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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Chapter VIII.—The Sophistical Arts Useless.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter VIII.—The Sophistical Arts Useless.

But the art of sophistry, which the Greeks cultivated, is a fantastic power, which makes false opinions like true by means of words. For it produces rhetoric in order to persuasion, and disputation for wrangling. These arts, therefore, if not conjoined with philosophy, will be injurious to every one. For Plato openly called sophistry “an evil art.” And Aristotle, following him, demonstrates it to be a dishonest art, which abstracts in a specious manner the whole business of wisdom, and professes a wisdom which it has not studied. To speak briefly, as the beginning of rhetoric is the probable, and an attempted proof 1884 the process, and the end persuasion, so the beginning of disputation is what is matter of opinion, and the process a contest, and the end victory. For in the same manner, also, the beginning of sophistry is the apparent, and the process twofold; one of rhetoric, continuous and exhaustive; and the other of logic, and is interrogatory. And its end is admiration. p. 309 The dialectic in vogue in the schools, on the other hand, is the exercise of a philosopher in matters of opinion, for the sake of the faculty of disputation. But truth is not in these at all. With reason, therefore, the noble apostle, depreciating these superfluous arts occupied about words, says, “If any man do not give heed to wholesome words, but is puffed up by a kind of teaching, knowing nothing, but doting (νοσῶν) about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh contention, envy, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, destitute of the truth.” 1885

You see how he is moved against them, calling their art of logic—on which, those to whom this garrulous mischievous art is dear, whether Greeks or barbarians, plume themselves—a disease (νοσος). Very beautifully, therefore, the tragic poet Euripides says in the Phœnissæ,—

“But a wrongful speech
Is diseased in itself, and needs skilful medicines.” 1886

For the saving Word 1887 is called “wholesome,” He being the truth; and what is wholesome (healthful) remains ever deathless. But separation from what is healthful and divine is impiety, and a deadly malady. These are rapacious wolves hid in sheep-skins, men-stealers, and glozing soul-seducers, secretly, but proved to be robbers; striving by fraud and force to catch us who are unsophisticated and have less power of speech.

“Often a man, impeded through want of words, carries less weight
In expressing what is right, than the man of eloquence.
But now in fluent mouths the weightiest truths
They disguise, so that they do not seem what they ought to seem,”

says the tragedy. Such are these wranglers, whether they follow the sects, or practice miserable dialectic arts. These are they that “stretch the warp and weave nothing,” says the Scripture; 1888 prosecuting a bootless task, which the apostle has called “cunning craftiness of men whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” 1889 “For there are,” he says, “many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers.” 1890 Wherefore it was not said to all, “Ye are the salt of the earth.” 1891 For there are some even of the hearers of the word who are like the fishes of the sea, which, reared from their birth in brine, yet need salt to dress them for food. Accordingly I wholly approve of the tragedy, when it says:—

“O son, false words can be well spoken,
And truth may be vanquished by beauty of words.
But this is not what is most correct, but nature and what is right;
He who practices eloquence is indeed wise,
But I consider deeds always better than words.”

We must not, then, aspire to please the multitude. For we do not practice what will please them, but what we know is remote from their disposition. “Let us not be desirous of vainglory,” says the apostle, “provoking one another, envying one another.” 1892

Thus the truth-loving Plato says, as if divinely inspired, “Since I am such as to obey nothing but the word, which, after reflection, appears to me the best.” 1893

Accordingly he charges those who credit opinions without intelligence and knowledge, with abandoning right and sound reason unwarrantably, and believing him who is a partner in falsehood. For to cheat one’s self of the truth is bad; but to speak the truth, and to hold as our opinions positive realities, is good.

Men are deprived of what is good unwillingly. Nevertheless they are deprived either by being deceived or beguiled, or by being compelled and not believing. He who believes not, has already made himself a willing captive; and he who changes his persuasion is cozened, while he forgets that time imperceptibly takes away some things, and reason others. And after an opinion has been entertained, pain and anguish, and on the other hand contentiousness and anger, compel. Above all, men are beguiled who are either bewitched by pleasure or terrified by fear. And all these are voluntary changes, but by none of these will knowledge ever be attained.


Footnotes

308:1884

ἐπιχειρημα.

309:1885

1 Tim. vi. 3-5. [He treats the sophists with Platonic scorn, but adopts St. Paul’s enlarged idea of sophistry.]

309:1886

Phœnissæ, 471, 472.

309:1887

[He has no idea of salvation by any other name, though he regards Gentile illumination as coming through philosophy.]

309:1888

Where, nobody knows.

309:1889

Eph. iv. 14.

309:1890

Tit. i. 10.

309:1891

Matt. v. 13.

309:1892

Gal. v. 26.

309:1893

Plato, Crito, vi. p. 46.


Next: Chapter IX.—Human Knowledge Necessary for the Understanding of the Scriptures.

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