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CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Chapter XII.—Basilides Idea of Martyrdom Refuted.
Chapter XII.—Basilides Idea of Martyrdom Refuted.
Basilides, in the twenty-third book of the Exegetics, respecting those that are punished by martyrdom, expresses himself in the following language: “For I say this, Whosoever fall under the afflictions mentioned, in consequence of unconsciously transgressing in other matters, are brought to this good end by the kindness of Him who brings them, but accused on other grounds; so that they may not suffer as condemned for what are owned to be iniquities, nor reproached as the adulterer or the murderer, but because they are Christians; which will console them, so that they do not appear to suffer. And if one who has not sinned at all incur suffering—a rare case—yet even he will not suffer aught through the machinations of power, but will suffer as the child which seems not to have sinned would suffer.” Then further on he adds: “As, then, the child which has not sinned before, or committed actual sin in itself, but has that which committed sin, when subjected to p. 424 suffering, gets good, reaping the advantage of many difficulties; so also, although a perfect man may not have sinned in act, while he endures afflictions, he suffers similarly with the child. Having within him the sinful principle, but not embracing the opportunity of committing sin, he does not sin; so that he is not to be reckoned as not having sinned. For as he who wishes to commit adultery is an adulterer, although he does not succeed in committing adultery; and he that wishes to commit murder is a murderer, although he is unable to kill; so also, if I see the man without sin, whom I specify, suffering, though he have done nothing bad, I should call him bad, on account of his wishing to sin. For I will affirm anything rather than call Providence evil.” Then, in continuation, he says expressly concerning the Lord, as concerning man: “If then, passing from all these observations, you were to proceed to put me to shame by saying, perchance impersonating certain parties, This man has then sinned; for this man has suffered;—if you permit, I will say, He has not sinned; but was like a child suffering. If you were to insist more urgently, I would say, That the man you name is man, but that God is righteous: “For no one is pure,” as one said, from pollution.” 2797 But the hypothesis of Basilides 2798 says that the soul, having sinned before in another life, endures punishment in this—the elect soul with honour by martyrdom, the other purged by appropriate punishment. How can this be true, when the confessing and suffering punishment or not depends on ourselves? For in the case of the man who shall deny, Providence, as held by Basilides, is done away with. I will ask him, then, in the case of a confessor who has been arrested, whether he will confess and be punished in virtue of Providence or not? For in the case of denying he will not be punished. But if, for the sake of escaping and evading the necessity of punishing such an one, he shall say that the destruction of those who shall deny is of Providence, he will be a martyr against his will. And how any more is it the case, that there is laid up in heaven the very glorious recompense to him who has witnessed, for his witnessing? If Providence did not permit the sinner to get the length of sinning, it is unjust in both cases; both in not rescuing the man who is dragged to punishment for righteousness sake, and in having rescued him who wished to do wrong, he having done it as far as volition was concerned, but [Providence] having prevented the deed, and unjustly favoured the sinner. And how impious, in deifying the devil, and in daring to call the Lord a sinful man! For the devil tempting us, knowing what we are, but not knowing if we will hold out, but wishing to dislodge us from the faith, attempts also to bring us into subjection to himself. Which is all that is allowed to him, partly from the necessity of saving us, who have taken occasion from the commandment, from ourselves; partly for the confusion of him who has tempted and failed; for the confirmation of the members of the Church, and the conscience of those who admire the constancy [displayed]. But if martyrdom be retribution by way of punishment, then also faith and doctrine, on account of which martyrdom comes, are co-operators in punishment—than which, what other absurdity could be greater? But with reference to these dogmas, whether the soul is changed to another body, also of the devil, at the proper time mention will be made. But at present, to what has been already said, let us add the following: Where any more is faith in the retribution of sins committed before martyrdom takes place? And where is love to God, which is persecuted and endures for the truth? And where is the praise of him who has confessed, or the censure of him who has denied? And for what use is right conduct, the mortification of the lusts, and the hating of no creature? But if, as Basilides himself says, we suppose one part of the declared will of God to be the loving of all things because all things bear a relation to the whole, and another “not to lust after anything,” and a third “not to hate anything,” by the will of God these also will be punishments, which it were impious to think. For neither did the Lord suffer by the will of the Father, nor are those who are persecuted persecuted by the will of God; since either of two things is the case: either persecution in consequence of the will of God is a good thing, or those who decree and afflict are guiltless. But nothing is without the will of the Lord of the universe. It remains to say that such things happen without the prevention of God; for this alone saves both the providence and the goodness of God. We must not therefore think that He actively produces afflictions (far be it that we should think this!); but we must be persuaded that He does not prevent those that cause them, but overrules for good the crimes of His enemies: “I will therefore,” He says, “destroy the wall, and it shall be for treading under foot.” 2799 Providence being a disciplinary art; 2800 in the case of others for each individuals sins, and in the case of the Lord and His apostles for ours. To this p. 425 point says the divine apostle: “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye abstain from fornication: that each one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; not in the lust of concupiscence, as the Gentiles who know not the Lord: that none of you should overreach or take advantage of his brother in any matter; because the Lord is the avenger in respect of all such, as we also told you before, and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but to holiness. Wherefore he that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given His Holy Spirit to you.” 2801 Wherefore the Lord was not prohibited from this sanctification of ours. If, then, one of them were to say, in reply, that the martyr is punished for sins committed before this embodying, and that he will again reap the fruit of his conduct in this life, for that such are the arrangements of the [divine administration], we shall ask him if the retribution takes place by Providence. For if it be not of the divine administration, the economy of expiations is gone, and their hypothesis falls to the ground; but if expiations are by Providence, punishments are by Providence too. But Providence, although it begins, so to speak, to move with the Ruler, yet is implanted in substances along with their origin by the God of the universe. Such being the case, they must confess either that punishment is not just, and those who condemn and persecute the martyrs do right, or that persecutions even are wrought by the will of God. Labour and fear are not, then, as they say, incident to affairs as rust to iron, but come upon the soul through its own will. And on these points there is much to say, which will be reserved for future consideration, taking them up in due course.
Job. xiv. 4.424:2798
[This exposition of Basilides is noteworthy. It is very doubtful, whether, even in poetry, the Platonic idea of pre-existence should be encouraged by Christians, as, e.g., in that sublimest of moderns lyrics, Wordsworths ode on Immortality and Childhood.]424:2799
Isa. v. 5.424:2800
The text has παιδευτικῆς τέχνης τῆς τοιάδε, for which Sylburgius suggests τοιᾶσδε, as translated above.425:2801
1 Thess. iv. 3-8.
Next: Chapter XIII.—Valentinians Vagaries About the Abolition of Death Refuted.
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