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Kirchengeschichte: Alte Kirche, Christliche Archäologie
Der zweite Clemensbrief. Übersetzt u. erklärt v. W. Pratscher.
Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2007. 304 S. gr.8° = Kommentar zu den Apostolischen Vätern, 3. Geb. EUR 69,90. ISBN 978-3-525-51688-1.
Of all the texts associated with the so-called Apostolic Fathers, 2 Clement might be said to have elicited the least interest and some of the harshest judgments. Photius famously declared that its ideas »are somewhat scattered and do not maintain a coherent unity« (Bibliotheca cod. 126); Lightfoot thought it »confused in thought and slipshod in expression«; and Windisch thought it an example of a »late Jewish superficial synoptic Christianity«. And these are but a few of the condemnatory remarks one could cite. Wilhelm Pratscher in his commentary, the third volume in the series Kommentar zu den Apostolischen Vätern, draws attention to this negative tradition but claims that in more recent times the text has been judged less harshly. In broad terms P. belongs to this more benign tradition and his contribution to the discussion of 2 Clement is to be welcomed.
P. begins his commentary with the time-honoured discussion of the so-called introductory questions. Here there is not much that would surprise the student of 2 Clement. In broad terms the text should be seen as a homily dating from approximately the middle of the second century (the quotation of apocryphal sources and the concomitant absence of knowledge of a New Testament canon, also seen in the apparent lack of knowledge of the fourfold gospel, prove important data for P.’s discussion of this issue), possibly emanating from the east and written by an anonymous author, whose association with author of 1 Clement remains at best oblique. The text should be taken as a unity although 19,1–20,4 appears to be an addition from another hand which may well have served to introduce the text. It is not clear that the quotations from scripture which we find in the text are taken directly from the Septuagint and texts later associated with the New Testament or from testimony sources and/or oral tradition. While P. is cautious about giving the text a precise historical context, he is keen to play up the importance of Gnostic opposition, particularly that relating to the followers of Valentinus, for understanding parts of the epistle. In P.’s opinion the text is not to be seen as directly addressed to opponents but as implying their presence. The introduction also contains a useful discussion of the major themes of 2 Clement with particular emphasis being placed upon Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology and eschatology. In this discussion P. emphasises the strongly non-speculative character of the text – it is in essence a paranetic text (»Alle theologischen Erörterungen sind auf das Ziel der Paränese ausgerichtet, es geht nicht um Erweiterung theologischer Kenntnisse«; 44) and is also at pains to show up the sometimes anti-gnostic thrust of their presentation.
The commentary on the text is marked by a clarity of tone and a certain caution. As is customary with this series of commentaries the reader is presented with P.’s translation of the Greek but not with the Greek itself, although discussion within the commentary makes ample reference to the original. P. sets out the controversies associated with individual verses effectively (see in particular his discussion of 2,1b; 9,1; 12,1 f.) and usually makes plain his own preferred interpretation.
P.’s contentions are generally uncontroversial and he offers no new perspective on this possibly earliest extant Christian homily. Some points worthy of discussion do emerge, however. One wonders whether P. has possibly made too much of the Gnostic background of the text, and in particular the Valentinian aspect. While, as noted above, he does not view the homily as a direct attack upon Gnostics (see esp. his discussion on p. 54), and appears in some of his introductory remarks to be strangely anaemic on this point (on p. 54 n. 23, after noting the difficulties of a Valentinian identification for these opponents, simply states that while the criticisms are valid, they do not exclude such an identification), it is striking how often the Gnostic background of the text is pointed up in the commentary and used to explain the background of a verse. While it is quite true that the anonymous author’s strong interest in pointing up the future dimension of the Christian eschatological hope, his emphasis upon the church on earth as an incarnation of a pre-existent spiritual church, reflecting the incarnation of Christ, and his strong concern with the sacred character of life in the flesh (9,1 f.) might have an anti-gnostic character (in his discussion of the important chapter 14, P. makes the interesting remark that 2 Clement’s failure to associate the present church with the spirit has an anti-gnostic dimension), this need not be the case. The author’s strong concern with the reality of sin and his addressees sinful past as well as his strong concern with soteriology make all of the above emphases quite understandable without reference to anything specifically Gnostic, let alone Valentinian (in this context it is worth noting Christoph Markschies’ rejection of such a background for the epistle in his important work on Valentinus, to which P. refers but not in any detail). It is notable also that very rarely is a verse in the text elucidated to any great advantage by positing a gnostic background. Certainly P. is right to say we cannot exclude such a background but it is not clear to what extent there are really compelling grounds to affirm it.
At the beginning of this review we noted the generally negative view that Christian writers since Photius have taken of 2 Clement. The categories in which that judgment has been made since the 19th century and especially in German scholarship, have often been in terms of the author’s crude moralism which appears to go against the gracious gospel of Paul which apparently stood as the core of the early Christian message. These types of anachronistic polemics, which betray a narrative of theological decline, are in many ways behind us. It is interesting, therefore, that P. quite often feels the need to address them, and even by implication to subscribe to them. So, for instance, on p. 69, here commenting on 1,3, P. comments: »Die Gültigkeit der Leistung Christi ist ohne menschliche Gegenleistung nicht denkbar«, and then continues, »So sehr das ganz gesetzlich gedacht ist, ist anderseits doch die menschliche Leistung nur die Reaktion auf das vorhergehende (!) göttliche Handeln.« (69) Such a view contrasts with what P. terms »die übliche Gesetzlichkeit im Denken des Verfassers«, here apparently subscribing to the old categories of theological judgment. While P. is right to play up the soteriology of 2 Clement, one wonders whether the context in which he does it and the presuppositions it reveals do not seem a little outmoded. (Also strikingly old-fashioned and possibly meaningless is the use on p. 48 of the term »Grundprinzipien judenchristlicher Frömmigkeit«, whose resonance in the light of recent critical work on the term ›Jewish Christian‹ seems much less clear than P. would have us believe.)
Other criticisms could be made. Is P. not too quick to attribute so many biblical citations to testimony books about which we in fact have much less evidence than P.’s confident tone would lead us to believe? For instance, I think it more than likely that the author knew the book of Isaiah and may well have quoted directly from it.
It would be wrong, however, to end this review on a negative note. P.’s commentary is to be welcomed not only because it constitutes a more than competent digestion of recent work on 2 Clement, but also because it draws attention again to this somewhat neglected text which in a variety of ways may well come close to reflecting something of the more standard Christianity than so some of the writings of the other so-called Apostolic Fathers.