BMCR 2022.11.05

La cité du logos: l’ecclésiologie de Clément d’Alexandrie et son enracinement christologique

Léon-Ferdinand Karuhije, La cité du logos: l’ecclésiologie de Clément d’Alexandrie et son enracinement christologique. Vigiliae Christianae supplements, 173. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2022. Pp. xviii, 646. ISBN 9789004505353.



This monumental study focuses on the relationship of the ecclesiology and Christology of the second/third century theologian Clement of Alexandria. It originated as a doctoral dissertation at the Centre Sèvre in Paris under the direction of Michel Fédou. Karuhije’s central thesis is that Clement’s ecclesiology cannot be divorced from his theology of the incarnation; the Logos expands his work in the church to whom the body of believers return for their sustenance and instruction; an ecclesiologically appropriated and enfleshed Christology is the red thread that ties Clement’s surviving writings. Consequently, Karuhije draws on the entire body of Clement’s oeuvre to reconstruct the various aspects of this relationship. This makes Karuhije’s book a definitive study. While different aspects of the relationship have been studied elsewhere (Karuhije leaves no stone unturned in his engagement with previous studies), nobody until now has undertaken such an encyclopedic examination of Clement’s corpus. His aim, however, is not to reconstruct a theory of the relationship of church and Logos in Clement’s work. Rather, the metaphor of a gardener furnishes his hermeneutical orientation. In Strom. Clement described his work as a landscape where a variety of plants grow, and which require the attention of a gardener to cultivate and enjoy. Karuhije is such a horticulturalist; his study steps back from the whole of Clement’s corpus to survey its various flora, not to create a systematic theology, but to recover the several elements that make for its variegated patterns. The investigation explores the variety of metaphors and concepts that Clement uses to represent Christ and the church and their interrelationships. Its main title is based on one of those metaphors, namely that the church is a “civilized assembly [ἀστεῖόν τι σύστημα]” (Strom. governed by the Logos.

The study is well laid out in four parts with an introduction and conclusion to each. Following a general introduction which outlines his hermeneutical approach, Part One summarizes the historical context and doctrinal foundations of Clement’s ecclesiology. Karuhije wisely resists any attempt to reconstruct an undergirding theory of Clement’s occasional writings even as he argues that even if Clement played the role of a catechist for “the” Alexandrian church (Karuhije’s focus tends to be monocular), the Eusebian picture of a catechetical school of which Pantaenus and then Clement were head is an anachronistic imposition on a much more fluid set of religious realities in second and third century Alexandria. It would have been more prudent to have allowed the diversity of Alexandrian Christ religion to stand, however, since a universal notion of “the Church” at Alexandria and beyond exerts a gravitational hold on Karuhije’s discussion, which introduces a measure of theological uniformity belied by the evidence of the surviving traces of a variety of Christ cults in the Egyptian metropolis. Representative sentences include: “Si l’Église peut faire valoir sa fidélité au Christ, c’est parce qu’elle est en mesure d’attester que son enseignement lui vent d’une succession de maîtres don’t la lignée remonte jusqu-aux Apôstres” (199); “Bref, Clément savait faire preuve de soupless tout en restant ferme lorsque la verité don’t l’Église est la gardienne était en jeu” (542). Throughout the book, “l’Église” is resolutely upper case.

Part Two, “L’Église, par le Christ, avec le Christ, en Christ,” is a set of three chapters that examine, respectively, the way Clement’s understanding of the incarnation illuminated his ecclesiology, the relationship of Christ and the church, and the roles of Christ as teacher, physician, and governor. The first (chapter three) establishes the direction of the study under the dual aspect of the incarnation of the Logos at the church and the consequences of the incarnation for the church. Crucially, the church is the culmination of a history of human encounters with the Logos (80) even as it is the continuing “project” of the incarnation (85) whose fullest realization unfolds in the contemplative life and service of the gnostic and in an ethic of love. Together with a consideration of Clement’s eucharistic theology as an expression of communal ideals (130) and the way those ideals inform the domestic life of Christ followers (133) as well as Clement’s feminine metaphors to represents the Logos, Chapter four insightfully considers Valentinus’s influence on Clement’s ecclesiology and provides an appraisal of resulting weaknesses and strengths even as it shrewdly examines the masculine inequities that filter into his use of feminine accounts of the Logos. Karuhije’s self-assigned task as observer of Clement’s literary garden comes to the fore in Chapter five where he explores the contours of the metaphors the Alexandrian uses to represent Christ’s relation to the church. A subtle move from observer to cultivator and even harvester appears, however, where in his discussion of Christ as governor of the church (198-203), he allows Clement’s references to the rule of truth (and related phrases) found in several places of the Stromateis to orient his assessment of Clement’s overall oeuvre. A wilder English looking garden by such applications thus begins to take a more formal French appearance. This is the risk of a study such as Karuhije’s when one takes metaphors deployed for occasional writings and uses them to describe Clement’s work as a whole.

The third part, “L’Église au cœur de l’histoire des hommes”, considers the relationship of the church to human history and its telos in the contemplation of God. Three chapters examine the church as the people of God (Ch. 6), the church as love in action (7), and the church as a worshiping community (8). Even as Clement unites the people of God in the Hebrew Bible with those of the New Testament, he extends it population to include others such as Greek philosophers prior to the incarnation. Karuhije observes his positive and negative evaluations of Greek thought and adapts (315-317) Andre Méhat’s thesis (Études sur les ‘Stromateis’ [Paris, 1966]) that Clement underwent an evolution of thought to explain the differences – a highly hypothetical theory in the absence of a chronology of the oeuvre and another instance where one suspects a systematician has picked up a hoe to tend the garden. In considering ecclesial charity, Karuhije helpfully situates (349-379) Clement’s work in the context of the urban poverty of imperial cities – an analysis that cries out for fuller treatment. It is ironic that he inserts (335-337) Clement’s discussion of procreation under the title “Les relations fraternelles entre les hommes et les femmes” in a broader account of “la charité en acte” where the author’s account is more disembodied than Clement’s Paedagogus allows. His engagement would have benefited from a fuller engagement with the problem of sexual desire among the philosophers and physicians, Clement’s place in that discussion, and his ecclesiastical treatments of the problem. A strength of Karuhije’s study is his sustained analysis of the relationship of worship, ethics, Christology, and ecclesiology; outside of P. Ashwin-Siejowski’s Clement of Alexandria: A Project of Christian Perfection (Leiden, 2010) and R. B. Tollinton’s Clement of Alexandria (1914) this kind of analysis is a seldom-trodden path in Clement studies.

A pair of chapters comprise Part Four, “La composition interne de l’Église,” in which Karuhije discusses Clement’s engagement with the internal composition of the assembly. The chief focus is on the various forms of hierarchy the Alexandrian’s work attests (both institutional and spiritual) and his notion of progressive perfection, especially as it relates to advancement toward gnosis. “Le peuple chrétien est vu par Clément comme une organisation hiérarchique,” Karuhije will later conclude (549). He teases from Clement’s meagre references to institutions a view of the Alexandrian church that risks imposing a level of uniformity and structure amongst Alexandrian Christ followers that may exceed the bounds of evidence. His discussion of the progress toward perfection nicely relates Clement’s eschatology to his spirituality. The role of the gnostic in Christ assemblies, including female gnostics, as well as the philosophical and cosmological system that undergirds his conceptualization of gnosis presents an excellent sketch of Clement’s unique formulations.

The study concludes with a general account of the results of the study and an examination of the posterity of Clement’s ecclesiology from Origen to the present. The discussion of the uses and reinvention of Clement in later theological developments is especially illuminating. Karuhije offers a fascinating reception history of Clement’s thought in the post-Reformation period, from his exclusion by Pope Gregory XIII in 1583 from the list of Roman martyrs to his reinstatement by Benedict XIV in 1748 thanks to the rehabilitating if anachronistic account of him by François Fénelon. The bibliography, author index, and index of sources indicate how thoroughly the author has engaged his topic. The absence of a subject index is regrettable since it lessens the power of this excellent study as a research tool. A detailed table of contents makes up for this deficit to a degree. It is telling that in the general conclusion Karuhije moves (541) from the metaphor of a garden to that of a Rubik’s Cube to describe Clement’s oeuvre. The metaphor might imply that if one gets the permutations correct, one can make the diversity of the Alexandrian’s corpus line up into perfectly aligned colours. One is left with the impression of a Clement that can be brought into a synthetic and systematic unity that the complexity and variety of his surviving writings make difficult to sustain. The scope and depth of this ambitious study offer scholars and students of Clement a critical resource of lasting value.