The Catholic Church’s Problem With Clement of Alexandria

 From the time the Catholic Church began to honor saints and martyrs with feast days up until the 17th century, Clement was venerated as a saint. But Pope Clement VIII revised the Roman Martyrology and was persuaded to drop Clement of Alexandria from the calendar by Cardinal Baronius. Later in the 18th century, during the reign of Benedict XIV, a protest against the act emerged. But Benedict agreed with the removal of Clement from the Martyrology on the grounds that Clement’s life was not well known and some of his doctrines were erroneous.

So what are the Catholic Church’s issues with Clement? According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Clement had faulty interpretations. What does that mean? According to a quote used by the encyclopedia from Tixeront (a 20th century Catholic scholar), it means (at least in part) that Clement “used allegory everywhere.”  In a nutshell, the Catholic Church has a problem with Clement’s use of metaphors and symbols.

The Catholic Church is in quite a predicament when it comes to Clement. They cannot accept his metaphorical teachings, and they cannot deny the evidence showing that he was orthodox. Clement was highly admired and praised as a great Christian teacher by prominent figures in the early church. If Clement’s teaching that the bread of life discourse was to be understood metaphorically was erroneous, why do we not find any protest against him by the ecclesiastical writers of the third and fourth centuries? What we do find is praise for his skill of teaching and his knowledge of Scripture.

After Clement’s death, Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, said of him, “For we acknowledge as fathers those blessed saints who are gone before us, and to whom we shall go after a little time; the truly blest Pantaenus, I mean, and the holy Clemens, my teacher, who was to me so greatly useful and helpful.” Cyril of Alexandria referred to him as “a man admirably learned and skilful, and one that searched to the depths all the learning of the Greeks, with an exactness rarely attained before.” Jerome said he was the most learned of all the ancients. And Eusebius described him as an “incomparable master of Christian philosophy.” Such admiration and praise could not been uttered for a man that was anything but orthodox.

It is interesting how easily Catholic apologists will discount any church father’s testimony if it doesn’t agree with Catholic doctrine. What is worse is that the Catholic Encyclopedia, which is supposed to be a respected source for this type of information, completely dodges Clement and Origen on the topic “The Sacrifice of the Mass.”

Passing over the teaching of the Alexandrine Clement and Origen, whose love of allegory, together with the restrictions of the Disciplina Arcani [Latin term meaning discipline of the secret], involved their writings in mystic obscurity…” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Sacrifice of the Mass)

In plain English, the reason the Catholic Encyclopedia passed over Clement and Origen is because they both clearly taught that Jesus was speaking metaphorically when He said, “Eat My body and drink My blood.”


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