Commemoration of Clement of Alexandria
All men are Christ’s, some by knowing Him, the rest not yet. He is the Savior, not of some and the rest not. For how is He Savior and Lord, if not the Savior and Lord of all? — Clement of Alexandria
One thing I never heard of until I started doing Bible studies in the Episcopal church was the idea of “universalism” — a belief that somehow, salvation will be attained by all everywhere through God’s grace and persistence. It was a totally different thing from “You have to pray the sinner’s prayer and accept Jesus as your personal savior before you can be saved and be baptized,” which is what I was taught as a child. Even if I said the right things and followed the right procedure, it still seemed like my salvation could be snatched away if I didn’t live up to the expectations of God and the church. It made for an uncomfortable relationship with the Almighty.
The church in which I spent my childhood and adolescence sort of went from Genesis to Revelation and then, with the exception of the persecutions and the Reformation in sermons and Sunday School lessons. It wasn’t until I began EfM that I began to see the curtain rising on the years my former church had kept under wraps, in a manner of speaking. One of the people I never heard of before EfM was Clement of Alexandria. Once I started delving into church history, Clement was introduced, along with a lot of other philosophers, theologians, catechists, apologists and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all. None of them made the most lasting of impressions on me at the time. Still, the more I continue to study the more I realize Clement of Alexandria is one of my spiritual ancestors, one of those who gave me the ability and the courage to set aside the certainties I’d had in my former church beliefs and embrace new possibilities, including the idea that the entire world will be redeemed, not just the ones who prayed the sinner’s prayer and were baptized in the name of the Trinity. Clement’s comment gives me the vision of that possibility.
God gave the model for parenthood. Does a parent stop loving, nurturing, protecting or caring for a child simply because it is disobedient, stubborn, aggravating or even turns their back on the parent? Some may, but I don’t think God is that kind of parent. There may be some people or groups who enjoy special favor, but the remaining children are not forgotten, ignored or unwanted. All are God’s children, even if some do not acknowledge it. Jesus told the Canaanite woman that he had come only for the Jews, but he had already begun reaching beyond the borders of culture and tradition and gender. Paul moved beyond ministry just to the Jews and into the cities and towns of the Greek and Roman world. Christianity spread and with it new and different ways to experience God, Jesus, the Spirit, baptism, the Eucharist and all the refinements. Like the veins on a leaf, the central belief grew offshoots that grew smaller with each refinement. Could not that refinement also include what to some is heresy while to others is orthodoxy? Could we not say that the Lord of all really is the Lord of all, even those who do not recognize the relationship?
Clement also said, ” We can set no limits to the agency of the Redeemer to redeem, to rescue, to discipline in his work, and so will he continue to operate after this life.” It fits with a statement I heard for the first time maybe a decade or so ago, “Either Jesus died for all the sins of the world or none of them.” I don’t know who said that, but I think if it could be traced back, the trail would lead somewhere in the vicinity of Clement. To me, it challenges me to get the Trinity out of the little box I had shoveled them into, based on what I had been taught, and allow that they can operate in ways I don’t understand and don’t really need to. It also makes me see other people, those I sit with in church as well as people on the other side of the globe who have very different images of God, as children of God and worthy of redemption, whether or not they have accepted that redemption or even knew of its existence. Their qualification for redemption is based on the foundation that they belong to God, born as God’s creation and the child of God’s grace. Whether they in fact are “saved” is a question well above my pay grade. It seems to me that a God powerful enough to create a universe (or a billion billion of them) doesn’t need me to sort sheep and goats. It’s laughable that I should even dare to think of doing that– and it’s also audacious to the n-th degree.
So, for me, I will not discount universalism nor the thoughts of Clement about salvation and redemption. I will simply be thankful that Clement of Alexandria and the great cloud of other theologically/philosophically-minded folk have left me a legacy of thought to be perused, studied, poked, prodded, stretched and my borders of understanding increased. I will simply trust, and let God, Jesus and the Spirit take care of the rest.
That is a great weight off my shoulders.