Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Chapter XI.—Description of the Gnostics Life.
Chapter XI.—Description of the Gnostics Life.
Respecting the universe, he conceives truly and grandly in virtue of his reception of divine teaching. Beginning, then, with admiration of the Creation, and affording of himself a proof of his capability for receiving knowledge, he becomes a ready pupil of the Lord. Directly on hearing of God and Providence, he believed in consequence of the admiration he entertained. Through the power of impulse thence derived he devotes his energies in every way to learning, doing all those things by means of which he shall be able to acquire the knowledge of what he desires. And desire blended with inquiry arises as faith advances. And this is to become worthy of speculation, of such a character, and such importance. So shall the Gnostic taste of the will of God. For it is not his ears, but his soul, that he yields up to the things signified by what is spoken. Accordingly, apprehending essences and things through the words, he brings his soul, as is fit, to what is essential; apprehending (e.g.) in the peculiar way in which they are spoken to the Gnostic, the commands, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not kill;” and not as they are understood by other people. 3598 Training himself, then, in scientific speculation, he proceeds to exercise himself in larger generalizations and grander propositions; knowing right well that “He that teacheth man knowledge,” according to the prophet, is the Lord, the Lord acting by mans mouth. So also He assumed flesh.
As is right, then, he never prefers the pleasant to the useful; not even if a beautiful woman were to entice him, when overtaken by circumstances, by wantonly urging him: since Josephs masters wife was not able to seduce him from his stedfastness; but as she violently held his coat, divested himself of it,—becoming bare of sin, but clothed with seemliness of character. For if the eyes of the master—the Egyptian, I mean—saw not Joseph, yet those of the Almighty looked on. For we hear the voice, and see the bodily forms; but God scrutinizes the thing itself, from which the speaking and the looking proceed.
Consequently, therefore, though disease, and accident, and what is most terrible of all, death, come upon the Gnostic, he remains inflexible in soul,—knowing that all such things are a necessity of creation, and that, also by the power of God, they become the medicine of salvation, benefiting by discipline those who are difficult to reform; allotted according to desert, by Providence, which is truly good.
Using the creatures, then, when the Word prescribes, and to the extent it prescribes, in the exercise of thankfulness to the Creator, he becomes master of the enjoyment of them.
He never cherishes resentment or harbours a grudge against any one, though deserving of hatred for his conduct. For he worships the Maker, and loves him, who shares life, pitying and praying for him on account of his ignorance. He indeed partakes of the affections of the body, to which, susceptible as it is of suffering by nature, he is bound. But in sensation he is not the primary subject of it.
Accordingly, then, in involuntary circumstances, by withdrawing himself from troubles to the things which really belong to him, he is not carried away with what is foreign to him. And it is only to things that are necessary for him that he accommodates himself, in so far as the soul is preserved unharmed. For it is not in supposition or seeming that he wishes to be faithful; but in knowledge and truth, that is, in sure deed and effectual word. 3599 Wherefore he not only praises what is noble, but endeavours himself to be noble; changing by love from a good and faithful servant into a friend, through the perfection of habit, which he has acquired in purity from true instruction and great discipline.
Striving, then, to attain to the summit of knowledge (gnosis); decorous in character; composed in mien; possessing all those advantages which belong to the true Gnostic; fixing his eye on fair models, on the many patriarchs who have lived rightly, and on very many prophets and angels reckoned without number, and above all, on the Lord, who taught and showed it to be possible for him to attain that highest life of all,—he therefore loves not all the good things of the world, which are within p. 541 his grasp, that he may not remain on the ground, but the things hoped for, or rather already known, being hoped for so as to be apprehended.
So then he undergoes toils, and trials, and afflictions, not as those among the philosophers who are endowed with manliness, in the hope of present troubles ceasing, and of sharing again in what is pleasant; but knowledge has inspired him with the firmest persuasion of receiving the hopes of the future. Wherefore he contemns not alone the pains of this world, but all its pleasures.
They say, accordingly, that the blessed Peter, on seeing his wife led to death, rejoiced on account of her call and conveyance home, and called very encouragingly and comfortingly, addressing her by name, “Remember thou the Lord.” Such was the marriage of the blessed and their perfect disposition towards those dearest to them. 3600
Thus also the apostle says, “that he who marries should be as though he married not,” 3601 and deem his marriage free of inordinate affection, and inseparable from love to the Lord; to which the true husband exhorted his wife to cling on her departure out of this life to the Lord.
Was not then faith in the hope after death conspicuous in the case of those who gave thanks to God even in the very extremities of their punishments? For firm, in my opinion, was the faith they possessed, which was followed by works of faith.
In all circumstances, then, is the soul of the Gnostic strong, in a condition of extreme health and strength, like the body of an athlete.
For he is prudent in human affairs, in judging what ought to be done by the just man; having obtained the principles from God from above, and having acquired, in order to the divine resemblance, moderation in bodily pains and pleasures. And he struggles against fears boldly, trusting in God. Certainly, then, the gnostic soul, adorned with perfect virtue, is the earthly image of the divine power; its development being the joint result of nature, of training, of reason, all together. This beauty of the soul becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit, when it acquires a disposition in the whole of life corresponding to the Gospel. Such an one consequently withstands all fear of everything terrible, not only of death, but also poverty and disease, and ignominy, and things akin to these; being unconquered by pleasure, and lord over irrational desires. For he well knows what is and what is not to be done; being perfectly aware what things are really to be dreaded, and what not. Whence he bears intelligently what the Word intimates to him to be requisite and necessary; intelligently discriminating what is really safe (that is, good), from what appears so; and things to be dreaded from what seems so, such as death, disease, and poverty; which are rather so in opinion than in truth.
This is the really good man, who is without passions; having, through the habit or disposition of the soul endued with virtue, transcended the whole life of passion. He has everything dependent on himself for the attainment of the end. For those accidents which are called terrible are not formidable to the good man, because they are not evil. And those which are really to be dreaded are foreign to the gnostic Christian, being diametrically opposed to what is good, because evil; and it is impossible for contraries to meet in the same person at the same time. He, then, who faultlessly acts the drama of life which God has given him to play, knows both what is to be done and what is to be endured.
Is it not then from ignorance of what is and what is not to be dreaded that cowardice arises? Consequently the only man of courage is the Gnostic, who knows both present and future good things; along with these, knowing, as I have said, also the things which are in reality not to be dreaded. Because, knowing vice alone to be hateful, and destructive of what contributes to knowledge, protected by the armour of the Lord, he makes war against it.
For if anything is caused through folly, and the operation or rather co-operation of the devil, this thing is not straightway the devil or folly. For no action is wisdom. For wisdom is a habit. And no action is a habit. The action, then, that arises from ignorance, is not already ignorance, but an evil through ignorance, but not ignorance. For neither perturbations of mind nor sins are vices, though proceeding from vice.
No one, then, who is irrationally brave is a Gnostic; 3602 since one might call children brave, who, through ignorance of what is to be dreaded, undergo things that are frightful. So they touch fire even. And the wild beasts that rush close on the points of spears, having a brute courage, might be called valiant. And such people might perhaps call jugglers valiant, who tumble on swords with a certain dexterity, practising a mischievous art for sorry gain. But he who is truly brave, with the peril arising from the bad feeling of the multitude before his eyes, courageously awaits whatever comes. In this way he is distinguished p. 542 from others that are called martyrs, inasmuch as some furnish occasions for themselves, and rush into the heart of dangers, I know not how (for it is right to use mild language); while they, in accordance with right reason, protect themselves; then, on God really calling them, promptly surrender themselves, and confirm the call, from being conscious of no precipitancy, and present the man to be proved in the exercise of true rational fortitude. Neither, then, enduring lesser dangers from fear of greater, like other people, nor dreading censure at the hands of their equals, and those of like sentiments, do they continue in the confession of their calling; but from love to God they willingly obey the call, with no other aim in view than pleasing God, and not for the sake of the reward of their toils.
For some suffer from love of glory, and others from fear of some other sharper punishment, and others for the sake of pleasures and delights after death, being children in faith; blessed indeed, but not yet become men in love to God, as the Gnostic is. For there are, as in the gymnastic contests, so also in the Church, crowns for men and for children. But love is to be chosen for itself, and for nothing else. Therefore in the Gnostic, along with knowledge, the perfection of fortitude is developed from the discipline of life, he having always studied to acquire mastery over the passions.
Accordingly, love makes its own athlete fearless and dauntless, and confident in the Lord, anointing and training him; as righteousness secures for him truthfulness in his whole life. 3603 For it was a compendium of righteousness to say, “Let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay.” 3604
And the same holds with self-control. For it is neither for love of honour, as the athletes for the sake of crowns and fame; nor on the other hand, for love of money, as some pretend to exercise self-control, pursuing what is good with terrible suffering. Nor is it from love of the body for the sake of health. Nor any more is any man who is temperate from rusticity, who has not tasted pleasures, truly a man of self-control. Certainly those who have led a laborious life, on tasting pleasures, forthwith break down the inflexibility of temperance into pleasures. Such are they who are restrained by law and fear. For on finding a favourable opportunity they defraud the law, by giving what is good the slip. But self-control, desirable for its own sake, perfected through knowledge, abiding ever, makes the man lord and master of himself; so that the Gnostic is temperate and passionless, incapable of being dissolved by pleasures and pains, as they say adamant is by fire.
The cause of these, then, is love, of all science the most sacred and most sovereign.
For by the service of what is best and most exalted, which is characterized by unity, it renders the Gnostic at once friend and son, having in truth grown “a perfect man, up to the measure of full stature.” 3605
Further, agreement in the same thing is consent. But what is the same is one. And friendship is consummated in likeness; the community lying in oneness. The Gnostic, consequently, in virtue of being a lover of the one true God, is the really perfect man and friend of God, and is placed in the rank of son. For these are names of nobility and knowledge, and perfection in the contemplation of God; which crowning step of advancement the gnostic soul receives, when it has become quite pure, reckoned worthy to behold everlastingly God Almighty, “face,” it is said, “to face.” For having become wholly spiritual, and having in the spiritual Church gone to what is of kindred nature, it abides in the rest of God.
[Others see the letter only, but the true Gnostic penetrates to the spirit, of the law.]540:3599
[Here is no toleration of untruth. See p. 538, supra.]541:3600
[The bearing of this beautiful anecdote upon clerical wedlock and the sanctity of the married life must be obvious.]541:3601
[1 Cor. vii. 29. S.]541:3602
[Brute bravery is here finely contrasted with real courage: a distinction rarely recognised by the multitude. Thus the man who trembles, yet goes into peril in view of duty, is the real hero. Yet the insensible brute, who does not appreciate the danger, often passes for his superior, with the majority of men.]542:3603
[Again note our authors fidelity to the law of intrepid truthfulness, and compare pp. 538, 540.]542:3604
[Jas. v. 12. S.]542:3605
Eph. iv. 13.
Next: Chapter XII.—The True Gnostic is Beneficent, Continent, and Despises Worldly Things.
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