Clement of Alexandria: What Kind of Rich Person Can Be Saved?
During the first hundred years after the death of the apostles no important Christian writer wrestled with the question of how the followers of Jesus should use their money. The Lord had told his disciples not to worry about it, but to give it away freely. The Jerusalem believers obeyed this injunction by selling their excess property and sharing their goods. Later, Paul’s converts retained private ownership but systematically provided for the needy. Near the end of his life Paul warned Christians against the love of money and instructed wealthy believers to use their money for good deeds.
As Christianity spread through all classes of society thoughtful believers must have sensed the apparent tension between Jesus’ injunctions and Paul’s instructions about money. Clement was a late second-century thinker who set himself the task of clarifying the church’s understanding of wealth. His position as the tread of the famous catechetical school in Alexandria made him the most important theologian of his day. He addressed the problem in a sermon on the rich young ruler from Mark 10:17–31, usually known by its Latin title Quis Dives Salvetur? The original is available in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca and appears in English translation in the Ante-Nicene Fathers. Because Clement’s sermon is long and his style verbose, we will present his work in a paraphrased version.
The usual way to begin such an essay is with a dedication to a rich patron, but because praise belongs to God alone, and because the rich already have enough temptations to pride, I will forbear. Instead I will tell the rich how to be saved.
There are two different mistakes rich people can make about being saved. One is to remember that Jesus said it was easier for a camel ...