Christian Stoicism (Clement of Alexandria)

by Fred Sanders on   

Orpheus lyre classical harmony People who worry about the hellenization, or greekifying, of Christianity tend to worry about Platonism. But the interaction with Stoicism has been equally complex and interesting.
Clement of Alexandria (ca 150-215)’s fascinating book Paedagogus is a great early example. The title is variously translated as Tutor, Educator, Instructor, or Teacher of Little Children. etc. It’s a work of Christian ethics, but it incorporates so much from Stoic thought that about a century ago, when form critics were enjoying the apex of their credibility, they hypothesized that it was nothing more than a lightly revised Christian version of a lost work by the Stoic lecturer Musonius (see Charles Pomeroy Parker, “Musonius in Clement.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 11 (1901): 191-200). The fact that such a hypothesis could be entertained at all does at least indicate just how pervasively Clement’s Paedagogus uses Stoic terms and ideas.
In many ways, Stoicism makes a sympathetic dialogue partner for Christianity. It derives its ethical ideas from its metaphysic, and its metaphysic is profoundly religious. It emphasizes Providence, the sovereign control God has over all situations. Stoics like Seneca learned from Plato that the highest good was “approximating God as nearly as possible.” Further, Stoicism is free from the seamier elements of Greek religion, the welter of sacrifices and mythologies. There is even in Stoicism a fine tradition of mocking the superstition of popular Greco-Roman religion. Finally, Stoicism developed an idea of a universal community of humanity, connecting individual morality with social ethics. Early Christian thinkers naturally rejoiced to find ideas like these at work in the world, and laid hold of them.
But there were three distinctive principles . . .



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