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Clement_of_AlexandriaWe’ve looked at the apostolic fathers, the early Greek Fathers, and the Fathers who began writing in Latin a century or so later. Now that our search of the Latin Fathers prior to the Council of Nicea (325) is complete, we flash back to the Greek Fathers. We left off with Athenagorus the instigator of the Alexandrian School of Christian thought, and pick up with Clement of Alexandria (150-c220).*

Clement’s great passion was leading individuals to Christ. Although he’s said not to have been a public teacher of the faith, he became the illustrious head of the Catechetical School at Alexandria and the ethicist of the Christian church. He wrote much, but few of his writings are extant: The Exhortation to the Heathen, The Instructor, The Stromata, and the tract Who is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved? These reveal Clement’s concern to depict the Christian as the perfect gnostic: someone who is completely at one with God in knowledge and love.

The first three sources include seven references to adoption and the discussion of the relevant biblical texts. These are important for Clement’s unpacking of our oneness with God, and indicate his correct perception that the adoption so necessary to this oneness is fundamentally a way of telling the history of redemption. Note:

First, God fore-ordained us to the highest adoption before the foundation of the world.

Second, God created us for adoption. He “formed man of the dust; and made him grow by his Spirit; and trained Him by His word to adoption and salvation.” This adoption is the utmost of that divine utterance, “Let Us make man in Our own image and likeness” (Ante-Nicene Fathers 2:234).

Third, God procured the believer’s adoption. Under the old covenant God’s people were as a child educated by a schoolmaster. The law was fearful, but instilled discipline and knowledge of the Christ who was to come.  Under the new covenant, Christ ~ the just, true, and good; and sole possessor of the image and likeness of the Father (2:234)~ does the instructing. He shares with us for our adoption his natural Sonship and what he has beheld in his Father. His natural sonship possesses more substance than our adoptive sonship (2:364), and yet  ”the childhood which is in Christ is maturity, as compared with the law” (2:218; cf. Gal. 3:23-4:6).

Fourth, God applies adoption. Of all on earth, “the pious Christian alone is rich and wise, and of noble birth.”  This truth, says Clement, “is indicated by the prophet, when he says, ‘I said that ye are gods, and all sons of the Highest.’ [Ps. 82:6] For us, yea us, He has adopted, and wishes to be called the Father of us alone, not of the unbelieving” (2:206). Clement elaborates:

The Father of the universe cherishes affection towards those who have fled to Him; and having begotten them again by His Spirit to the adoption of children, knows them as gentle, and loves those alone, and aids and fights for them; and therefore he bestows on them  the name of child. (2:214)

Note Clement’s understanding of the connection between new birth (regeneration) and adoption. God the Spirit begets those whom God the Father adopts. The one actions grants the child of God his new nature, the other his new standing. The child of God is privileged to enjoy the particular love of God, his help, and protection; and responsible to obey the Father, fulfilling irreproachably and intelligently his commands to the extent they are known. This obedience is possible through the Son ~ “the great High Priest who has deigned to call us brethren and fellow-heirs”! (2:376)

Fifth, God fulfills adoption.  As fellow-heirs with Christ we adopted children of God await our inheritance. The “perfect inheritance belongs,” says Clement, “to those who attain to ‘a perfect man’” (2:506). The perfect man is the one reflecting the image of his Lord. This reflection is one of virtue. While we cannot be virtuous as God is virtuous, there must be a similitude of virtue. The child of God becomes like God. It’s to this end that God’s people are “introduced into adoption and the friendship of God, [and] to the just inheritance of the lords and gods is brought” (ibid.).

Consistent with Clement’s keenness to lead individuals to Christ, I end with this question: Are you adopted? Christ can introduce you to friendship with God!

* At the Greek Fathers are in process of completion prior to the summary of adoption in the Latin Fathers. The arrangement runs: apostolic Fathers, Greek Fathers, Latin Fathers.


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