Even though he is named the Clement of Alexandria, Clement was actually probably from Athens. He was not raised in a Christian household, and the method of his conversion is not known. What is known is that he set out on a life quest to find a Christian teacher who could school him in his faith. After traveling far and wide Clement came across Pantaenus in Alexandria. Pantaenus ran a school in Alexandria. Clement rose in the ranks of that school from pupil to instructor to take over the direction of the school after Pantaenus died[i]. That would have been circa 200 AD.
For all intents and purposes, Alexandria, at that time, was the center of the intellectual world. Scholars and philosophers from around the world met there to discuss ideas.
One of the chief complaints about Christians in the cultural centers of the world at that time was that Christians were primarily a bunch of what might be called now a bunch of backwoods hillbillies. While there were a few higher ranking Christians, for the most part Christians were not the educated and elite of the world. Christianity was definitely more discussed by the kitchen staff than by people of rank and power.
Clement took it as a personal mission to change that. Clement made use of Plato and other philosophers as if they were the equivalent of the prophets of Israel. He certainly had good intentions. He wanted to show that Christian doctrine and Plato’s philosophy were compatible. Moreover Clement believed that there was only one truth, and it didn’t matter whether that truth was in the Bible or in the philosophy book.
All of this fell in line with the doctrine of the Empire for religious syncretism[ii]. One of the primary goals that the Roman Empire consistently strove toward as it absorbed people and cultures was to amalgamate their religions into the ever-growing body of Roman religions and philosophies. The Romans reasoned that if the new people saw that Rome accepted their gods and there were a lot of other good religions also in the Empire then that made for a much more peaceful and subdued population throughout the empire.
Besides trying to avoid the terrible persecutions of Christians that sprang up here and there from time to time, Clement of Alexandria was just being a good Roman citizen. He thought that if he could show the intellectual elite that Christianity was not just superstition and silliness that he might gain more freedom for Christians.
To show that there was more depth that just what was written, Clement taught the it was important to go beyond the literal meaning of Scripture. Scripture doesn’t just say what it means and mean what it says. There are multiple levels, according to Clement of Alexandria. And going into these multiple levels allows you to find parallels between the philosophers, especially Plato, and Scripture. For example, Clement taught that the Plato’s Ineffable One was God, revealed in the Logos.
In his approach Clement went beyond showing that some of Christianity might be compatible with Philosophy, he presented his arguments with the goal that Christians should find the truth in Philosophy as another compatible source of Truth.
This is a markedly different path than that of original Christianity, and it is only a century or so after original Christianity.
[i] THE STORY OF CHRISTIANITY, Vol 1, Justo L Gonzalez, Harper Collins, New York, Revised and Updated 2010, p. 86-87
[ii] THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY, W.H.C. Frend, Fortress House, Philadelphia, 1984, p.275