04 December 2014

The Seeker


A
n old saying has it that there is a seeker born every minute. Such a seeker was Clement of Alexandria, a philosopher who flourished at the end of the second century of the Common Era (he died before 10215 HE). According to his own account he studied under one philosopher after another—first, several Greek philosophers, and then an Egyptian, an Assyrian, and a Palestinian Jew. In Alexandria he met Pantænus, and found his ultimate teacher.
Unfortunately nothing solid is known about Pantænus, other than that he is the first “orthodox” teacher of any repute in Alexandria. There were Christians there before him—Basilides for example. But Basilides was unenthusiastic about martyrdom (among many oddities), and taught that Jesus did not really die on the cross, but stood by laughing while the Jews crucified the wrong man.
Pantænus (we may assume) took hold of things in Alexandria and straightened them out. But what little we actually know about him doesn’t really tell us that. We do know that his most famous pupil was Clement. Clement, though, had ideas that were a bit at odds with the direction Christianity was going—or at least the direction it would eventually go. He believed that matter was eternal, for example, and could neither be created nor destroyed. He thought that Greek philosophy was an early stage in divine revelation, rather than an invention of the devil.
He in turn became head of the Alexandrian Christian school, and his most famous pupil was Origen, whose work on the text of the Greek Old Testament would do so much to muddy the waters in recovering the Septuagint.
As far as I know nobody ever questioned Pantænus’ credentials, but both Clement and his pupil Origen have fallen under suspicion from time to time. (I personally was warned in college about Origen’s heterodoxy.) Today is the feast day of Clement of Alexandria, or at least it was until Pope Clement VIII (no relation) had him purged from the calendar. It seems he had some doubts about the philosopher’s soundness.

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