December 4th of every year was once celebrated as the feast day of Saint Clement of Alexandria, a noted theological author from the early Christian era. Despite the fact that his legacy is somewhat controversial, he is cited as a saint in the Catholic Catechism and has been referred to as such in several speeches made by Pope Benedict XVI.

Saint Clement of Alexandria was responsible for leading the city’s renowned Catechetical School during the late second century. He is not always referred to as a saint in Catholic Church documents, and his feast day was removed from the Western liturgical calendar around the year 1600 due to concerns about some of his writings. On the other hand, he is called “St. Clement of Alexandria” not only in the Catholic catechism, but also in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

During his homily at the closing Mass for the Synod on the New Evangelization on October 28, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI made a significant public reference to him as “Saint Clement of Alexandria,” as he has done in other instances. However, in the Pope’s earlier April 2007 audience talk on Saint Clement’s life and writings, the title of “saint” was not used.

In that general audience, Pope Benedict described Clement as a “great theologian” whose vision with a focus on Christ “can serve as an example to Christians, catechists, and theologians of our time.” Saint Clement’s pioneering integration of philosophy and theology was also praised by Blessed John Paul II in his 1998 encyclical “Fides et Ratio.”

Saint Clement’s date of birth is not known, but it is believed that he was born in Athens and converted to Christianity at a later stage in his life. His intellectual curiosity led him to travel extensively and study under a series of teachers in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Eventually, he settled in Egypt where he studied under Pantaenus, a teacher at the Catechetical School of Alexandria.

Located in a cultural and commercial center, Alexandria’s Catechetical School played a crucial role in the development of theology during the early centuries of the Church. Clement served as an assistant to Pantaenus and eventually became a teacher himself, taking a position of leadership in the school around 190 AD. His theological writings circulated before the end of the century, and he may have become a priest.

During the early third century, persecution against the Church forced Clement to leave Egypt for Cappadocia in Asia Minor. One of his former students in that region, a bishop named Alexander, was jailed for his faith, and Clement took charge of directing the faithful in Caesarea during their bishop’s imprisonment. Clement died in Cappadocia around 215 AD.

Saint Clement and other Alexandrian teachers attempted to express Catholic doctrines in a philosophically influenced, intellectually rigorous manner. Later Church Fathers, especially in the Greek tradition, were heavily influenced by their work. Nevertheless, the school’s legacy is mixed: Origen, one of its primary representatives and possibly Clement’s student, is linked to doctrines that were later condemned by an ecumenical council.

Three of Saint Clement of Alexandria’s works have survived: the “Protreptikos” (“Exhortation”), which contrasts the Christian faith with paganism; the “Paedagogus” (“The Tutor”), which encourages Christians to pursue holiness with discipline; and the “Stromata” (“Miscellanies” or “Tapestries”), which explores the subject of faith in relation to human reason.

In a passage from the “Protrepikos” that was quoted by Pope Benedict XVI at the conclusion of the Synod for the New Evangelization, Saint Clement encouraged his readers to “put away all blindness to the truth, all ignorance,” and to “remove the darkness that obscures our vision like fog before the eyes” so that they could contemplate the true God. He went on to describe the light from heaven that shone down on those who were “buried in darkness and imprisoned in the shadow of death” as being “purer than the sun, sweeter than life on this earth.”

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