Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Chapter XVII.—Philosophy Conveys Only an Imperfect Knowledge of God.
Chapter XVII.—Philosophy Conveys Only an Imperfect Knowledge of God.
But, as appears, the philosophers of the Greeks, while naming God, do not know Him. But their philosophical speculations, according to Empedocles, “as passing over the tongue of the multitude, are poured out of mouths that know little of the whole.” For as art changes the light of the sun into fire by passing it through a glass vessel full of water, so also philosophy, catching a spark from the divine Scripture, is visible in a few. Also, as all animals breathe the same air, some in one way, others in another, and to a different purpose; so also a considerable number of people occupy themselves with the truth, or rather with discourse concerning the truth. For they do not say aught respecting God, but expound Him by attributing their own affections to God. For they spend life in seeking the probable, not the true. But truth is not taught by imitation, but by instruction. For it is not that we may seem good 3474 that we believe in Christ, as it is not alone for the purpose of being seen, while in the sun, that we pass into the sun. But in the one case for the purpose of being warmed; and in the other, we are compelled to be Christians in order to be excellent and good. For the kingdom belongs pre-eminently to the violent, 3475 who, from investigation, and study, and discipline, reap this fruit, that they become kings.
He, then, who imitates opinion shows also preconception. When then one, having got an inkling of the subject, kindles it within in his soul by desire and study, he sets everything in motion afterwards in order to know it. For that which one does not apprehend, neither does he desire it, nor does he embrace the advantage flowing from it. Subsequently, therefore, the Gnostic at last imitates the Lord, as far as allowed to men, having received a sort of quality akin to the Lord Himself, in order to assimilation to God. But those who are not proficient in knowledge cannot judge the truth by rule. It is not therefore possible to share in the gnostic contemplations, unless we empty ourselves of our previous notions. For the truth in regard to every object of intellect and of sense is thus simply universally declared. For instance, we may distinguish the truth of painting from that which is vulgar, and decorous music from licentious. There is, then, also a truth of philosophy as distinct from the other philosophies, and a true beauty as distinct from the spurious. It is not then the partial truths, of which truth is predicated, but the truth itself, that we are to investigate, not seeking to learn names. For what is to be investigated respecting God is not one thing, but ten thousand. There is a difference between declaring God, and declaring things about God. And to speak generally, in everything the accidents are to be distinguished from the essence.
Suffice it for me to say, that the Lord of all is God; and I say the Lord of all absolutely, nothing being left by way of exception.
Since, then, the forms of truth are two—p. 516 the names and the things—some discourse of names, occupying themselves with the beauties of words: such are the philosophers among the Greeks. But we who are Barbarians have the things. Now it was not in vain that the Lord chose to make use of a mean form of body; so that no one praising the grace and admiring the beauty might turn his back on what was said, and attending to what ought to be abandoned, might be cut off from what is intellectual. We must therefore occupy ourselves not with the expression, but the meaning.
To those, then, who are not gifted 3476 with the power of apprehension, and are not inclined to knowledge, the word is not entrusted; since also the ravens imitate human voices, having no understanding of the thing which they say. And intellectual apprehension depends on faith. Thus also Homer said:—“Father of men and gods,” 3477 —
knowing not who the Father is, or how He is Father.
And as to him who has hands it is natural to grasp, and to him who has sound eyes to see the light; so it is the natural prerogative of him who has received faith to apprehend knowledge, if he desires, on “the foundation” laid, to work, and build up “gold, silver, precious stones.” 3478
Accordingly he does not profess to wish to participate, but begins to do so. Nor does it belong to him to intend, but to be regal, and illuminated, and gnostic. Nor does it appertain to him to wish to grasp things in name, but in fact.
For God, being good, on account of the principal part of the whole creation, seeing He wishes to save it, was induced to make the rest also; conferring on them at the beginning this first boon, that of existence. For that to be is far better than not to be, will be admitted by every one. Then, according to the capabilities of their nature, each one was and is made, advancing to that which is better.
So there is no absurdity in philosophy having been given by Divine Providence as a preparatory discipline for the perfection which is by Christ; unless philosophy is ashamed at learning from Barbarian knowledge how to advance to truth. 3479 But if “the very hairs are numbered, and the most insignificant motions,” how shall not philosophy be taken into account? For to Samson power was given in his hair, in order that he might perceive that the worthless arts that refer to the things in this life, which lie and remain on the ground after the departure of the soul, were not given without divine power.
But it is said Providence, from above, from what is of prime importance, as from the head, reaches to all, “as the ointment,” it is said, “which descends to Aarons beard, and to the skirt of his garment” 3480 (that is, of the great High Priest, “by whom all things were made, and without whom not even one thing was made” 3481 ); not to the ornament of the body; for Philosophy is outside of the People, like raiment. 3482 The philosophers, therefore, who, trained to their own peculiar power of perception by the spirit of perception, when they investigate, not a part of philosophy, but philosophy absolutely, testify to the truth in a truth-loving and humble spirit; if in the case of good things said by those even who are of different sentiments they advance to understanding, through the divine administration, and the ineffable Goodness, which always, as far as possible, leads the nature of existences to that which is better. Then, by cultivating the acquaintance not of Greeks alone, but also of Barbarians, from the exercise common to their proper intelligence, they are conducted to Faith. And when they have embraced the foundation of truth, they receive in addition the power of advancing further to investigation. And thence they love to be learners, and aspiring after knowledge, haste to salvation.
Thus Scripture says, that “the spirit of perception” was given to the artificers from God. 3483 And this is nothing else than Understanding, a faculty of the soul, capable of studying existences,—of distinguishing and comparing what succeeds as like and unlike,—of enjoining and forbidding, and of conjecturing the future. And it extends not to the arts alone, but even to philosophy itself.
Why, then, is the serpent called wise? Because even in its wiles there may be found a connection, and distinction, and combination, and conjecturing of the future. And so very many crimes are concealed; because the wicked arrange for themselves so as by all means to escape punishment.
And Wisdom being manifold, pervading the whole world, and all human affairs, varies its appellation in each case. When it applies itself to first causes, it is called Understanding (νόησις). When, however, it confirms this by demonstrative reasoning, it is termed Knowledge, and Wisdom, and Science. When it is occupied in what pertains to piety, and receives without speculation the primal Word 3484 in consequence of the maintenance of the operation in it, it is called Faith. In the sphere of things of sense, establishing that which appears as being truest, it is p. 517 Right Opinion. In operations, again, performed by skill of hand, it is Art. But when, on the other hand, without the study of primary causes, by the observation of similarities, and by transposition, it makes any attempt or combination, it is called Experiment. But belonging to it, and supreme and essential, is the Holy Spirit, which above all he who, in consequence of [divine] guidance, has believed, receives after strong faith. Philosophy, then, partaking of a more exquisite perception, as has been shown from the above statements, participates in Wisdom.
Logical discussion, then, of intellectual subjects, with selection and assent, is called Dialectics; which establishes, by demonstration, allegations respecting truth, and demolishes the doubts brought forward.
Those, then, who assert that philosophy did not come hither from God, all but say that God does not know each particular thing, and that He is not the cause of all good things; if, indeed, each of these belongs to the class of individual things. But nothing that exists could have subsisted at all, had God not willed. And if He willed, then philosophy is from God, He having willed it to be such as it is, for the sake of those who not otherwise than by its means would abstain from what is evil. For God knows all things—not those only which exist, but those also which shall be—and how each thing shall be. And foreseeing the particular movements, “He surveys all things, and hears all things,” seeing the soul naked within; and possesses from eternity the idea of each thing individually. And what applies to theatres, and to the parts of each object, in looking at, looking round, and taking in the whole in one view, applies also to God. For in one glance He views all things together, and each thing by itself; but not all things, by way of primary intent.
Now, then, many things in life take their rise in some exercise of human reason, having received the kindling spark from God. For instance, health by medicine, and soundness of body through gymnastics, and wealth by trade, have their origin and existence in consequence of Divine Providence indeed, but in consequence, too, of human co-operation. Understanding also is from God.
But Gods will is especially obeyed by the free-will of good men. Since many advantages are common to good and bad men: yet they are nevertheless advantageous only to men of goodness and probity, for whose sake God created them. For it was for the use of good men that the influence which is in Gods gifts was originated. Besides, the thoughts of virtuous men are produced through the inspiration 3485 of God; the soul being disposed in the way it is, and the divine will being conveyed to human souls, particular divine ministers contributing to such services. For regiments of angels are distributed over the nations and cities. 3486 And, perchance, some are assigned to individuals. 3487
The Shepherd, then, cares for each of his sheep; and his closest inspection is given to those who are excellent in their natures, and are capable of being most useful. Such are those fit to lead and teach, in whom the action of Providence is conspicuously seen; whenever either by instruction, or government, or administration, God wishes to benefit. But He wishes at all times. Wherefore He moves those who are adapted to useful exertion in the things which pertain to virtue, and peace, and beneficence. But all that is characterized by virtue proceeds from virtue, and leads back to virtue. And it is given either in order that men may become good, or that those who are so may make use of their natural advantages. For it co-operates both in what is general and what is particular. How absurd, then, is it, to those who attribute disorder and wickedness to the devil, to make him the bestower of philosophy, a virtuous thing! For he is thus all but made more benignant to the Greeks, in respect of making men good, than the divine providence and mind.
Again, I reckon it is the part of law and of right reason to assign to each one what is appropriate to him, and belongs to him, and falls to him. For as the lyre is only for the harper, and the flute for the flute-player; so good things are the possessions of good men. As the nature of the beneficent is to do good, as it is of the fire to warm, and the light to give light, and a good man will not do evil, or light produce darkness, or fire cold; so, again, vice cannot do aught virtuous. For its activity is to do evil, as that of darkness to dim the eyes.
Philosophy is not, then, the product of vice, since it makes men virtuous; it follows, then, that it is the work of God, whose work it is solely to do good. And all things given by God are given and received well.
Further, if the practice of philosophy does not belong to the wicked, but was accorded to the best of the Greeks, it is clear also from what source it was bestowed—manifestly from Providence, which assigns to each what is befitting in accordance with his deserts.” 3488
Rightly, then, to the Jews belonged the Law, p. 518 and to the Greeks Philosophy, until the Advent; and after that came the universal calling to be a peculiar people of righteousness, through the teaching which flows from faith, brought together by one Lord, the only God of both Greeks and Barbarians, or rather of the whole race of men. We have often called by the name philosophy that portion of truth attained through philosophy, although but partial. 3489
Now, too what is good in the arts as arts, 3490 have their beginning from God. For as the doing of anything artistically is embraced in the rules of art, so also acting sagaciously is classed under the head of sagacity (φρόνησις). Now sagacity is virtue, and it is its function to know other things, but much more especially what belongs to itself. And Wisdom (Σοφία) being power, is nothing but the knowledge of good things, divine and human.
But “the earth is Gods, and the fulness thereof,” 3491 says the Scripture, teaching that good things come from God to men; it being through divine power and might that the distribution of them comes to the help of man.
Now the modes of all help and communication from one to another are three. One is, by attending to another, as the master of gymnastics, in training the boy. The second is, by assimilation, as in the case of one who exhorts another to benevolence by practising it before. The one co-operates with the learner, and the other benefits him who receives. The third mode is that by command, when the gymnastic master, no longer training the learner, nor showing in his own person the exercise for the boy to imitate, prescribes the exercise by name to him, as already proficient in it.
The Gnostic, accordingly, having received from God the power to be of service, benefits some by disciplining them, by bestowing attention on them; others, by exhorting them, by assimilation; and others, by training and teaching them, by command. And certainly he himself is equally benefited by the Lord. Thus, then, the benefit that comes from God to men becomes known—angels at the same time lending encouragement. 3492 For by angels, whether seen or not, the divine power bestows good things. Such was the mode adopted in the advent of the Lord. And sometimes also the power “breathes” in mens thoughts and reasonings, and “puts in” their hearts “strength” and a keener perception, and furnishes “prowess” and “boldness of alacrity” 3493 both for researches and deeds.
But exposed for imitation and assimilation are truly admirable and holy examples of virtue in the actions put on record. Further, the department of action is most conspicuous both in the testaments of the Lord, and in the laws in force among the Greeks, and also in the precepts of philosophy.
And to speak comprehensively, all benefit appertaining to life, in its highest reason, proceeding from the Sovereign God, the Father who is over all, is consummated by the Son, who also on this account “is the Saviour of all men,” says the apostle, “but especially of those who believe.” 3494 But in respect of its immediate reason, it is from those next to each, in accordance with the command and injunction of Him who is nearest the First Cause, that is, the Lord.
ἀγαθοὶ εἱς are supplied here to complete.515:3475
[Matt. xi. 4.]516:3476
οὐκ ἁντιληπτικοῖς is substituted here for οὖν ἀντιληπτοῖς of the text.516:3477
Iliad, i. 544.516:3478
1 Cor. iii. 12.516:3479
[See p. 303, supra, this volume.]516:3480
Ps. cxxxiii. 2.516:3481
John i. 3.516:3482
i.e., the body is the Jewish people, and philosophy is something external to it, like the garment.516:3483
Ex. xxviii. 3.516:3484
Lowth proposes to read κατἀ τοὺς ἐπὶ μέρους instead of καὶ τῶν, etc.; and Montfaucon, instead of ἐνίοις ἄνοις for ἀνθρώποις. But the sense is, in any case, as given above.517:3488
[Here I venture to commend, as worthy of note, the speculations of Edward King, on Matt. xxv. 32. Morsels of Criticism, vol. i. p. 333. Ed. London, 1788.]518:3489
[Cap. xviii., infra.]518:3490
For ὡς ἐν τέχναις it is proposed to read ώς ἄν αὶ τέχναι.518:3491
Ps. xxiv. 1; 1 Cor. x. 26.518:3492
[See supra, this chapter; and, infra, book vii. cap. i.]518:3493
“Blue-eyed Athene inspired him with prowess.”—Iliad, x. 482. “And put excessive boldness in his breast.”—Iliad, xvii. 570. “To Diomeded son of Tydeus Pallas Athene gave strength and boldness.”—Iliad, v. 1, 2.518:3494
1 Tim. iv. 10.
Next: Chapter XVIII.—The Use of Philosophy to the Gnostic.
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