Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Clement of Alexandria: "The Law of Nature and Instruction are One"

CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA (Titus Flavius Clemens, ca. 150 - ca. 215) is another Apostolic Father that is witness to the early Church's adoption of a concept of the natural moral law. Clement is perhaps best known for being the teacher of the Origen, as well as the author of a trilogy of works, the Stromata or Miscellanies, the Protrepticus or Exhortation to the Greeks, and the Paedagogus, or Instructor. Other works of his survive but in fragments. Clement was a synthetic thinker of the Cathechetical School of Alexandria, and he strove to reconcile and synthesize truths he found in philosophy and in Christianity. He may be said to have been the father of Christian Platonism, a synthesis or combination which found so much fruit in his controversial disciple Origen and, more distantly, in the more stolid and reliable St. Augustine. It is to Clement that we must attribute this gem which we can throw out to every thinker who has the audacity of thinking about reality without reference to the Logos, in particularly, the Logos made flesh. "Philosophers are children until they have been made men by Christ." If Clement of Alexandria's teachings are to be given any weight, it appears that from its inception, the Church insisted on both Faith and Reason, both Natural Law and the Gospel. The Church refused to entertain false dichotomies, and rejected the extreme spiritual dualism of such groups as the Gnostics, and the extreme moral dualism of such groups as the Montanists or other enthusiasts.

Icon of Clement of Alexandria

In fact, it is within this blend of Platonism and Christianity that we find a discussion by Clement of Alexandria of the relationship between natural law, that is ,the law of reason, and the Mosaic law. In his Miscellanies or Stromata, Clement suggests, almost certainly inaccurately, that Plato himself was familiar with the Mosaic law, and, indeed adopted the noble end of the Mosaic law--friendship and union with God or contemplation--as the the end of law in his dialogue The Statesman. It is within this discussion that we find the following statement which presupposes, as a thing well accepted, that the law is right reason, rectam rationem:
Cui consequenter, bonae scilicet opinioni, quidem dixerunt legem esse rectam rationem quae jubet quidem ea quae sunt facienda, prohibet autem quae non sunt facienda.

As a consequence of which, some, namely those of good opinion, have called law to be right reason, which enjoins what is to be done and forbids what is not to be done.
Strom., I.xxv.

The final end of the State is "contemplation," not some sort of material self-aggrandizement. This is what Plato, according to Clement, learned from the books of Moses. Plato, therefore, was able to criticize the polity of Minos, as well as that of the Spartan Lycurgus, both of which in practice neglected the need to form both laws and polity sub specie aeternitatis. Law as well as polity must be structured "with reference to the dignity of heaven." In his book The Statesman, Plato "interprets what is in the law, enjoining us to look to one God and to do justly." This comes very close, on need hardly add, to Christ's synopsis of the Decalogue, itself a synopsis of the natural law, into the two great Commandments of love of God and love of neighbor. (e.g., Matt. 22:36-40).

For Clement, there is no notion of arbitrariness in God's law, and so early in the Church's history we have a proper emphasis on the ratio ordinis that is law. "And the law is not what is decided by law (for what is seen is not vision), nor every opinion (not certainly what is evil)." Strom., I.xxv. Here already is a sophisticated understanding, as well as rejection, of a philosophy of law that is positivism: that law is what is decided by law, and no more. Clement of Alexandria would spurn those, who like the judge who "looks down his nose" says, in Auden's "Law Like Love Law," "speaking clearly and most severely":
Law is as I've told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.
Here also is a clear rejection of legal relativism: that law is merely opinion of the one in power. Clement is also disdainful of those who, like Auden's "law-abiding scholars," advance the thesis that:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Anytime, anywhere,
Law is Good morning and Good night.
Clement rejects such theories, and insists in a philosophy of law that recognizes a Law above all human law in which the latter participates. In this Clementine teaching is the clear kernel of the concept of eternal law that will play such a central feature in St. Thomas Aquinas's philosophy of law. Law is not arbitrary will or opinion; it is one opinion, the objective good based upon right reason, and ultimately based upon truth, even God. This is the genius of Moses's teaching on Law. "Law," Clement states, "is the opinion which is good, and what is good is that which is true, and what is true is that which finds “true being,” and attains to it. “He who is,” says Moses, “sent me.” Strom., I.xxv.

Clement of Alexandria (?) in Mosaic

This "philosophy of law" which is advanced by Moses and is adopted by Plato is the only sound philosophy of law. "Whence," Clement concludes, "the law was rightly said to have been given by Moses, being a rule of right and wrong; and we may call it with accuracy the divine ordinance (θεσμός), inasmuch as it was given by God through Moses." Law has a pedagogical, tutorial role as it molds our acts and directs towards the good and to the true, and ultimately to He who is both simply Good and True. Law as understood by Moses and by St. Paul "accordingly conducts to the divine." Strom., I.xxvi. Law is part of soulcraft; consequently, "[t]he true legislator is he who assigns to each department of the soul what is suitable to it and to its operations."
Now Moses, to speak comprehensively, was a living law, governed by the benign Word. Accordingly, he furnished a good polity, which is the right discipline of men in social life. He also handled the administration of justice, which is that branch of knowledge which deals with the correction of transgressors in the interests of justice. Co-ordinate with it is the faculty of dealing with punishments, which is a knowledge of the due measure to be observed in punishments. And punishment, in virtue of its being so, is the correction of the soul. In a word, the whole system of Moses is suited for the training of such as are capable of becoming good and noble men, and for hunting out men like them; and this is the art of command. And that wisdom, which is capable of treating rightly those who have been caught by the Word, is legislative wisdom. For it is the property of this wisdom, being most kingly, to possess and use.
Strom., I.xxxvi. The aim of the law is virtue, a virtue conducive to happiness, even eternal happiness. "Legislation, inasmuch as it presides over and cares for the flock of men, establishes the virtue of men, by fanning into flame, as far as it can, what good there is in humanity." Strom., I.xxvi.

In summary, the Mosaic philosophy of law recognizes objective good and truth, and is fashioned for the good of man, in accordance with his nature, that is, right reason, "fanning into flame" all virtue, and ultimately tending to the last good of man, God himself, the fount of all good, truth, and justice. The ultimate basis of law is therefore not material, but spiritual, and it participates in God. So it is that God is "the good Shepherd and Lawgiver" of the law that "is spiritual and leads to felicity." A human legislator worthy of the name will recognize the linkage between God and law.
And he is truly a legislator, who not only announces what is good and noble, but understands it. The law of this man who possesses knowledge is the saving precept; or rather, the law is the precept of knowledge. For the Word is “the power and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor. 1:24). Again, the expounder of the laws is the same one by whom the law was given; the first expounder of the divine commands, who unveiled the bosom of the Father, the only-begotten Son.
Strom., I.xxvi. From all this it follows that Clement rejects any notion that Christ opened up humanity the gates of anarchy, of a grace without law such as advocated by enthusiastic groups then and ever since. Obedience to law, and not rejection of law, is a fundamental sign of those who have a grasp of what is true:
Then those who obey the law, since they have some knowledge of Him, cannot disbelieve or be ignorant of the truth. But those who disbelieve, and have shown a repugnance to engage in the works of the law, whoever else may, certainly confess their ignorance of the truth.
Strom., I.xxvi. Even outside of Plato, the Greeks seem to have had an inkling of the linkage between the divine and human law. Minos is said to have obtained his laws by frequenting the cave of Zeus, Lycurgus obtained his law from going to the temple of Apollo at Delphi, Zaleucus the Locrian is said to have received his laws direct from Athena. .
But those who exalt the credit of Greek legislation as far as in them lies, by referring it to a divine source, after the model of Mosaic prophecy, are senseless in not owning the truth, and the archetype of what is related among them.
Strom., I.xxvi.

The law must needs have its penalty, its mechanisms of enforcement. It is not to be called evil because of these organs of discipline and reproof. "Let no one, then, run down law, as if, on account of the penalty, it were not beautiful and good." Strom., I.xxvii. In punishing, the law is not unlike the physician who subjects the body to painful regimens for the good of the corporate whole.
Ultimately, the punitive aspects of law are to conduce to good and to dissuade from evil: For the law, in its solicitude, for those who obey, trains up to piety, and prescribes what is to be done, and restrains each one from sins, imposing penalties even on lesser sins. . . . But it is the highest and most perfect good, when one is able to lead back anyone from the practice of evil to virtue and well-doing, which is the very function of law. . . . For the law is beneficent, being able to make some righteous from unrighteous, if they will only give ear to it, and by releasing others from present evils; for those who have chosen to live temperately and justly, it conducts to immortality. To know the law is characteristic of a good disposition.
Strom., I.xxvii. At the extreme, the law may even put to death the offender.

Clement clearly rejects the notion that law is incompatible with the Gospel. That the law and Gospel hold hands, are one "energy," is stated succinctly: "For both the law and the Gospel are the energy of one Lord . . . ." Strom., I.xxvii. Clement concludes his analysis of law in the first book of his Stromata with the following:
"The good commandment," then, according to the Scripture, "is a law and the law is a light to the path; for instruction corrects the ways of life." (Prov. 6:23) "Law is monarch of all, both of mortals and immortals," says Pindar. I understand, however, by these words, Him who enacted law. And I regard, as spoke of the God of all, the following utterance of Hesiod, though spoken by the poet at random and not with comprehension:--

For the Saturnian framed for men this law;
Fishes, and beasts, and winged birds may eat
Each others, since no rule of right is theirs;
But Right (by far the best) to men he gave.

Whether, then, it be the law which is connate or natural, or that given afterwards, which is meant, it is certainly of God; and both the law of nature and that of instruction are one. Thus also Plato, in The Statesman, says that the lawgiver is one; and in The Laws, that he who shall understand music is one; teaching by these words that the Word is one, and God is one. And Moses manifestly calls the Lord a covenant: "Behold I am my Covenant with thee," (Gen. 17:24) having previously told him not to seek the covenant in writing. For it is a covenant which God, the Author of all, makes. For God (θεός) is called from Θέτις (placing), and order or arrangement. And in the Preaching of Peter you will find the Lord called Law and Word. But at this point, let our first Miscellany of gnostic notes, according to the true philosophy, come to a close.
Strom., I.xxix.

In summary, though presented within the context of Mosaic revelation, Clement of Alexandria clearly sees a compatibility between the natural law and the commandments of Moses. Intimated by the Greeks and their legendary lawgivers, finding reality in Moses the "living law," adopted by Plato in his dialogues and teachings, the law's ultimate basis is God. Law is not arbitrary, not merely positive, not merely will. The notion of a purely secular, material basis for law is to be rejected. Human law, at least one worthy of the name, participates in the ratio ordinis, the rational order, of the eternal law. Similarly, the natural moral law participates in the eternal law. All law is conducive to the building of virtue, is consonant with liberty, and has as its ultimate end, the God who made us and in whom we move, and live, and have our being. “Law,” Clement states in a definition to be remembered, “is the opinion which is good, and what is good is that which is true, and what is true is that which finds 'true being,' and attains to it.” Strom., I.xxv. Law finds God and attains to it. This is Clement of Alexandria's teaching; and it ought to be our own.


  1. "Philosophers are children until they have been made men by Christ."

    That is certainly interesting until the example of the modern Christian church is actually observed. Leon Podles wrote a whole book called The Church Impotent, The Feminization of Christianity where he specifically points out the feminization of males in Christianity. Funny, men that worshiped Apollo were very masculine and the men that worship Christ become effeminate. How does that happen? Leon Podles sees something going on.

    Second, the Greek word "virtue" is "Arete" which is about the character of a man. There is none of this in Torah. Arete and Virtue are Hellenistic ideas foreign to the Torah. Under the Septuagint did the Jews Hellenize and even then there was a reaction against Hellenization amongst the stricter conservative Jews. Virtue is not part of laws of Moses. There is NO eduction, general, public education in Jewish society. "Reading and Writing" were the end of Jewish education and no further.

    Virtue in its Greek meaning is tied to education and further is tied to the concept of the Golden Mean--which is also non-existent in Semitic Thought.

    St. Clement is "reading back" Hellenistic ideas into the Torah.

  2. I think you are right that St. Clement is "reading back" Hellenistic ideas into the Torah. But I think his "reading back," is also part of his effort to understand the Torah in the light of the Logos made flesh. St. Clement was not Philo. Philo "read back" Hellenistic ideas into the Torah. St. Clement "read back" Christ the Logos and Hellenistic ideas in an effort to understand the Torah and argue against the Gnostics that the Mosaic law was good, but that it had been overturned, though not in essentials abrogated, by Christ.

    Though the Jew made not have had the concept of arete in the sense of the Greeks, nor did Clement have it in the sense of the Greeks. Arete had a complex history, beginning with Homer. What I think both the Jew and Greek had is virtue, as virtue, as a habitual effort at doing good or fulfilling the demands of the Mosaic law. The Torah and its many requirements was an exercise in virtue, a former of men.

  3. If virtue is broadly defined as "as a habitual effort at doing good or fulfilling the demands of the Mosaic law." I can see that.

    But simply just saying "to do this" or "To do that" or "this is wrong", or "this is right", is not virtue in its essence; Obedience is character training. This may be done subconsciously in the home but this was actively cultivated in the Doric community of Laconia in their public education. I fail to see this obedience training, public and institutionalized in Jewish society as a whole.

    Virtue, for me, means "man training". In my sense, it would have to be direct and applied thru pedegogical art and institutionalized, not implied or subconscious, or done in a personal matter.

    What is this "sub specie aeternitatis"? Did you follow the meaning of this Latin phrase with its definition: structured "with reference to the dignity of heaven." What does this mean.

  4. The phrase "sub specie aeternitatis," suggests that we view things "from the vantage point of eternity." Things look different when we believe in eternal life, versus a life that limited to our mortal journey. It seems to me "with reference to the dignity of heaven" is a similar phrase, with perhaps more emphasis on the glory or dignity which God will give us through the light of glory, where we see him, as it were, face to face and no longer darkly.