I just finished reading Clement of Alexandria’s Exhortation to the Greeks. A masterful treatise, with very powerful rhetoric, full of allusions to and quotations from the classical literature. Clement does know how to turn the (literary) tables on his pagan adversaries.

Much of what Clement writes is of course not very congenial to a 21st century Romanian Evangelical (much less to a Pentecostal). However, I read him with great interest, especially that he sounds so exotic.

I am not sure that I understand salvation the way he does, as an initiation into some divine mysteries, but I concede that the imagery he uses could be very appealing for a pagan society. He stresses a lot the idea of incorruption and immortality which, of course, can be found in some of Paul’s letters.

Reading the bilingual edition published in the LCL was more than I had bargained for. So many plays and words that cannot be rendered properly into English.

Below is a quotation from chapter 12, in which he rails against “customs” (that is, pagan customs) which seek to entice and ensnare those to whom Clement is writing. Note the rich imagery taken from the Odyssey. The Christian should bind himself to the cross, much like the ancient hero bound himself to the mast of his ship.

The English text published here is taken from the Ante-Nicene Fathers.

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Let us then avoid custom as we would a dangerous headland, or the threatening Charybdis, or the mythic sirens. It chokes man, turns him away from truth, leads him away from life: custom is a snare, a gulf, a pit, a mischievous winnowing fan.

“Urge the ship beyond that smoke and billow.”168

Let us shun, fellow-mariners, let us shun this billow; it vomits forth fire: it is a wicked island, heaped with bones and corpses, and in it sings a fair courtesan, Pleasure, delighting with music for the common ear.

“Hie thee hither, far-famed Ulysses, great glory of the Achaeans;

Moor the ship, that thou mayest hears diviner voice.”169

She praises thee, O mariner, and calls thee illustrious; and the courtesan tries to win to herself the glory of the Greeks. Leave her to prey on the dead; a heavenly spirit comes to thy help: pass by Pleasure, she beguiles.

“Let not a woman with flowing train cheat you of your senses,

With her flattering prattle seeking your hurt.”

Sail past the song; it works death. Exert your will only, and you have overcome ruin; bound to the wood of the cross, thou shalt be freed from destruction: the word of God will be thy pilot, and the Holy Spirit will bring thee to anchor in the haven of heaven. Then shalt thou see my God, and be initiated into the sacred mysteries, and come to the fruition of those things which are laid up in heaven reserved for me, which “ear hath not heard, nor have they entered into the heart of any.”170

[1]


168 Odyss., xii. 219.

169 Odyss., xii. 184.

170 1 Cor. ii. 9.

[1] A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe, The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. II : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. Fathers of the second century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria.