History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 100-325.
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§ 114. The Pseudo-Clementine Ebionism.

I. Sources:

1. Τὰ Κλημέντια, or more accurately Κλήμεντος τῶν Πέτρου ἐπιδημιῶν κηρυγμάτων ἐπιτομή first published (without the twentieth and part of the nineteenth homily) by Cotelier in "Patres Apost." Par. 1672; Clericus in his editions of Cotelier, 1698, 1700, and 1724; again by Schwegler, Stuttg. 1847 (the text of Clericus); then first entire, with the missing portion, from a new codex in the Ottobonian Library in the Vatican, by Alb. R. M. Dressel (with the Latin trans. of Cotelier and notes), under the title: Clementis Romani quae feruntur Homiliae Viginti nunc primum integrae. Gott. 1853; and by Paul de Lagarde: Clementina Graece. Leipz. 1865.

2. Clementis Rom. Recognitiones ( Ἀναγνωρισμοί or Ἁναγνώσεις), in ten books, extant only in the Latin translation of Rufinus (d. 410); first published in Basel, 1526; then better by Cotelier, Gallandi, and by Gersdorf in his "Bibl. Patr. Lat." Lips. 1838. Vol. I. In Syriac, ed. by P. de Lagarde (Clementis Romani Recognitiones Syriace). Lips. 1861. An English translation of the Recognitions of Clement by Dr. Thomas Smith, in the "Ante-Nicene Christian Library," Edinburgh, vol. III. (1868), pp. 137–471. The work in the MSS. bears different titles, the most common is Itinerarium St. Clementis.

3. Clementine Epitome de Gestis Petri (Κλήμ. ἐπισκ. Ῥώμης περὶ τῶν πράξεων ἐπιδημιῶν τε καὶ κηρυγμάτων Πέτρου ἐπιτομή), first at Paris, 1555; then critically edited by Cotelier, l.c.; and more completely with a second epitome by A. R. M. Dressel: Clementinorum Epitomae duae, with valuable critical annotations by Fr. Wieseler. Lips. 1859. The two Epitomes are only a summary of the Homilies.

II. Works.

Neander and Baur, in their works on Gnosticism (vid. the following section), and in their Church Histories.

Schliemann: Die Clementinen nebst den verwandten Schriften, u. der Ebionitismus. Hamb. 1844.

Ad. Hilgenfeld: Die Clementinischen Recognitionem n. Homilien nach ihrem Ursprüng n. Inhalt. Jena, 1848. Art. by the same in the "Theol. Jahrbücher" for 1854 (483 sqq.), and 1868 (357 sqq.); and Die Apost. Väter. Halle 1853, p. 287–302.

G. Uhlhorn: Die Homilien n. Recognitionem des Clemens Romanus. Gött. 1854. Comp. the same author’s article "Clementinen," in Herzog, second ed., vol. III. (1878), p. 277–286.

Ritschl: Die Entstehung der altkath. Kirche 1857 (second ed. p. 206–270).

J. Lehmann: Die Clementinischen Schriften mit besonderer Rücksicht auf ihr liter. Verhältniss. Gotha 1869. He mediates between Hilgenfeld and Uhlhorn. (See a review by Lipsius in the "Protest. Kirchenztg," 1869, 477–482, and by Lagarde in his "Symmicta," I. 1877, pp. 2–4 and 108–112, where Lehmann is charged with plagiarism).

R. A. Lipsius: Die Quellen der römischen Petrus-Sage kritish untersucht. Kiel 1872. Lipsius finds the basis of the whole Clementine literature in the strongly anti-Pauline Acta Petri.

A. B. Lutterbeck: Die Clementinen und ihr Verh. z. Unfehlbarkeitsdogma. Giessen, 1872.

The system of the pseudo-Clementine Homilies exhibits Ebionism at once in its theosophic perfection, and in its internal dissolution. It represents rather an individual opinion, than a sect, but holds probably some connection, not definitely ascertained, with the Elkesaites, who, as appears from the "Philosophumena," branched out even to Rome. It is genuinely Ebionitic or Judaistic in its monotheistic basis, its concealed antagonism to Paul, and its assertion of the essential identity of Christianity and Judaism, while it expressly rejects the Gnostic fundamental doctrine of the demiurge. It cannot, therefore, properly be classed, as it is by Baur, among the Gnostic schools.

The twenty Clementine Homilies bear the celebrated name of the Roman bishop Clement, mentioned in Phil. 4:3, as a helper of Paul, but evidently confounded in the pseudo-Clementine literature with Flavius Clement, kinsman of the Emperor Domitian. They really come from an unknown, philosophically educated author, probably a Jewish Christian, of the second half of the second century. They are a philosophico-religious romance, based on some historical traditions, which it is now impossible to separate from apocryphal accretions. The conception of Simon as a magician was furnished by the account in the eighth chapter of Acts, and his labors in Rome were mentioned by Justin Martyr. The book is prefaced by a letter of Peter to James, bishop of Jerusalem, in which he sends him his sermons, and begs him to keep them strictly secret; and by a letter of the pseudo-Clement to the same James in which he relates how Peter, shortly before his death, appointed him (Clement) his successor in Rome, and enjoined upon him to send to James a work composed at the instance of Peter, entitled "Clementis Epitome praedicationum Petri in peregrinationibus."785785    Κλήμεντο̑ς τῶν Πέτρου ἐπιδημιῶν κηρυγμάτων ἐπιτομή.85 By these epistles it was evidently designed to impart to the pretended extract from the itinerant sermons and disputations of Peter, the highest apostolical authority, and at the same time to explain the long concealment of them.786786    The Tübingen School, under the lead of Dr. Baur, has greatly exaggerated the importance of these heretical fictions which the unknown author never intended to present as solid facts. Thus Hilgenfeld says (l. c. p. 1) There is scarcely a single writing which is of so great importance for the history of Christianity in its first age, and which has already given such brilliant disclosures [?] at the hands of the most renowned critics in regard to the earliest history of the Christian Church, as the writing ascribed to the Roman Clement, the Recognitions and Homilies."Their importance is confined to the history of heresy, which with the Tübingen school is the most interesting portion of ancient church history.86

The substance of the Homilies themselves is briefly this: Clement, an educated Roman, of the imperial family, not satisfied with heathenism, and thirsting for truth, goes to Judaea, having heard, under the reign of Tiberius, that Jesus had appeared there. In Caesarea he meets the apostle Peter, and being instructed and converted by him, accompanies him on his missionary journeys in Palestine, to Tyre, Tripolis, Laodicea, and Antioch. He attends upon the sermons of Peter and his long, repeated disputations with Simon Magus, and, at the request of the apostle, commits the substance of them to writing. Simon Peter is thus the proper hero of the romance, and appears throughout as the representative of pure, primitive Christianity, in opposition to Simon Magus, who is portrayed as a "man full of enmity," and a "deceiver," the author of all anti-Jewish heresies, especially of the Marcionite Gnosticism. The author was acquainted with the four canonical Gospels, and used them, Matthew most, John least; and with them another work of the same sort, probably of the Ebionitic stamp, but now unknown.787787    The Tübingen school first denied the use of the fourth Gospel, but the discovery of the missing portion by Dressel in 1853 has settled this point, for it contains (Hom. XIX. 22) a clear quotation from John 9:1-3.87

It has been ingeniously conjectured by Baur (first in 1831), and adopted by his pupils, that the pseudo-Clementine Peter combats, under the mask of the Magician, the apostle Paul (nowhere named in the Homilies), as the first and chief corrupter of Christianity.788788    The hypothesis has been most fully carried out by Lipsius in his article on Simon Magus in Schenkel’s "Bibellexicon, " vol. V. 301-321.88 This conjecture, which falls in easily with Baur’s view of the wide-spread and irreconcilable antagonism of Petrinism and Paulinism in the primitive church, derives some support from several malicious allusions to Paul, especially the collision in Antioch. Simon Magus is charged with claiming that Christ appeared to him in a vision, and called him to be an apostle, and yet teaching a doctrine contrary to Christ, hating his apostles, and denouncing Peter, the firm rock and foundation of the church, as "self-condemned."789789    Comp. Hom. XVII. 19 (p. 351 sq. ed. Dressel) with Gal. 2:11, where Paul uses the game word κατεγνωμένος of Peter.89 But this allusion is probably only an incidental sneer at Paul. The whole design of the Homilies, and the account given of the origin, history and doctrine of Simon, are inconsistent with such an identification of the heathen magician with the Christian apostle. Simon Magus is described in the Homilies790790    Hom. II. 22 sqq. (p. 57 sqq.).90 as a Samaritan, who studied Greek in Alexandria, and denied the supremacy of God and the resurrection of the dead, substituted Mount Gerizim for Jerusalem, and declared himself the true Christ. He carried with him a companion or mistress, Helena, who descended from the highest heavens, and was the primitive essence and wisdom. If Paul had been intended, the writer would have effectually concealed and defeated his design by such and other traits, which find not the remotest parallel in the history and doctrine of Paul, but are directly opposed to the statements in his Epistles and in the Acts of the Apostles.

In the Recognitions the anti-Pauline tendency is moderated, yet Paul’s labors are ignored, and Peter is made the apostle of the Gentiles.

The doctrine which pseudo-Clement puts into the mouth of Peter, and very skillfully interweaves with his narrative, is a confused mixture of Ebionitic and Gnostic, ethical and metaphysical ideas and fancies. He sees in Christianity only the restoration of the pure primordial religion,791791    The πρώτη τῇ ἀνθρωπότηρι παραδοθεῖσα σωτήριος θρησκεία.91 which God revealed in the creation, but which, on account of the obscuring power of sin and the seductive influence of demons, must be from time to time renewed. The representatives of this religion are the pillars of the world: Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Christ. These are in reality only seven different incarnations of the same Adam or primal man, the true prophet of God, who was omniscient and infallible. What is recorded unfavorable to these holy men, the drunkenness of Noah, the polygamy of the patriarchs, the homicide of Moses, and especially the blasphemous history of the fall of Adam, as well as all unworthy anthropopathical passages concerning God, were foisted into the Old Testament by the devil and his demons. Thus, where Philo and Origen resorted to allegorical interpretation, to remove what seems offensive in Scripture, pseudo-Clement adopts the still more arbitrary hypothesis of diabolical interpolations. Among the true prophets of God, again, he gives Adam, Moses, and Christ peculiar eminence, and places Christ above all, though without raising him essentially above a prophet and lawgiver. The history of religion, therefore, is not one of progress, but only of return to the primitive revelation. Christianity and Mosaism are identical, and both coincide with the religion of Adam. Whether a man believe in Moses or in Christ, it is all the same, provided he blaspheme neither. But to know both, and find in both the same doctrine, is to be rich in God, to recognize the new as old, and the old as become new. Christianity is an advance only in its extension of the gospel to the Gentiles, and its consequent universal character.

As the fundamental principle of this pure religion, our author lays down the doctrine of one God, the creator of the world. This is thoroughly Ebionitic, and directly opposed to the dualism of the demiurgic doctrine of the Gnostics. But then he makes the whole stream of created life flow forth from God in a long succession of sexual and ethical antitheses and syzygies, and return into him as its absolute rest; here plainly touching the pantheistic emanation-theory of Gnosticism. God himself one from the beginning, has divided everything into counterparts, into right and left, heaven and earth, day and night, light and darkness, life and death. The monad thus becomes the dyad. The better came first, the worse followed; but from man onward the order was reversed. Adam, created in the image of God, is the true prophet; his wife, Eve, represents false prophecy. They were followed, first, by wicked Cain, and then by righteous Abel. So Peter appeared after Simon Magus, as light after darkness, health after sickness. So, at the last, will antichrist precede the advent of Christ. And finally, the whole present order of things loses itself in the future; the pious pass into eternal life; the ungodly, since the soul becomes mortal by the corruption of the divine image, are annihilated after suffering a punishment, which is described as a purifying fire.792792    Πῦρ καθάρσιον, ignis purgatorius.92 When the author speaks of eternal punishment, he merely accommodates himself to the popular notion. The fulfilling of the law, in the Ebionitic sense, and knowledge, on a half-Gnostic principle, are the two parts of the way of salvation. The former includes frequent fasts, ablutions, abstinence from animal food, and voluntary poverty; while early marriage is enjoined, to prevent licentiousness. In declaring baptism to be absolutely necessary to the forgiveness of sin, the author approaches the catholic system. He likewise adopts the catholic principle involved, that salvation is to be found only in the external church.

As regards ecclesiastical organization, he fully embraces the monarchical episcopal view. The bishop holds the place of Christ in the congregation, and has power to bind and loose. Under him stand the presbyters and deacons. But singularly, and again in true Ebionitic style, James, the brother of the Lord, bishop of Jerusalem, which is the centre of Christendom, is made the general vicar of Christ, the visible head of the whole church, the bishop of bishops. Hence even Peter must give him an account of his labors; and hence, too, according to the introductory epistles, the sermons of Peter and Clement’s abstract of them were sent to James for safe-keeping, with the statement, that Clement had been named by Peter as his successor at Rome.

It is easy to see that this appeal to a pseudo-Petrine primitive Christianity was made by the author of the Homilies with a view to reconcile all the existing differences and divisions in Christendom. In this effort he, of course, did not succeed, but rather made way for the dissolution of the Ebionitic element still existing in the orthodox catholic church.

Besides these Homilies, of which the Epitome is only a poor abridgement, there are several other works, some printed, some still unpublished, which are likewise forged upon Clement of Rome, and based upon the same historical material, with unimportant deviations, but are in great measure free, as to doctrine, from Judaistic and Gnostic ingredients, and come considerably nearer the line of orthodoxy.

The most important of these are the Recognitions of Clement, in ten books, mentioned by Origen, but now extant only in a Latin translation by Rufinus. They take their name from the narrative, in the last books, of the reunion of the scattered members of the Clementine family, who all at last find themselves together in Christianity, and are baptized by Peter.

On the question of priority between these two works, critics are divided, some making the Recognitions an orthodox, or at least more nearly orthodox, version of the Homilies;793793    Clericus, Möhler, Schliemann, Uhlhorn, Schwegler, partly also Lehmann. Uhlhorn has since modified his view (1876).93 others regarding the Homilies as a heretical corruption of the Recognitions.794794    Particularly Hilgenfeld and Ritschl, find among older writers, Cave and Whiston. Salmon also assigns the priority of composition to the Recognitions.94 But in all probability both works are based upon older and simpler Jewish-Christian documents, under the assumed names of Peter and Clement.795795    The Περίοδοι Πέτρου διὰ Κλήμεντος,and the still older Κηρύγματα Πέτρου (about a.d. 140-145), the contents of which are mentioned in Recogn. III. 75, and the oldest Acta Petri, parts of which are preserved in the apocryphal Acta Petri et Pauli. See Lipsius, Quellen der röm. Petrus-Sage, 1872, pp. 14 sqq. Uhlhorn assents in his last art. in the new ed. of Herzog, III. 285. Dr. Salmon (in Smith and Wace, 1. 571) likewise assumes that both are drawn from a common original, but that the author of Homilies borrowed the biographical portions from Recognitions.95

As to their birth-place, the Homilies probably originated in East Syria, the Recognitions in Rome. They are assigned to the second half of the second century.

In a literary point of view, these productions are remarkable, as the first specimens of Christian romance, next to the "Pastor Hermae." They far surpass, in matter, and especially in moral earnestness and tender feeling, the heathen romances of a Chariton and an Achilles Tatios, of the fourth or fifth centuries. The style, though somewhat tedious, is fascinating in its way, and betrays a real artist in its combination of the didactic and historical, the philosophic and the poetic elements.


Lagarde (in the Preface to his edition of the Clementina, p. 22) and G. E. Stietz (in the lengthy review of Lagarde in the "Studien und Kritiken" for 1867, No. III p. 556 sqq), draw a parallel between the pseudo-Clementine fiction of Simon and the German story of Faust, the magician, and derive the latter from the former through the medium of the Recognitions, which were better known in the church than the homilies. George Sabellicus , about a.d. 1507, called himself Faustus junior, magus secundus. Clement’s father is called Faustus, and his two brothers, Fatistinus and Faustinianus (in the Recognitions Faustus, and Faustinus), were brought up with Simon the magician, and at first associated with him. The characters of Helena and Homunculus appear in both stories, though very differently. I doubt whether these resemblances are sufficient to establish a connection between the two otherwise widely divergent popular fictions.

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