Sunday, December 04, 2005

Addressing Robert Bowman's Incomplete Picture of Clement's Christology


Robert M. Bowman (Why You Should Believe in the Trinity, page 30) once again criticizes the brochure Should You Believe in the Trinity? by noting that on page 7 of the Witness publication, we are told Clement of Alexandria argued that Christ is a creature and inferior to God. But Bowman contends that "In fact, Clement held the opposite." He then proceeds to cite various portions of Clement's Exhortation to the Heathen 10, The Instructor 1.8, 1.11 and the Stromata 5.1 which are fine references, but actually incomplete portrayals of what Clement believed.

Admittedly, one could make the same charge against the Society's publication. Yet I think the brochure rightly states that Clement believed the Son was/is a creature and inferior to God. At the very least, the pre-Nicene writer was a subordinationist, although it is difficult to ascertain the degree of subordinationist thought. Was Clement of Alexandria an ontological or functional subordinationist with respect to his Christology? In any event, it is wrong-headed to maintain that the Greek father believed the opposite of what the Trinity brochure states. That simply is not the whole truth.

Before showing why Bowman's portrait of Clement's doctrine of Christ is incomplete, let us examine some of his assertions. First, the modern-day apologist (Bowman) does not quote Clement, but avers that the Alexandrian taught Christ is "one and the same God as the Father." What Clement actually says, in context, is "Nothing, then, is hated by God, nor yet by the Word. For both are one-that is, God. For He has said, 'In the beginning the Word was in God, and the Word was God'" (_The Instructor_ 1.8).

Read in context, the passage does not exactly say what Bowman wants it to say. It is obvious that Clement has been influenced by Platonism's triadic hEN/NOUS/YUXH and Stoicism's distinction between the LOGOS ENDIAQETOS and the LOGOS PROFORIKOS. Note how these philosophical suppositions are reflected in Clement's understanding of John 1:1b-c. He professes that the LOGOS was "in" God rather than PROS TON QEON. Turning back to Bowman's interpretation of Clement, however, it quickly becomes evident that he is construing the texts ahistorically or devoid of context without considering Platonism's or Stoicism's influence. I also encourage members of this list to read _Stromata_ 5.1 in context as well. One cannot overlook the possibility that Clement's theology may border on being on modalistic.

Getting back to Bowman's inaccurate assessment of Clement and the _Trinity_ publication he tries to critique, I will now show why his evaluation is incomplete. For there are places in Clement where he does speak of the Son being a creature and being inferior to the Father:

"But the nature of the Son, which is nearest to Him who is alone the Almighty One, is the most perfect, and most holy, and most potent, and most princely, and most kingly, and most beneficent" (_Stromata_ 7.2).

Notice that the Son's "nature" is nearest to God's, not numerically identical with the Almighty deity's nature.

"To Him [i.e. the Son] is placed in subjection all the host of angels and gods; He, the paternal Word, exhibiting the holy administration for Him who put [all] in subjection to Him" (ibid).

"Now the energy of the Lord has a reference to the Almighty; and the Son is, so to speak, an energy of the Father" (ibid).

"Now the Stoics say that God, like the soul, is essentially body and spirit. You will find all this explicitly in their writings. Do not consider at present their allegories as the gnostic truth presents them; whether they show one thing and mean another, like the dexterous athletes, Well, they say that God pervades all being; while we call Him solely Maker, and Maker by the Word. They were misled by what is said in the book of Wisdom: 'He pervades and passes through all by reason of His purity;' since they did not understand that this was said of Wisdom, which was the first of the creation of God (SOFIAS THS PRWTOKTISTOU
TWi QEWi)" (_Stromata_ 5.14).

Compare _Stromata_ 6.7, where Clement also uses the Greek term PRWTOKTISTOS for Wisdom or LOGOS.



Anonymous said...

Greetings Edgar,

I’ve been researching "Should You Believe In Trinity?" brochure and have been defending it for a while. I mainly focused on the Church Fathers (CF) and found the quotes are accurate. I came across a message board and your name came up several times that you were the person to contact regarding the accuracy of the brochure. Can you please give me your honest opinion regarding the brochure?

Best Regards

Edgar Foster said...

I have commented on the Trinity brochure elsewhere. and its description of the ANF. Maybe the brochure could have been more precise at places and quoted what the early church writers exactly said. But I think the work essentially got the ANF right. For instance, Justin Martyr does call the Son an angel, but I don't think he says the Son was created per se. The implication is certainly there, however. Maybe the remarks concerning Irenaeus or could also have been nuanced. Overall, however, I think there is no major problem with the Trinity brochure treatment of the ANF.