Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Chapter VII.—What True Philosophy Is, and Whence So Called.
Chapter VII.—What True Philosophy Is, and Whence So Called.
As we have long ago pointed out, what we propose as our subject is not the discipline which obtains in each sect, but that which is really philosophy, strictly systematic Wisdom, which furnishes acquaintance with the things which pertain to life. And we define Wisdom to be certain knowledge, being a sure and irrefragable apprehension of things divine and human, comprehending the present, past, and future, which the Lord hath taught us, both by His advent and by the prophets. And it is irrefragable by reason, inasmuch as it has been communicated. And so it is wholly true according to [Gods] intention, as being known through means of the Son. And in one aspect p. 493 it is eternal, and in another it becomes useful in time. Partly it is one and the same, partly many and indifferent—partly without any movement of passion, partly with passionate desire—partly perfect, partly incomplete.
This wisdom, then—rectitude of soul and of reason, and purity of life—is the object of the desire of philosophy, which is kindly and lovingly disposed towards wisdom, and does everything to attain it.
Now those are called philosophers, among us, who love Wisdom, the Creator and Teacher of all things, that is, the knowledge of the Son of God; and among the Greeks, those who undertake arguments on virtue. Philosophy, then, consists of such dogmas found in each sect (I mean those of philosophy) as cannot be impugned, with a corresponding life, collected into one selection; and these, stolen from the Barbarian God-given grace, have been adorned by Greek speech. For some they have borrowed, and others they have misunderstood. And in the case of others, what they have spoken, in consequence of being moved, they have not yet perfectly worked out; and others by human conjecture and reasoning, in which also they stumble. And they think that they have hit the truth perfectly; but as we understand them, only partially. They know, then, nothing more than this world. And it is just like geometry, which treats of measures and magnitudes and forms, by delineation on plane-surfaces; and just as painting appears to take in the whole field of view in the scenes represented. But it gives a false description of the view, according to the rules of the art, employing the signs that result from the incidents of the lines of vision. By this means, the higher and lower points in the view, and those between, are preserved; and some objects seem to appear in the foreground, and others in the background, and others to appear in some other way, on the smooth and level surface. So also the philosophers copy the truth, after the manner of painting. And always in the case of each one of them, their self-love is the cause of all their mistakes. Wherefore one ought not, in the desire for the glory that terminates in men, to be animated by self-love; but loving God, to become really holy with wisdom. If, then, one treats what is particular as universal, and regards that, which serves, as the Lord, he misses the truth, not understanding what was spoken by David by way of confession: “I have eaten earth [ashes] like bread.” 3294 Now, self-love and self-conceit are, in his view, earth and error. But if so, science and knowledge are derived from instruction. And if there is instruction, you must seek for the master. Cleanthes claims Zeno, and Metrodorus Epicurus, and Theophrastus Aristotle, and Plato Socrates. But if I come to Pythagoras, and Pherecydes, and Thales, and the first wise men, I come to a stand in my search for their teacher. Should you say the Egyptians, the Indians, the Babylonians, and the Magi themselves, I will not stop from asking their teacher. And I lead you up to the first generation of men; and from that point I begin to investigate Who is their teacher. No one of men; for they had not yet learned. Nor yet any of the angels: for in the way that angels, in virtue of being angels, speak, men do not hear; nor, as we have ears, have they a tongue to correspond; nor would any one attribute to the angels organs of speech, lips I mean, and the parts contiguous, throat, and windpipe, and chest, breath and air to vibrate. And God is far from calling aloud in the unapproachable sanctity, separated as He is from even the archangels.
And we also have already heard that angels learned the truth, and their rulers over them; 3295 for they had a beginning. It remains, then, for us, ascending to seek their teacher. And since the unoriginated Being is one, the Omnipotent God; one, too, is the First-begotten, “by whom all things were made, and without whom not one thing ever was made.” 3296 “For one, in truth, is God, who formed the beginning of all things;” pointing out “the first-begotten Son,” Peter writes, accurately comprehending the statement, “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth.” 3297 And He is called Wisdom by all the prophets. This is He who is the Teacher of all created beings, the Fellow-counsellor of God, who foreknew all things; and He from above, from the first foundation of the world, “in many ways and many times,” 3298 trains and perfects; whence it is rightly said, “Call no man your teacher on earth.” 3299
You see whence the true philosophy has its handles; though the Law be the image and shadow of the truth: for the Law is the shadow of the truth. But the self-love of the Greeks proclaims certain men as their teachers. As, then, the whole family runs back to God the Creator; 3300 so also all the teaching of good things, which justifies, does to the Lord, and leads and contributes to this.
But if from any creature they received in any way whatever the seeds of the Truth, they did not nourish them; but committing them to a barren and rainless soil, they choked them with p. 494 weeds, as the Pharisees revolted from the Law, by introducing human teachings,—the cause of these being not the Teacher, but those who choose to disobey. But those of them who believed the Lords advent and the plain teaching of the Scriptures, attain to the knowledge of the law; as also those addicted to philosophy, by the teaching of the Lord, are introduced into the knowledge of the true philosophy: “For the oracles of the Lord are pure oracles, melted in the fire, tried in the earth, 3301 purified seven times.” 3302 Just as silver often purified, so is the just man brought to the test, becoming the Lords coin and receiving the royal image. Or, since Solomon also calls the “tongue of the righteous man gold that has been subjected to fire,” 3303 intimating that the doctrine which has been proved, and is wise, is to be praised and received, whenever it is amply tried by the earth: that is, when the gnostic soul is in manifold ways sanctified, through withdrawal from earthy fires. And the body in which it dwells is purified, being appropriated to the pureness of a holy temple. But the first purification which takes place in the body, the soul being first, is abstinence from evil things, which some consider perfection, and is, in truth, the perfection of the common believer—Jew and Greek. But in the case of the Gnostic, after that which is reckoned perfection in others, his righteousness advances to activity in well-doing. And in whomsoever the increased force 3304 of righteousness advances to the doing of good, in his case perfection abides in the fixed habit of well-doing after the likeness of God. For those who are the seed of Abraham, and besides servants of God, are “the called;” and the sons of Jacob are the elect—they who have tripped up the energy of wickedness.
If; then, we assert that Christ Himself is Wisdom, and that it was His working which showed itself in the prophets, by which the gnostic tradition may be learned, as He Himself taught the apostles during His presence; then it follows that the gnosis, which is the knowledge and apprehension of things present, future, and past, which is sure and reliable, as being imparted and revealed by the Son of God, is wisdom.
And if, too, the end of the wise man is contemplation, that of those who are still philosophers aims at it, but never attains it, unless by the process of learning it receives the prophetic utterance which has been made known, by which it grasps both the present, the future, and the past—how they are, were, and shall be.
And the gnosis itself is that which has descended by transmission to a few, having been imparted unwritten by the apostles. Hence, then, knowledge or wisdom ought to be exercised up to the eternal and unchangeable habit of contemplation.
Ps. cii. 9. The text reads, γῆν σποδόν. Clement seems to have read in Ps. cii. 9, γῆν and σποδόν. The reading of the Septuagint may have crept into the text from the margin. [Elucidation V.]493:3295
[See the interesting passage in Justin Martyr (and note), vol. i. p. 164, this series.]493:3296
John i. 3.493:3297
Gen. i. 1.493:3298
Heb. i. 1.493:3299
Matt. xxiii. 8-10.493:3300
Eph. 3:14, 15.494:3301
“Tried in a furnace of earth;” Jerome, “tried in the fire, seperated from earth.”494:3302
Ps. xii. 6.494:3303
Prov. x. 20.494:3304
The Latin translator appears to have read what seems the true reading, ἐπίτασις, and not, as in the text, ἐπίστασις.
Next: Chapter VIII.—Philosophy is Knowledge Given by God.
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