Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Chapter XI.—Abstraction from Material Things Necessary in Order to Attain to the True Knowledge of God.
Chapter XI.—Abstraction from Material Things Necessary in Order to Attain to the True Knowledge of God.
Now the sacrifice which is acceptable to God is unswerving abstraction from the body and its passions. This is the really true piety. And is not, on this account, philosophy rightly called by Socrates the practice of Death? For he who neither employs his eyes in the exercise of thought, nor draws aught from his other senses, but with pure mind itself applies to objects, practices the true philosophy. This is, then, the import of the silence of five years prescribed by Pythagoras, which he enjoined on his disciples; that, abstracting themselves from the objects of sense, they might with the mind alone contemplate the Deity. It was from Moses that the chief of the Greeks drew these philosophical tenets. 3070 For he commands holocausts to be skinned and divided into parts. For the gnostic soul must be consecrated to the light, stript of the integuments of matter, devoid of the frivolousness of the body and of all the passions, which are acquired through vain and lying opinions, and divested of the lusts of the flesh. But the most of men, clothed with what is perishable, like cockles, and rolled all round in a ball in their excesses, like hedgehogs, entertain the same ideas of the blessed and incorruptible God as of themselves. But it has escaped their notice, though they be near us, that God has bestowed on us ten thousand things in which He does not share: birth, being Himself unborn; food, He wanting nothing; and growth, He being always equal; and long life and immortality, He being immortal and incapable of growing old. Wherefore let no one imagine that hands, and feet, and mouth, and eyes, and going in and coming out, and resentments and threats, are said by the Hebrews to be attributes of God. By no means; but that certain of these appellations are used more sacredly in an allegorical sense, which, as the discourse proceeds, we shall explain at the proper time.
“Wisdom of all medicines is the Panacea,” 3071 writes Callimachus in the Epigrams. “And one becomes wise from another, both in past times and at present,” says Bacchylides in the Pœans; “for it is not very easy to find the portals of unutterable words.” Beautifully, therefore, Isocrates writes in the Panathenaic, having put the question, “Who, then, are well trained?” adds, “First, those who manage well the things which occur each day, whose opinion jumps with opportunity, and is able for the most part to hit on what is beneficial; then those who behave becomingly and rightly to those who approach them, who take lightly and easily annoyances p. 461 and molestations offered by others, but conduct themselves as far as possible, to those with whom they have intercourse, with consummate care and moderation; further, those who have the command of their pleasures, and are not too much overcome by misfortunes, but conduct themselves in the midst of them with manliness, and in a way worthy of the nature which we share; fourth—and this is the greatest—those who are not corrupted by prosperity, and are not put beside themselves, or made haughty, but continue in the class of sensible people.” Then he puts on the top-stone of the discourse: “Those who have the disposition of their soul well suited not to one only of these things, but to them all—those I assert to be wise and perfect men, and to possess all the virtues.”
Do you see how the Greeks deify the gnostic life (though not knowing how to become acquainted with it)? And what knowledge it is, they know not even in a dream. If, then, it is agreed among us that knowledge is the food of reason, “blessed truly are they,” according to the Scripture, “who hunger and thirst after truth: for they shall be filled” with everlasting food. In the most wonderful harmony with these words, Euripides, the philosopher of the drama, is found in the following words,—making allusion, I know not how, at once to the Father and the Son:—“To thee, the Lord of all, I bring
Cakes and libations too, O Zeus,
Or Hades wouldst thou choose be called;
Do thou accept my offering of all fruits,
Rare, full, poured forth.”
For a whole burnt-offering and rare sacrifice for us is Christ. And that unwittingly he mentions the Saviour, he will make plain, as he adds:—“For thou who, midst the heavenly gods,
Joves sceptre swayst, dost also share
The rule of those on earth.”
Then he says expressly:—“Send light to human souls that fain would know
Whence conflicts spring, and what the root of ills,
And of the blessed gods to whom due rites
Of sacrifice we needs must pay, that so
We may from troubles find repose.”
It is not then without reason that in the mysteries that obtain among the Greeks, lustrations hold the first place; as also the laver among the Barbarians. After these are the minor 3072 mysteries, which have some foundation of instruction and of preliminary preparation for what is to come after; and the great mysteries, in which nothing remains to be learned of the universe, but only to contemplate and comprehend nature and things.
We shall understand the mode of purification by confession, and that of contemplation by analysis, advancing by analysis to the first notion, beginning with the properties underlying it; abstracting from the body its physical properties, taking away the dimension of depth, then that of breadth, and then that of length. For the point which remains is a unit, so to speak, having position; from which if we abstract position, there is the conception of unity.
If, then, abstracting all that belongs to bodies and things called incorporeal, we cast ourselves into the greatness of Christ, and thence advance into immensity by holiness, we may reach somehow to the conception of the Almighty, knowing not what He is, but what He is not. And form and motion, or standing, or a throne, or place, or right hand or left, are not at all to be conceived as belonging to the Father of the universe, although it is so written. But what each of these means will be shown in its proper place. The First Cause is not then in space, but above both space, and time, and name, and conception.
Wherefore also Moses says, “Show Thyself to me,” 3073 —intimating most clearly that God is not capable of being taught by man, or expressed in speech, but to be known only by His own power. For inquiry was obscure and dim; but the grace of knowledge is from Him by the Son. Most clearly Solomon shall testify to us, speaking thus: “The prudence of man is not in me: but God giveth me wisdom, and I know holy things.” 3074 Now Moses, describing allegorically the divine prudence, called it the tree of life planted in Paradise; which Paradise may be the world in which all things proceeding from creation grow. In it also the Word blossomed and bore fruit, being “made flesh,” and gave life to those “who had tasted of His graciousness;” since it was not without the wood of the tree that He came to our knowledge. For our life was hung on it, in order that we might believe. And Solomon again says: “She is a tree of immortality to those who take hold of her.” 3075 “Behold, I set before thy face life and death, to love the Lord thy God, and to walk in His ways, and hear His voice, and trust in life. But if ye transgress the statutes and the judgments which I have given you, ye shall be destroyed with destruction. For this is life, and the length of thy days, to love the Lord thy God.” 3076
Again: “Abraham, when he came to the place which God told him of on the third day, looking up, saw the place afar off.” 3077 For the p. 462 first day is that which is constituted by the sight of good things; and the second is the souls 3078 best desire; on the third, the mind perceives spiritual things, the eyes of the understanding being opened by the Teacher who rose on the third day. The three days may be the mystery of the seal, 3079 in which God is really believed. It is consequently afar off that he sees the place. For the region of God is hard to attain; which Plato called the region of ideas, having learned from Moses that it was a place which contained all things universally. But it is seen by Abraham afar off, rightly, because of his being in the realms of generation, and he is forthwith initiated by the angel. Thence says the apostle: “Now we see as through a glass, but then face to face,” by those sole pure and incorporeal applications of the intellect. In reasoning, it is possible to divine respecting God, if one attempt without any of the senses, by reason, to reach what is individual; and do not quit the sphere of existences, till, rising up to the things which transcend it, he apprehends by the intellect itself that which is good, moving in the very confines of the world of thought, according to Plato.
Again, Moses, not allowing altars and temples to be constructed in many places, but raising one temple of God, announced that the world was only-begotten, as Basilides says, and that God is one, as does not as yet appear to Basilides. And since the gnostic Moses does not circumscribe within space Him that cannot be circumscribed, he set up no image in the temple to be worshipped; showing that God was invisible, and incapable of being circumscribed; and somehow leading the Hebrews to the conception of God by the honour for His name in the temple. Further, the Word, prohibiting the constructing of temples and all sacrifices, intimates that the Almighty is not contained in anything, by what He says: “What house will ye build to Me? saith the Lord. Heaven is my throne,” 3080 and so on. Similarly respecting sacrifices: “I do not desire the blood of bulls and the fat of lambs,” 3081 and what the Holy Spirit by the prophet in the sequel forbids.
Most excellently, therefore, Euripides accords with these, when he writes:—“What house constructed by the workmens hands,
With folds of walls, can clothe the shape divine?”
And of sacrifices he thus speaks:—“For God needs nought, if He is truly God.
These of the minstrels are the wretched myths.”
“For it was not from need that God made the world; that He might reap honours from men and the other gods and demons, winning a kind of revenue from creation, and from us, fumes, and from the gods and demons, their proper ministries,” says Plato. Most instructively, therefore, says Paul in the Acts of the Apostles: “The God that made the world, and all things in it, being the Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped by mens hands, as if He needed anything; seeing that it is He Himself that giveth to all breath, and life, and all things.” 3082 And Zeno, the founder of the Stoic sect, says in this book of the Republic, “that we ought to make neither temples nor images; for that no work is worthy of the gods.” And he was not afraid to write in these very words: “There will be no need to build temples. For a temple is not worth much, and ought not to be regarded as holy. For nothing is worth much, and holy, which is the work of builders and mechanics.” Rightly, therefore, Plato too, recognising the world as Gods temple, pointed out to the citizens a spot in the city where their idols were to be laid up. “Let not, then, any one again,” he says, “consecrate temples to the gods. For gold and silver in other states, in the case of private individuals and in the temples, is an invidious possession; and ivory, a body which has abandoned the life, is not a sacred votive offering; and steel and brass are the instruments of wars; but whatever one wishes to dedicate, let it be wood of one tree, as also stone for common temples.” Rightly, then, in the great Epistle he says: “For it is not capable of expression, like other branches of study. But as the result of great intimacy with this subject, and living with it, a sudden light, like that kindled by a coruscating fire, arising in the soul, feeds itself.” Are not these statements like those of Zephaniah the prophet? “And the Spirit of the Lord took me, and brought me up to the fifth heaven, and I beheld angels called Lords; and their diadem was set on in the Holy Spirit; and each of them had a throne sevenfold brighter than the light of the rising sun; and they dwelt in temples of salvation, and hymned the ineffable, Most High God.” 3083
[See p. 316, note 4, supra.]460:3071
[Analogies in Bunsen, Hippol., iii. 75, and notes, p. 123.]461:3072
[Analogies in Bunsen, Hippol., iii. 75, and notes, p. 123.]461:3073
Ex. xxxiii. 18.461:3074
Prov. xxx. 2.461:3075
Prov. iii. 18.461:3076
Deut. 30:15, 16, etc.461:3077
Gen. 22:3, 4.462:3078
Or, “the desire of a very good soul,” according to the text which reads Ἡ ψυχῆς ἀρίστης. The other reading is ἀρίστη.462:3079
Baptism. [Into the Triad.]462:3080
Isa. lxvi. 1.462:3081
Ps. l. 13.462:3082
Acts 17:24, 25.462:3083
From some apocryphal writing.
Next: Chapter XII.—God Cannot Be Embraced in Words or by the Mind.
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