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Clement of Alexandria

The focus now moves to North Africa, to the first Church Father to write in Latin. Tertullian was another fierce opponent of the early heretics, putting the boot into Marcion, among others. It is claimed that he hated Greek philosophy, declaring that Plato and others, though freely acknowledged by other Church Fathers, were the forefathers of heretics. This marks him out in my book as one of the good guys in terms of the fight to maintain Biblical purity, though an absolute rotter in terms of his negative attitude to the Jews. Tertullian had a lousy ending, he seems to have become a raving Montanist at the end of his life, conjuring up an image of an aged ascetic letting his hair down, grabbing his robes and dancing off into the sunset, declaring the imminent return of Christ.

Meanwhile in the city of Alexandria, Egypt, in the 2nd Century AD, there lived a man called Clement. He also was a Church father, but oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! My reservations here are because of his conscious efforts to formalise the merging of Christianity and Platonism. As head of one of the most important schools of the day, this was going to have serious consequences. He created a form of Christian Platonism that was to creep into the mainstream Church and affect the key areas of Christian living and Bible interpretation. He did this perhaps for the right reasons - to engage with the Greek culture of his day - but a diluted or corrupt truth is perhaps worse than no truth at all.

Imagine this scenario in a trendy modern church. The minister looks around at his dwindling congregation and decides that the best way to increase numbers is to be relevant to those who live in the neighbourhood. So he advertises movie nights, showing excerpts from feature films. He shows Star Wars. See the force? That's the Holy Spirit. Then E.T. See how he comes back to life? Just like Jesus. Evan Almighty? See, that's how God works. Imagine you're in the audience, having no prior knowledge. Where do I sign up? I didn't know Christianity was so cool! The minister has increased his numbers at the expense of the truth. He has sold them a religion that combines the Christian message with modern culture, but Christianity it ain't!

So Clement took examples of gods from Greek literature and said, that's just like God. He examined Greek legends and said, they're similar to these Old Testament stories, so they share some truths. He took Plato's philosophic ideas and twisted them to explain Christian themes. He rewrote the Sermon on the Mount in the language of neopythagorean gnomic wisdom, which is definitely all Greek to you and me! In fact he had a lot of ideas on how to re-interpret Holy Scripture. He was not just a Christian philosopher but a Christian Gnostic. He considered Christianity the true philosophy and the perfect Christian the true Gnostic. He had somehow made heresy acceptable!

Steve Maltz
August 2013

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth)

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