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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Chapter XIII.—All Sects of Philosophy Contain a Germ of Truth.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XIII.—All Sects of Philosophy Contain a Germ of Truth.

Since, therefore, truth is one (for falsehood has ten thousand by-paths); just as the Bacchantes tore asunder the limbs of Pentheus, so the sects both of barbarian and Hellenic philosophy have done with truth, and each vaunts as the whole truth the portion which has fallen to its lot. But all, in my opinion, 1945 are illuminated by the dawn of Light. 1946 Let all, therefore, both Greeks and barbarians, who have aspired after the truth,—both those who possess not a little, and those who have any portion,—produce whatever they have of the word of truth.

Eternity, for instance, presents in an instant the future and the present, also the past of time. But truth, much more powerful than limitless duration, can collect its proper germs, though they have fallen on foreign soil. For we shall find that very many of the dogmas that are held by such sects as have not become utterly senseless, and are not cut out from the order of nature (by cutting off Christ, as the women of the fable dismembered the man), 1947 though appearing unlike one another, correspond in their origin and with the truth as a whole. For they coincide in one, either as a part, or a species, or a genus. For instance, though the highest note is different from the lowest note, yet both compose one harmony. And in numbers an even number differs from an odd number; but both suit in arithmetic; as also is the case with figure, the circle, and the triangle, and the square, and whatever figures differ from one another. Also, in the whole universe, all the parts, though differing one from another, preserve their relation to the whole. So, then, the barbarian and Hellenic philosophy has torn off a fragment of eternal truth not from the mythology of Dionysus, but from the theology of the ever-living Word. And He who brings again together the separate fragments, and makes them one, will without peril, be assured, contemplate the perfect Word, the truth. Therefore it is written in Ecclesiastes: “And I added wisdom above all who were before me in Jerusalem; and my heart saw many things; and besides, I knew wisdom and knowledge, parables and understanding. And this also is the choice of the spirit, because in abundance of wisdom is abundance of knowledge.” 1948 He who is conversant with all kinds of wisdom, will be pre-eminently a gnostic. 1949 Now it is written, “Abundance of the knowledge of wisdom will give life to him who is of it.” 1950 And again, what is said is confirmed more clearly by this saying, “All things are in the sight of those who understand”—all things, both Hellenic and barbarian; but the one or the other is not all. “They are right to those who wish to receive understanding. Choose instruction, and not silver, and knowledge above tested gold,” and prefer also sense to pure gold; “for wisdom is better than precious stones, and no precious thing is worth it.” 1951



[Here he expresses merely as an opinion, his “gnostic” ideas as to philosophy, and the salvability of the heathen.]


Namely Jesus: John viii. 12.


We have adopted the translation of Potter, who supposes a reference to the fate of Pentheus. Perhaps the translation should be: “excluding Christ, as the apartments destined for women exclude the man;” i.e., all males.


Eccl. 1:16, 17, 18.


[His grudging of the term “gnostic” to unworthy pretenders, illustrates the spirit in which we must refuse to recognise the modern (Trent) theology of the Latins, as in any sense Catholic.]


Eccles. vii. 13, according to Sept.


Prov. 8:9, 10, 11.

Next: Chapter XIV.—Succession of Philosophers in Greece.

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