Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Chapter XV.—Different Degrees of Knowledge.
Chapter XV.—Different Degrees of Knowledge.
The Gnostic, then, is impressed with the closest likeness, that is, with the mind of the Master; which He being possessed of, commanded and recommended to His disciples and to the prudent. Comprehending this, as He who taught wished, and receiving it in its grand sense, he teaches worthily “on the housetops” 3413 those capable of being built to a lofty height; and begins the doing of what is spoken, in accordance p. 507 with the example of life. For He enjoined what is possible. And, in truth, the kingly man and Christian ought to be ruler and leader. For we are commanded to be lords over not only the wild beasts without us, but also over the wild passions within ourselves.
Through the knowledge, then, as appears, of a bad and good life is the Gnostic saved, understanding and executing “more than the scribes and Pharisees.” 3414 “Exert thyself, and prosper, and reign” writes David, “because of truth, and meekness, and righteousness; and thy right hand shall guide thee marvellously,” 3415 that is, the Lord. “Who then is the wise? and he shall understand these things. Prudent? and he shall know them. For the ways of the Lord are right,” 3416 says the prophet, showing that the Gnostic alone is able to understand and explain the things spoken by the Spirit obscurely. “And he who understands in that time shall hold his peace,” 3417 says the Scripture, plainly in the way of declaring them to the unworthy. For the Lord says, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear,” 3418 declaring that hearing and understanding belong not to all. To the point David writes: “Dark water is in the clouds of the skies. At the gleam before Him the clouds passed, hail and coals of fire;” 3419 showing that the holy words are hidden. He intimates that transparent and resplendent to the Gnostics, like the innocuous hail, they are sent down from God; but that they are dark to the multitude, like extinguished coals out of the fire, which, unless kindled and set on fire, will not give forth fire or light. “The Lord, therefore,” it is said, “gives me the tongue of instruction, so as to know in season when it is requisite to speak a word;” 3420 not in the way of testimony alone, but also in the way of question and answer. “And the instruction of the Lord opens my mouth.” 3421 It is the prerogative of the Gnostic, then, to know how to make use of speech, and when, and how, and to whom. And already the apostle, by saying, “After the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ,” 3422 makes the asseveration that the Hellenic teaching is elementary, and that of Christ perfect, as we have already intimated before.
“Now the wild olive is inserted into the fatness of the olive,” 3423 and is indeed of the same species as the cultivated olives. For the graft uses as soil the tree in which it is engrafted. Now all the plants sprouted forth simultaneously in consequence of the divine order. Wherefore also, though the wild olive be wild, it crowns the Olympic victors. And the elm teaches the vine to be fruitful, by leading it up to a height. Now we see that wild trees attract more nutriment, because they cannot ripen. The wild trees, therefore, have less power of secretion than those that are cultivated. And the cause of their wildness is the want of the power of secretion. The engrafted olive accordingly receives more nutriment from its growing in the wild one; and it gets accustomed, as it were, to secrete the nutriment, becoming thus assimilated 3424 to the fatness of the cultivated tree.
So also the philosopher, resembling the wild olive, in having much that is undigested, on account of his devotion to the search, his propensity to follow, and his eagerness to seize the fatness of the truth; if he get besides the divine power, through faith, by being transplanted into the good and mild knowledge, like the wild olive, engrafted in the truly fair and merciful Word, he both assimilates the nutriment that is supplied, and becomes a fair and good olive tree. For engrafting makes worthless shoots noble, and compels the barren to be fruitful by the art of culture and by gnostic skill.
Different modes of engrafting illustrative of different kinds of conversion.
They say that engrafting is effected in four modes: one, that in which the graft must be fitted in between the wood and the bark; resembling the way in which we instruct plain people belonging to the Gentiles, who receive the word superficially. Another is, when the wood is cleft, and there is inserted in it the cultivated branch. And this applies to the case of those who have studied philosophy; for on cutting through their dogmas, the acknowledgment of the truth is produced in them. So also in the case of the Jews, by opening up the Old Testament, the new and noble plant of the olive is inserted. The third mode of engrafting applies to rustics and heretics, who are brought by force to the truth. For after smoothing off both suckers with a sharp pruning-hook, till the pith is laid bare, but not wounded, they are bound together. And the fourth is that form of engrafting called budding. For a bud (eye) is cut out of a trunk of a good sort, a circle being drawn round in the bark along with it, of the size of the palm. Then the trunk is stripped, to suit the eye, over an equal circumference. And so the graft is inserted, tied round, and daubed with clay, the bud being kept uninjured and unstained. This is the style of gnostic teaching, which is capable of looking into things themselves. This mode is, in truth, of most p. 508 service in the case of cultivated trees. And “the engrafting into the good olive” mentioned by the apostle, may be [engrafting into] Christ Himself; the uncultivated and unbelieving nature being transplanted into Christ—that is, in the case of those who believe in Christ. But it is better [to understand it] of the engrafting 3425 of each ones faith in the soul itself. For also the Holy Spirit is thus somehow transplanted by distribution, according to the circumscribed capacity of each one, but without being circumscribed.
Knowledge and love.
Now, discoursing on knowledge, Solomon speaks thus: “For wisdom is resplendent and fadeless, and is easily beheld by those who love her. She is beforehand in making herself known to those who desire her. He that rises early for her shall not toil wearily. For to think about her is the perfection of good sense. And he that keeps vigils for her shall quickly be relieved of anxiety. For she goes about, herself seeking those worthy of her (for knowledge belongs not to all); and in all ways she benignly shows herself to them.” 3426 Now the paths are the conduct of life, and the variety that exists in the covenants. Presently he adds: “And in every thought she meets them,” 3427 being variously contemplated, that is, by all discipline. Then he subjoins, adducing love, which perfects by syllogistic reasoning and true propositions, drawing thus a most convincing and true inference, “For the beginning of her is the truest desire of instruction,” that is, of knowledge; “prudence is the love of instruction, and love is the keeping of its laws; and attention to its laws is the confirmation of immortality; and immortality causes nearness to God. The desire of wisdom leads, then, to the kingdom.” 3428
For he teaches, as I think, that true instruction is desire for knowledge; and the practical exercise of instruction produces love of knowledge. And love is the keeping of the commandments which lead to knowledge. And the keeping of them is the establishment of the commandments, from which immortality results. “And immortality brings us near to God.”
True knowledge found in the teaching of Christ alone.
If, then, the love of knowledge produces immortality, and leads the kingly man near to God the King, knowledge ought to be sought till it is found. Now seeking is an effort at grasping, and finds the subject by means of certain signs. And discovery is the end and cessation of inquiry, which has now its object in its gasp. And this is knowledge. And this discovery, properly so called, is knowledge, which is the apprehension of the object of search. And they say that a proof is either the antecedent, or the coincident, or the consequent. The discovery, then, of what is sought respecting God, is the teaching through the Son; and the proof of our Saviour being the very Son of God is the prophecies which preceded His coming, announcing Him; and the testimonies regarding Him which attended His birth in the world; in addition, His powers proclaimed and openly shown after His ascension.
The proof of the truth being with us, is the fact of the Son of God Himself having taught us. For if in every inquiry these universals are found, a person and a subject, that which is truly the truth is shown to be in our hands alone. For the Son of God is the person of the truth which is exhibited; and the subject is the power of faith, which prevails over the opposition of every one whatever, and the assault of the whole world.
But since this is confessedly established by eternal facts and reasons, and each one who thinks that there is no Providence has already been seen to deserve punishment and not contradiction, and is truly an atheist, it is our aim to discover what doing, and in what manner living, we shall reach the knowledge of the sovereign God, and how, honouring the Divinity, we may become authors of our own salvation. Knowing and learning, not from the Sophists, but from God Himself, what is well-pleasing to Him, we endeavour to do what is just and holy. Now it is well-pleasing to Him that we should be saved; and salvation is effected through both well-doing and knowledge, of both of which the Lord is the teacher.
If, then, according to Plato, it is only possible to learn the truth either from God or from the progeny of God, with reason we, selecting testimonies from the divine oracles, boast of learning the truth by the Son of God, prophesied at first, and then explained.
Philosophy and heresies, aids in discovering the truth.
But the things which co-operate in the discovery of truth are not to be rejected. Philosophy, accordingly, which proclaims a Providence, and the recompense of a life of felicity, and the punishment, on the other hand, of a life of misery, teaches theology comprehensively; but it does not preserve accuracy and particular points; for neither respecting the Son of God, nor respecting the economy of Providence, does it treat similarly with us; for it did not know the worship of God.p. 509
Wherefore also the heresies of the Barbarian philosophy, although they speak of one God, though they sing the praises of Christ, speak without accuracy, not in accordance with truth; for they discover another God, and receive Christ not as the prophecies deliver. But their false dogmas, while they oppose the conduct that is according to the truth, are against us. For instance, Paul circumcised Timothy because of the Jews who believed, in order that those who had received their training from the law might not revolt from the faith through his breaking such points of the law as were understood more cam ally, knowing right well that circumcision does not justify; for he professed that “all things were for all” by conformity, preserving those of the dogmas that were essential, “that he might gain all.” 3429 And Daniel, under the king of the Persians, wore “the chain,” 3430 though he despised not the afflictions of the people.
The liars, then, in reality are not those who for the sake of the scheme of salvation conform, nor those who err in minute points, but those who are wrong in essentials, and reject the Lord, and as far as in them lies deprive the Lord of the true teaching; who do not quote or deliver the Scriptures in a manner worthy of God and of the Lord; 3431 for the deposit rendered to God, according to the teaching of the Lord by His apostles, is the understanding and the practice of the godly tradition. “And what ye hear in the ear”—that is, in a hidden manner, and in a mystery (for such things are figuratively said to be spoken in the ear)—“proclaim,” He says, “on the housetops,” understanding them sublimely, and delivering them in a lofty strain, and according to the canon of the truth explaining the Scriptures; for neither prophecy nor the Saviour Himself announced the divine mysteries simply so as to be easily apprehended by all and sundry, but express them in parables. The apostles accordingly say of the Lord, that “He spake all things in parables, and without a parable spake He nothing unto them;” 3432 and if “all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made,” 3433 consequently also prophecy and the law were by Him, and were spoken by Him in parables. “But all things are right,” says the Scripture, 3434 “before those who understand,” that is, those who receive and observe, according to the ecclesiastical rule, the exposition of the Scriptures explained by Him; and the ecclesiastical rule is the concord and harmony of the law and the prophets in the covenant delivered at the coming of the Lord. Knowledge is then followed by practical wisdom, and practical wisdom by self-control: for it may be said that practical wisdom is divine knowledge, and exists in those who are deified; but that self-control is mortal, and subsists in those who philosophize, and are not yet wise. But if virtue is divine, so is also the knowledge of it; while self-control is a sort of imperfect wisdom which aspires after wisdom, and exerts itself laboriously, and is not contemplative. As certainly righteousness, being human, is, as being a common thing, subordinate to holiness, which subsists through the divine righteousness; 3435 for the righteousness of the perfect man does not rest on civil contracts, or on the prohibition of law, but flows from his own spontaneous action and his love to God.
Reasons for the meaning of Scripture being veiled.
For many reasons, then, the Scriptures hide the sense. First, that we may become inquisitive, and be ever on the watch for the discovery of the words of salvation. Then it was not suitable for all to understand, so that they might not receive harm in consequence of taking in another sense the things declared for salvation by the Holy Spirit. Wherefore the holy mysteries of the prophecies are veiled in the parables—preserved for chosen men, selected to knowledge in consequence of their faith; for the style of the Scriptures is parabolic. Wherefore also the Lord, who was not of the world, came as one who was of the world to men. For He was clothed with all virtue; and it was His aim to lead man, the foster-child of the world, up to the objects of intellect, and to the most essential truths by knowledge, from one world to another.
Wherefore also He employed metaphorical description; for such is the parable,—a narration based on some subject which is not the principal subject, but similar to the principal subject, and leading him who understands to what is the true and principal thing; or, as some say, a mode of speech presenting with vigour, by means of other circumstances, what is the principal subject.
And now also the whole economy which prophesied of the Lord appears indeed a parable to those who know not the truth, when one speaks and the rest hear that the Son of God—of Him who made the universe—assumed flesh, and was conceived in the virgins womb (as His material body was produced), and subsequently, p. 510 as was the case, suffered and rose again, being “to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness,” as the apostle says.
But on the Scriptures being opened up, and declaring the truth to those who have ears, they proclaim the very suffering endured by the flesh, which the Lord assumed, to be “the power and wisdom of God.” And finally, the parabolic style of Scripture being of the greatest antiquity, as we have shown, abounded most, as was to be expected, in the prophets, in order that the Holy Spirit might show that the philosophers among the Greeks, and the wise men among the Barbarians besides, were ignorant of the future coming of the Lord, and of the mystic teaching that was to be delivered by Him. Rightly then, prophecy, in proclaiming the Lord, in order not to seem to some to blaspheme while speaking what was beyond the ideas of the multitude, embodied its declarations in expressions capable of leading to other conceptions. Now all the prophets who foretold the Lords coming, and the holy mysteries accompanying it, were persecuted and killed. As also the Lord Himself, in explaining the Scriptures to them, and His disciples who preached the word like Him, and subsequently to His life, used parables. 3436 Whence also Peter, in his Preaching, speaking of the apostles, says: “But we, unrolling the books of the prophets which we possess, who name Jesus Christ, partly in parables, partly in enigmas, partly expressly and in so many words, find His coming and death, and cross, and all the rest of the tortures which the Jews inflicted on Him, and His resurrection and assumption to heaven previous to the capture 3437 of Jerusalem. As it is written, These things are all that He behoves to suffer, and what should be after Him. Recognising them, therefore, we have believed in God in consequence of what is written respecting Him.”
And after a little again he draws the inference that the Scriptures owed their origin to the divine providence, asserting as follows: “For we know that God enjoined these things, and we say nothing apart from the Scriptures.”
Now the Hebrew dialect, like all the rest, has certain properties, consisting in a mode of speech which exhibits the national character. Dialect is accordingly defined as a style of speech produced by the national character. But prophecy is not marked by those dialects. For in the Hellenic writings, what are called changes of figures purposely produce onscurations, deduced after the style of our prophecies. But this is effected through the voluntary departure from direct speech which takes place in metrical or offhand diction. A figure, then, is a form of speech transferred from what is literal to what is not literal, for the sake of the composition, and on account of a diction useful in speech.
But prophecy does not employ figurative forms in the expressions for the sake of beauty of diction. But from the fact that truth appertains not to all, it is veiled in manifold ways, causing the light to arise only on those who are initiated into knowledge, who seek the truth through love. The proverb, according to the Barbarian philosophy, is called a mode of prophecy, and the parable is so called, and the enigma in addition. Further also, they are called “wisdom;” and again, as something different from it, “instruction and words of prudence,” and “turnings of words,” and “true righteousness;” and again, “teaching to direct judgment,” and “subtlety to the simple,” which is the result of training, “and perception and thought,” with which the young catechumen is imbued. 3438 “He who hears these prophets, being wise, will be wiser. And the intelligent man will acquire rule, and will understand a parable and a dark saying, the words and enigmas of the wise.” 3439
And if it was the case that the Hellenic dialects received their appellation from Hellen, the son of Zeus, surnamed Deucalion, from the chronology which we have already exhibited, it is comparatively easy to perceive by how many generations the dialects that obtained among the Greeks are posterior to the language of the Hebrews.
But as the work advances, we shall in each section, noting the figures of speech mentioned above by the prophet, 3440 exhibit the gnostic mode of life, showing it systematically according to the rule of the truth.
Did not the Power also, that appeared to Hermas in the Vision, in the form of the Church, give for transcription the book which she wished to be made known to the elect? And this, he says, he transcribed to the letter, without finding how to complete the syllables. 3441 And this signified that the Scripture is clear to all, when taken according to the bare reading; and that this is the faith which occupies the place of the rudiments. Wherefore also the figurative expression is employed, “reading according to the letter;” while we understand that the gnostic unfolding of the Scriptures, when faith has already reached an advanced state, is likened to reading according to the syllables.
Further, Esaias the prophet is ordered to take “a new book, and write in it” 3442 certain things: p. 511 the Spirit prophesying that through the exposition of the Scriptures there would come afterwards the sacred knowledge, which at that period was still unwritten, because not yet known. For it was spoken from the beginning to those only who understand. Now that the Saviour has taught the apostles, the unwritten rendering 3443 of the written [Scripture] has been handed down also to us, inscribed by the power of God on hearts new, according to the renovation of the book. Thus those of highest repute among the Greeks, dedicate the fruit of the pomegranate to Hermes, who they say is speech, on account of its interpretation. For speech conceals much. Rightly, therefore, Jesus the son of Nave saw Moses, when taken up [to heaven], double,—one Moses with the angels, and one on the mountains, honoured with burial in their ravines. And Jesus saw this spectacle below, being elevated by the Spirit, along also with Caleb. But both do not see similarly. But the one descended with greater speed, as if the weight he carried was great; while the other, on descending after him, subsequently related the glory which he beheld, being able to perceive more than the other as having grown purer; the narrative, in my opinion, showing that knowledge is not the privilege of all. Since some look at the body of the Scriptures, the expressions and the names as to the body of Moses; while others see through to the thoughts and what it is signified by the names, seeking the Moses that is with the angels.
Many also of those who called to the Lord said, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” 3444 A few, too, knew Him as the Son of God; as Peter, whom also He pronounced blessed, “for flesh and blood revealed not the truth to him, but His Father in heaven,” 3445 —showing that the Gnostic recognises the Son of the Omnipotent, not by His flesh conceived in the womb, but by the Fathers own power. That it is therefore not only to those who read simply that the acquisition of the truth is so difficult, but that not even to those whose prerogative the knowledge of the truth is, is the contemplation of it vouch-safed all at once, the history of Moses teaches, until, accustomed to gaze, at the Hebrews on the glory of Moses, and the prophets of Israel on the visions of angels, so we also become able to look the splendours of truth in the face.
Matt. x. 27; Luke xii. 3.507:3414
Matt. v. 20.507:3415
Ps. xlv. 4.507:3416
Hos. xiv. 9.507:3417
Amos. v. 13.507:3418
Matt. xi. 15.507:3419
Ps. 18:11, 12.507:3420
Isa. l. 4.507:3421
Isa. l. 5.507:3422
Col. ii. 8.507:3423
Rom. xii. 17.507:3424
i.e., the graft is assimilated; so the Latin translator. But in the text we have συνεξομοιουμένη, dative, agreeing with fatness, which seems to be a mistake.508:3425
Or inoculation (ἐνοφθαλμισμός).508:3426
Wisd. vi. 12-15.508:3427
Wisd. ii. 16.508:3428
Wisd. vi. 17-20.509:3429
1 Cor. ix. 19. [Note τὰ κύρια τῶν δογμάτων.]509:3430
Dan. 5:7, 29. [Note τὰ κύρια τῶν δογμάτων.]509:3431
[The Scriptures the authority; the canon of interpretation is the harmony of law and Gospel as first opened by Christ Himself in the walk to Emmaus. Luke xxiv. 31.]509:3432
Matt. xiii. 34.509:3433
John i. 3.509:3434
Prov. viii. 9.509:3435
Heinsius, in a note, remarks that Plato regarded ὁσιότης and δικαιοσύνη as identical, while others ascribe the former to the immortals (as also θέμις); ὁσιότης, as the greater, comprehends δικαιοσύνη. He also amends the text. Instead of κοινόν he reads ὠς κοινόν τι, supplies κατά before θείαν δικαιοσύνην, and changes ὺπάρχουσαν into ὺπαρχούσῃ.510:3436
μετ᾽ αὐτὸν τὸ ζῇν παρεβάλοντο. The translation of Hervetus, which we have followed, supposes the reading αὐτου instead of αὐτόν. Others, retaining the latter, translated τὸ ζῇν παρεβάλοντο (sacrificed life). But the former is most to the authors purpose.510:3437
If we retain the reading of the text, we must translate “founding,” and understand the reference to be to the descent of the new Jerusalem. But it seems better to change the reading as above.510:3438
Prov. i. 1-4.510:3439
Prov. 1:5, 6. [Elucidation IX.]510:3440
[This volume, p. 11, supra.]510:3442
Isa. viii. 1.511:3443
[In the walk to Emmaus, and by the Spirit bringing all things to remembrance. John xiv. 26.]511:3444
Mark x. 48, etc.511:3445
Matt. xvi. 17.
Next: Chapter XVI.—Gnostic Exposition of the Decalogue.
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