Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Chapter V.—On the Symbols of Pythagoras.
Chapter V.—On the Symbols of Pythagoras.
Now the Pythagorean symbols were connected with the Barbarian philosophy in the most recondite way. For instance, the Samian counsels “not to have a swallow in the house;” that is, not to receive a loquacious, whispering, garrulous man, who cannot contain what has been communicated to him. “For the swallow, and the turtle, and the sparrows of the field, know the times of their entrance,” 3008 says the Scripture; and one ought never to dwell with trifles. And the turtle-dove murmuring shows the thankless slander of fault-finding, and is rightly expelled the house.“Dont mutter against me, sitting by one in one place, another in another.” 3009
The swallow too, which suggests the fable of Pandion, seeing it is right to detest the incidents reported of it, some of which we hear Tereus suffered, and some of which he inflicted. It pursues also the musical grasshoppers, whence he who is a persecutor of the word ought to be driven away.“By sceptre-bearing Here, whose eye surveys Olympus,
I have a rusty closet for tongues,”
says Poetry. Æschylus also says:—“But, I, too, have a key as a guard on my tongue.”
Again Pythagoras commanded, “When the pot is lifted off the fire, not to leave its mark in the ashes, but to scatter them;” and “people on getting up from bed, to shake the bed-clothes.” For he intimated that it was necessary not only to efface the mark, but not to leave even a trace of anger; and that on its ceasing to boil, it was to be composed, and all memory of injury to be wiped out. “And let not the sun,” says the Scripture, “go down upon your wrath.” 3010 And he that said, “Thou shall not desire,” 3011 took away all memory of wrong; for wrath is found p. 451 to be the impulse of concupiscence in a mild soul, especially seeking irrational revenge. In the same way “the bed is ordered to be shaken up,” so that there may be no recollection of effusion in sleep, 3012 or sleep in the day-time; nor, besides, of pleasure during the night. And he intimated that the vision of the dark ought to be dissipated speedily by the light of truth. “Be angry, and sin not,” says David, teaching us that we ought not to assent to the impression, and not to follow it up by action, and so confirm wrath.
Again, “Dont sail on land” is a Pythagorean saw, and shows that taxes and similar contracts, being troublesome and fluctuating, ought to be declined. Wherefore also the Word says that the tax-gatherers shall be saved with difficulty. 3013
And again, “Dont wear a ring, nor engrave on it the images of the gods,” enjoins Pythagoras; as Moses ages before enacted expressly, that neither a graven, nor molten, nor moulded, nor painted likeness should be made; so that we may not cleave to things of sense, but pass to intellectual objects: for familiarity with the sight disparages the reverence of what is divine; and to worship that which is immaterial by matter, is to dishonour it by sense. 3014 Wherefore the wisest of the Egyptian priests decided that the temple of Athene should be hypæthral, just as the Hebrews constructed the temple without an image. And some, in worshipping God, make a representation of heaven containing the stars; and so worship, although Scripture says, “Let Us make man in Our image and likeness.” 3015 I think it worth while also to adduce the utterance of Eurysus the Pythagorean, which is as follows, who in his book On Fortune, having said that the “Creator, on making man, took Himself as an exemplar,” added, “And the body is like the other things, as being made of the same material, and fashioned by the best workman, who wrought it, taking Himself as the archetype.” And, in fine, Pythagoras and his followers, with Plato also, and most of the other philosophers, were best acquainted with the Lawgiver, as may be concluded from their doctrine. And by a happy utterance of divination, not without divine help, concurring in certain prophetic declarations, and, seizing the truth in portions and aspects, in terms not obscure, and not going beyond the explanation of the things, they honoured it on as certaining the appearance of relation with the truth. Whence the Hellenic philosophy is like the torch of wick which men kindle, artificially stealing the light from the sun. But on the proclamation of the Word all that holy light shone forth. Then in houses by night the stolen light is useful; but by day the fire blazes, and all the night is illuminated by such a sun of intellectual light.
Now Pythagoras made an epitome of the statements on righteousness in Moses, when he said, “Do not step over the balance;” that is, do not transgress equality in distribution, honouring justice so.“Which friends to friends for ever, binds,
To cities, cities—to allies, allies,
For equality is what is right for men;
But less to greater ever hostile grows,
And days of hate begin,”
as is said with poetic grace.
Wherefore the Lord says, “Take My yoke, for it is gentle and light.” 3016 And on the disciples, striving for the pre-eminence, He enjoins equality with simplicity, saying “that they must become as little children.” 3017 Likewise also the apostle writes, that “no one in Christ is bond or free, or Greek or Jew. For the creation in Christ Jesus is new, is equality, free of strife—not grasping—just.” For envy, and jealousy, and bitterness, stand without the divine choir.
Thus also those skilled in the mysteries forbid “to eat the heart;” teaching that we ought not to gnaw and consume the soul by idleness and by vexation, on account of things which happen against ones wishes. Wretched, accordingly, was the man whom Homer also says, wandering alone, “ate his own heart.” But again, seeing the Gospel supposes two ways—the apostles, too, similarly with all the prophets—and seeing they call that one “narrow and confined” which is circumscribed according to the commandments and prohibitions, and the opposite one, which leads to perdition, “broad and roomy,” open to pleasures and wrath, and say, “Blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, and standeth not in the way of sinners.” 3018 Hence also comes the fable of Prodicus of Ceus about Virtue and Vice. 3019 And Pythagoras shrinks not from prohibiting to walk on the public thoroughfares, enjoining the necessity of not following the sentiments of the many, which are crude and inconsistent. And Aristocritus, in the first book of his Positions against Heracliodorus, mentions a letter to this effect: “Atœeas king of the Scythians to the people of Byzantium: Do not impair my revenues in case my mares drink your water;” for the Barbarian indicated symbolically that he would make war on them. Likewise also the poet Euphorion introduces Nestor saying,—“We have not yet wet the Achæan steeds in Simois.”
p. 452 Therefore also the Egyptians place Sphinxes 3020 before their temples, to signify that the doctrine respecting God is enigmatical and obscure; perhaps also that we ought both to love and fear the Divine Being: to love Him as gentle and benign to the pious; to fear Him as inexorably just to the impious; for the sphinx shows the image of a wild beast and of a man together.
Jer. viii. 6.450:3009
Iliad, ix. 311.450:3010
Eph. iv. 26.450:3011
Ex. xx. 17.451:3012
It is so said of the rich; Matt. xix. 23; Mark x. 23; Luke xviii. 24.451:3014
[Against images. But see Catechism of the Council of Trent, part iii. cap. 2, quæst. xxiv.]451:3015
Gen. i. 26.451:3016
Matt. 11:29, 30.451:3017
Matt. xviii. 3.451:3018
Ps. i. 1.451:3019
[See Pædogogue, ii. 11, p. 265, supra.]452:3020
[Rawlinson, Herod., ii. 223.]
Next: Chapter VI.—The Mystic Meaning of the Tabernacle and Its Furniture.
Like & share St-Takla.org
© Saint Takla Haymanout Website: Coptic Orthodox Church - Alexandria, Egypt / URL: https://st-takla.org / Contact us at