Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Chapter VI.—Prayers and Praise from a Pure Mind, Ceaselessly Offered, Far Better Than Sacrifices.
Chapter VI.—Prayers and Praise from a Pure Mind, Ceaselessly Offered, Far Better Than Sacrifices.
As, then, God is not circumscribed by place, neither is ever represented by the form of a living creature; so neither has He similar passions, nor has He wants like the creatures, so as to desire sacrifice, from hunger, by way of food. Those creatures which are affected by passion are all mortal. And it is useless to bring food to one who is not nourished.
And that comic poet Pherecrates, in The Fugitives, facetiously represents the gods themselves as finding fault with men on the score of their sacred rites:—“When to the gods you sacrifice,
Selecting what our portion is,
Tis shame to tell, do ye not take,
And both the thighs, clean to the groins,
The loins quite bare, the backbone, too,
Clean scrape as with a file,
Them swallow, and the remnant give
To us as if to dogs? And then,
As if of one another shamed,
With heaps of salted barley hide.” 3549
And Eubulus, also a comic poet, thus writes respecting sacrifices:—“But to the gods the tail alone
And thigh, as if to pæderasts you sacrifice.”
And introducing Dionysus in Semele, he represents him disputing:—“First if they offer aught to me, there are
Who offer blood, the bladder, not the heart
Or caul. For I no flesh do ever eat
Thats sweeter than the thigh.” 3550
And Menander writes:—“The end of the loin,
The bile, the bones uneatable, they set
Before the gods; the rest themselves consume.”
For is not the savour of the holocausts avoided by the beasts? And if in reality the savour is the guerdon of the gods of the Greeks, should they not first deify the cooks, who are dignified with equal happiness, and worship the chimney itself, which is closer still to the much-prized savour?
And Hesiod says that Zeus, cheated in a division of flesh by Prometheus, received the white bones of an ox, concealed with cunning art, in shining fat:—“Whence to the immortal gods the tribes of men
The victims white bones on the altars burn.”
But they will by no means say that the Deity, enfeebled through the desire that springs from want, is nourished. Accordingly, they will represent Him as nourished without desire like a plant, and like beasts that burrow. They say that these grow innoxiously, nourished either by the density in the air, or from the exhalations proceeding from their own body. Though if the Deity, though needing nothing, is according to them nourished, what necessity has He for food, wanting nothing? But if, by nature needing nothing, He delights to be honoured, it is not without reason that we honour God in prayer; and thus the best and holiest sacrifice with righteousness we bring, presenting it as an offering to the most righteous Word, by whom we receive knowledge, giving glory by Him for what 3551 we have learned.
The altar, then, that is with us here, the terrestrial one, is the congregation of those who devote themselves to prayers, having as it were one common voice and one mind.
Now, if nourishing substances taken in by the nostrils are diviner than those taken in by the mouth, yet they infer respiration. What, then, do they say of God? Whether does He exhale like the tribe of oaks? 3552 Or does He only inhale, like the aquatic animals, by the dilatation of their gills? Or does He breathe all round, like the insects, by the compression of the section by means of their wings? But no one, if he is in his senses, will liken God to any of these.
And the creatures that breathe by the expansion of the lung towards the thorax draw in the air. Then if they assign to God viscera, and arteries, and veins, and nerves, and parts, they will make Him in nothing different from man.
Now breathing together (σύμπνοια) 3553 is properly said of the Church. For the sacrifice of the Church is the word breathing as incense 3554 from holy souls, the sacrifice and the whole mind being at the same time unveiled to God. Now the very ancient altar in Delos they celebrated as holy; which alone, being undefiled by slaughter and death, they say Pythagoras approached. And will they not believe us when we say that the righteous soul is the truly sacred altar, and that incense arising from it is holy prayer? But I believe sacrifices were invented by men to be a pretext for eating flesh. 3555 But without such idolatry he who wished might have partaken of flesh.
For the sacrifices of the Law express figuratively p. 532 the piety which we practice, as the turtle-dove and the pigeon offered for sins point out that the cleansing of the irrational part of the soul is acceptable to God. But if any one of the righteous does not burden his soul by the eating of flesh, he has the advantage of a rational reason, not as Pythagoras and his followers dream of the transmigration of the soul.
Now Xenocrates, treating by himself of “the food derived from animals,” and Polemon in his work On Life according to Nature, seem clearly to say that animal food is unwholesome, inasmuch as it has already been elaborated and assimilated to the souls of the irrational creatures.
So also, in particular, the Jews abstain from swines flesh on the ground of this animal being unclean; since more than the other animals it roots up, and destroys the productions of the ground. But if they say that the animals were assigned to men—and we agree with them—yet it was not entirely for food. Nor was it all animals, but such as do not work. Wherefore the comic poet Plato says not badly in the drama of The Feasts: —“For of the quadrupeds we should not slay
In future aught but swine. For these have flesh
Most toothsome; and about the pig is nought
For us, excepting bristles, mud, and noise.”
Whence Æsop said not badly, that “swine squeaked out very loudly, because, when they were dragged, they knew that they were good for nothing but for sacrifice.”
Wherefore also Cleanthes says, “that they have soul 3556 instead of salt,” that their flesh may not putrefy. Some, then, eat them as useless, others as destructive of fruits. And others do not eat them, because the animal has a strong sensual propensity.
So, then, the law sacrifices not the goat, except in the sole case of the banishment of sins; 3557 since pleasure is the metropolis of vice. It is to the point also that it is said that the eating of goats flesh contributes to epilepsy. And they say that the greatest increase is produced by swines flesh. Wherefore it is beneficial to those who exercise the body; but to those who devote themselves to the development of the soul it is not so, on account of the hebetude that results from the eating of flesh. Perchance also some Gnostic will abstain from the eating of flesh for the sake of training, and in order that the flesh may not grow wanton in amorousness. “For wine,” says Androcydes, “and gluttonous feeds of flesh make the body strong, but the soul more sluggish.” Accordingly such food, in order to clear understanding, is to be rejected.
Wherefore also the Egyptians, in the purifications practiced among them, do not allow the priests to feed on flesh; but they use chickens, as lightest; and they do not touch fish, on account of certain fables, but especially on account of such food making the flesh flabby. But now terrestrial animals and birds breathe the same air as our vital spirits, being possessed of a vital principle cognate with the air. But it is said that fishes do not breathe this air, but that which was mixed with the water at the instant of its first creation, as well as with the rest of the elements, which is also a sign of the permanence of matter. 3558
Wherefore we ought to offer to God sacrifices not costly, but such as He loves. And that compounded incense which is mentioned in the Law, is that which consists of many tongues and voices in prayer, 3559 or rather of different nations and natures, prepared by the gift vouchsafed in the dispensation for “the unity of the faith,” and brought together in praises, with a pure mind, and just and right conduct, from holy works and righteous prayer. For in the elegant language of poetry,—“Who is so great a fool, and among men
So very easy of belief, as thinks
The gods, with fraud of fleshless bones and bile
All burnt, not fit for hungry dogs to eat,
Delighted are, and take this as their prize,
And favour show to those who treat them thus,”
though they happen to be tyrants and robbers?
But we say that the fire sanctifies 3560 not flesh, but sinful souls; meaning not the all-devouring vulgar fire 3561 but that of wisdom, which pervades the soul passing through the fire.
Translated as arranged by Grotius.531:3550
These lines are translated as arranged by Grotius, who differs in some parts from the text.531:3551
ἐφ᾽ οἷς, is substituted by Lowth for ἅ in the text.531:3552
δρυῶν, a probable conjecture of Gataker for the reading of the text, δαιμόνων.531:3553
ἀνθρώπου supplied by Lowth.531:3554
[Again the spiritualizing of incense.]531:3555
[This is extraordinary language in Clement, whose views of Gentilism are so charitable. Possibly it is mere pleasantry, though he speaks of idolatry only. He recognises the divine institution of sacrifice, elsewhere.]532:3556
ψυχή, animal life.532:3557
i.e., in the institution of the scape-goat.532:3558
Or, of water. For instead of ὑλικῆς in the text, it is proposed to read ὑδατικῆς.532:3559
[Again, for the Gospel-day, he spiritualizes the incense of the Law.]532:3560
Consult Matt. iii. 11; Luke iii. 16; Heb. iv. 12. [See what is said of the philosophic ἐκπύρωσις (book v. cap. i. p. 446, supra, this volume) by our author. These passages bear on another theological matter, of which see Kaye, p. 466.]532:3561
[See useful note of Kaye, p. 309.]
Next: Chapter VII.—What Sort of Prayer the Gnostic Employs, and How It is Heard by God.
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