The Moral Psychology of Clement of Alexandria: Mosaic Philosophy, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Moral Psychology of Clement of Alexandria

Mosaic Philosophy, 1st Edition

By Kathleen Gibbons


192 pages

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pub: 2016-09-12
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In The Moral Psychology of Clement of Alexandria, Kathleen Gibbons proposes a new approach to Clement’s moral philosophy and explores how his construction of Christianity’s relationship with Jewishness informed, and was informed by, his philosophical project. As one of the earliest Christian philosophers, Clement’s work has alternatively been treated as important for understanding the history of relations between Christianity and Judaism and between Christianity and pagan philosophy. This study argues that an adequate examination of his significance for the one requires an adequate examination of his significance for the other.

While the ancient claim that the writings of Moses were read by the philosophical schools was found in Jewish, Christian, and pagan authors, Gibbons demonstrates that Clement’s use of this claim shapes not only his justification of his authorial project, but also his philosophical argumentation. In explaining what he took to be the cosmological, metaphysical, and ethical implications of the doctrine that the supreme God is a lawgiver, Clement provided the theoretical justifications for his views on a range of issues that included martyrdom, sexual asceticism, the status of the law of Moses, and the relationship between divine providence and human autonomy. By contextualizing Clement’s discussions of volition against wider Greco-Roman debates about self-determination, it becomes possible to reinterpret the invocation of “free will” in early Christian heresiological discourse as part of a larger dispute about what human autonomy requires.


The study of ‘free will’ as a question in moral psychology lies at the heart of this compelling study of Clement of Alexandria, but Gibbons’ discussion ranges much more widely, tracing themes in ethics, cosmology and metaphysics. In doing so, Gibbons reveals just how extensively, and how creatively, Clement engaged with contemporary philosophical thought in his construction of Christian identity. It is remarkable, and regrettable, how little serious attention has been paid to Clement until now: this book shows both theologians and students of ancient philosophy how much they have to learn from him.

- George Boys-Stones, Durham University, UK

Kathleen Gibbons demonstrates that Clement’s eclectic philosophical method is far more elaborate than has been commonly thought, since Clement not only construes key Christian doctrines through the lens of relevant pagan philosophical positions, especially Platonist and Stoic, but this construal amounts in turn to a distinct positioning within the contemporary philosophical debate. Gibbons’ book is a very welcome addition to the new appreciation of the philosophical character of early Christianity and should be read by students of late ancient philosophy and of early Christianity alike.

- George Karamanolis, University of Vienna, Austria

Gibbons’ monograph is … worthy of the attention of not only Clement specialists, but patrologists more generally, as well as those in the field of ancient philosophy. It brings together in an illuminating way the too-often separate worlds of ancient philosophy and patristics, and situates the development of Christian ideas of providence and free will clearly within the context of ancient Platonic and Stoic thought … Its clearest market will be for those in the field of patristics, but it is also one of the more successful efforts at linking the often too-separate worlds of early Christianity and ancient philosophy, and will be greatly appreciated by philosophers interested in ancient ideas of providence, free will and determinism, and theories of creation.

- Stuart Thomson, Christ's Hospital School (UK), in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Table of Contents


Note on Translations


Chapter 1: The Mosaic Law in early Christianity

Chapter 2: Miming Moses: Clement’s Self-Presentation and the Dependency Theme

Chapter 3: Moses, Statesman and Philosopher

Chapter 4: The Logos of God, the Problem of Evil, and Clement’s Transformation of Providence

Chapter 5: Right Reason and the Gnostic’s Grasp of the Mosaic Law

Chapter 6: Clement’s Idiosyncratic Concept of Autonomy in the Context of Ancient Thought




About the Author

Kathleen Gibbons received her PhD from the University of Toronto, and subsequently taught at Wilfrid Laurier University. She is a lecturer in religious studies and classics at Washington University at St Louis, Missouri, USA, and studies the intersections between ancient philosophy and early Christian discourse on topics including astrology, ethnography, and asceticism.

About the Series

Studies in Philosophy and Theology in Late Antiquity

The Studies in Philosophy and Theology in Late Antiquity series focuses on major theologians, not as representatives of a 'tradition', whether Christian or classical, but as individuals immersed in the intellectual culture of their day. Each book concentrates on the arguments, not merely the opinions, of a single Christian writer or group of writers from the period A.D 100-600 and compares and contrasts these arguments with those of pagan contemporaries who addressed similar questions.

By study of political, social, and cultural milieu, contributors to the series show what external factos led to the convergence or divergence of Christianity and pagan thought in particular localities or periods. Pagan and Christian teachings are set out in a clear and systematic form, making it possible to bring to light the true originality of the author's thought and to estimate the value of his work for modern times.

This high profile research series offers an important contribution to areas of contemporary research in the patristic period, as well as providing new links into later periods, particularly the Medieval and Reformation.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
RELIGION / General