Friday, 17 May 2019
Judith Kovacs: Counsels of perfection: the place of Colossians, Ephesians, and Hebrews in Clement of Alexandria’s reading of Pauline theology
In the twenty-first century, a scholar asked to give a précis of the theology of Saint Paul might offer the following, based on the seven letters generally accepted as Pauline: Jesus came as the messiah long expected by the Jews, who now, by his death and resurrection, offers freedom from sin and death and reconciliation with God to all people. What began in these two earth-shattering events will soon be consummated in the resurrection of all who trust in Jesus and the full realization of God’s kingdom in a redeemed creation. Clement of Alexandria, who champions Paul as ‘the divine apostle’ and quotes constantly from his letters, might offer a rather different summary, emphasizing knowledge of God as the Christian’s most important concern, the pursuit of perfection, and the hope of ascent through the heavenly spheres to the perfect end of everlasting contemplation of God. To some extent this interpretation reflects the Platonic background that Clement brings to his reading of the Bible. This paper explores another factor: that Clement is reading a larger corpus of ‘Pauline’ letters. It explores how Colossians, Ephesians, and Hebrews encourage Clement to focus on themes that receive only brief mention in the seven-letter corpus. These include an emphasis on heavenly realities, celebration of the mysteries of divine knowledge (Col 1-2; Eph 3, Heb 5), and reflections on Christ’s pre-existence as creator of all (Col 1:15-20) and his role as forerunner in the believer’s heavenly ascent (Heb 4:14; 6:20).