Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Chapter IV.—Faith the Foundation of All Knowledge.
Chapter IV.—Faith the Foundation of All Knowledge.
But we, who have heard by the Scriptures that self-determining choice and refusal have been given by the Lord to men, rest in the infallible criterion of faith, manifesting a willing spirit, since we have chosen life and believe God through His voice. And he who has believed the Word knows the matter to be true; for the Word is p. 350 truth. But he who has disbelieved Him that speaks, has disbelieved God.
“By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made of things which appear,” says the apostle. “By faith Abel offered to God a fuller sacrifice than Cain, by which he received testimony that he was righteous, God giving testimony to him respecting his gifts; and by it he, being dead, yet speaketh,” and so forth, down to “than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” 2179 Faith having, therefore, justified these before the law, made them heirs of the divine promise. Why then should I review and adduce any further testimonies of faith from the history in our hands? “For the time would fail me were I to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephtha, David, and Samuel, and the prophets,” and what follows. 2180 Now, inasmuch as there are four things in which the truth resides—Sensation, Understanding, Knowledge, Opinion,—intellectual apprehension is first in the order of nature; but in our case, and in relation to ourselves, Sensation is first, and of Sensation and Understanding the essence of Knowledge is formed; and evidence is common to Understanding and Sensation. Well, Sensation is the ladder to Knowledge; while Faith, advancing over the pathway of the objects of sense, leaves Opinion behind, and speeds to things free of deception, and reposes in the truth.
Should one say that Knowledge is founded on demonstration by a process of reasoning, let him hear that first principles are incapable of demonstration; for they are known neither by art nor sagacity. For the latter is conversant about objects that are susceptible of change, while the former is practical solely, and not theoretical. 2181 Hence it is thought that the first cause of the universe can be apprehended by faith alone. For all knowledge is capable of being taught; and what is capable of being taught is founded on what is known before. But the first cause of the universe was not previously known to the Greeks; neither, accordingly, to Thales, who came to the conclusion that water was the first cause; nor to the other natural philosophers who succeeded him, since it was Anaxagoras who was the first who assigned to Mind the supremacy over material things. But not even he preserved the dignity suited to the efficient cause, describing as he did certain silly vortices, together with the inertia and even foolishness of Mind. Wherefore also the Word says, “Call no man master on earth.” 2182 For knowledge is a state of mind that results from demonstration; but faith is a grace which from what is indemonstrable conducts to what is universal and simple, what is neither with matter, nor matter, nor under matter. But those who believe not, as to be expected, drag all down from heaven, and the region of the invisible, to earth, “absolutely grasping with their hands rocks and oaks,” according to Plato. For, clinging to all such things, they asseverate that that alone exists which can be touched and handled, defining body and essence to be identical: disputing against themselves, they very piously defend the existence of certain intellectual and bodiless forms descending somewhere from above from the invisible world, vehemently maintaining that there is a true essence. “Lo, I make new things,” saith the Word, “which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man.” 2183 With a new eye, a new ear, a new heart, whatever can be seen and heard is to be apprehended, by the faith and understanding of the disciples of the Lord, who speak, hear, and act spiritually. For there is genuine coin, and other that is spurious; which no less deceives unprofessionals, that it does not the money-changers; who know through having learned how to separate and distinguish what has a false stamp from what is genuine. So the money-changer only says to the unprofessional man that the coin is counterfeit. But the reason why, only the bankers apprentice, and he that is trained to this department, learns.
Now Aristotle says that the judgment which follows knowledge is in truth faith. Accordingly, faith is something superior to knowledge, and is its criterion. Conjecture, which is only a feeble supposition, counterfeits faith; as the flatterer counterfeits a friend, and the wolf the dog. And as the workman sees that by learning certain things he becomes an artificer, and the helmsman by being instructed in the art will be able to steer; he does not regard the mere wishing to become excellent and good enough, but he must learn it by the exercise of obedience. But to obey the Word, whom we call Instructor, is to believe Him, going against Him in nothing. For how can we take up a position of hostility to God? Knowledge, accordingly, is characterized by faith; and faith, by a kind of divine mutual and reciprocal correspondence, becomes characterized by knowledge.
Epicurus, too, who very greatly preferred pleasure to truth, supposes faith to be a preconception of the mind; and defines preconception to be a grasping at something evident, and at the clear understanding of the thing; and asserts that, without preconception, no one can either inquire, or doubt, or judge, or even argue. How p. 351 can one, without a preconceived idea of what he is aiming after, learn about that which is the subject of his investigation? He, again, who has learned has already turned his preconception 2184 into comprehension. And if he who learns, learns not without a preconceived idea which takes in what is expressed, that man has ears to hear the truth. And happy is the man that speaks to the ears of those who hear; as happy certainly also is he who is a child of obedience. Now to hear is to understand. If, then, faith is nothing else than a preconception of the mind in regard to what is the subject of discourse, and obedience is so called, and understanding and persuasion; no one shall learn aught without faith, since no one [learns aught] without preconception. Consequently there is a more ample demonstration of the complete truth of what was spoken by the prophet, “Unless ye believe, neither will ye understand.” Paraphrasing this oracle, Heraclitus of Ephesus says, “If a man hope not, he will not find that which is not hoped for, seeing it is inscrutable and inaccessible.” Plato the philosopher, also, in The Laws, says, “that he who would be blessed and happy, must be straight from the beginning a partaker of the truth, so as to live true for as long a period as possible; for he is a man of faith. But the unbeliever is one to whom voluntary falsehood is agreeable; and the man to whom involuntary falsehood is agreeable is senseless; 2185 neither of which is desirable. For he who is devoid of friendliness, is faithless and ignorant.” And does he not enigmatically say in Euthydemus, that this is “the regal wisdom”? In The Statesman he says expressly, “So that the knowledge of the true king is kingly; and he who possesses it, whether a prince or private person, shall by all means, in consequence of this act, be rightly styled royal.” Now those who have believed in Christ both are and are called Chrestoi (good), 2186 as those who are cared for by the true king are kingly. For as the wise are wise by their wisdom, and those observant of law are so by the law; so also those who belong to Christ the King are kings, and those that are Christs Christians. Then, in continuation, he adds clearly, “What is right will turn out to be lawful, law being in its nature right reason, and not found in writings or elsewhere.” And the stranger of Elea pronounces the kingly and statesmanlike man “a living law.” Such is he who fulfils the law, “doing the will of the Father,” 2187 inscribed on a lofty pillar, and set as an example of divine virtue to all who possess the power of seeing. The Greeks are acquainted with the staves of the Ephori at Lacedæmon, inscribed with the law on wood. But my law, as was said above, is both royal and living; and it is right reason. “Law, which is king of all—of mortals and immortals,” as the Bœotian Pindar sings. For Speusippus, 2188 in the first book against Cleophon, seems to write like Plato on this wise: “For if royalty be a good thing, and the wise man the only king and ruler, the law, which is right reason, is good;” 2189 which is the case. The Stoics teach what is in conformity with this, assigning kinghood, priesthood, prophecy, legislation, riches, true beauty, noble birth, freedom, to the wise man alone. But that he is exceedingly difficult to find, is confessed even by them.
Heb. 11:3, 4, 25.350:2180
Heb. xi. 32.350:2181
Instead of μονονουχί, Petavius and Lowth read μόνον οὐχί, as above.350:2182
Matt. xxiii. 9.350:2183
Isa. lxiv. 4; 1 Cor. ii. 9.351:2184
κατάληψιν ποιεῖ τῆν πρόληψιν.351:2185
οὐ ζῶον is here interpolated into the text, not being found in Plato.351:2186
Χριστός and χρηστός are very frequently compared in the patristic authors.351:2187
Matt. xxi. 31.351:2188
Platos sisters son and successor.351:2189
Next: Chapter V.—He Proves by Several Examples that the Greeks Drew from the Sacred Writers.
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