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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:
The Life of Constantine with Orations of Constantine and Eusebius.: Chapter IX

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter IX.—Of the Philosophers, who fell into Mistaken Notions, and Some of them into Danger, by their Desire of Universal Knowledge.—Also of the Doctrines of Plato.

We ought, therefore, to aim at objects which are within our power, and exceed not the capacities of our nature. For the persuasive influence of argument has a tendency to draw most of us away from the truth of things, which has happened to many philosophers, who have employed themselves in reasoning, and the study of natural science, and who, as often as the magnitude of the subject surpasses their powers of investigation, adopt various devices for obscuring the truth. Hence their diversities of judgment, and contentious opposition to each others’ doctrines, and this notwithstanding their pretensions to wisdom. Hence, too, popular commotions have arisen, and severe sentences, passed by those in power, apprehensive of the overthrow of hereditary institutions, have proved destructive to many of the disputants themselves. Socrates, for example, elated by his skill in argumentation, indulging his power of making the worse appear the better reason, 3405 and playing continually with the subtleties of controversy, fell a victim to the slander of his own countrymen and fellow-citizens. Pythagoras, too, who laid special claim to the virtues of silence and self-control, was convicted of falsehood. For he declared to the Italians that the doctrines which he had received during his travels in Egypt, and which had long before been divulged by the priests of that nation, were a personal revelation to himself from God. Lastly, Plato himself, the gentlest and most refined of all, who first essayed to draw men’s thoughts from sensible to intellectual and eternal objects, and taught them to aspire to sublimer speculations, in the first place declared, with truth, a God exalted above every essence, but to him he added also a second, distinguishing them numerically as two, though both possessing one perfection, and the being of the second Deity proceeding from 3406 the first. For he is the creator and controller of the universe, and evidently supreme: while the second, as the obedient agent of his commands, refers the origin of all creation to him as the cause. In accordance, therefore, with the soundest reason, we may say that there is one Being whose care and providence are over all things, even God the Word, who has ordered all things; but the Word being God himself is also the Son of God. For by what name can we designate him except by this title of the Son, without falling into the most grievous error? For the Father of all things is properly considered the Father of his own Word. Thus far, then, Plato’s sentiments were sound; but in what follows he appears to have wandered from the truth, in that he introduces a plurality of gods, to each of whom he assigns specific forms. And this has given occasion to still greater error among the unthinking portion of p. 567 mankind, who pay no regard to the providence of the Supreme God, but worship images of their own devising, made in the likeness of men or other living beings. Hence it appears that the transcendent nature and admirable learning of this philosopher, tinged as they were with such errors as these, were by no means free from impurity and alloy. And yet he seems to me to retract, and correct his own words, when he plainly declares that a rational soul is the breath 3407 of God, and divides all things into two classes, intellectual and sensible: [the one simple, the other] 3408 consisting of bodily structure; the one comprehended by the intellect alone, the other estimated by the judgment and the senses. The former class, therefore, which partakes of the divine spirit, and is uncompounded and immaterial, is eternal, and inherits everlasting life; but the latter, being entirely resolved into the elements of which it is composed, has no share in everlasting life. He farther teaches the admirable doctrine, that those who have passed a life of virtue, that is, the spirits of good and holy men, are enshrined, after their separation from the body, in the fairest mansions of heaven. A doctrine not merely to be admired, but profitable too. 3409 For who can believe in such a statement, and aspire to such a happy lot, without desiring to practice righteousness and temperance, and to turn aside from vice? Consistently with this doctrine he represents the spirits of the wicked as tossed like wreckage on the streams of Acheron and Pyriphlegethon.



This is almost identically the form of what Socrates (Apol. c. 2) declared to be the falsehood circulated by his enemies to his prejudice. “But far more dangerous are those who began when you were children and took possession of your minds with their falsehoods, telling of one Socrates, a wise man who…made the worse appear the better cause” (λόγον, “reason”), Tr. Jowett, 1 (1874), 316. This example does peculiar discredit either to the learning or the mental honesty of the author.


Rather “deriving existence from,” “proceeding from,” gives strict idea, but may be confounded with the technical “proceeding from” of the “filioque” controversy, which is quite another phrase.




“The one simple” is not in the text, but is a conjectural addition of Valesius, followed by most translators. “Consisting of bodily structure” seems possibly to be an epexegetical phrase relating to the “all things” which he divides into intellectual and sensible, making the intellectual as well as the sensible to have bodily (somatic) structure. “All things,” or “the universe,” a plural technical term, is regarded as his mind passes to the explanation as “the all.” This psychological probability appears a simpler solution than the various textual conjectures.


Heinichen suspects that there has been an inversion of words here, and that it should have been, “He further teaches the admirable and profitable doctrine,” and “a doctrine not merely to be admired” omitted.

Next: Chapter X

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