Sunday, September 9, 2007

Mathison Cont. (Clement of Alexandria)

(Read my prefatory piece on Mathison's The Shape of Sola Scriptura here.)

After giving us his impression of Irenaeus' view on Scripture and Tradition, Mathison sets out to cover Clement of Alexandria.

Mathison says. Clement's Stromata (Book VII, Ch. 16) describes scripture as the criterion by which truth and heresy are to be distinguished. To Mathison, Clement declares with the following the necessity of having all things proven from scripture:

"But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves."

Mathison takes the time in a footnote to observe that the perpetual virginity of Mary is denied in this very chapter of the Stromata.

My analysis. Here we are thankfully given actual words from the Church Father cited. Unfortunately, the precise point does not necessarily follow from the proof provided. Clement of Alexandria does say that Scripture is a criterion for distinguishing Truth from heresy. But Mathison is wrong to claim that this quote shows Clement's belief in the necessity of having all things proven from Scripture. Clement says in this little quote that those seeking truth (and he is referring to the philosophers) will not rest in what their mind finds as truth until it is in conformity with Scripture.

The Stromata is his 'miscellanies', an eclectic work that scholars describe as frustratingly hard to follow or within which to find any central meaning (see Tixeront here). Clement was engaged with Gnostics and philosophers of the academically-minded community in Alexandria. He sought to refute those who claimed to have the secret oral truths, and he is clear in stating that their claims are disproved by sacred Scriptures. He criticizes their willy-nilly use of Scriptures out of context in an attempt to prove their claims. He believes that the Scriptures are Truth and are from God, but I do not see in his work a claim that the Truth contained in Scripture is co-extensive with Tradition.

Clement's writing does resemble the "Tradition I" notion as set out by Mathison, but it does not follow from this that the Scriptures are all Authority. Rather, they are the highest source of Truth to be wielded by the proper Authorities, the Bishops within the Church. This is a distinction of fundamental importance: are the Scriptures Authority, or Truth?

Here are some quotations I found from Clement which might help paint a fuller picture:

"The knowledge of the truth among us from what is already believed, produces faith in what is not yet believed; which [faith] is, so to speak, the essence of demonstration. But, as appears, no heresy has at all ears to hear what is useful, but opened only to what leads to pleasure. Since also, if one of them would only obey the truth, he would be healed. (emphasis added)"

Here Clement discusses the truth among the faithful that is already believed, or Tradition. It is important to remember that there is no canon formed within Christianity at this time, and Clement himself quotes as "Scriptures of the Lord" texts that are Apocryphal (he quotes pseudo-Ezekiel as such; see Fr. Gambero's Mary And The Fathers Of The Church, page 70, footnote 5).

"Now, since there are three states of the soul—ignorance, opinion, knowledge—those who are in ignorance are the Gentiles, those in knowledge, the true Church, and those in opinion, the Heretics. Nothing, then, can be more clearly seen than those, who know, making affirmations about what they know, and the others respecting what they hold on the strength of opinion, as far as respects affirmation without proof. (emphasis added)"

"For those are slothful who, having it in their power to provide themselves with proper proofs for the divine Scriptures from the Scriptures themselves, select only what contributes to their own pleasures. And those have a craving for glory who voluntarily evade, by arguments of a diverse sort, the things delivered by the blessed apostles and teachers, which are wedded to inspired words; opposing the divine tradition by human teachings, in order to establish the heresy. (emphasis added)"

"But as the good man must not prove false or fail to ratify what he has promised, although others violate their engagements; so also are we bound in no way to transgress the canon of the Church. And especially do we keep our profession in the most important points, while they traverse it. (emphasis added; this is his well-known reference to an ecclesial canon, not the canon of Scripture)"

Plain error. Now to Mathison's claim that this quoted section of Clement proves his disbelief in Mary's perpetual virginity, I must note a plain and egregious error. The citation that supposedly shows Clement's disbelief is this:

"But, as appears, many even down to our own time regard Mary, on account of the birth of her child, as having been in the puerperal state, although she was not. For some say that, after she brought forth, she was found, when examined, to be a virgin. Now such to us are the Scriptures of the Lord, which gave birth to the truth and continue virgin, in the concealment of the mysteries of the truth. “And she brought forth, and yet brought not forth,” says the Scripture [this is the reference made to pseudo-Ezekiel]; as having conceived of herself, and not from conjunction. (emphasis added)"

Fr. Gambero, in the work I have already referenced, takes this same passage to indicate the opposite, that it evidences an early belief in Mary's perpetual virginity. He uses a clearer translation that reads, "...was found to be in the state of a woman who has given birth, while in fact she was not so", as opposed to "...the puerperal state, although she was not". If I were to guess, I would think that Mathison read that uncommon word as a typographical error meant to read "perpetual." But the word is real, and means "of or pertaining to childbirth."

So some believed Mary to resemble a woman who has given birth, on account of the fact that she did give birth, but Clement says this resemblance was not so. Mathison claims for Clement a completely opposite view, and this should be corrected if there is a future printing of his book.


Canadian said...

Too bad we couldn't have Mathison here to interact with this discussion.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

I don't think Mathison grasps how 'post-printing press' the concept of Sola Scriptura is. Painting any of the fathers as if they believed in this is anachronism in the extreme (ESPECIALLY before the canon was decided as you already mentioned).

Thos said...

Darrin du Nord,

Mr. Mathison would certainly be welcome to contribute, though he like everyone would need to remember that I mean only to discuss the rigor of his underlying research and analysis, and not his overall theological conclusions (which may or may not be laid to waste, depending on his defense of his underlying research and analysis).


He uses a highly tailored definition of sola Scriptura. In the chapter I'm analyzing in these posts he seems to be setting up the position that pre-canon the view of whatever sacred writings a given church had was viewed as being the buck-stops-here for any given argumentation. Clement of Alexandria seems to support that view much more than Irenaeus, but remains to be seen (for me) is that either of them viewed these scriptures as sole in any way, or as authority in any way.

Peace in Christ,