On December 5th the church honors an interesting Saint who sought to incorporate some pagan practices into the Christian faith and life (and, for that alone, he has my admiration): St. Clement of Alexandria, Priest and Scholar.
St. Clement of Alexandria (not to be confused with the Clement of Rome or any of the other many Clements of the ancient world) was a Greek philosopher born in the middle of the Second Century. He found himself making a home in Alexandria, the center of scholarship in the ancient world, and he headed up a school there that would eventually teach catechumenates about the faith.
St. Clement is noteworthy because he was a seeker of truth, and though a professed Christian he honored the truths and practices that other religious paths offered. He defended the faith in the midst of both his pagan friends and his Christian friends, trusting that melding certain practices was not only necessary, but good and human.
He believed that many of the ancient texts the church was using were wonderfully allegorical and applicable to life, and in this way he expanded the reach of the church in philosophical circles. Origen, the greatest biblical scholar of the early church, was his pupil.
His writings are some of the first systematics documents for the church.
St. Clement is a reminder for me, and should be for the church, that “purity” is a fiction we cannot afford in the world when it comes to practices, dogmas, and doctrines. It is appropriate that we honor St. Clement of Alexandria in the Advent-Christmas season because this time of year, in particular, is a beautiful bouquet of melded practices for humanity.
We need not run from this truth or try in vain to defend that it is not so. We must embrace it, revel in its particular beauties, and be at peace.