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Reviewed by:
  • Clement of Alexandria
  • Neil Anderson
Eric Osborn Clement of Alexandria New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005 Pp. vii + 324. $85.

The nearly five decades that have passed following the publication of The Philosophy of Clement of Alexandria in 1957 have afforded Eric Osborn the time necessary to produce this more reflective and more thorough work. Clement was among the first to attempt a comprehensive interpretation of Christian thought using philosophical categories. Osborn's purpose is to show how he went about this task. The result is essentially a systematic analysis of Clement's often unsystematic thought. Chapter 1 provides a solid introduction to Clement's life and works. The eleven subsequent chapters are set within a framework of three topical divisions: Divine Plan/Economy, Divine Reciprocity, and Faith and Salvation. The outline is clear, but the author's style is demanding as he walks the reader step-by-step through an array of topics. Though discussions may sometimes seem pedantic, such criticism is irrelevant in view of the fact that Osborn is writing for the scholar who has a reasonable grasp of the origins of eastern Christian thought. Understood in this light he accomplishes his purpose quite well.

Part 1, entitled the "Divine Plan/Economy," is an examination of the fundamentals of Clement's thought. Clement, according to Osborn, envisions salvation as God moving downward to save human beings, who in turn move upward in response. Baptism is the nexus where God and the individual meet and the believer is made perfect. However; this is a dynamic perfection that produces ever increasing maturity and devotion. The ultimate defeat of moral evil, according to Clement, comes by training and discipline, which extend even beyond death. Osborn finds in Clement the primitive beginnings of a concept of purgatory.

Justin Martyr had argued earlier for the superiority of Old Testament prophecy to philosophy. Clement's contribution was to explain the logic of joining Athens to Jerusalem. The Bible subverted Plato's world of forms by incorporating the vision of unchanging perfection into the economy of God. Clement's confidence in Plato raises the question, "Was he a Christian Platonist or a Platonizing Christian?" Osborn argues for the latter, pointing to the massive number of references to Scripture and the way in which Clement always attributes final authority to the Bible. The use of Plato, however, inevitably invites comparisons between Clement and Philo. Osborn argues that both thinkers essentially attempted to express the content of Scripture in philosophical language. In addition to a topical comparison and discussion of their methodologies, Osborn reconstructs some of the historical and social context of northern Egypt in which both authors lived and wrote.

In Part 2, "Divine Reciprocity," one cannot but be impressed by Osborn's grasp of the philosophical tradition. Readers unfamiliar with the finer points of Middle Platonism will learn a great deal from the author's extensive discussion. The organizing principle for this section is the three-fold reciprocity between the Son and the Father, between God and humankind, and between individuals and others. Clement argued via negativa that the incarnate Son is the only true source of divine knowledge and that the reciprocity between the Father and [End Page 423] the Son reveals the center of God. For Clement salvation is to know oneself, but one cannot have self-knowledge without a knowledge of God. Assimilation (i.e., deification) is the means to knowing God and thus knowing oneself. It is attained by doing good and requiring little. However, lest one think that Clement views salvation as mere self-improvement, he writes, "[T]he Son came to earth as a man and endured our human existence, experienced our weakness, that we might in reciprocity experience his power." Salvation is a divine affair. Holiness, or salvation extended in life, is experienced by the believer as divine power given for the purpose of assimilation and upward movement toward God.

Division 3 of this study, "Faith and Salvation," has two chapters devoted to Clement's views on the relationship between faith and philosophy. Other topics include the relationship between science and philosophy, the church and heresy, ethics and eschatology, and divine and human love. Osborn...


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