Satanology of the Apostolic Fathers: 2 Clement

Traditionally listed in the Apostolic Fathers, 2 Clement is now recognized as a pseudepigraphal work of the mid-second century at earliest. There is one use of diabolos in 2 Clement.

2 Clement 18:
2 For I myself am utterly sinful and have not yet escaped from temptation; but even though I am surrounded by the tools of the devil, I make every effort to pursue righteousness, that I may succeed in at least getting close to it, because I fear the coming judgment.1

Although this appears to be a natural reference to a supernatural evil being, the preceding text (17:4-7), presents an ethical dualism in an eschatological context, without any reference to supernatural evil. This eschatological commentary uses material from Isaiah 66:18, 24, Matthew 3:12; 13:37-43; 25:31-46, Mark 9:43, 48, and Luke 3:17, but there is no reference to the devil and his angels, despite the use of Matthew 25:31-46.2

This is not evidence that the writer did not believe in a supernatural devil with attendant fallen angels, but the absence is remarkable if he did. Similarly, when the writer speaks of the pagan worship he followed prior to conversion to Christianity, he speaks of worshipping idols as the handwork of men, not worshipping idols behind which were demons (1:6).3

This is significant, given that later Christian commentators from at least Justin Martyr onwards would claim the idols were actually dangerous tools of the demons which inhabited them.4 The writer of 2 Clement shows no knowledge of such ideas; idols are merely the ‘works of men’, and there is no reference anywhere in 2 Clement to fallen angels, demons, or evil spirits.

Likewise, the writer’s harmartiology is grounded in a non-supernatural ‘two ways’ ethical and psychological dualism; temptation and sin are products of the human heart, and humans are the only external tempters referred to; in particular 6:1-4;5 10:1-5; 11:1-5,6 especially the advice about self-discipline and controlling one’s flesh and spirit in 14-15.7

Numerous passages of Scripture are cited on this theme, but no passages containing any reference to Satan or demons. What is also remarkable is that as in 1 Clement, there is no use in 2 Clement of satanas as a proper name; instead there is simply one use of ho diabolos in 2 Clement 18:2, which reads naturally as a referent to non-supernatural opposition.8

To summarize the evidence in 2 Clement, the writer exhibits a theology which is consistently at odds with that of the second century Apologists, treats temptation and sin using a non-supernatural ‘two ways’ psychological and ethical dualism, uses eschatological material from Matthew which he has stripped of its references to ‘the devil and his angels’, describes idols as inert ‘works of men’ rather than conduits of demons, and makes no reference at all to demons, possession, or exorcism.

The text exhibits a strong non-mythological character, and on the basis of its theological similarity to 1 Clement and complete contrast with the Apologists, very likely originated within the same Christian community as the earlier letter.

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  1. Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 125. []
  2. ‘Botte argued (“Saint Irénéé et l’Épître de Clément,” Revue des Études Augustiniennes 2 (1956), 68-70) that Irenaeus treats  Clement as an appendix to 1 Clement, but the fire mentioned in 2 Clement is not for “the devil and his angels.”’, Robert M. Grant, Irenaeus of Lyons (Routledge, 2006), 188. []
  3. ‘Our minds were blinded, and we worshiped stones and wood and gold and silver and brass, the works of men; indeed, our whole life was nothing else but death. So while we were thus wrapped in darkness and our vision was filled with this thick mist, we recovered our sight, by his will laying aside the cloud wrapped around us.’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 107. []
  4. ‘According to Justin, demons have not merely invented idolatry but have made it their own personal cult.’, Guy Williams, The Spirit World in the Letters of Paul the Apostle: A Critical Examination of the Role of Spiritual Beings in the Authentic Pauline Epistles (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009), 148. []
  5. Matthew 6:24; 16:26, Mark 8:36, Luke 9:25; 16:13, 2 Peter 1:4; 2:12, 19 are all cited here. []
  6. Numbers 30:15, Matthew 5:8, 1 Timothy 1:5, 2 Timothy 2:22, James 1:8, 2 Peter 1:19; 2:8, are all cited here. []
  7. Genesis 1:27, Psalm 72:5, Isaiah 58:9, Jeremiah 7:11, Matthew 12:18; 21:12, Mark 11:17, Luke 19:46, James 5:20, are all cited here. []
  8. ‘The author of 2 Clement most likely has this military meaning in mind. “The tools of the devil” could then refer to the various devices used by the opponents of the presbyters against him.’, Karl P. Donfried, The Setting of Second Clement in Early Christianity (Brill, 1974), 178; ‘However, the precise reference here remains obscure. Whether, for example, the writer is hinting at the fact that he is suffering violent persecution is not certain; more likely it is simply a vivid way of saying that he had not yet achieved any kind of ethical perfection. (The context is primarily one of ethical behaviour fully achieved or not achieved: it is not one of persecution.)’, Christopher Tuckett, 2 Clement: Introduction, Text, and Commentary (Oxford University Press, 2012), 289. []

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