Clement of Alexandria on “Mars Hill”

When Paul engaged the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers on Mars Hill in Acts 17, he quoted from their own writers (notably Aratus) and mentioned their idols (particularly, one to an “unknown god”) to build a bridge for communication. Clement of Alexandria did much the same thing when he began his early work, Hortatory Discourse to the Greeks. Drawing a comparison with the legendary musicians Amphion and Arion,1 he taught that, “Christ is the noblest minstrel. His harp and lyre are men. He draws music from their hearts by the Holy Spirit: nay, Christ is Himself the New [Song], whose melody subdues the fiercest and hardest natures”2 (Exhort. I.I).

In those days, around 200 AD, Alexandria was the intellectual center in the world. It had a museum with an adjacent library, both of which functioned somewhat like modern universities. Scholars from various fields would meet there to exchange ideas and debate. As a trade center, Alexandria also attracted an interesting collection of adventurers and scoundrels. Not surprisingly, syncretism was prominent in the city.

Clement entered this marketplace of ideas and fought for the truth and supremacy of Christianity. He was not a pastor but an apologist who sought to demonstrate that Christianity was not the absurd superstition that many intellectuals claimed it was. Though he maintained that certain things should be accepted by faith, he insisted that Greek philosophy ultimately supported the truth of Scripture.4

Clement leaned heavily on the contemporary allegorical interpretation, claiming that Scripture is written “in parables.”5 His importance is not found in how he approached particular Bible passages, but in his reverence for God’s Word, which he declared thoughtfully and persistently in the midst of a spiritually and doctrinally confused society. By his effort, the intellectual atmosphere was changed and Christianity gained a place of honor.6

Today, the Amphions and Arions of culture are playing their seductive melodies in many keys, but the music of Christ, played out in the lives of his followers, is far too scarce in the land. Certainly, there are Clements at work for the Lord in the world, but there is certainly a need for more Christian interpreters and apologists, men and women who are literate, zealous, and persistent for the truth.

Footnotes:

1 Eric Lewin Altschuler and William Jansen, “Thomas Weelkes’s Text Authors,” Musical Times, Summer, 2002, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3870/is_200207/ai_n9139091/pg_3 (accessed January 6, 2008). “Amphion is a twin son of Zeus (Zethus is his twin), and went on to become a great musician and singer; Arion is a semi-legendary poet and musician.”

2 Francis P. Havey, “Clement of Alexandria,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04045a.htm (accessed January 6, 2008).

3 Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, vol. 1 (San Francisco: Harper, 1984), 71.

4 Alister E. McGrath, Historical Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 89.

5 Quoted in Gonzalez, 73.

6 Ibid.

About the author

Chris Castaldo (PhD, London School of Theology) is the lead pastor at New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is the author of Talking with Catholics about the Gospel and coauthor of The Unfinished Reformation.