. The alternative expression however does: “I have something, why should I not share it with those in need? Such a one is one the right path, and fulfills the command: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
~ Christ the Educator, Book 2, Chapter 12. In The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 23. CUA Press, 2010, p. 192.
Prayer for a Right Relationship to God and Creation
O God, the Educator and Instructor,
Lord…. Give to us, who follow thy command,
to fulfill the likeness of thy image,
and to see, according to our strength,
the God who is both a good God and
a Judge who is not harsh.
Do thou bestow all things on us who dwell in thy peace,
who have been placed in thy city, who sail the sea of sin unruffled,
that we may be made tranquil and, supported by the Holy Spirit —
the unutterable wisdom — by night and day, unto the perfect day,
to sing eternal thanksgiving to the one only Father and Son,
Son and Father,
Educator and Teacher, with the Holy Spirit.
All things are for the One, in whom are all things,
through whom, being the One, are all things,
through whom eternity is, of whom all men are members,
to whom is glory, and the ages,
all things in their beauty;
all things in their wisdom; all things in their justice.
To Him be glory now and forever.
~ “Christ the Educator.” Justine, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation: Insights from Orthodoxy, p. 80. Ed. Gennadio Limouris. Geneva: WCC Publications, 1990.
Private property is the fruit of inequity… I know that God has given us the use of goods, but only as far as is necessary; and he has determined that the use shall be common. … The use of all things that are found in this world ought to be common to all men. Only the most manifest inequity makes one say to another, “This belongs to me; that to you.” Hence the origin of contention among men.
~ Stromateis, as quoted in “The Great Thoughts,” Balantine Books, New York, 1985, p. 93.
How the Universe has Become an Ocean of Blessing
For with a celebrity unsurpassable and benevolence, the divine power, casting its radiance on the earth, hath filled the universe with the seed of salvation. For it was not without divine care that so great a work was accomplished in so brief a space by the Lord, who, though despised as to appearance, was in reality adored, the expiator of sin, the Saviour, the clement, the Divine Word, He that is truly most manifest Deity, He that is made equal to the Lord of the universe; because He was His Son, and the Word was in God, not disbelieved in by all when He was first preached, nor altogether unknown when, assuming the character of man, and fashioning Himself in flesh, He enacted the drama of human salvation: for He was a true champion and a fellow-champion with the creature. And being communicated most speedily to men, having dawned from His Father’s counsel quicker than the sun, with the most perfect ease He made God shine on us. Whence He was and what He was, He showed by what He taught and exhibited, manifesting Himself as the Herald of the Covenant, …diffused over the whole face of the earth; by whom the universe has become an ocean of blessings.
~ Exhortation to the Heathen, Ch. 10. In Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II.5. Ed. Alexander Roberts. Cosimo, 2007, p. 202.
Men and Women in Creation
Regarding monks and the suitability of men and women to contemplate creation and find the transcendence of person necessary to come to experiences of the celestial realms, Clement asserts equal dignity and access to spiritual verities between men and women.
Woman has the same spiritual dignity as man. Both of them have the same God, the same Teacher, the same Church. They breathe, see, hear, hope and love in the same way. Beings who have the same life, grace and salvation are called… to the same manner of being.
~ Tutor, 1:4 (PG 8:260), as quoted in Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 1995, p. 292.
What we Find through Meditation on Creation
By meditation… we are no longer considering the physical properties of an object, its dimensions, its thickness, length or breadth. What is left from now on is only a sign, a unity provided, if I may so put it, with a position….
Beyond [the surface], we discover the immensity of Christ, and there, by means of his holiness, we advance toward the depth of his infinity until we glimpse the Almighty. … The grace of understanding comes to us from God through his Son.
Solomon bears eloquent witness to that when he says: “I have not the understanding of a man… Every word of God proves true… Do not add to his words” (Proverbs 30:2, 5-6). Moses also calls Wisdom by the symbolic name “tree of life” (Genesis 2:9) and it was planted in paradise.
But is not this paradise also the world in which are all the elements of creation? There the word was made flesh; there he flowered and bore fruit; there he has given life to those who taste of his goodness.
~ Miscellanies V,XI (PG 9:109) as quoted in Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 1995, p. 223-224.
A Right Attitude toward Worldly Possessions
For he who holds possessions, and gold, and houses, as the gifts of God, and ministers from them to God who gives them for the salvation of men, and knows that he possesses them more for the sake of the brethren than his own, and is superior to the possession of them, not the slave of the things he possesses, and does not carry them about in his soul, nor bind his life within them, but is ever laboring at some good and divine work, even should he be deprived of them, this man is able with cheerful mind to bear their removal equally with their abundance. This is he who is blessed by the Lord, and a meet heir of the kingdom of heaven, not one who could not live rich.
But he who carries his riches in his soul, and instead of God’s Spirit bears in his heart gold or land, and is always acquiring possessions without end, and is perpetually on the outlook for more, bending downwards and fettered in the toils of the world, whence can he be able to desire and to mind the kingdom of heaven, — a man who carries not a heart, but land or metal, who must perforce be found in the midst of the objects he has chosen? For where the mind of man is, there is also his treasure.
~ Who is the Rich Man that Shall be Saved?, ch 16-17. In Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Vol XXII. Ed. Alexander Roberts. T and T Clark, 1871, p, 197.
Knowledge of God through Creation
We may gain some inkling of what God is if we attempt by means of every sensation to reach the reality of each creature, not giving up until we are alive to what transcends it …
~ Miscellanies, XI (PG 9,112) In The Roots of Christian Mysticism. By Oliver Clement. New City Press, 1995, p. 223.
A Method of Discerning God through Creation
We may gain some inkling of what God is if we attempt by means of every sensation to reach the reality of each creature, not giving up until we are alive to what transcends it…
~ Miscellanies, V.XI (PG 9,112). Quoted in The Roots of Christian Mysticism, Oliver Clement, New City Press, 1995, p. 223.
Clement of Alexandria was anciently called “the educator of souls.” He was the first of Christ’s disciples to formulate a theology of lifestyle and shape it into a body of practical doctrine with disciplines for daily activity. Because he lived during a time in which persecutions were declining in North Africa, he and other Church leaders saw a great need for Christians to distinguish themselves from the pagans and those caught up in the worldliness which characterized that region of the Roman Empire. Clement taught Christians to think in terms of “a Christian way of life” and his distinctive theology of lifestyle was such that it aided spiritual striving and intertwined with creation. His writings are important today because they provide timeless guidance for avoiding the consumer mentality which fuels so much of modern ecological degradation.
Contemplation of Nature
The initial step for a soul to come to knowledge of God is contemplation of nature.~ In Issa Khalil, “The Environmental Crisis: An Eastern Christian View,” SVS Quarterly, Vol. 22:4, 1978, p. 204.
Food and Diet
Other men, indeed, live that they may eat, just like unreasoning animals; for them life is only their belly. But as for us, our Educator has given the command that we eat only to live. Eating is not our main occupation, nor is pleasure our chief ambition. Food is permitted us simply because of our stay in this world, which the Word is shaping for immortality by His education. Our food should be plain and ungarnished, suitable to children who are plain and unpretentious, adapted to maintaining life, not self-indulgence.
Excessive variety of food must be avoided, for it gives rise to every kind of bad effect…. Yet there are those who grow dissatisfied with this truth in their restless ostentation, and reject simplicity of diet to engage in a frantic search for expensive menus that must be imported from across the seas. …
It is a natural law that the body is not benefited by excessively rich food: quite the contrary, those who live on simpler foods are stronger and healthier and more alert, as servants are, for example, in comparison with their masters, or farmer-tenants in comparison with their landlords.
Let the meal be plain and restrained, of such sort that it will quicken the spirit. Let it be free of too rich a variety, and let not such a meal be withdrawn from the guidance of the Educator…. If the diet oversteps the limits of self-sufficiency, it harms man by dulling his mind and making his body susceptible to disease. Indeed, the pleasures of a luxurious table inflict untold damage: gluttony, squeamishness, gormandizing, insatiability of appetite, voraciousness.
If a person is wealthy, yet eats without restraint and shows himself insatiable, he disgraces himself in a special way and does wrong on two scores: first he adds to the burden of those who do not have, and he lays bare, before those who do have, his own lack of temperance.
Clement also speaks against the scouring of the world for expensive foods.
Do not for the sake of food destroy the work of God…. We must restrain the belly and keep it under the control of heaven. True food is thanksgiving. He who offers up thanks will not indulge excessively in pleasure. Our examples of virtue will draw out fellow banqueters to virtue.
The Christian way of life is not achieved by self-indulgence. Far from “lust-exciting delicacies” is the table of truth. Even though all things have been created particularly for man, it is not well to make use of all things, nor to use them at all times. Surely the occasion and the time, the manner and the motive, make some difference to one who is educated (by Christ) to what is profitable. It is this goal that provides the strength we need to restrain ourselves from living lives centered around the table. Wealth chooses that sort of life, for its vision is blunted; it is abundance that blinds in the matter of gluttony.
~ Christ the Educator, Book II, Chap. 1. Quoted in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II. Eerdmans, 1994, p. 237-242.
Food and clothing and dishes, and in a word, all of the items of the household ought to be, as a general rule, in keeping with a Christian way of life, and in conformity with what is simple, fitting, adapted to person, age, occupation and occasion. For we are servants of the one God, and so ought to ensure that our belongings and the equipment needed for them manifest the one noble way of life.
The Lord ate His meal from an inexpensive bowl; made His disciples recline on the ground, upon grass; washed their feet, girding Himself with a linen towel…. He did not seek the gold of kings, but taught us to rest content with what will quench thirst. Beyond question, He confined Himself to the useful, not the ostentatious, good. When He ate and drank at banquets, He did not require metals dug out of the earth, or dishes that tasted of gold or silver.
We must then get rid of our multiplicity of vessels, our silver and gold drinking cups…. In fact we must walk according to reason even if we have a wife and children in our home. A household is not a burden if it has but learned to follow in the lead of the wayfarer who knows self-control.
The wife who loves her husband will be his faithful reflection, both of them wayfarers carrying provisions best suited for a journey toward heaven: frugality, together with a united and determined practice of self-restraint.
~ Christ the Educator, Book II, Chapter 3. Quoted in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II. Eerdmans, 1994, p. 247-248.
The Use of Possessions
To spend money on foolish desires comes more under the heading of destruction than under expenditure. God has given us the authority to use our possessions, I admit, but only to the extent that it is necessary: He wishes them to be common. It is absurd that one man live in luxury when there are so many who labor in poverty.
He who holds possessions holds them as gifts of God…. and knows that he possesses them for his brother’s sake rather than his own…. Such is the man who is blessed by the Lord and a ready inheritor of the kingdom of God.
~ Homily: “Quis Dives Salvatur?” Sections 14-16. Quoted in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II. Eerdmans, 1994, p. 595.
Salvation, Self-Sufficiency and Self-Control
Those concerned for their salvation should take this as their first principle, that, although the whole of creation is ours to use, the universe is made for the sake of self-sufficiency, which anyone can acquire by a few things. They who rejoice in the holdings in their storehouses are foolish in their greed. “He that hath earned wages,” scripture reminds us, “puts them into a bag of holes.” Such is the man who gathers and stores up his harvest, for by not sharing his wealth with anyone, he becomes worse off….
To know oneself has always been, so it seems, the greatest of all lessons. For, if anyone knows himself, he will know God; and in knowing God, he will become like Him, not by wearing golden ornaments or by trailing long flowing robes, but by performing good deeds and cultivating an independence of as many things as possible. God alone has no needs, and He rejoices in a particular way when He sees us pure in the adornment of our minds and our bodies clothed with the adornment of the holy garment of self-control.
~ Christ the Educator, Book II. Quoted in The Right Church. By Charles Gutenson. Abingdon Press, 2012, p. 106.
How the Perfect Man Treats the Things of this World
Those people, then, who run down created existence and vilify the body are wrong, and do not consider that the frame of man was formed erect for the contemplation of heaven, and that the organization of the senses tends to knowledge; and that the members and parts are arranged for good, not pleasure.
~ The Stromata, Book IV, Chapter 26. Quoted Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.
A Christian Manner of Conduct
We must now describe what the man who is called a Christian ought to be during the whole of his life. We must accordingly begin with ourselves and how we ought to regulate ourselves. For whenever anyone has been brought away by the Word of God from external things… he will know that he is not to be earnestly occupied with external things, but about what is proper and peculiar to man — to purge the eye of the soul and to sanctify his flesh.
~Paraphrased in The Instructor, Book II.1. In The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II. Ed. Alexander Roberts. Christian Literature Company, 1885, p. 237.
A Christian’s Choice of Food
Some men live that they may eat, as the irrational creatures, “whose life is their belly, and nothing else.” But the Instructor (Christ) enjoins us to eat that we may live. For neither is food our business, not is pleasure our aim; but both are on account of our life here, which the Word is training up to immortality. Wherefore there is discrimination to be employed in reference to food. Our food is to be simple, truly plain, as ministering unto life, not to luxury…. Plain fare is conducive to digestion and lightness of body from which come growth and health and strength….
There is no limit to epicurianism among men. For it has driven them to sweetmeats, and honey cakes, and sugar plums; inventing a multitude of deserts, hunting after all manner of dishes. A man like this seems to me to be all jaw and nothing else. “Desire not,” says the scripture, “rich men’s dainties” (Proverbs 23:3) for they belong to a false and base life. But we who seek the heavenly bread must rule the belly….
For excess, which in all things is an evil, is very highly reprehensible in the manner of food.
~ Paraphrased in The Instructor, Book II.1. In The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II. Ed. Alexander Roberts. Christian Literature Company, 1885, p. 237.
An Inkling of God Comes through His Creatures
We may gain some inkling of what God is if we attempt by means of every sensation to reach the reality of each creature, not giving up until we are alive to what transcends it….
~ Miscellanies V, XI (PG 9,112) In The Roots of Christian Mysticism. By Oliver Clement. New City Press, 1995, p. 223.