Thursday, May 16, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - The Oriental Mind

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book on the Salvation of the Rich Man. If you are unfamiliar with Clement or his book, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.
"These things are written in the Gospel according to Mark; and in all the rest correspondingly; although perchance the expressions vary slightly in each, yet all show identical agreement in meaning." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 5)
Clement wrote this book before there was any kind of agreement on an official version of the "New Testament" scriptures. When we read the early Christian writers speak of the New Testament writings they did so without referring to them as "Scripture." To them, the "Scriptures", were the Old Testament writings, and even here there was no universal agreement as to which writing in particular were to be included. We may need to rethink our doctrines of the inerrancy of scriptures, especially the New Testament scriptures. This is not to say that I do not believe them to be accurate, authentic, and authoritative for I do. However, if we approach them as the writings of the apostles who were tasked by Jesus to teach and pass on His message, rather than as mystical writings penned directly from God's mouth, then I think we will save ourselves a lot of trouble in our view and defense of them. Here, Clement acknowledges that in the different accounts of the historical story of Jesus there may be some difference of expression, perception, and remembrance but in all of them there is a consistency of meaning and message. He was not worried about reconciling every word between the several accounts but rather in understanding the common message and meaning delivered through the various accounts.
"But well knowing that the Saviour teaches nothing in a merely human way, but teaches all things to His own with divine and mystic wisdom, we must not listen to His utterances carnally; but with due investigation and intelligence must search out and learn the  meaning hidden in them." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 5)
This is in essence the understanding and belief of the oriental mind. They did not just look at the words that were written but, based upon the depth of wisdom of the original author of those words (that being God), they sought to find the wisdom behind those words; to find the hidden wisdom contained and reflected by those words. It was not enough to simply read and understand the words as they were written, but it was necessary to understand why those words were written. This search for the hidden meaning was at at the heart of the oriental mindset and was what separated them from the mindset of those in the west; this was Alexandria compared to Antioch.

Clement goes on to explain that, even simple scriptures deserve such an in-depth study.
"For even those things which seem to have been simplified to the disciples by the Lord Himself are found to require not less, even more, attention than what is expressed enigmatically, from the surpassing superabundance of wisdom in them. And whereas the things which are thought to have been explained by Him to those within—those called by Him the children of the kingdom—require still more consideration than the things which seemed to have been expressed simply, and respecting which therefore no questions were asked by those who heard them, but which, pertaining to the entire design of salvation, and to be contemplated with admirable and supercelestial depth of mind, we must not receive superficially with our ears, but with application of the mind to the very spirit of the Saviour, and the unuttered meaning of the declaration." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 5)
Again, what Clement was trying to understand was not just what the words conveyed superficially, but what was the reason and purpose of the Savior in speaking those words and what was the unuttered meaning behind those words. In thine, such an approach would be taken by others to new extremes, even into heresy, but, as we will see, as we read through his book, such an approach can yield great insight that is not obtained by merely reading the words on a page.

David Robison

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