From Clement to Origen: The Social and Historical Context of the Church Fathers (review)
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Reviewed by
David Ivan Rankin From Clement to Origen: The Social and Historical Context of the Church Fathers Hampshire, England/Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006 Pp. ix + 171. $89.95.

Both title and subtitle of this volume are somewhat misleading though in the case of the former only as the mind associates. The Clement in From Clement to Origen is not the Alexandrian but Clement of Rome. The social and historical context could better be called the intellectual and philosophical context, for other social and historical aspects are not much discussed except in the earliest writers. A general introduction of twenty-one pages lays out the basics of the philosophical trends and influences of the period with a sudden shift near the end to theories of culture. Malinowski, Niebuhr, and De Vogel are briefly mentioned with more favorable attention given to Kathryn Tanner, who posits that Christian engagement rarely results in "a face-off between distinct wholes" (19) but rather in the adaptation of cultural elements at the boundaries and their use in new and "odd" ways. Even for those who declared their opposition to elements of their culture, the very engagement with them required some kind of coming to terms and modification of the culture that surrounded them.

The author then sets out to discuss the major pre-Constantinian writers arranged geographically in four areas: Rome, Carthage, Asia Minor-Antioch, and Alexandria. Each geographical section begins with a brief summary of the history of the area. Each writer is first situated briefly within his own context. In Rome, Clement writes with an appeal to concord that is Stoic and Augustan. He reproaches his Corinthian recipients for failure in not only Christian but Roman [End Page 106] virtues. Here and in Hermas we see this striving for order and harmony in a patriarchal context that echoes that of the ideal Roman family. Minucius Felix shows his familiarity with the law courts of cosmopolitan Rome and draws his arguments from Cicero and the Stoics, all while he attacks the legendary greatness of Rome and argues for monotheism. The Refutatio of "Hippolytus" (there is a brief discussion of the perplexities of identification) shows wide knowledge of philosophy as it demonstrates how heresies derive from philosophical schools. In Carthage, Tertullian receives the longest treatment (the author has previously written on him). He uses legal arguments, is a skilled rhetor, and draws largely from the Stoicism of Cicero and Seneca. This section needed an editor and did not get it. Sentences like "In the following year Aemilianus (briefly) and then Valerian, a former rigorous censor under Decius, succeeded Gallus who (Valerian, that is), it is said, was not, initially at least, particularly ill-disposed towards Christians" (72–73) are not uncommon. With Cyprian we are in the world of patronage, status, and the critique of wealth.

In Antioch, Ignatius's plea for harmony and concord reflects rhetorical commonplaces. His ruling to Polycarp against manumission of slaves at church expense (Pol. 4.3) reflects literary conventions against too much freedom for slaves (Harrill). Theophilus gives an impression of immense knowledge of other writers, but it may be from the standard handbooks, imitating the characteristic eclecticism of the day. Polycarp gives no evidence of engagement with philosophy but writes for "a largely uneducated Christian audience" (92). Melito writes in the style of the Second Sophistic but with an unconventional rhetorical structure. Justin shows heavy Platonic influence. Irenaeus is unfavorable toward philosophy, seeing it, like Hippolytus, as the source of heresies, especially Gnosticism, yet he is somewhat influenced by Stoicism.

In Alexandria, Clement frequently quotes Plato and has the most positive view of philosophy, finding it helpful as preparation for those seeking Christ. He also draws, probably indirectly, from Aristotle and Heraclitus while Stoicism strongly influences his ethics. His lack of interest in Judaism may reflect the reality that it was not a strong influence in Alexandria in his day after the events of 117. Origen is deeply learned in philosophy but more critical of it than is Clement. He admires the ethics of Stoicism but rejects its materialist cosmology. Middle Platonism is his favorite philosophical context. A short concluding chapter again refers to Tanner and...


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