Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Chapter XVIII.—The Mosaic Law the Fountain of All Ethics, and the Source from Which the Greeks Drew Theirs.
Chapter XVIII.—The Mosaic Law the Fountain of All Ethics, and the Source from Which the Greeks Drew Theirs. 2335
It is then clear also that all the other virtues, delineated in Moses, supplied the Greeks with the rudiments of the whole department of morals. I mean valour, and temperance, and wisdom, and justice, and endurance, and patience, and decorum, and self-restraint; and in addition to these, piety.
But it is clear to every one that piety, which teaches to worship and honour, is the highest and oldest cause; and the law itself exhibits justice, and teaches wisdom, by abstinence from sensible images, and by inviting to the Maker and Father of the universe. And from this sentiment, as from a fountain, all intelligence increases. “For the sacrifices of the wicked are abomination to the Lord; but the prayers of the upright are acceptable before Him,” 2336 since “righteousness is more acceptable before God than sacrifice.” Such also as the following we find in Isaiah: “To what purpose to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? saith the Lord;” and the whole section. 2337 “Break every bond of wickedness; for this is the sacrifice that is acceptable to the Lord, a contrite heart that seeks its Maker.” 2338 “Deceitful balances are abomination before God; but a just balance is acceptable to Him.” 2339 Thence Pythagoras exhorts “not to step over the balance;” and the profession of heresies is called deceitful righteousness; and “the tongue of the unjust shall be destroyed, but the mouth of the righteous droppeth wisdom.” 2340 “For they call the wise and prudent worthless.” 2341 But it were tedious to adduce testimonies respecting these virtues, since the whole Scripture celebrates them. Since, then, they define manliness to be knowledge 2342 of things formidable, and not formidable, and what is intermediate; and temperance to be a state of mind which by choosing and avoiding preserves the judgments of wisdom; and conjoined with manliness is patience, which is called endurance, the knowledge of what is bearable and what is unbearable; and magnanimity is the knowledge which rises superior to circumstances. With temperance also is conjoined caution, which is avoidance in accordance with reason. And observance of the commandments, which is the innoxious keeping of them, is the attainment of a secure life. And there is no endurance without manliness, nor the exercise of self-restraint without temperance. And these virtues follow one another; and with whom are the sequences of the virtues, with him is also salvation, which is the keeping of the state of well-being. Rightly, therefore, in treating of these virtues, we shall inquire into them all; for he that has one virtue gnostically, by reason of their accompanying each other, has them all. Self-restraint is that quality which does not overstep what appears in accordance with right reason. He exercises self-restraint, who curbs the impulses that are contrary to right reason, or curbs himself so as not to indulge in desires contrary to right reason. Temperance, too, is not without manliness; since from the commandments spring both wisdom, which follows God who enjoins, and that which imitates the divine character, namely righteousness; in virtue of which, in the exercise of self-restraint, we address ourselves in purity to piety and the course of conduct thence resulting, in conformity with God; being assimilated to the Lord as far as is possible for us beings mortal in nature. And this is being just and holy with wisdom; for the Divinity needs nothing and suffers nothing; whence it is not, strictly speaking, capable of self-restraint, for it is never subjected to perturbation, over which to exercise control; while our nature, being capable of perturbation, needs self-constraint, by which disciplining itself to the need of little, it endeavours to approximate in character to the divine nature. For the good man, standing as the boundary between an immortal and a mortal nature, has few needs; having wants in consequence of his body, and his birth itself, but taught by rational self-control to want few things.
What reason is there in the laws prohibiting a man from “wearing womans clothing “? 2343 Is it not that it would have us to be manly, and not to be effeminate neither in person and actions, nor in thought and word? For it would have the man, that devotes himself to the truth, to be masculine both in acts of endurance and patience, in life, conduct, word, and discipline by night and by day; even if the necessity were to occur, of witnessing by the shedding of his blood. Again, it is said, “If any one who has newly built a house, and has not previously inhabited it; or cultivated a newly-planted vine, and not yet partaken of the fruit; or betrothed a virgin, and not yet married her;” 2344 —such the humane law orders to be relieved from military service: from military reasons in the first place, lest, bent on p. 366 their desires, they turn out sluggish in war; for it is those who are untrammelled by passion that boldly encounter perils; and from motives of humanity, since, in view of the uncertainties of war, the law reckoned it not right that one should not enjoy his own labours, and another should without bestowing pains, receive what belonged to those who had laboured. The law seems also to point out manliness of soul, by enacting that he who had planted should reap the fruit, and he that built should inhabit, and he that had betrothed should marry: for it is not vain hopes which it provides for those who labour; according to the gnostic word: “For the hope of a good man dead or living does not perish,” 2345 says Wisdom; “I love them that love me; and they who seek me shall find peace,” 2346 and so forth. What then? Did not the women of the Midianites, by their beauty, seduce from wisdom into impiety, through licentiousness, the Hebrews when making war against them? For, having seduced them from a grave mode of life, and by their beauty ensnared them in wanton delights, they made them insane upon idol sacrifices and strange women; and overcome by women and by pleasure at once, they revolted from God, and revolted from the law. And the whole people was within a little of falling under the power of the enemy through female stratagem, until, when they were in peril, fear by its admonitions pulled them back. Then the survivors, valiantly undertaking the struggle for piety, got the upper hand of their foes. “The beginning, then, of wisdom is piety, and the knowledge of holy things is understanding; and to know the law is the characteristic of a good understanding.” 2347 Those, then, who suppose the law to be productive of agitating fear, are neither good at understanding the law, nor have they in reality comprehended it; for “the fear of the Lord causes life, but he who errs shall be afflicted with pangs which knowledge views not.” 2348 Accordingly, Barnabas says mystically, “May God who rules the universe vouchsafe also to you wisdom, and understanding, and science, and knowledge of His statutes, and patience. Be therefore God-taught, seeking what the Lord seeks from you, that He may find you in the day of judgment lying in wait for these things.” “Children of love and peace,” he called them gnostically. 2349
Respecting imparting and communicating, though much might be said, let it suffice to remark that the law prohibits a brother from taking usury: designating as a brother not only him who is born of the same parents, but also one of the same race and sentiments, and a participator in the same word; deeming it right not to take usury for money, but with open hands and heart to bestow on those who need. For God, the author and the dispenser of such grace, takes as suitable usury the most precious things to be found among men—mildness, gentleness, magnanimity, reputation, renown. Do you not regard this command as marked by philanthropy? As also the following, “To pay the wages of the poor daily,” teaches to discharge without delay the wages due for service; for, as I think, the alacrity of the poor with reference to the future is paralyzed when he has suffered want. Further, it is said, “Let not the creditor enter the debtors house to take the pledge with violence.” But let the former ask it to be brought out, and let not the latter, if he have it, hesitate. 2350 And in the harvest the owners are prohibited from appropriating what falls from the handfuls; as also in reaping [the law] enjoins a part to be left unreaped; signally thereby training those who possess to sharing and to large-heartedness, by foregoing of their own to those who are in want, and thus providing means of subsistence for the poor. 2351 You see how the law proclaims at once the righteousness and goodness of God, who dispenses food to all ungrudgingly. And in the vintage it prohibited the grape-gatherers from going back again on what had been left, and from gathering the fallen grapes; and the same injunctions are given to the olive-gatherers. 2352 Besides, the tithes of the fruits and of the flocks taught both piety towards the Deity, and not covetously to grasp everything, but to communicate gifts of kindness to ones neighbours. For it was from these, I reckon, and from the first-fruits that the priests were maintained. We now therefore understand that we are instructed in piety, and in liberality, and in justice, and in humanity by the law. For does it not command the land to be left fallow in the seventh year, and bids the poor fearlessly use the fruits that grow by divine agency, nature cultivating the ground for behoof of all and sundry? 2353 How, then, can it be maintained that the law is not humane, and the teacher of righteousness? Again, in the fiftieth year, it ordered the same things to be performed as in the seventh; besides restoring to each one his own land, if from any circumstance he had parted with it in the meantime; setting bounds to the desires of those who covet possession, by measuring the period of enjoyment, and choosing that those who have paid the penalty of protracted penury should not suffer a life-long punishment. “But alms and acts of faith are royal guards, and blessing is on p. 367 the head of him who bestows; and he who pities the poor shall be blessed.” 2354 For he shows love to one like himself, because of his love to the Creator of the human race. The above-mentioned particulars have other explanations more natural, both respecting rest and the recovery of the inheritance; but they are not discussed at present.
Now love is conceived in many ways, in the form of meekness, of mildness, of patience, of liberality, of freedom from envy, of absence of hatred, of forgetfulness of injuries. In all it is incapable of being divided or distinguished: its nature is to communicate. Again, it is said, “If you see the beast of your relatives, or friends, or, in general, of anybody you know, wandering in the wilderness, take it back and restore it; 2355 and if the owner be far away, keep it among your own till he return, and restore it.” It teaches a natural communication, that what is found is to be regarded as a deposit, and that we are not to bear malice to an enemy. “The command of the Lord being a fountain of life” truly, “causeth to turn away from the snare of death.” 2356 And what? Does it not command us “to love strangers not only as friends and relatives, but as ourselves, both in body and soul?” 2357 Nay more, it honoured the nations, and bears no grudge 2358 against those who have done ill. Accordingly it is expressly said, “Thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian, for thou wast a sojourner in Egypt;” 2359 designating by the term Egyptian either one of that race, or any one in the world. And enemies, although drawn up before the walls attempting to take the city, are not to be regarded as enemies till they are by the voice of the herald summoned to peace. 2360
Further, it forbids intercourse with a female captive so as to dishonour her. “But allow her,” it says, “thirty days to mourn according to her wish, and changing her clothes, associate with her as your lawful wife.” 2361 For it regards it not right that this should take place either in wantonness or for hire like harlots, but only for the birth of children. Do you see humanity combined with continence? The master who has fallen in love with his captive maid it does not allow to gratify his pleasure, but puts a check on his lust by specifying an interval of time; and further, it cuts off the captives hair, in order to shame disgraceful love: for if it is reason that induces him to marry, he will cleave to her even after she has become disfigured. Then if one, after his lust, does not care to consort any longer with the captive, it ordains that it shall not be lawful to sell her, or to have her any longer as a servant, but desires her to be freed and released from service, lest on the introduction of another wife she bear any of the intolerable miseries caused through jealousy.
What more? The Lord enjoins to ease and raise up the beasts of enemies when labouring beneath their burdens; remotely teaching us not to indulge in joy at our neighbours ills, or exult over our enemies; in order to teach those who are trained in these things to pray for their enemies. For He does not allow us either to grieve at our neighbours good, or to reap joy at our neighbours ill. And if you find any enemys beast straying, you are to pass over the incentives of difference, and take it back and restore it. For oblivion of injuries is followed by goodness, and the latter by dissolution of enmity. From this we are fitted for agreement, and this conducts to felicity. And should you suppose one habitually hostile, and discover him to be unreasonably mistaken either through lust or anger, turn him to goodness. Does the law then which conducts to Christ appear humane and mild? And does not the same God, good, while characterized by righteousness from the beginning to the end, employ each kind suitably in order to salvation? “Be merciful,” says the Lord, “that you may receive mercy; forgive, that you may be forgiven. As ye do, so shall it be done to you; as ye give, so shall it be given to you; as ye judge, so shall ye be judged; as ye show kindness, so shall kindness be shown to you: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” 2362 Furthermore, [the law] prohibits those, who are in servitude for their subsistence, to be branded with disgrace; and to those, who have been reduced to slavery through money borrowed, it gives a complete release in the seventh year. Further, it prohibits suppliants from being given up to punishment. True above all, then, is that oracle. “As gold and silver are tried in the furnace, so the Lord chooseth mens hearts. The merciful man is long-suffering; and in every one who shows solicitude there is wisdom. For on a wise man solicitude will fall; and exercising thought, he will seek life; and he who seeketh God shall find knowledge with righteousness. And they who have sought Him rightly have found peace.” 2363 And Pythagoras seems to me, to have derived his mildness towards irrational creatures from the law. For instance, he interdicted the immediate use of the young in the flocks of sheep, and goats, and herds of cattle, on the instant of their p. 368 birth; not even on the pretext of sacrifice allowing it, both on account of the young ones and of the mothers; training man to gentleness by what is beneath him, by means of the irrational creatures. “Resign accordingly,” he says, “the young one to its dam for even the first seven days.” For if nothing takes place without a cause, and milk comes in a shower to animals in parturition for the sustenance of the progeny, he that tears that, which has been brought forth, away from the supply of the milk, dishonours nature. Let the Greeks, then, feel ashamed, and whoever else inveighs against the law; since it shows mildness in the case of the irrational creatures, while they expose the offspring of men; though long ago and prophetically, the law, in the above-mentioned commandment, threw a check in the way of their cruelty. For if it prohibits the progeny of the irrational creatures to be separated from the dam before sucking, much more in the case of men does it provide beforehand a cure for cruelty and savageness of disposition; so that even if they despise nature, they may not despise teaching. For they are permitted to satiate themselves with kids and lambs, and perhaps there might be some excuse for separating the progeny from its dam. But what cause is there for the exposure of a child? For the man who did not desire to beget children had no right to marry at first; certainly not to have become, through licentious indulgence, the murderer of his children. Again, the humane law forbids slaying the offspring and the dam together on the same day. Thence also the Romans, in the case of a pregnant woman being condemned to death, do not allow her to undergo punishment till she is delivered. The law too, expressly prohibits the slaying of such animals as are pregnant till they have brought forth, remotely restraining the proneness of man to do wrong to man. Thus also it has extended its clemency to the irrational creatures; that from the exercise of humanity in the case of creatures of different species, we might practice among those of the same species a large abundance of it. Those, too, that kick the bellies of certain animals before parturition, in order to feast on flesh mixed with milk, make the womb created for the birth of the fœtus its grave, though the law expressly commands, “But neither shalt thou seethe a lamb in its mothers milk.” 2364 For the nourishment of the living animal, it is meant, may not become sauce for that which has been deprived of life; and that, which is the cause of life, may not co-operate in the consumption of the body. And the same law commands “not to muzzle the ox which treadeth out the corn: for the labourer must be reckoned worthy of his food.” 2365
And it prohibits an ox and ass to be yoked in the plough together; 2366 pointing perhaps to the want of agreement in the case of the animals; and at the same time teaching not to wrong any one belonging to another race, and bring him under the yoke, when there is no other cause to allege than difference of race, which is no cause at all, being neither wickedness nor the effect of wickedness. To me the allegory also seems to signify that the husbandry of the Word is not to be assigned equally to the clean and the unclean, the believer and the unbeliever; for the ox is clean, but the ass has been reckoned among the unclean animals. But the benignant Word, abounding in humanity, teaches that neither is it right to cut down cultivated trees, or to cut down the grain before the harvest, for mischiefs sake; nor that cultivated fruit is to be destroyed at all—either the fruit of the soil or that of the soul: for it does not permit the enemys country to be laid waste.
Further, husbandmen derived advantage from the law in such things. For it orders newly planted trees to be nourished three years in succession, and the superfluous growths to be cut off, to prevent them being loaded and pressed down; and to prevent their strength being exhausted from want, by the nutriment being frittered away, enjoins tilling and digging round them, so that [the tree] may not, by sending out suckers, hinder its growth. And it does not allow imperfect fruit to be plucked from immature trees, but after three years, in the fourth year; dedicating the first-fruits to God after the tree has attained maturity.
This type of husbandry may serve as a mode of instruction, teaching that we must cut the growths of sins, and the useless weeds of the mind that spring up round the vital fruit, till the shoot of faith is perfected and becomes strong. 2367 For in the fourth year, since there is need of time to him that is being solidly catechized, the four virtues are consecrated to God, the third alone being already joined to the fourth, 2368 the person of the Lord. And a sacrifice of praise is above holocausts: “for He,” it is said, “giveth strength to get power.” 2369 And if your affairs are in the sunshine of prosperity, get and keep strength, and acquire power in knowledge. For by these instances it is shown that both good things and gifts are supplied by God; and that we, becoming ministers of the divine grace, ought to sow the benefits of God, and make those who approach us noble and p. 369 good; so that, as far as possible, the temperate man may make others continent, he that is manly may make them noble, he that is wise may make them intelligent, and the just may make them just.
[See p. 192, supra, and the note.]365:2336
Prov. xv. 8.365:2337
Isa. i. 11, etc.365:2338
Isa. lviii. 6.365:2339
Prov. xi. 1.365:2340
Prov. x. 31.365:2341
Prov. xvi. 21, misquoted, or the text is corrupt; “The wise in heart shall be called prudent,” A.V.365:2342
For the use of knowledge in this connection, Philo, Sextus Empiricus, and Zeno are quoted.365:2343
Deut. xxii. 5.365:2344
“These words are more like Philo Judæus, i. 740, than those of Moses, Deut. xx. 5-7.”—Potter.366:2345
Prov. x. 7, xi. 7.366:2346
Prov. viii. 17.366:2347
Prov. ix. 10.366:2348
Prov. xix. 23.366:2349
[See Epistle of Barnabas, vol. p. i. 149, S.]366:2350
Deut. 24:10, 11.366:2351
Lev. xix. 9, xxiii. 22; Deut. xxiv. 19.366:2352
Lev. xix. 10; Deut. 24:20, 21.366:2353
Exod. 33:10, 11; Lev. xxv. 2-7.367:2354
Prov. xx. 28, xi. 26, xiv. 21.367:2355
Quoted from Philo, with slight alterations, giving the sense of Ex. xxiii. 4, Deut. 22:12, 3.367:2356
Prov. xiv. 27.367:2357
Lev. 19:33, 34; Deut. x. 19, xxiii. 7.367:2358
μνησιπονηρεῖ (equivalent to μνησικακεῖ in the passage of Philo from which Clement is quoting) has been substituted by Sylb. for μισοπονηρεῖ.367:2359
Deut. xxiii. 7.367:2360
Deut. xx. 10.367:2361
Deut. xxi. 10-13.367:2362
Matt. v. vi. vii.; Luke vi.367:2363
Prov. xix. 11, xiv. 23, xvii. 12.368:2364
Deut. xiv. 21;368:2365
Deut. xxv. 4; 1 Tim. v. 18.368:2366
Deut. xxii. 10.368:2367
[See Hermas, Visions, note 2, p. 15, this volume.]368:2368
So Clement seems to designate the human nature of Christ,—as being a quartum quid in addition to the three persons of the Godhead. [A strange note: borrowed from ed. Migne. The incarnation of the second person is a quartum quid, of course; but not, in our authors view, “an addition to the three persons of the Godhead.”]368:2369
Deut. viii. 18.
Next: Chapter XIX.—The True Gnostic is an Imitator of God, Especially in Beneficence.
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