“Is He Not Agreeing with the Divine Apostle?”: Plato as an Interpretative Key to the New Testament in Clement of Alexandria

The overarching theme of this paper is the idea of harmony between the New Testament and Plato’s philosophy that Clement of Alexandria espouses in his main work, the Stromateis. The theological implications of this harmony are discussed through concrete examples. For instance, Clement uses Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew, “many are called but few chosen,” to explain what Plato says in the Phaedo about those who practice philosophy correctly. Similarly, he connects the Gospels’ maxim of saving one’s soul through losing it to the ascetic idea of practicing death in the same dialogue. These interconnected Platonic notions have profound ethical, soteriological and anthropological implications. Such implications Clement brings to bear on, e.g., Paul’s words in Romans: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” delineating his own endorsement of, e.g., the pre-existence of the soul and his incorporeal understanding of salvation. Clement also harmonizes Plato’s conception of sacrifice with Paul’s, again interpreting this in the light of the idea of practicing death and now bringing in also Pythagoras and Moses.