Thoughts from the Early Church

Commentary by Clement of Alexandria

I am the gate of the sheepfold.

In our sickness we need a savior, in our wanderings a guide, in our blindness someone to show us the light, in our thirst the fountain of living water which quenches for ever the thirst of those who drink from it. We dead people need life, we sheep need a shepherd, we children need a teacher, the whole world needs Jesus!

If we would understand the profound wisdom of the most holy shepherd and teacher, the ruler of the universe and the Word of the Father, when using an allegory he calls himself the shepherd of the sheep, we can do so for he is also the teacher of little ones.

Speaking at some length through Ezekiel to the Jewish elders, he gives them a salutary example of true solicitude. I will bind up the injured, he says; I will heal the sick; I will bring back the strays and pasture them on my holy mountain. These are the promises of the Good Shepherd.

Pasture us children like sheep, Lord. Fill us with your own food, the food of righteousness. As our guide we pray you to lead us to your holy mountain, the Church on high, touching the heavens.
I will be their shepherd, he says, “and I will be close to them,” like their own clothing. He desires to save my flesh by clothing it in the robe of immortality and he has anointed my body. “They shall call on me,” he says, “and I will answer, 'Here I am.'” Lord, you have heard me more quickly than I ever hoped!
  “And if they pass over they shall not fall says the Lord,” meaning that we who are passing over into immortality shall not fall into corruption, for he will preserve us. He has said he would and to do so is his own wish. Such is our Teacher, both good and just.
He said he had not come to be served but to serve; and so the Gospel shows him tired out, he who labored for our sake and promised “to give his life as ransom for many,” a thing which, as he said, only the Good Shepherd will do.

How bountiful the giver who for our sake gives his most precious possession, his own life! He is a real benefactor and friend, who desired to be our brother when he might have been our Lord, and who in his goodness even went so far as to die for us!

(The Teacher 9, 83, 3-85, a: SC 70, 258-261)

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215) was born at Athens of pagan parents. Nothing is known of his early life nor of the reasons for his conversion.

He was the pupil and the assistant of Pantaenus, the director of the catechetical school of Alexandria, whom he succeeded about the year 200. In 202 Clement left Alexandria because of the persecution of Septimus Severus, and resided in Cappadocia with his pupil, Alexander, later bishop of Jerusalem.

Clement may be considered the founder of speculative theology. He strove to protect and deepen faith by the use of Greek philosophy. Central in his teaching is his doctrine of the Logos, who as divine reason is the teacher of the world and its lawgiver.

Clement’s chief work is the trilogy, “Exhortation to the Greeks,” “The Teacher,” and “Miscellanies.”

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson