Titus Flavius Clemens, or St. Clement of Alexandria, was a Greek theologian of the early Christian church, the second known leader of the Alexandrian school of theology. He was born to a pagan family, allegedly in Athens, although his place of birth and the dates of his birth and death are uncertain. He studied under Pantaeus at the Catechetical School of Alexandria, the first Christian scholastic institution of its kind, known for promoting the allegorical method of biblical interpretation. Clement succeeded Pantaeus as its leader from about 190 until 203. Under the leadership of Pantaeus, Clement, and his pupil Origen, this school grew famous as a center of learning at the time.
Clement was the author of Exhortation to the Greeks, the three books of The Tutors, and the eight books of the Stromateis or Stromata, usually translated as Miscellanies, from which the selections here are taken. Clement also wrote Who Is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved? In 202 or 203, Clement left Alexandria as a new round of persecutions of Christians began.
In the short selections here, Clement addresses what had become a troubling issue for the church, especially during periods of persecution. Christians were committed to belief in God and the divinity of Christ, and would prefer death to denying this faith. But some writers, notably Ignatius [q.v.] and Tertullian [q.v.], stressed the desirability of martyrdom and exhorted Christians to become martyrs. Indeed, some Christians openly flaunted their faith as a way of courting or provoking their own martyrdom. Clement, in a view the church came to accept, opposes this excess; he honors the genuine martyr, the one who achieves perfection and performs “the perfect work of love” in voluntarily sacrificing his body, but excoriates those who have “rushed on death” or have “presented themselves for capture.” In Clement’s view, they are guilty in much the same way as the murderer and the self-killer, the suicide; while martyrdom is to be respected, the true Christian should do everything possible to avoid it, short of betraying one’s faith.
The Writings of Clement of Alexandria, Vol. II. Miscellanies (Stromata), Book IV, chs. iv, x. tr. Rev. William Wilson. Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Vol. XII. Edinburgh: T &T Clark, 1869, pp. 145-148, 173-174.
from THE PRAISES OF MARTYRDOM
Whence, as is reasonable, the gnostic, when called, obeys easily, and gives up his body to him who asks; and, previously divesting himself of the affections of this carcase, not insulting the tempter, but rather, in my opinion, training him and convincing him,
“From what honour and what extent of wealth Fallen,”
as says Empedocles, here for the future he walks with mortals. He, in truth, bears witness to himself that he is faithful and loyal towards God; and to the tempter, that he in vain envied him who is faithful through love; and to the Lord, of the inspired persuasion in reference to His doctrine, from which he will not depart through fear of death; further, he confirms also the truth of preaching by his deed, showing that God to whom he hastes is powerful. You will wonder at his love, which he conspicuously shows with thankfulness, in being united to what is allied to him, and besides by his precious blood, shaming the unbelievers. He then avoids denying Christ through fear by reason of the command; nor does he sell his faith in the hope of the gifts prepared, but in love to the Lord he will most gladly depart from this life; perhaps giving thanks both to him who laid the plot against him, for receiving an honourable reason which he himself furnished not, for showing what he is, to him by his patience, and to the Lord in love, by which even before his birth he was manifested to the Lord, who knew the martyr’s choice. With good courage, then, he goes to the Lord, his friend, for whom he voluntarily gave his body, and, as his judges hoped, his soul, hearing from our Savior the words of poetry, “Dear brother,” by reason of the similarity of his life. We call martyrdom perfection, not because the man comes to the end of his life as others, but because he has exhibited the perfect work of love. And the ancients laud the death of those among the Greeks who died in war, not that they advised people to die a violent death, but because he who ends his life in war is released without the dread of dying, severed from the body without experiencing previous suffering or being enfeebled in his soul, as the people that suffer in diseases. For they depart in a state of effeminacy and desiring to live; and therefore they do not yield up the soul pure, but bearing with it their lusts like weights of lead; all but those who have been conspicuous in virtue. Some die in battle with their lusts, these being in no respect different from what they would have been if they had wasted away by disease.
If the confession to God is martyrdom, each soul which has lived purely in the knowledge of God, which has obeyed the commandments, is a witness both by life and word, in whatever way it may be released from the body,—shedding faith as blood along its whole life till its departure. For instance, the Lord says in the Gospel, “Whosoever shall leave father, or mother, or brethren,” and so forth, “for the sake of the gospel and my name,” he is blessed; not indicating simple martyrdom, but the gnostic martyrdom, as of the man who has conducted himself according to the rule of the gospel, in love to the Lord (for the knowledge of the Name and the understanding of the gospel point out the gnosis, but not the bare appellation), so as to leave his worldly kindred, and wealth, and every possession, in order to lead a life free from passion. “Mother” figuratively means country and sustenance; “fathers” are the laws of civil polity: which must be contemned thankfully by the high-souled just man; for the sake of being the friend of God, and of obtaining the right hand in the holy place, as the Apostles have done.
Then Heraclitus says, “God and men honour those slain in battle;” and Plato in the fifth book of the Republic writes, “Of those who die in military service, whoever dies after winning renown, shall we not say that he is chief of the golden race? Most assuredly.” But the golden race is with the gods, who are in heaven, in the fixed sphere, who chiefly hold command in the providence exercised towards men. Now some of the heretics who have misunderstood the Lord, have at once an impious and cowardly love of life; saying that the true martyrdom is the knowledge of the only true God (which we also admit), and that the man is a self-murderer and a suicide who makes confession by death; and adducing other similar sophisms of cowardice. To these we shall reply at the proper time; for they differ with us in regard to first principles. Now we, too, say that those who have rushed on death (for there are some, not belonging to us, but sharing the name merely, who are in haste to give themselves up, the poor wretches dying through hatred to the Creator)—these, we say, banish themselves without being martyrs, even though they are punished publicly. For they do not preserve the characteristic mark of believing martyrdom, inasmuch as they have not known the only true God, but give themselves up to a vain death, as the Gymnosophists of the Indians to useless fire.
But since these falsely named [gnostics] calumniate the body, let them learn that the harmonious mechanism of the body contributes to the understanding which leads to goodness of nature. Wherefore in the third book of the Republic, Plato, whom they appeal to loudly as an authority that disparages generation, says, “that for the sake of harmony of soul, care must be taken for the body,” by which, he who announces the proclamation of the truth, finds it possible to live, and to live well. For it is by the path of life and health that we learn gnosis. But is he who cannot advance to the height without being occupied with necessary things, and through them doing what tends to knowledge, not to choose to live well? I living, then, living well is secured. And he who in the body has devoted himself to a good life, is being sent on to the state of immortality.
from THOSE WHO OFFERED THEMSELVES FOR MARTYRDOM REPROVED
When, again, He says, “When they persecute you in this city, flee ye to the other,” He does not advise flight, as if persecution were an evil thing; nor does He enjoin them by flight to avoid death, as if in dread of it, but wishes us neither to be the authors nor abettors of any evil to any one, either to ourselves to the persecutor and murderer. For He, in a way, bids us take care of ourselves. But he who disobeys is rash and foolhardy. If he who kills a man of God sins against God, he also who presents himself before the judgment-seat becomes guilty of his death. And such is also the case with him who does not avoid persecution, but out of daring presents himself for capture. Such a one, as far as in him lies, becomes an accomplice in the crime of the persecutor. And if he also uses provocation, he is wholly guilty, challenging the wild beast. And similarly, if he afford any cause for conflict or punishment, or retribution or enmity, he gives occasion for persecution. Wherefore, then, we are enjoined not to cling to anything that belongs to this life; but “to him that takes our cloak to give our coat,” not only that we may continue destitute of inordinate affection, but that we may not by retaliating make our persecutors savage against ourselves, and stir them up to blaspheme the name.