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vita of Clement of Alexandria, an early Christian bishop and saint, whose claim to honour was… his extreme charity

Defei Wu 巫德霏

‎:>  Very interesting.  It’s a blessed awkwardness to be a holy fool; we all get to do that dance now and then.  Apropos of the post, I recall the vita of Clement of Alexandria, an early Christian bishop and saint, whose claim to honour was… his extreme charity.  A paraphrasis, if my memory serves and if I may be bold enough:  While parading with his students in the street one day, the sage was approached by a beggar.  Clement gave him a sack of silver and blessed him.  A few minutes later a beggar approached him and was given a sack of silver.  The young priest recognized that it was the same beggar who had been seen some time back.  “Master, that man cheated you.  He already came forward to beg sometime back.”  Clement replied, “Yes, I know,” and they walked on.  Again, the same beggar came forward.  When the young priest objected and rose up to send him away, Clement held the student back.  He gave the beggar a fine purse of gold.  The student inquired: “Master, why did you give the man such treasure when you knew he was cheating you?”  Clement replied that, “Even he may be Christ here to test me, to give me the opportunity to give more fully, thus to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Almost none of us can be like this Christian sage, and to be that foolish for the holy is a very hard path sometimes.  Certainly there is a kind way to say “no,” which may sometimes be the best gift to give.  But just like we know we should try to be less consequential in our giving and volunteering, we can forgive others their own lapses into passion…  Even priests, pastors, monks, and nuns put their foot in it.  :>  All shall be well.
Defei Wu 巫德霏

Please do use the example, by all means; I’m pretty sure the parable went thus, but you might look up Clement of Alexandria’s vita to double check.  Granted: you have a real point about the need for religious to be ethically clear on this, …especially in regards to people in crisis.  But personally, I’m still not sure about my own stance, which is why Clement’s parable comes back to me whenever someone begs for money or help.  Do we give absolutely, even dangerously?  Do we make logistical judgments about how and who to give to?  Do we nuance giving as including the need to give “no”?  There are holy ways, I challenge, to walk all these paths, which is why I don’t think we can easily “correct ourselves” on this.  Clement was a saint because he was called to radical charity in Christ.  But I’ve heard principled clergy, of various religions, council prudence to not enable bad behaviour as well as protect ourselves.  My point is that we are all fools in this and can only muddle forward from situation to situation.  It’s a big issue which deserves interfaith and intrafaith discussion.  And yes, always trying to avoid fault seeking and lust for argument, but also forgiving when others and ourselves fall to passion.


I am a Bhikshuni ordained in Mahayana Chinese Buddhist tradition. I'm currently translating Vinaya sutras from the Chinese Mahayana Tripitaka.

One thought on “vita of Clement of Alexandria, an early Christian bishop and saint, whose claim to honour was… his extreme charity

  1. Defei Wu is a Daoist nun, fully ordained in her tradition. Wonderful bit of reply with humor to this difficult matter in trying to meet a Pastor who Regrets It needs and teach him something about noble charity.


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