The Making of Fornication: Eros, Ethics, and Political Reform in Greek Philosophy and Early Christianity

By Kathy L. Gaca | Go to book overview

Chapter 9
Prophylactic Grace in Clement's
Emergent Church Sexual Ethic

The contribution of Clement (ca. 150–216 c.e.) to ecclesiastical plans for sexual reform has great historical value. His writings, like Philo's, are at the confluence where the Greek philosophical and biblical principles meet and undergo major reworking into emergent church doctrine. He is not later downstream simply handing on a fixed set of received teachings about permissible and forbidden sexual conduct. Clement develops his innovative and influential piecework of Christian sexual rules from Greek philosophical and biblical sources,1 including the Pythagoreans, Plato, several later Stoics, Philo, the Septuagint Pentateuch and Prophets,2 Paul, and a few passages from Matthew and John. In this pastiche, Clement transforms his borrowings into a revolutionary and intensely restrictive kind of sexual fornication that Christians must flee.3

Clement strongly believes, in response to Philo, that appetitive sexual desire is inherently lawless and instigates sexually fornicating rebellion against God. To Clement's mind, innate sexual desire is so dangerous that it makes procreationism in the Lord the only way to prevent sexually active Christians from going the defiant way of rebellious Israel. Accordingly he intensifies Philo's procreationist conception of biblical law by insisting that God

____________________
1
Clement's assemblage of sexual principles is rather complicated but patterned, as he intimates by the descriptive title he gives his main work on the topic, the “patchwork” Stromateis or Miscellanies. A. Méhat (Étude sur les 'Stromates' de Clément d'Alexandrie [1966], 96–112) more fully explores the significance of Clement's title.
2
For Clement's central dependence on the Septuagint form of the Old Testament scriptures, see the monograph by O. Stählin, Clemens Alexandrinus und die Septuaginta (1901).
3
Clement fully endorses Paul's position that sexual fornication is absolutely forbidden to Christians, Paed 2.101.1–2, 3.29.1; Strom 3.43.5, 84.4, 88.4.

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