THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH - Volume 2: by Philip Carrington, Archbishop of Quebec. Published by the syndics of the Cambridge University Press, 1957. Katapi edition by Paul Ingram, 2013.


| HOME | |< | << | The Afro-Syrian Dynasty, A.D. 193-235 | The Accession of Severus, A.D. 193 | Tertullian's Apology, c. A.D. 197 | Early writings of Tertullian | Minucius Felix | The Parthian wars, A.D. 197-202 | Bar Daisan (Bardesanes) | Syrian Christianity | Serapion of Antioch | Clement of Alexandria | Clement and the tradition | Clement and the New Testament | The Alexandrian texts | The Word of Invitation, Logos Protreptikos | The Paidagogos and the Stromata | The pupils of Clement | >> |


AD Synopsis of Christian Chronology
185 Birth of Origen. Pantaenus is head of the Alexandrian School; Clement is his pupil; Narcissus is bishop of Aelia, Irenaeus of Lyons, Eleutherus of Rome, Polycrates of Ephesus.
189 Victor, bishop of Rome ; episode of Callistus before 193.
190 Demetrius, bishop of Alexandria, and Serapion of Antioch, c. 191.Period of the Paschal controversy; Letters of Irenaeus and Polycrates.
192 Council at Ancyra on Montanism; the 'Anonymous' treatise on Montanism addressed to Avircius.
193 Septimius Severus emperor, Julia Domna empress. Writings of Clement, 190 – 202.
194 Severus in the East.Monarchian Schools in Rome.
195 Submission of Abgar IX (Africanus, Bar Daisan, in Edessa).
196 Fall of Byzantium.
197 Severus returns to Rome.Tertullian, Apology, etc.
198 Severus returns to the East.
199 Zephyrinus, bishop of Rome, Callistus his deacon; schism of Natalius.
200 Edicts of Severus against Jews and Christians.Apollonius writes against Montanism.
201 Severus in Egypt.Tertullian, Prescription and other books.
202 Persecution in Alexandria (pupils of Origen): Clement leaves Alexandria.
203 Persecution in Africa (Perpetua).Origen head of Alexandrian school.
204  Gaius and Proclus on Montanism?
205  Hippolytus, Syntagma, Against Gaius, etc.
206  Origen studying under Ammonius.
207  Tertullian accepts Montanism by 207.
208 Severus goes to Britain.Tertullian, Against Marcion, etc.
209  Tertullian, Against Praxeas?
210 Persecution continuing. Alexander in prison in Cappadocia, Clement at work in Cappadocia.
211 Caracalla emperor, Julia Domna queen-mother.Asclepiades, bishop of Antioch. Clement in Antioch.
212 Persecution in Africa under Scapula.Origen visits Rome, 210-12.
213 Alexander, bishop of Aelia, Narcissus still living. Sabellius in Rome? |393
214  Origen visits Arabia.
215 Birth of Mani, Iranian religious founder.Origen at Caesarea.
216 Edessene Monarchy suppressed, Abgar IX captive, Caracalla in Edessa.
217 Caracalla assassinated. Macrinus emperor. Callistus and Hippolytus, bishops in Rome
218 Elagabalus emperor, Julia Maesa queen-mother. 
219  Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition.
220 Murder of Elagabalus and his mother.
Severus Alexander emperor
Chronographies of Africanus.
221 Africanus visits Rome.Last works of Tertullian, On Modesty, etc.
222 Alexander Severus emperor, Julia Mamaea queen-mother.Urban and Hippolytus, bishops of Rome.
223  Statue of Hippolytus.
224  Paschal computations of Hippolytus.
225  Origen on St John, and De Principiis.
226 Coronation of Ardashir I of Iran as king of kings. 
227  Hippolytus, Refutation of Heresies.
230 Pontian and Hippolytus, bishops in Rome, schism of Artemon.
Persians invade Mesopotamia.
Hippolytus writes against Artemon.
231 Origen travels in Greece and settles in Caesarea, is ordained: condemned by Demetrius.
232 Alexander and Mamaea in Antioch.
Roman failure in Mesopotamia.
Origen's visit to Mamaea.
Origen resumes literary work.
234  Hippolytus, Chronicle.
235 Murder of Alexander and Julia Mamaea.
Maximin emperor. Persecution.
Pontian and Hippolytus die as martyrs in Sardinia. Origen in the Cappadocian Caesarea, 235 – 7.

Notes: The first entries on this chart, A.D. 186-92, are all approximate, and form an introduction to the reigns of Septimius Severus and his successors. The lives of two men bridge the whole period: Demetrius, bishop of Alexandria, and Hippolytus who became (in his own estimation at least) bishop of Rome.

Clement of Alexandria seems to have died about 216, and Tertullian about 222; Callistus was martyred in the latter year.

The entries on the left-hand side are solid dates. The entries on the right-hand side are approximations, unless a figure is actually given. Sometimes they draw attention to some general tendency or activity which was going on.

The bishops of the Adoptionist schism in Rome, Natalius and Artemon, are placed opposite the names of the bishops whom they opposed. Actually all we know is that Natalius was Adoptionist bishop in the time of Zephyrinus, and Artemon late in the episcopate of Hippolytus; he was still bishop over thirty years later: he is not actually called a bishop.

The name of Geta is omitted; he was co-emperor with his brother Caracalla in 211, and murdered by him in 212. Caracalla, Elagabalus and Alexander Severus all perished by assassination.

The indications are that the Paschal controversy should be assigned to the last years of the emperor Commodus and the first years of Severus, that is to say about 188-95 inclusive. No doubt it raged for a long time, and we have even ventured to suggest that the synod in Osrhoene was held as late as 195. It has the historical value of bringing on to the |394 stage many of the leading figures in the catholic church. It forms another divide in church history, comparable to that which occurred about the year 100. The old order, in the persons of Irenaeus and Poly-crates and Narcissus, joins hands for a moment with the new order in men like Demetrius and Serapion and Victor.

A new order appears with even greater dramatic effect in the political world. The age of the Antonines comes suddenly to an end with the death of Commodus, the son of Marcus Aurelius. The reign of the Hellenic philosopher, with his appeal to reason and his sense of the freedom of the spirit, is a thing of the past; the importance of free and responsible institutions has almost disappeared; the oriental spirit has captured the Greco-Roman civilization.

Denarius: Septimius Severus


The influence of Marcia must have waned rather fast, for one day, as she was looking through the emperor's papers, she saw her own name on a list of persons who were to be summarily executed. Commodus had become a suspicious and tyrannical man and his violence and bad government had made him intolerable. It was not hard to find people who were ready and willing to assist her in ending his life, which they did on the last day of the year 192. He was thirty-one years old, and had reigned thirteen years. He was suffocated in his bath by his trainer in athletics. So ended the dynasty of the Antonines. A distinguished general named Helvidius Pertinax was made emperor. He tried to introduce discipline into the garrison troops at Rome, and to restore constitutional powers to the Senate; but he was too late. A serious deterioration had taken place in public life, and the golden days, such as they were, had gone. The army was now the master, and the praetorian guards took action. They murdered him on 28 March, and put up the empire for auction to the highest bidder. It was bought by a certain Didius Julianus. The century of peaceful succession was over.

The praetorian guard formed the garrison of Rome and were the emperor's personal guards; but they could not speak for the whole army. The reign of Commodus had been a peaceful one, largely because he had good generals in the field, a fact which speaks well for his father. Three of these were proclaimed emperor by their legions. The nearest legions were those in the Balkans, whose commander-in-chief |395 was Lucius Septimius Severus, an African of Carthaginian descent who spoke the Punic language better than he spoke Latin. He marched on Rome, and was received by the senate, who had anticipated his arrival by executing Julianus on 2 June. He regarded himself as the successor of Pertinax. He was a great soldier, a man of iron will, with extraordinary energy and ambition. He began by recognizing his western rival, Clodius Albinus, who commanded the legions in Gaul and Britain, granting him the lesser title of Caesar, and reserving for himself alone the higher title of Augustus. He then marched eastward to attack Pescennius Niger, who had been proclaimed emperor in Antioch and had the riches and military might of Syria at his command. The Balkan general had to fight a major war. There were two years of desperate fighting before he made himself master of the east; for he had to carry the war across the Euphrates, where the Syrian kingdoms had supported Niger. He subdued Abgar IX, the king of Edessa who favoured the Christian church, and its native theologian and astrologer Bar Daisan. He enrolled the Edessene archers in his army and used them with great effect in his subsequent wars.

On his way to the east, he had left in his rear the strong city of Byzantium, where there was a Christian church and a local theologian, Theodotus the Adoptionist, known as the tanner or leather-worker. It was taken by one of his generals in 196, and it is recorded by Tertullian that when it surrendered the defeated general, Caecilius Capella, is said to have cried out, 'Christians, rejoice!' Exactly how much cause the Christians had to rejoice over the triumph of Severus is a matter for debate. Byzantium suffered severely; for Severus showed no mercy on those who opposed him.

In 197 he defeated his western rival and nominal ally, Albinus, at Trevoux near Lyons, where Irenaeus may still have been bishop; Lyons suffered severely too, and many of its citizens were massacred. Severus now held the whole empire in his ruthless grasp. There were great festivities when he re-entered Rome, and the Senate trembled. There were executions and severities. There were Christians apparently who were not sufficiently prominent in the ceremonies of welcome; doubtless there were many in the palace itself of whose loyalty he did not feel very confident; and they felt his resentment. This occasion seemed to have moved Tertullian to write his Apology., in which he alludes to recent actions against Christians in the emperor's domestic circle. In |396 his later writings, however, he speaks with some favour of the emperor, and says that he had protected eminent Christians in time of persecution. « Perhaps there was a political division in the church. The bishop Victor was associated with Marcia (who was put to death by Severus) and therefore with the regime of Commodus. Was the new bishop, Zephyrinus, more acceptable to Severus? In particular he mentions the Montanist theologian, Proculus Torpacion, a venerable person of holy and ascetic life, who had healed the emperor of some sickness by means of oil; he sought him out, Tertullian says, and kept him near him till the end of his life. He adds that the sons of Severus were brought up on Christian milk, which is more likely to mean the catechism than a wet-nurse, as some have interpreted it. They were also provided with the best that pagan culture could afford in the personal tuition of the philosopher Philostratus, the author of the Life ofApollonius Tyana, the Pythagorean sage of Domitian's reign who was now proposed as a pagan substitute for Christ.


Alexamenos adores his god

The Apology of Tertullian is generally assigned to the year 197, in which Severus defeated Albinus in Gaul, and returned to Rome to settle the empire. It points to a recrudescence of anti-Christian feeling. It is clear that their loyalty was suspect. It was impossible for Christians to join in the ovations offered to the emperor on state occasions. No laurel garlands graced their door-posts; no lamps flamed and smoked before their portals. The populace grew excited and old scandals were brought out again. Scurrilous pamphlets were handed about. Tertullian mentions a cartoon with a figure in a philosopher's gown, and a book in his hand, and the head of an ass. Archaeology has unearthed a similar sketch which was scratched on the wall of the emperor's palace; it was a crucified figure with the head of an ass, and another figure kneeling in front of it; underneath it is the legend, 'Alexamenos adores his God'.

Scenes of violence occurred. Christians were dragged before the magistrates, and ordered off to torture and execution.

The 'Apologeticum' gives a picture of the Christian religion in its rise to power and the Roman empire approaching its decline. The second century had seen a vast growth in population and apparent |397 prosperity. New cities had sprung up; vacant territory had been settled; and everywhere Christians abounded. Even beyond the confines of the empire, in lands where Roman arms had never penetrated, the Christian faith was establishing itself. The empire was alarmed; the church was exultant; the faith was still misunderstood. With telling sarcasm, he ridicules the legal proceedings by which the Christians were done to death in order to pacify a howling mob or gratify a sadistic governor. He reduces to absurdity the old scandals about a ritual of cannibalism and incest. He follows Melito in reviewing the relations between the empire and the church, but his history is open to criticism. The thesis that the bad emperors persecuted and the good did not could no longer be seriously maintained.

He works his way through the regular course of subjects: monotheistic faith, Jewish prophecy, and the crucifixion of Jesus in the reign of Tiberius. The array of gods and goddesses are declared to be daemons. The emperor is accepted as God's viceroy, but not as a god; and the loyalty of Christians is strongly asserted. None of them supported Niger or Albinus, he claims. « He seems to be answering an accusation here, but does he protest too much? Doubtless few actual Christians had borne arms against Severus in lands known to Tertullian. Abgar had certainly been an enemy. Their worship is outlined in general terms; but there is no mention at all of baptism or eucharist or bishop. In his thirty-ninth chapter, however, he gives a picture of the Christian assembly in non-technical terms and without reference to the mysteries. Prayers were offered for the emperor and those in authority, for the peace of the world and for the delay of the Day of Judgement. The sacred writings were read aloud; exhortations, admonitions and disciplinary action followed; but no graver sentence was ever passed than that of excommunication from the common prayer. (In the Jewish synagogue, it should be remembered, the luckless offender against the Law of Moses received in public the penalty of the thirty-nine lashes; no such discipline had yet invaded the Christian church.) Approved elders presided on these occasions, and were not to be influenced by bribes. The common fund was kept up by voluntary monthly contributions, which were devoted to the burial of the poor, the support of orphans and aged people and the relief of prisoners. All were brethren, and even the pagans were known to say, 'See how they love one another.' 'One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to |398 share our worldly goods; all things are in common among us except our wives.'

He goes on to describe the 'agape' or love-feast, the name of which was the ground of scandalous accusations. Before reclining, he says, we taste first of prayer to God; we eat and drink in moderation; we talk like men who know their Lord is listening. After the supper we wash our hands; lights are brought in (it is the evening hour by now); individuals stand up and sing hymns to God, either from the scriptures or of their own composing. When all is done the meeting closes with prayer. This is the setting of the little rituals which we find in Hip-polytus. It is a charming picture; but of course we must not think that the agape was always so orderly and blameless as he suggests; we know from Clement of Alexandria that it could be otherwise; and no doubt the pagans had heard a few tales of rowdiness or unseemly behaviour. Hippolytus finds it necessary to specify that men kiss men, and women kiss women.

After this chapter Tertullian proceeds to answer a number of criticisms, which were circulated, no doubt, in a written document. The Christians are blamed for every public disaster. If the Tiber floods its banks, or the Nile fails to do so, the cry goes up to throw the Christians to the lion. They are called an idle non-cooperating breed of men. They are never seen at the public festivities. They vainly attempt to rival the philosophers, whose doctrine and ethics they have stolen. They create general amusement by announcing that God will judge the world and send some to Gehenna, which is a subterranean fire, and others to Paradise, which is a place of heavenly bliss. The poets and philosophers have said exactly the same thing, but they are only described as arrogant speculations, or even insanity, when the Christians say them.

Well, the Christians, as they die, are more than conquerors.

Go on, go on, good good judges. You will gain glory with the populace if you sacrifice us at their demand. Kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to pieces. ... The more you mow us down, the thicker we rise up. The blood of the martyrs is a kind of seed.
(Apology, 50.)

The intemperance of Tertullian is kept well under control in the rolling rhetoric, sudden paradoxes and fiery argumentations of this great appeal. The author only seems to reach the same heights again in his |399 Testimony of the Soul, in which he puts the human soul in the witness-box, and makes it confess itself Christian by nature and origin. 'O anima naturaliter Christiana', he cries out; 'O soul of Christian birth and nature.'


Tertullian must still have been a young man. He is not yet tainted with the harsh Montanist spirit which dried up his streams of generosity and turned his romantic admiration of popular Christianity into a waspish irritation at the weakness and worldliness with which it was often infected. His output of literature was prodigious. In his early period he turned out a stream of text-books and pamphlets which made available, in an exciting and idiomatic Latin, the traditional material of the older Greek schools. His book Against the Jews (for surely it is his) is the first systematic outline of the testimony material from the Hebrew prophets; it is thought that it preserves some of the work of Aristo of Pella. His books On Prayer and On Baptism were intended for catechumens and contain valuable information about the liturgy which enables us to supplement the church order of Hippolytus. His simple exposition of the Lord's Prayer may be based on older liturgical practice. His controversial genius displayed itself in his book Against the Valentinians, in which he makes use of Irenaeus. The Prescription of Heretics dresses up the old arguments from priority and apostolic origin and catholic consent in a novel and arresting style. He has high praise for the church of Rome, which he afterwards came to think very hardly of. He pillories Greek philosophy as the source of heresy. 'What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? what between heretics and Christians?'

His happy ending to his book on baptism may serve to conclude this brief notice of some of his earlier books. He is speaking to his class of catechumens, who are now very near to their baptism.

Therefore ye blessed, for whom the grace of God is even now waiting, when you shall ascend from the sacred fountain of your new birth and spread forth your hands for the first time in the house of your mother, together with your brothers, ask from your Father and from your Lord special treasures of grace and distributions of charismata – and when you are asking, be mindful also of Tertullian the sinner.



The Octavius of Minucius Felix was written in a very different tone from the Apology of Tertullian, though it traverses many of the same subjects. They are discussed by a couple of friends, Caecilius and Octavius, at the sea-side resort of Ostia near Rome. The dialogue consists for the most part of two long speeches, Caecilius presenting the case against Christianity and Octavius speaking in its favour. There is a narrative introduction which provides a charming social and domestic background. We are conscious of the waves coming in on the beach throughout the long summer's day. The children are throwing pebbles into the sea. Their elders are discussing philosophy. None of the mysteries of the faith are touched upon. The talk circles round the familiar topics of monotheism, philosophy, Judaism, judgement, resurrection, persecution, and so forth. Caecilius had read the works of Fronto, with their low view of Christianity and their stupid belief in the crimes with which Christians were charged. The object of the dialogue seems to be to answer his book in an atmosphere of serene unclouded familiar conversation, though a deep-felt sincerity appears on both sides.

This book is commonly dated about A.D. 200, though some scholars place it as much as fifty years later; but the reference to Fronto supports the earlier date. The works of Tertullian and Minucius mark the appearance of the Christian faith in Latin literature, and, more than that, a revival of Latin literature itself; for they are among the best specimens of it in their time. Minucius is aware that Cicero had written dialogues in which noble Romans, who had drunk from the cup of Greek literature, debated in a measured prose which did not lose in strength by being graceful and exact. Those golden days of classical Latin were now past; but the Octavius is regarded as one of the fine examples of what is called 'silver Latin'. The genius of Tertullian was of another character; it was not so closely tied to classical precedents, and moulded the Latin idiom according to its needs in new and surprising forms of verbal expression which rank him as a great creative artist.

|401 THE PARTHIAN WARS, A.D. 197-202

Severus is described by Tertullian as the most immovable or conservative of princes. He set himself to hew down the immense jungle of Roman law and precedent and to enforce firm and efficient government. In constructing the great Corpus Juris he had the assistance of distinguished jurists such as Plautian, Papinian and Ulpian, and possibly of Tertullian himself, since a lawyer of that name is mentioned in its pages. The will of the prince became more than ever the mainspring of the system; the senate became a cipher. This great code of law was the machinery by which he circumscribed the old liberties; the army was his instrument of power. His ambition was boundless; his character was cruel and unforgiving.

In 198 the Parthians overran Mesopotamia and he returned to the east, where he fought a brilliantly successful war. In 199 he captured Seleucia and Ctesiphon, the royal cities of the Parthian monarch, but did not occupy them permanently; he was content to enlarge and strengthen the Roman province of Mesopotamia, fortifying the city of Nisibis, east of Edessa, which became the centre of the Roman administration. He remained in the east during 200 and 201, and there are obscure references to a rising among the Jews and Samaritans. We are ignorant of what happened in Palestine, but it led him to put out some decrees forbidding conversions to Judaism and Christianity. Perhaps he found the Jews and Christians were not perfectly loyal? The circumcision of non-Jews had long been forbidden by law, but the prohibition of the baptism of new Christians was a novelty. It does not seem to have been very widely enforced.


During these wars Abgar IX, the patron of Syrian Christianity, retained his throne in Edessa; and it was at this time that Julius Africanus of Aelia, who was a young cavalry officer under Severus, went hunting with Bar Daisan and admired his skill in archery.

Information comes in from various quarters about Bar Daisan. He was educated with Abgar (Epiphanius); he was a skilled archer (Africanus) ; he was a missionary in Armenia (Moses of Chorene); he stood firm in some sort of persecution under Caracalla (Epiphanius); he |402 conversed with a delegation of Indians who came to the imperial court (Porphyry); he argued with the Marcionite leader Prepon (Hippolytus); he wrote a hundred and fifty hymns; he wrote a book called ' Books of the Laws of Countries'. He dabbled in astrology.

The treatise on the laws of countries is also known as the Dialogue on Fate. It is still in existence, but proves not to have been written by Bar Daisan. It is the work of a disciple named Philip, but he is the principal speaker in it. He appears as a learned and scholarly person who knows how to reason like a Greek philosopher without passion or personal feeling. He refutes the native pagan astrologer Awida and convinces him that there is room in the universe for free will. One ruling principle is nature, by which he means the orderly predictable element which Victorian philosophers called law; the second is fate, by which he means the unpredictable or accidental element which we might call chance. Man cannot change either law or chance, but there remains a considerable area of existence in which he can exercise his free will, which is the third ruling principle. He thus decides his own character and to some extent his destiny. Bar Daisan had strange ideas about the heavenly powers, and the creation of the world, and the composition of man; but he seems to have been the exponent of a remarkable Christian philosophy, though it was not precisely that of the catholic church.

He must also be regarded as the founder of Syrian literature, a literature which grew and prospered in succeeding centuries. He was a poet and wrote several songs, which have not come down to us, unless we accept as his the mystical Hymn of the Soul in the Acts of Thomas. It appears to be derived from the story of Joseph and the coat of many colours, which it has transformed into a transcendental myth. The bondage in Egypt represents the bondage of the human soul in this world; it forgets its heavenly origin until its father, the king of kings, sends down the heavenly robe, which is the Christus; he is the twin or other self of the soul, which puts him on and is united with him, so returning to its true home above the skies.


The Acts of Thomas are the most attractive of the apocryphal Acts. They tell the story of Judas Thomas (Judas the Twin), who was the twin brother of the Christ, and was sent by him, against his own will, |403 to preach the gospel in India, where he converted King Gundaphor. The approximate date of the Acts of Thomas is thought to be about 220, and no doubt it gives us our best idea of the older Syrian Christianity, to which Addai, Hystasp, Tatian, Abgar and Bar Daisan, all contributed. Bar Daisan died in 222 at the age of sixty-eight, the chronicle says. It would appear that his ideas did not die with him; for his school of Syrian Christianity was a potent force in the far east. No doubt Syrian Christianity sobered down under the influence of Palut and his successors, but it retained for a long time its strongly 'encratite' character mixed with a gnostical mysticism. Among its treasures was the Diatessaron of Tatian, which was not dislodged from its place in the liturgy until the fifth century; and also the Odes of Solomon with their lyrical spirituality. The whole Syrian church was tinged with these ideas. The Syrian father Aphraates (Afrahat), who wrote in the fourth century, shows the marks of it; he uses the Diatessaron, and he advises those who are thinking of marriage not to come to baptism.


Serapion of Antioch, whose accession date was about 191, remained bishop for twenty years. He was a writer of Hupomnemata or 'Notebooks', like Hegesippus and Symmachus, including one called An Exercise concerning Words, which sounds as if it must have been grammatical or lexical; but even Eusebius had not seen them. He knew of an Epistle, however, which was addressed to a certain Domnus, who had lapsed from the faith in a time of persecution and had taken refuge in Judaism; and another, which was addressed to Pontius and Caricus, ' ecclesiastical men', on the subject of the New Prophecy. His principal problems, therefore, seem to have been Montanism and Judaism. He also had to adjudicate on the Gospel of Peter.

Serapion had visited the church at Rhosus, about thirty miles away from Antioch, and found it divided by an argument. As the only point at issue seemed to be the question whether the Gospel of Peter should be read or not, and as he judged them all to be sound in the faith, he allowed it to be read. Later on, however, he was informed that the champions of the disputed Gospel were adherents of heresy. This led him to make inquiries, and he found that it had been composed in the sect of the Docetae, apparently in a previous generation; for he says |404 that he conferred with 'their successors', and received information from them, thanks to which he was able to compose an analysis of the Gospel, indicating what parts of it were in accordance with the true teaching of the Saviour and what parts were added.

Two interesting points emerge. One is that the bishop of Antioch was in a position of regional or metropolitical importance, which seemed to be the case under Ignatius eighty years before. The other is that it was still possible to have a new Gospel read in church, or at least to assent to it for the sake of peace. Indeed, if the Diatessaron could be read at Edessa, why not the Gospel of Peter at Rhosus? But it is possible that steps were being taken even now to introduce the four 'separated' Gospels in the Syrian language at Edessa; unsuccessful steps, so far as the liturgy was concerned.

It should be noted that Serapion had never heard of the Gospel of Peter before. On the other hand he had a standard Gospel text with which he could compare it; and he rejected it because it made certain additions. Did he compare it with all four Gospels, a difficult feat in those days? Or did he compare it with the Diatessaron, which was a handy compendium of the four? And did he regard the Gospel of Peter, when it was first shown him, as a new harmony rather like the Diatessaron? And was his own Diatessaron, if he had one, the Diatessaron of Tatian or of Theophilus? These are only some of the questions which are raised by this interesting episode.

Serapion sent his analysis to the church at Rhosus, and told him they could expect another visit from him in the near future.

His correspondence on Montanism has been dealt with in an earlier chapter, since it gives information about the period of Apolinarius.


The year 190 marks the end of the fourth Christian generation, and very soon there will be no venerable bishops or teachers like Irenaeus and Polycrates, who had received the tradition from men who could remember the apostles. The fifth generation (190-230) produced brilliant scholars, however, who were nourished in the church tradition, studied the Christian literature, and branched out unhesitatingly into new fields of creative work. These men represented the old teaching order which had existed in the church since apostolic days, but it had |405 assimilated itself now to the pattern of the Greek philosopher or littérateur, taking in too a certain amount of asceticism. They travelled a good deal from church to church, and wore the gown or pallium which was the habit of the philosopher as a man dedicated to the search for truth. They seem originally to have been a lay order, working primarily with the hearers and catechumens, but there was a tendency now to draw them into the presbyterate. Clement was a presbyter, and possibly Tertullian too; but there were some who might be described as freelances, and it is thought that these were the precursors of monasticism. It is noticeable that we hear little more about prophets who may have been absorbed into the same movement.

Clement of Alexandria was the most illustrious of these teachers. It is probable that he was the head of the Alexandrian School early in the hundred-and-nineties; but Pantaenus, his tutor and predecessor, may have lived into this decade. Among his scholars were Alexander, who became a bishop, first in Cappadocia and then in Aelia; Origen, « This has been questioned. At any rate he belonged to the same circle, and seems to have been able to remember Pantaenus. who established a famous school at Caesarea; and possibly Heraclas, who became bishop of Alexandria. This network of churches, which was infused with the spirit of Pantaenus and Clement, became by far the most important influence in Christianity. It was an intellectual movement of a very rare kind, spiritual, conservative and liberal. Clement had entered very fully into the Alexandrian tradition of Philo, the gnostics and Pantaenus himself, not to mention hosts of non-Jewish and non-Christian authors. He is proud of the word 'gnostic' which he tried to rescue from the heretics. The true gnostic, he thought, was the Christian who understood his faith and practised it intelligently.

There was a battle in Alexandria between the champions of simple faith and the exponents of the new theology. Alexandrian Christianity was not all gnostic by any means. There was a strong substratum of plain traditional faith and practice and apocalyptic, which was accepted by the rank and file without much intellectual scrutiny; and Clement had to prove against hard opposition the usefulness and value of the current academic training in Greek language and logic and critical thinking. He even had to defend the practice of writing books, for his predecessor Pantaenus had written none; nor had the other apostolic teachers whose memory he revered.


It is rather ironical that Clement, who idolized the old oral teachers of the church tradition, should also be the defender of book-writing and an author of numerous volumes. He says that he is writing down the teachings of the ancients as a remedy against forgetfulness, in anticipation of his old age; but this is one of his pleasantries, half serious, half comic. Clement writes because he must; and, as he does so, he illuminates every aspect of Christian life. He is far from being a systematic writer, though he tries to be systematic. He plans out a series of volumes, one growing out of another, which he never completes. His thought is too fertile. It grows and expands too richly as he proceeds with it. A modern theologian says that his powers were not great enough for the task; but it may be that they were too great. He made use of intellectual formulas and approaches and generalizations, but he was unable to prune down the vast forest of the Christian tradition as he saw it into compliance with his intellectual formulations.

He was a connecting link. The old tradition flows very fully into his work and everywhere appears, though it may be in strange company and in a new guise. We find the Jewish prophecies, the Logos theology, the apostolic literature, and so forth; but it has undergone a change. He has civilized it. A certain barbarous quality which Tatian highly approved of, has disappeared. It is brought into line with the whole range of Greek thought and literature and learned research; for truth is truth, wherever it is found, and it is everywhere the work of the Word of God. Its meaning and message is developed in the form of general principles which can be related to the general principles of the great Hellenic thinkers as expressed in poetry and philosophy; he even makes some use of the mystery religions.

In doing this work on the scripture, Clement frequently resorted to allegorization, and often on highly artificial lines, which were inspired by the example of Philo. Clement enjoyed doing this, but it is quite wrong to give the impression that his work was vitiated by it. He had a remarkable understanding of the scriptures, including the New Testament as well as the Old, and his use of it shows great penetration and insight. It may be that this is the point at which he owes most to his master Pantaenus, who, he said, gathered his honey from the apostolic meadows; indeed the mystical exposition of the New Testament may |407 have been a learned tradition of old standing in Alexandria, dating from the days of the great gnostic founders. But however this may be, the work of Clement inaugurates the intelligent study of the New Testament in the Christian church. He does not merely use it to prove theological points from, or to build up theology with, though he is an adept in both; he loves it for its own sake as an expression of heavenly wisdom in beautiful forms.


The picture of the New Testament which we obtain from Clement is different from that which has appeared in Rome. The range of literature is wider; the process of restriction or canonization has not gone so far; the distinction between the core of the canon whose position is sacred and unassailable, and the periphery or penumbra of more debatable literature, is even less easy to make out. Moreover, the picture itself is not quite identical.

The four Gospels, of course, stand by themselves, and have no rival; but he gives them in the order Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John, placing first those which are provided with genealogies, and giving notes on the origin of each. His book of Pauline Epistles contained Hebrews, which he thought had been written by Paul in Hebrew and translated into Greek by Luke; in Rome Hebrews was not regarded as Pauline or as canonical. He made use of Acts and of the Revelation of John. He wrote a commentary, or at any rate comments, on all the catholic Epistles, Eusebius says; but all we have of this is a Latin translation of some of his notes on 1 Peter, Jude, and 1 and 2 John. He quotes, without any great sense of difference so far as we can see, from 1 Clement, 'the apostle Clement'; and the 'Epistle of Barnabas', 'the apostle Barnabas'; and the Pastor of Hermas; and the Preaching of Peter, and the Revelation of Peter. His quotation from the Didache, as 'scripture', is less certain since he might have derived it from one of the catechetical sources used by the Didache.

If Clement had been asked to divide this literature into canonical and non-canonical, he might have been very much perplexed. He was no critic. He had received a good deal of apostolic and near-apostolic literature without necessarily canonizing it all, even when he calls it scripture. He had a love of good literature wherever he found it, and he |408 valued it in proportion to the truth and beauty which he saw in it. On the other hand, we have used his uncritical acceptance of these additional books as a sign of their early date; he could hardly have used them as he did if they were of recent composition.


There are some 'Western' readings in Clement's quotations from the Gospels, but on the whole he uses a different type of text from that which was current in Rome. It would appear that three types of text were current by this time in Alexandria, and modern critics distinguish them as follows, though it is now known that the nomenclature is misleading.

(1) The so-called 'Neutral' or 'Alexandrian' type, which is represented by the great fourth-century codices Vaticanus (B) and Sinaiticus (Aleph or S), and used by the Alexandrian fathers like Athanasius and Cyril.

(2) The so-called 'Caesarean' type which is represented by the Chester Beatty papyri and the ninth-century Koridethi manuscript (Theta), and used by Origen in his later works, his earlier works being based on the 'Neutral'.

(3) The so-called "Western' type which is represented by the Old Latin translation and the Codex Bezae (D), and was used by Marcion, Irenaeus, Tatian and Tertullian.

The type of text current in eastern Syria was related to the 'Western' text, judging from the old Syriac 'separated' Gospels. Perhaps it should be regarded as a fourth class.

The text used by Clement was not a 'Western' text; it seems to have resembled the ' Neutral' rather than the 'Caesarean'; Origen began by using the 'Neutral', but changed to the 'Caesarean' before he left Alexandria. The nomenclature is now admitted to be misleading, and sheds little light on the local origins of the various types of texts. The ' Caesarean' text might just as easily be' Athenian', since Origen started using it after his return from Athens.

The Neutral text is a conservative text made from early manuscripts, but showing signs of scholarly revision and correction; the Caesarean text is like it in being non-Western, but has its own history and ancestry. The Western text was the popular widespread text of the second |409 century, as is proved by the use made of it by the writers of the period, and the Latin and Syriac translators; unfortunately we have no early manuscript of this type. There is an interesting contrast between the early manuscripts of the Caesarean and Neutral types; the Chester Beatty gospels with their long lines of script running right across the page and their complete lack of marginal apparatus, look very different from the formal script of the parchment pages of B and Aleph, with their narrow columns and their chapter enumerations. The two types of text may be associated with different methods of book-production, one possibly for private reading and study, the other for use in church.


It is utterly impossible to summarize the voluminous writings and diversified theological ideas of Clement; still less to reproduce the wise, poetic, playful, deeply sincere style which colours every page. Even the titles of his great books defy translation.

His first book, the Logos Protreptikos to the Greeks, I have seen translated into English as the 'Hortatory Discourse'; but the Logos means the divine Word of God as well as a discourse or treatise, and the verb protrepein has the suggestion of stimulation and persuasion. The 'Word Persuasive' is a fairly literal rendering. It is written in a graceful literary style which is full of allusions to Greek poetry, mythology and ritual, drawn from a wide acquaintance with the best authors; and this is blended with the poetry and wisdom of the Hebrew prophets and sages. The Word of God, Jesus Christ, is the new song, sung by David and the prophetic choir, excelling that of Orpheus and the Muses, even as Mount Zion excels Mount Helicon, and the mysteries of Jesus excel those of Eleusis. Clement is full of the newness of the gospel, just as Marcion was. He presents the faith as a youth-movement in an ageing world, and perhaps the school of Clement was a youth-movement, which attracted the young intellectuals though it was not approved by everyone in Alexandria.

It says much for the statesmanship of Demetrius, who was not an old man himself, that he patronized a theology of this kind in the catechetical school, over which, apparently, he had complete authority; or was he quite happy about it all the time?

A bolder paraphrase of the title of this book, which unveils the |410 barbarism and superstition of the established Greek religions, would be the 'Invitation to Music', since Clement makes his divine Word and Saviour invite his erring children to the true music and harmony of God as it has been realized on earth in the church.


His second book is the Paidagogos which is surely not very well represented in English by the word 'Instructor'? The Greek 'pedagogue' was not an instructor, in any case, but a leader of children; in Clement's language the divine Word now assumes the character of the Youth-leader. The youth which he leads and inspires and trains are the ordinary baptized Christians, who have a pleasing child-like quality about them and respond to his words of encouragement and admonition, which are given through the prophets and the apostles and mediated by the wisdom of Clement. Clement covers all the problems of social life, sleeping and waking, talking and feasting, marrying and giving in marriage; always with great wisdom and moderation. He appears, if we may say so, as a man of the world, at home in all classes of society. He gives us a vivid picture of the whole social life of the time, which he knows very well. The wise Christian is a married man; he mixes with society, but always governs himself by the use of reason; his asceticism consists in a sweet reasonableness and self-discipline. He is a man of prayer. He is the educated gentleman of the day, Christianized; not the savage ascetic, or the wild untamed prophet, or the enemy of social life. Clement invariably respects the order of the church from which he draws his counsels and general principles, but he does not look to episcopal or prophetic authority as the way by which the church will be saved; he looks to an intelligent understanding of the Christian faith.

His third book, which is far longer, is a collection of miscellaneous studies, which he calls the Stromateis or Stromata, a word which means 'blankets'. No one has ventured to translate this literally. There was a vogue for such names, though they were usually prettier and more poetical. Africanus, for instance, called one of his books the Cestoi, or 'embroidered girdles'. The books in question were collections of studies on various topics, written in a more or less popular and attractive style. Clement seems to have meant by his a travelling-kit or |411 equipment for the journey of life; I have carried on the train of thought, therefore, and paraphrased it as Equipment for the Road.

It contains an immense variety of material which defies classification; the account of his teachers, for instance, and their apostolic oral tradition; a long series of notes on the Greek philosophers; an outline of world-history in the style of Tatian and Theophilus. He brings the latter down to the death of Commodus in 192, showing that when he was writing he was already in the mid hundred-and-nineties. So far as it has a theme, it is the character of the true Christian gnostic, as contrasted with the false gnostic of the heretical schools. He deals in great detail, for instance, with the whole question of sex, controverting the errors of those who insisted on complete celibacy for all, and also those who advocated indulgence in the sexual act as a holy rite. He controverts, too, those who took too literally the command to renounce all property; Christians do not have to give all their goods away. Neither do they have to rush on martyrdom; God intends us to preserve our lives if we honourably can. It looks rather as if he was a married man himself, with a modest competence; an educated member of the higher bourgeoisie, or even the aristocratic classes.

What then is his picture of the true gnostic ? He finds it hard to define it clearly. The true gnostic is an intelligent Christian, who has come to the knowledge of the divine Word of God through study and sacrament and prayer; his mind is in true harmony with the mind of God; he controls the passions by means of the reason.

He thus achieves the objective of the Platonic sage or Stoic philosopher. It must be granted that the picture falls short of the Pauline evangel of sin and grace and salvation through faith; but he tells us himself that there are mysteries with which he does not deal. He has managed to hold himself in some degree to his self-imposed intellectual task, and has worked it out on the lines of his special formulation of it. He has shown the world of his day the picture of a reasonable civilized Christianity.

There was a fourth book which was called the Hupotuposeis, which may be translated 'Images' or 'Patterns' ('Blue-prints'?), but it has not survived, except for a few fragments. The ninth-century Photius had read it, and was shocked by its unorthodoxy.


No one knew better than Clement that the work of a great teacher was personal. The true teacher is paternal. He gives his pupils living seed from within his own mind which lives fruitfully in their minds. They are his sons; though books, too, may be described as the children of their authors. It emphasized very happily the personal quality in the old oral tradition, and indeed in education generally.

The pupils of Clement multiplied and expanded his creative teaching. There was Alexander in Cappadocia and Aelia. There was Origen in Alexandria and Caesarea. Horigenes Adamantius was destined to become one of the half-dozen greatest figures in the glorious list of Christian intellectuals. He was a Christian by birth. He was born in 185 or 186. His father Leonides was fully aware that his son was a child of great intellectual genius, and of a pure and ardent spirit. He took pains to see that he was well grounded in Greek literature, and that he had contact with the circle of Clement and Pantaenus.
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