Clement of Alexandria and the Apokatastasis
Extracted from the writings of J.W. Hanson
Clement of Alexandria – born A.D. 150, died A.D. 220 – was inspired by Pantænus. There is nothing known to exist from the pen of Pantænus, but we learn from Eusebius that this distinguished scholar and teacher was at the head of the Catechetical school in Alexandria as early as A.D. 100-120. Tradition asserts that it was founded by the apostles. Clement succeeded Pantænus as president of the school in 189, to be succeeded by Origen around 202. Clement held that the true Gnostic was the perfect Christian. The Alexandrine fathers had no hostility to the word Gnostic, properly understood; to them it signified the Christian who brings reason and philosophy to bear on his faith.
At this time Alexandria was the second city in the world, with a population of 600,000; its great library contained from 400,000 to 700,000 volumes; at one time 14,000 students are said to have been assembled; and it was the center of the world’s learning, culture and thought; the seekers for truth and knowledge from all regions sought inspiration at its shrines. It is most of all of interest to us, not as the radiating center of Christian influence, but because its teachers and school made universal salvation the theme of Christian teaching.
Passages from the works of Clement, only a few of which we quote, will sufficiently establish the fact that he taught universal restoration.
“For all things are ordered both universally and in particular by the Lord of the universe, with a view to the salvation of the universe. But needful corrections, by the goodness of the great, overseeing judge, through the attendant angels, through various prior judgments, through the final judgment, compel even those who have become more callous to repent.”
“So he saves all; but some he converts by penalties, others who follow him of their own will, and in accordance with the worthiness of his honor, that every knee may be bent to him of celestial, terrestrial and infernal things (Phil. 2:10), that is angels, men, and souls who before his advent migrated from this mortal life.”
“For there are partial corrections (padeiai) which are called chastisements (kolasis), which many of us who have been in transgression incur by falling away from the Lord’s people. But as children are chastised by their teacher, or their father, so are we by Providence. But God does not punish (timoria) for punishment (timoria) is retaliation for evil. He chastises, however, for good to those who are chastised collectively and individually.”(1)
This important passage is very instructive in the light it sheds on the usage of Greek words. The word from which “corrections” is rendered is the same as that in Hebrews 12:9, “correction” “chastening” (paideia); “chastisement” is from kolasis, translated “punishment” in Matt. 25:46, and “punishment” is timoria, with which Josephus defined punishment, but a word our Lord never employs, and which Clement declares that God never inflicts.
“The divine nature is not angry but is at the farthest from it, for it is an excellent ruse to frighten in order that we may not sin. Nothing is hated by God.”(2) So that even if aionios (Matt. 25:46) meant endless duration, Clement would argue that it was used as instruction--to restrain the sinner. It should be said, however, that Clement rarely uses aionion in connection with suffering.
Clement insists that punishment in Hades is remedial and restorative, and that punished souls are cleansed by fire. The fire is spiritual, purifying (3) the soul. “God’s punishments are saving and disciplinary (in Hades) leading to conversion, and choosing rather the repentance than the death of the sinner, (Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33:11, etc.,) and especially since souls, although darkened by passions, when released from their bodies, are able to perceive more clearly because of their being no longer obstructed by the paltry flesh.”(4)
He again defines the important word kolasis our Lord uses in
Matt. 25:46, and shows how it differs from the wholly different word timoria used by Josephus and the Greek writers who believed in irremediable suffering. He says: “He (God) chastises the disobedient, for chastisement (kolasis) is for the good and advantage of him who is punished, for it is the amendment of one who resists; I will not grant that he wishes to take vengeance. Vengeance (timoria) is a requital of evil sent for the interest of the avenger. He (God) would not desire to avenge himself on us who teaches us to pray for those who despitefully use us (Matt. 5:44).(5) Therefore the good God punishes for these three causes: First, that he who is punished (paidenomenos) may become better than his former self; then that those who are capable of being saved by examples may be drawn back, being admonished; and thirdly, that he who is injured may not readily be despised, and be apt to receive injury. And there are two methods of correction, the instructive and the punitive,(6) which we have called the disciplinary.”
The English reader of the translations of the Greek fathers is misled by the indiscriminate rendering of different Greek words into “punish.” Timoria should always be translated “vengeance,” or “torment;” kolasis, “punishment,” and paideia “chastisement,” or “correction.”
“If in this life there are so many ways for purification and repentance, how much more should there be after death! The purification of souls, when separated from the body, will be easier. We can set no limits to the agency of the Redeemer; to redeem, to rescue, to discipline, is his work, and so will he continue to operate after this life.”(7)
Clement did not deem it well to express himself more fully and frequently respecting this point of doctrine, because he considered it a part of the Gnostic or esoteric knowledge which it might not be well for the unenlightened to hear lest it should result in the injury of the ignorant; hence he says: “As to the rest I am silent and praise the Lord.” He “fears to set down in writing what he would not venture to read aloud.” He thinks this knowledge not useful for all, and that the fear of hell may keep sinners from sin. And yet he cannot resist declaring: “And how is he Savior and Lord and not Savior and Lord of all? But he (Christ) is the Savior of those who have believed, because of their wishing to know, and of those who have not believed he is Lord, until by being brought to confess him they shall receive the proper and well-adapted blessing for themselves which comes by him.”
This extension of the day of grace through eternity is also expressed in the “Exhortation to the Heathen” (ix): “For great is the grace of his promise, ‘if today we hear his voice.’ And that today is lengthened out day by day, while it is called today. And to the end the today and the instruction continue; and then the true today, the never ending day of God, extends over eternity.” His reference to the resurrection shows that he regarded it as deliverance from the ills of this state of being. Before the final state of perfection the purifying fire which makes wise will separate errors from the soul; the purgating punishment will heal and cure.
1. Strom, VII, ii; Pedag. I, 8; on I John ii, 2; Comments on sed etiam pro toto mundo, etc. (“Proinde universos quidem salvat, sed alios per supplicia convertens, alios autem spontanea, assequentes, voluntate, et cum honoris dignitate (Phil. ii: 10) ut omne genu flectatur ei, cælestium, terrestrium et infernorum; hoc est angeli, homines, et animæ quæ ante adventum ejus de hac vita migravere temporali.”) Strom. VII, 16.
2. Paed I, viii.
3. Strom. VII, vi.
4. VI, vi; VII, xvi; VI, xiv; VII, ii.
5. Poedag. I, viii.
6. Strom. IV, xxiv.
7. Quoted by Neander.