Thursday, July 11, 2019

Hort's Lecture on Hippolytus and Clement of Alexandria

Fenton John Anthony Hort
            In 1890, Fenton John Anthony Hort (half of the Westcott-Hort duo) delivered a series of six lectures on ante-Nicene fathers.  They were published in 1895, a few years after his death.  What follows here, with slight adjustments, is the fourth lecture in the series.


            In Justin the Samaritan, who taught and who died a martyr’s death at Rome, we have had before us the most characteristic of the Greek apologists of the second century, a man who went about clad only in the traditional philosopher’s cloak, and who pleaded the cause of the Christians against the assaults of magistrates and populace on the ground that their faith and conduct should commend itself to philosophers and lovers of right reason.
            In Irenaeus, the disciple of Polycarp at Smyrna, who became bishop of Lyons and took an active part in promoting the peace of the Church when endangered by the intolerance of Victor, Bishop of Rome, we have had the first great theologian, in the strict sense of the word, whose writings are to any great extent preserved to us.  His great refutation of the leading doctrines of the teachers called Gnostics, is a still imperfectly worked mine of great thoughts on God's dealings with mankind through the ages, founded on the idea of the Word before and after the Incarnation.
            A few words are due to a disciple of Irenaeus, who forty years ago would have been commonly reckoned an obscure and unimportant Father, viz. Hippolytus.  Shortly after that date there was published from a manuscript then lately brought to Paris an elaborate Greek account and refutation of early heresies, chiefly ‘Gnostic,’ which it was soon recognized could not well have any other author than Hippolytus.  There is no real doubt about the matter, though, for quite intelligible reasons, a few still hold otherwise.  The author writes as a bishop, and Hippolytus is sometimes called Bishop of Rome, sometimes bishop of Portus, the commercial port of Rome.
            What he really was, is still an open question.  The most commonly received view is that which was suggested by Döllinger, that for at least a certain time Callistus and Hippolytus were respectively recognized by different parties in the Roman Church as each the only true and lawful Bishop of Rome, though eventually Callistus alone was officially acknowledged as having been bishop.  The treatise itself is one of much value for the extracts which it gives from Gnostical writings.  But of more general interest is the narrative of some of the inner history of the Roman Church under two successive bishops.  After every allowance has been made for the partisanship of the writer, the picture is not an agreeable one. But this lies outside our proper subject.  Of the part taken by Hippolytus it is enough to say that he regarded Callistus and
the dominant authorities of the Roman Church as dangerously lax in their admission of penitents to communion, and he likewise accused them of favoring a doctrine not far from Sabellianism, while he himself, from the manner in which he expounded the doctrine of the Word, a doctrine which evidently had little meaning for them, was accused by them of setting up two Gods to be worshipped. 
            The end of the story seems to be supplied by a curious early Roman record which states that “Pontianus the bishop” (the second after Callistus) and “Hippolytus the presbyter were banished to Sardinia, to the island of deadly climate.”  Perhaps, as has been suggested, the Roman magistrates took this way of enforcing peace in the Christian community, by getting rid of the two leaders together.  From another record forming part of the same document we learn that the Roman Church in the middle of the fourth century kept on the same day the festival of Hippolytus in one cemetery and of Pontianus in another, both evidently as martyrs.  Apparently they had both perished in the mines of Sardinia, and their bodies had been received back in peace together.  According to a somewhat confused tradition Hippolytus before his death had advised his followers to return to the communion of the Roman Church authorities.
            In the fourth and later centuries the strangest and most contradictory legends of his martyrdom became current.  By a singular good fortune a contemporary memorial of him has been preserved, such as we possess for no other early Father whatever.  Above three centuries ago a large part of an ancient sitting statue was dug up near Rome, and in due time recognized by the very interesting inscriptions on the base to have been no other than Hippolytus, though his name does not appear, and to have been erected shortly after his death.  In the great hall of the
Christian Museum at St. John Lateran, as you walk up between two lines of early Christian sarcophagi of the highest interest for their carving, you are faced by this great statue of Hippolytus looking down upon you from the platform at the end.
Ancient statue of Hippolytus
            Hippolytus was one of the three most learned Greek Fathers of his time, mostly the early part of the third century.  Of one of them Julius Africanus, of whom only fragments remain, I propose to say no more.  To Origen we shall come presently.  Hippolytus’ writings chiefly fall under two heads, doctrinal treatises of a controversial kind, and books connected with the study of Scripture, either actual commentaries or essays at constructing some sort of Scripture chronology.  His defense of the Gospel and Apocalypse of St. John against certain contemporary gainsayers might be reckoned under either head.  He was especially interested in the books of Daniel and Revelation, and in some of the questions which they suggest.  To him they were by no means questions of idle curiosity; for in the new hostility of the Roman state, as shown in the persecution of Septimius Severus, he supposed that he saw a fulfillment of apocalyptic prophecy.  All that remains of him however, with the exception of the great treatise on heresies, itself far from complete, makes up only a small volume. This is the more remarkable as the fame of his writings spread far and wide through the East, though the story of his life was unknown outside Rome or else forgotten.
            Hippolytus, following Irenaeus, has conducted us well into the third century.  We must now go back half a generation or so to make acquaintance with a different region and a different way of apprehending Christianity and its relation to the world, though no doubt to a certain extent anticipated by Justin Martyr.  Alexandria at the mouth of the Nile had long been a special home of Greek learning and philosophy, a place where the culture of Egypt, Asia, and Europe met together. But of still greater moment was the nature of the Judaism which had arisen in the midst of the vast Jewish population of the city, a Judaism almost wholly detached from the legal influences which dominated the Judaism of Palestine, and aiming especially at the comparison and harmonizing of the Old Testament, and specially the Pentateuch, with the better forms of Greek philosophy.  Of this Graecized Judaism we have invaluable examples in Philo’s writings. We know almost nothing of Alexandrian Christianity in its earlier days, but evidently it took its shape in no small degree from the type of Judaism which was already current in the place.
            In the middle part of the second century we hear of a Christian Catechetical school at Alexandria, probably for the instruction of the highly educated converts who joined the Church. The second name preserved to us from the list of its heads or chief instructors is that of the Sicilian Pantaenus, best remembered now as having gone on a missionary journey to India. Among his pupils was Clement of Alexandria, the Father who next claims our attention, and who often speaks of him, chiefly only under the title ‘the elder,’ with enthusiastic affection.  Clement himself is said to have been an Athenian and probably was so.  Profoundly Christian as he is, there is no Father who shows anything like the same familiarity with the ancient classical literature of Greece, especially the poetical literature.  
            It is not clear whether he was of Christian or of heathen parents, but we know from himself that he traveled in early life, and came under the influence of at least six different Christian teachers in different lands, whom he calls “blessed and truly memorable men.”  In Greece he met the first, an Ionian, i.e. probably from Western Asia Minor: two others in Magna Graecia, the Greek-speaking South part of Italy, one from Middle Syria and another from Egypt. Whether he went to Rome, as one would expect, does not appear: at all events he refers to no teacher met there.  From Italy he crossed to the East, and there he learned from an Assyrian, supposed to be Justin’s scholar Tatian, and from another, in Palestine, one of Jewish birth.  The last, he says, in order, but virtually the first, he found lurking in Egypt, and there he rested.  He had found Pantaenus.  There is reason to suppose that after a time he became a colleague of Pantaenus in the Catechetical school, and at all events when Pantaenus died he succeeded him, probably somewhere about the year 200.
            He was now or soon after a presbyter of the Church.  But two or three years later through a change in the policy of the Emperor Septimius Severus a persecution broke out, which fell with much severity on Alexandria, and the teachers of the Catechetical school, evidently including Clement, took refuge elsewhere. A few years after this we have a glimpse of him through a scrap of a letter of his pupil Alexander, fortunately preserved by Eusebius.  Alexander was at this time apparently bishop of a Cappadocian church; certainly he was in prison for conscience sake; and he wrote a congratulatory letter out of his prison on their recent choice of a new bishop, sending it by Clement whom he calls “the blessed presbyter, a man virtuous and well tried”: who by the Providence of God was then with him and had stablished and increased the Church.  
            Clement cannot have lived much longer.  In another letter to Origen, written before 216, Alexander again speaks affectionately of Clement as of Pantaenus, both as now departed.  These testimonies are of value as showing that Clement’s withdrawal from the approaching persecution was due to no selfish cowardice, but to such rightful avoidance of useless sacrifice of life as had been commanded by our Lord Himself when He bade the Apostles, “When they persecute you in one city, flee ye into another.”  For Alexander knew what martyrdom meant.  He was made Bishop of Jerusalem under very peculiar circumstances, partly in consequence of what were regarded as Divine monitions, partly on account of what he had bravely endured in the persecution.  It was the same to the end of his life.  In the year 250 he was brought before the magistrates in the Decian persecution, and thrown into prison, and there he died.

            Clement’s chief writings form a connected series. First comes the Hortatory Address to the Greeks; the purpose is to show that the Christian faith accomplishes what the heathen religions and philosophies vainly sought. It is too florid in style, and overloaded with superfluous illustrations. But it is inspired by the purest Christian fervor, and, apart from details, its general drift is at once lofty and true.  Next comes the Paidagogos, or Tutor.  The Tutor is not, as we might have guessed, the book itself; nor is he a man. It is none other than Christ the Word of the Father, the Tutor of mankind, educating them always in love and for their benefit, sometimes by gifts, sometimes by chastisements. The purpose of the book is the guidance of the youthful convert from heathenism in habits belonging to Christian morality.  The heads of this morality are not vague generalities, but practical and concrete enough; e.g. meat and drink, sumptuous furniture, behavior at feasts, laughter, bad language, social behavior, use of perfumes and garlands, sleep, marriage duties, dress and ornaments, use of cosmetics, use of baths, exercises. Alexandria seventeen centuries ago was clearly not so very different a place from towns better known to us.  The permanent interest of these discussions is very great.  Often as we may have to dissent from this or that remark, the wisdom and large-mindedness with which the Paedagogus is written are above all praise.  On the one hand there is an all-pervading sense that the Gospel is meant to be at once a molding and a restraining power in all the pettiest details as in the greatest affairs of life; on the other hand there is no morbid jealousy of the rightful use of God's good gifts, and no addiction to restrictions not commanded by morality, or not required for self-discipline.
            The third treatise of the series is commonly known by the name Stromateis (Stromata, common in modern books, is incorrect).  A stromateus was a long bag of striped canvas, in which bedclothes (stromata) were kept rolled up. Various writers had used this name for books of the nature of miscellanies. By Clement it is in strictness used only of the seven different books of the great treatise, Stromateus 1, 2 etc. His descriptive title, if less quaint, is more really interesting, “Gnostic jottings” (or “notes”) “according to the true philosophy.”
            The Alexandrian convert from heathenism needed instruction not only in the outward behavior proper to the Christian life but also in the deeper grounds of the Christian morality and religion.  In the schools of ordinary Greek philosophy he would learn the value and the dignity of wisdom and knowledge; and now he had to be taught that, whatever might be said to the contrary by unwise Christians, these things had a yet higher place under the Gospel: for the Christ whom it proclaimed was not only the Savior of mankind in the simplest and most obvious sense, but also One in whom lay hid the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
            Clement was not made timorous by the association of the word gnosis, ‘knowledge,’ with the sects called heretical of those whom we now call Gnostics.  Nay, it rather urged him to claim for the Church a word and an idea which could not be spared.  If St. Paul had spoken of a Christian Gnosis falsely so called, he had thereby implied that there was a right Christian Gnosis, a Gnosis truly so called; and this is what Clement set himself to defend and in part to provide.
            It is a leading idea of Clement that the Divinely ordained preparation for the Gospel ran in two parallel lines, that of the Jewish Law and Prophets and that of Greek philosophy.  His exposition of it is somewhat damaged by his following an old but quite unfounded commonplace of Jewish apologetics, much repeated by the Fathers, that the Greek philosophers borrowed largely from the Old Testament.  But the idea itself enabled him to look out both on the past history of mankind and on the mixed world around him with a hopeful and helpful faith.  The treatise is a very discursive one.  The leading heads are such as these:  faith, Christian fear, love, repentance, endurance, martyrdom, the true doctrine of marriage, teaching by signs and allegories, the attribution of human feelings to God in Scripture.  There is much comparison of Christian teaching on these themes with that of Greek philosophers and also of leading Pseudo-Gnostics, usually in a candid and discriminating manner.  But it is no merely theoretical knowledge that is here celebrated.
            The true Gnostic, according to Clement, is “he who imitates God in so far as is possible [for man] omitting nothing pertaining to such growth in the Divine likeness as comes within his reach, practicing self-restraint, enduring, living justly, reigning over his passions, imparting of what he possesses, doing good by word and deed to the best of his power. He, it is said, is greatest in the kingdom of heaven who shall do and teach in imitation of God by showing free grace like His, for the bounties of God are for the common benefit.”  [From Clem. Alex. Strom. ii. p. 480 Potter.]
            The fourth treatise of the series, written after Clement left Alexandria, was called Hypotyposeis, ‘Outlines.’  The greater part of it unhappily is lost, though a fair number of difficult but peculiarly interesting fragments of it have been preserved.  Its subject was apparently fundamental doctrine, while it also contained expository notes on various books of the Bible, including St Paul’s Epistles and four out of the Catholic Epistles.  What remains enables us to see that this first great attempt to bring the Gospel into close relation with the whole range of human thought and experience en other lines than those of the Pseudo-Gnostics contained, as was natural, various theological crudities which could not ultimately be accepted, while it must also have been rich in matter of permanent value.
            In addition to the great series of four, Clement wrote several minor treatises now almost wholly lost, except a tract on the question What Rich Man Can Be Saved? It contains the well-known beautiful story of St. John and the young man who became a bandit.
            We must now bid farewell to Clement of Alexandria.  He was not, as far as we know, one of those whose writings have exercised a wide or a powerful influence over subsequent theology. Large portions of his field of thought remained for long ages unworked, or even remain unworked still.  But what he at once humbly and bravely attempted under great disadvantages at the beginning of the third century will have to be attempted afresh with the added experience and knowledge of seventeen Christian centuries more, if the Christian faith is to hold its ground among men; and when the attempt is made, not a few of his thoughts and words will probably shine out with new force, full of light for dealing with new problems.
            A comparatively simple passage from the Stromateis [From Clem. Alex. Strom, vii. p. 864 P.] on faith, knowledge, love, will sufficiently illustrate his way of writing.
            “Knowledge (i.e. Christian knowledge. Gnosis) is so to speak a perfecting of a man as a man, accomplished through acquaintance with Divine things, in demeanor and life and word, harmonious and concordant with itself and with the Divine Word. For by it faith is perfected, this being the only way in which the man who has faith becomes perfect.  Now faith is a kind of inward good, and even without seeking God, it confesses that He is and glorifies Him as being. Hence a man must start from this faith, and when he has made increase in it must by the Grace of God receive as far as he can the knowledge (Gnosis) concerning Him. . . . Not to doubt about God but to believe is the foundation of Gnosis, while Christ is both at once the foundation and the structure built upon it, even as through Him is both the beginning of things and their [several] ends. And the things that stand first and last, I mean faith and love, do not come by teaching, but Gnosis transmitted by tradition according to the Grace of God is entrusted as a deposit to those who show themselves worthy of the teaching; and from Gnosis the dignity of love shines forth, out of light into light.  For it is said ‘To him that hath shall more be added’; to faith shall be added Gnosis, and to Gnosis love, and to love the inheritance”;  i.e. (I suppose) the fullness of Divine Sonship.”
            I will only add half-a-dozen pregnant lines from another Stromateus [Clem. Alex. Strom. v. p. 633 P.] expounding by a memorable image the true relation between man and God in prayer. “As,” he says, “men attached at sea to an anchor by a tight cable, when they pull at the anchor, draw not the anchor to themselves but themselves to the anchor, even so they who in the Gnostic life draw God to them (i.e. so it seems to them) have unawares been bringing themselves towards God.”

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