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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Chapter III.—The Gnostic Aims at the Nearest Likeness Possible to God and His Son.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter III.—The Gnostic Aims at the Nearest Likeness Possible to God and His Son.

Now I pass over other things in silence, glorifying the Lord. But I affirm that gnostic souls, that surpass in the grandeur of contemplation the mode of life of each of the holy ranks, among whom the blessed abodes of the gods are allotted by distribution, reckoned holy among the holy, transferred entire from among the entire, reaching places better than the better places, embracing the divine vision not in mirrors or by means of mirrors, but in the transcendently clear and absolutely pure insatiable vision which is the privilege of intensely loving souls, holding festival through endless ages, remain honoured with the indentity of all excellence. Such is the vision attainable by “the pure in heart.” 3527 This is the function of the Gnostic, who has been perfected, to have converse with God through the great High Priest, being made like the Lord, up to the measure of his capacity, in the whole service of God, which tends to the salvation of men, through care of the beneficence which has us for its object; and on the other side through worship, through teaching and through beneficence in deeds. The Gnostic even forms and creates himself; and besides also, he, like to God, adorns those who hear him; assimilating as far as possible the moderation which, arising from practice, tends to impassibility, to Him who by nature possesses impassibility; and especially having uninterrupted converse and fellowship with the Lord. Mildness, I think, and philanthropy, and eminent piety, are the rules of gnostic assimilation. I affirm that these virtues “are a sacrifice acceptable in the sight of God;” 3528 Scripture alleging that “the humble heart with right knowledge is the holocaust of God;” 3529 each man who is admitted to holiness being illuminated in order to indissoluble union.

For “to bring themselves into captivity,” and to slay themselves, putting to death “the old man, who is through lusts corrupt,” and raising the new man from death, “from the old conversation,” by abandoning the passions, and becoming free of sin, both the Gospel and the apostle enjoin. 3530

It was this, consequently, which the Law intimated, by ordering the sinner to be cut off, and translated from death to life, to the impassibility that is the result of faith; which the teachers of the Law, not comprehending, inasmuch as they regarded the law as contentious, they have given a handle to those who attempt idly to calumniate the Law. And for this reason we rightly do not sacrifice to God, who, needing p. 527 nothing, supplies all men with all things; but we glorify Him who gave Himself in sacrifice for us, we also sacrificing ourselves; from that which needs nothing to that which needs nothing, and to that which is impassible from that which is impassible. For in our salvation alone God delights. We do not therefore, and with reason too, offer sacrifice to Him who is not overcome by pleasures, inasmuch as the fumes of the smoke stop far beneath, and do not even reach the thickest clouds; but those they reach are far from them. The Deity neither is, then, in want of aught, nor loves pleasure, or gain, or money, being full, and supplying all things to everything that has received being and has wants. And neither by sacrifices nor offerings, nor on the other hand by glory and honour, is the Deity won over; nor is He influenced by any such things; but He appears only to excellent and good men, who will never betray justice for threatened fear, nor by the promise of considerable gifts.

But those who have not seen the self-determination of the human soul, and its incapability of being treated as a slave in what respects the choice of life, being disgusted at what is done through rude injustice, do not think that there is a God. On a par with these in opinion, are they who, falling into licentiousness in pleasures, and grievous pains, and unlooked-for accidents, and bidding defiance to events, say that there is no God, or that, though existing, He does not oversee all things. And others there are, who are persuaded that those they reckon gods are capable of being prevailed upon by sacrifices and gifts, favouring, so to speak, their profligacies; and will not believe that He is the only true God, who exists in the invariableness of righteous goodness.

The Gnostic, then, is pious, who cares first for himself, then for his neighbours, that they may become very good. For the son gratifies a good father, by showing himself good and like his father; and in like manner the subject, the governor. For believing and obeying are in our own power.

But should any one suppose the cause of evils to be the weakness of matter, and the involuntary impulses of ignorance, and (in his stupidity) irrational necessities; he who has become a Gnostic has through instruction superiority over these, as if they were wild beasts; and in imitation of the divine plan, he does good to such as are willing, as far as he can. And if ever placed in authority, like Moses, he will rule for the salvation of the governed; and will tame wildness and faithlessness, by recording honour for the most excellent, and punishment for the wicked, in accordance with reason for the sake of discipline.

For pre-eminently a divine image, resembling God, is the soul of a righteous man; in which, through obedience to the commands, as in a consecrated spot, is enclosed and enshrined the Leader of mortals and of immortals, King and Parent of what is good, who is truly law, and right, and eternal Word, being the one Saviour individually to each, and in common to all.

He is the true Only-begotten, the express image of the glory of the universal King and Almighty Father, who impresses on the Gnostic the seal of the perfect contemplation, according to His own image; so that there is now a third divine image, made as far as possible like the Second Cause, the Essential Life, through which we live the true life; the Gnostic, as we regard him, being described as moving amid things sure and wholly immutable.

Ruling, then, over himself and what belongs to him, and possessing a sure grasp, of divine science, he makes a genuine approach to the truth. For the knowledge and apprehension of intellectual objects must necessarily be called certain scientific knowledge, whose function in reference to divine things is to consider what is the First Cause, and what that “by whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made;” 3531 and what things, on the other hand, are as pervasive, and what is comprehensive; what conjoined, what disjoined; and what is the position which each one of them holds, and what power and what service each contributes. And again, among human things, what man himself is, and what he has naturally or preternaturally; and how, again, it becomes him to do or to suffer; and what are his virtues and what his vices; and about things good, bad, and indifferent; also about fortitude, and prudence, and self-restraint, and the virtue which is in all respects complete, namely, righteousness.

Further, he employs prudence and righteousness in the acquisition of wisdom, and fortitude, not only in the endurance of circumstances, but also in restraining 3532 pleasure and desire, grief and anger; and, in general, to withstand 3533 everything which either by any force or fraud entices us. For it is not necessary to endure vices and virtues, but it is to be persuaded to bear things that inspire fear.

Accordingly, pain is found beneficial in the healing art, and in discipline, and in punishment; and by it men’s manners are corrected to their advantage. Forms of fortitude are endurance, magnanimity, high spirit, liberality, and grandeur. And for this reason he neither meets with the blame or the bad opinion of the multitude; nor is he subjected to opinions or flatteries. But in p. 528 the indurance of toils and at the same time 3534 in the discharge of any duty, and in his manly superiority to all circumstances, he appears truly a man (ἀνήρ) among the rest of human beings. And, on the other hand, maintaining prudence, he exercises moderation in the calmness of his soul; receptive of what is commanded, as of what belongs to him, entertaining aversion to what is base, as alien to him; become decorous and supramundane, 3535 he does everything with decorum and in order, and transgresses in no respect, and in nothing. Rich he is in the highest degree in desiring nothing, as having few wants; and being in the midst of abundance of all good through the knowledge of the good. For it is the first effect of his righteousness, to love to spend his time and associate with those of his own race both in earth and heaven. So also he is liberal of what he possesses. And being a lover of men, he is a hater of the wicked, entertaining a perfect aversion to all villany. He must consequently learn to be faithful both to himself and his neighbours, and obedient to the commandments. For he is the true servant of God who spontaneously subjects himself to His commands. And he who already, not through the commandments, but through knowledge itself, is pure in heart, is the friend of God. For neither are we born by nature possessing virtue, nor after we are born does it grow naturally, as certain parts of the body; since then it would neither be voluntary nor praiseworthy. Nor is virtue, like speech, perfected by the practice that results from everyday occurrences (for this is very much the way in which vice originates). For it is not by any art, either those of acquisition, or those which relate to the care of the body, that knowledge is attained. No more is it from the curriculum of instruction. For that is satisfied if it can only prepare and sharpen the soul. For the laws of the state are perchance able to restrain bad actions; but persuasive words, which but touch the surface, cannot produce a scientific permanence of the truth.

Now the Greek philosophy, as it were, purges the soul, and prepares it beforehand for the reception of faith, on which the Truth builds up the edifice of knowledge.

This is the true athlete—he who in the great stadium, the fair world, is crowned for the true victory over all the passions. For He who prescribes the contest is the Almighty God, and He who awards the prize is the only-begotten Son of God. Angels and gods are spectators; and the contest, embracing all the varied exercises, is “not against flesh and blood,” 3536 but against the spiritual powers of inordinate passions that work through the flesh. He who obtains the mastery in these struggles, and overthrows the tempter, menacing, as it were, with certain contests, wins immortality. For the sentence of God in most righteous judgment is infallible. The spectators 3537 are summoned to the contest, and the athletes contend in the stadium; the one, who has obeyed the directions of the trainer, wins the day. For to all, all rewards proposed by God are equal; and He Himself is unimpeachable. And he who has power receives mercy, and he that has exercised will is mighty.

So also we have received mind, that we may know what we do. And the maxim “Know thyself” means here to know for what we are born. And we are born to obey the commandments, if we choose to be willing to be saved. Such is the Nemesis, 3538 through which there is no escaping from God. Man’s duty, then, is obedience to God, who has proclaimed salvation manifold by the commandments. And confession is thanksgiving. For the beneficent first begins to do good. And he who on fitting considerations readily receives and keeps the commandments, is faithful (πιστός); and he who by love requites benefits as far as he is able, is already a friend. One recompense on the part of men is of paramount importance—the doing of what is pleasing to God. As being His own production, and a result akin to Himself, the Teacher and Saviour receives acts of assistance and of improvement on the part of men as a personal favour and honour; as also He regards the injuries inflicted on those who believe on Him as ingratitude and dishonour to Himself. For what other dishonour can touch God? Wherefore it is impossible to render a recompense at all equivalent to the boon received from the Lord.

And as those who maltreat property insult the owners, and those who maltreat soldiers insult the commander, so also the ill-usage of His consecrated ones is contempt for the Lord.

For, just as the sun not only illumines heaven and the whole world, shining over land and sea, but also through windows and small chinks sends his beams into the innermost recesses of houses, so the Word diffused everywhere casts His eye-glance on the minutest circumstances of the actions of life.



Matt. v. 8.


Phil. iv. 18.


Ps. 51:17, 19.


Rom. 6:6, 7; 2 Cor. x. 5; Eph. iv. 22-24; Col. 3:8, 9, etc.


John i. 3.


κρατεῖν is hear supplied to complete the sense.


ἀντιτάσσεσθαι is suggested instead of ἀντιτάσσεται of the text.


ἄμα is here, on the authority of a ms., and with the approval of Sylburguis, to be substituted for ἅλμα.


κόσμιος, καὶ ὑπερκόσμιος. The author plays on the double meaning of κόσμος, world or order.


Eph. vi. 12.


τὸ θέατρον used for the place, the spectacle, and the spectators.


Ἀδράστεια, a name given to Nemesis, said to be from an altar erected to her by Adrastus; but as used here, and when employed as an adjective qualifying Nemesis, it has reference to διδράσκω.

Next: Chapter IV.—The Heathens Made Gods Like Themselves, Whence Springs All Superstition.

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