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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Chapter VI.—The Mystic Meaning of the Tabernacle and Its Furniture.

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Chapter VI.—The Mystic Meaning of the Tabernacle and Its Furniture.

It were tedious to go over all the Prophets and the Law, specifying what is spoken in enigmas; for almost the whole Scripture gives its utterances in this way. It may suffice, I think, for any one possessed of intelligence, for the proof of the point in hand, to select a few examples.

Now concealment is evinced in the reference of the seven circuits around the temple, which are made mention of among the Hebrews; and the equipment on the robe, indicating by the various symbols, which had reference to visible objects, the agreement which from heaven reaches down to earth. And the covering and the veil were variegated with blue, and purple, and scarlet, and linen. And so it was suggested that the nature of the elements contained the revelation of God. For purple is from water, linen from the earth; blue, being dark, is like the air, as scarlet is like fire.

In the midst of the covering and veil, where the priests were allowed to enter, was situated the altar of incense, the symbol of the earth placed in the middle of this universe; and from it came the fumes of incense. And that place intermediate between the inner veil, where the high priest alone, on prescribed days, was permitted to enter, and the external court which surrounded it—free to all the Hebrews—was, they say, the middlemost point of heaven and earth. But others say it was the symbol of the intellectual world, and that of sense. The covering, then, the barrier of popular unbelief, was stretched in front of the five pillars, keeping back those in the surrounding space.

So very mystically the five loaves are broken by the Saviour, and fill the crowd of the listeners. For great is the crowd that keep to the things of sense, as if they were the only things in existence. “Cast your eyes round, and see,” says Plato, “that none of the uninitiated listen.” Such are they who think that nothing else exists, but what they can hold tight with their hands; but do not admit as in the department of existence, actions and processes of generation, and the whole of the unseen. For such are those who keep by the five senses. But the knowledge of God is a thing inaccessible to the ears and like organs of this kind of people. Hence the Son is said to be the Father’s face, being the revealer of the Father’s character to the five senses by clothing Himself with flesh. “But if we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” 3021 “For we walk by faith, not by sight,” 3022 the noble apostle says. Within the veil, then, is concealed the sacerdotal service; and it keeps those engaged in it far from those without.

Again, there is the veil of the entrance into the holy of holies. Four pillars there are, the sign of the sacred tetrad of the ancient covenants. 3023 Further, the mystic name of four letters which was affixed to those alone to whom the adytum was accessible, is called Jave, which is interpreted, “Who is and shall be.” The name of God, too, among the Greeks contains four letters.

Now the Lord, having come alone into the intellectual world, enters by His sufferings, introduced into the knowledge of the Ineffable, ascending above every name which is known by sound. The lamp, too, was placed to the south of the altar of incense; and by it were shown the motions of the seven planets, that perform their revolutions towards the south. For three branches rose on either side of the lamp, and lights on them; since also the sun, like the lamp, set in the midst of all the planets, dispenses with a kind of divine music the light to those above and to those below.

The golden lamp conveys another enigma as a symbol of Christ, not in respect of form alone, but in his casting light, “at sundry times and divers manners,” 3024 on those who believe on Him and hope, and who see by means of the ministry of the First-born. And they say that the seven eyes of the Lord “are the seven spirits resting on the rod that springs from the root of Jesse.” 3025

North of the altar of incense was placed a table, on which there was “the exhibition of the loaves;” for the most nourishing of the winds are those of the north. And thus are signified certain seats of churches conspiring so as to form one body and one assemblage. 3026

And the things recorded of the sacred ark signify the properties of the world of thought, which is hidden and closed to the many.

And those golden figures, each of them with six wings, signify either the two bears, as some will have it, or rather the two hemispheres. And the name cherubim meant “much knowledge.” But both together have twelve wings, and by the zodiac and time, which moves on it, point out p. 453 the world of sense. It is of them, I think, that Tragedy, discoursing of Nature, says:—

“Unwearied Time circles full in perennial flow,
Producing itself. And the twin-bears
On the swift wandering motions of their wings,
Keep the Atlantean pole.”

And Atlas, 3027 the unsuffering pole, may mean the fixed sphere, or better perhaps, motionless eternity. But I think it better to regard the ark, so called from the Hebrew word Thebotha3028 as signifying something else. It is interpreted, one instead of one in all places. Whether, then, it is the eighth region and the world of thought, or God, all-embracing, and without shape, and invisible, that is indicated, we may for the present defer saying. But it signifies the repose which dwells with the adoring spirits, which are meant by the cherubim.

For He who prohibited the making of a graven image, would never Himself have made an image in the likeness of holy things. 3029 Nor is there at all any composite thing, and creature endowed with sensation, of the sort in heaven. But the face is a symbol of the rational soul, and the wings are the lofty ministers and energies of powers right and left; and the voice is delightsome glory in ceaseless contemplation. Let it suffice that the mystic interpretation has advanced so far.

Now the high priest’s robe is the symbol of the world of sense. The seven planets are represented by the five stones and the two carbuncles, for Saturn and the Moon. The former is southern, and moist, and earthy, and heavy; the latter aerial, whence she is called by some Artemis, as if Ærotomos (cutting the air); and the air is cloudy. And cooperating as they did in the production of things here below, those that by Divine Providence are set over the planets are rightly represented as placed on the breast and shoulders; and by them was the work of creation, the first week. And the breast is the seat of the heart and soul.

Differently, the stones might be the various phases of salvation; some occupying the upper, some the lower parts of the entire body saved. The three hundred and sixty bells, suspended from the robe, is the space of a year, “the acceptable year of the Lord,” proclaiming and resounding the stupendous manifestation of the Saviour. Further, the broad gold mitre indicates the regal power of the Lord, “since the Head of the Church” is the Savour. 3030 The mitre that is on it [i.e., the head] is, then, a sign of most princely rule; and otherwise we have heard it said, “The Head of Christ is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 3031 Moreover, there was the breastplate, comprising the ephod, which is the symbol of work, and the oracle (λογίον); and this indicated the Word (λόγος) by which it was framed, and is the symbol of heaven, made by the Word, 3032 and subjected to Christ, the Head of all things, inasmuch as it moves in the same way, and in a like manner. The luminous emerald stones, therefore, in the ephod, signify the sun and moon, the helpers of nature. The shoulder, I take it, is the commencement of the hand.

The twelve stones, set in four rows on the breast, describe for us the circle of the zodiac, in the four changes of the year. It was otherwise requisite that the law and the prophets should be placed beneath the Lord’s head, because in both Testaments mention is made of the righteous. For were we to say that the apostles were at once prophets and righteous, we should say well, “since one and the self-same Holy Spirit works in all.” 3033 And as the Lord is above the whole world, yea, above the world of thought, so the name engraven on the plate has been regarded to signify, above all rule and authority; and it was inscribed with reference both to the written commandments and the manifestation to sense. And it is the name of God that is expressed; since, as the Son sees the goodness of the Father, God the Saviour works, being called the first principle of all things, which was imaged forth from the invisible God first, and before the ages, and which fashioned all things which came into being after itself. Nay more, the oracle 3034 exhibits the prophecy which by the Word cries and preaches, and the judgment that is to come; since it is the same Word which prophesies, and judges, and discriminates all things.

And they say that the robe prophesied the ministry in the flesh, by which He was seen in closer relation to the world. So the high priest, putting off his consecrated robe (the universe, and the creation in the universe, were consecrated by Him assenting that, what was made, was good), washes himself, and puts on the other tunic—a holy-of-holies one, so to speak—which is to accompany him into the adytum; exhibiting, as seems to me, the Levite and Gnostic, as the chief of other priests (those bathed in water, and clothed in faith alone, and expecting their own individual abode), himself distinguishing the objects of the intellect from the things of sense, rising above other priests, p. 454 hasting to the entrance to the world of ideas, to wash himself from the things here below, not in water, as formerly one was cleansed on being enrolled in the tribe of Levi. But purified already by the gnostic Word in his whole heart, and thoroughly regulated, and having improved that mode of life received from the priest to the highest pitch, being quite sanctified both in word and life, and having put on the bright array of glory, and received the ineffable inheritance of that spiritual and perfect man, “which eye hath not seen and ear hath not heard, and it hath not entered into the heart of man;” and having become son and friend, he is now replenished with insatiable contemplation face to face. For there is nothing like hearing the Word Himself, who by means of the Scripture inspires fuller intelligence. For so it is said, “And he shall put off the linen robe, which he had put on when he entered into the holy place; and shall lay it aside there, and wash his body in water in the holy place, and put on his robe.” 3035 But in one way, as I think, the Lord puts off and puts on by descending into the region of sense; and in another, he who through Him has believed puts off and puts on, as the apostle intimated, the consecrated stole. Thence, after the image of the Lord the worthiest were chosen from the sacred tribes to be high priests, and those elected to the kingly office and to prophecy were anointed.



Gal. v. 25.


2 Cor. v. 7.


[Elucidation III.]


Heb. i. 1.


Rev. v. 6; Isa. xi. 10. [Elucidation IV.]


[“The communion of saints.”]


τλας, unsuffering.


The Chaldaic תּיבוּחָא. The Hebrew is תּ̤בָה, Sept. κιβωτός, Vulg. arca.


[Elucidation V.]


Eph. v. 23.


1 Cor. xi. 3; 2 Cor. xi. 31.


And the whole place is very correctly called the Logeum (λογεῖον), since everything in heaven has been created and arranged in accordance with right reason (λόγοις) and proportion (Philo, vol. iii. p. 195, Bohn’s translation).


1 Cor. xii. 11.


i.e., the oracular breastplate.


Lev. 16:23, 24.

Next: Chapter VII.—The Egyptian Symbols and Enigmas of Sacred Things.

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