Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume II/CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA/The Stromata, or Miscellanies/Book IV./Chapter XXIII.
Chapter XXIII.—The Same Subject Continued.
For it is not suitable to the nature of the thing itself, that they should apprehend in the truly gnostic manner the truth, that all things which were created for our use are good; as, for example, marriage and procreation, when used in moderation; and that it is better than good to become free of passion, and virtuous by assimilation to the divine. But in the case of external things, agreeable or disagreeable, from some they abstain, from others not. But in those things from which they abstain from disgust, they plainly find fault with the creature and the Creator; and though in appearance they walk faithfully, the opinion they maintain is impious. That command, “Thou shall not lust,” needs neither the necessity arising from fear, which compels to keep from things that are pleasant; nor the reward, which by promise persuades to restrain the impulses of passion.
And those who obey God through the promise, caught by the bait of pleasure, choose obedience not for the sake of the commandment, but for the sake of the promise. Nor will turning away from objects of sense, as a matter of necessary consequence, produce attachment to intellectual objects. On the contrary, the attachment to intellectual objects naturally becomes to the Gnostic an influence which draws away from the objects of sense; inasmuch as he, in virtue of the selection of what is good, has chosen what is good according to knowledge (γνωστικῶς), admiring generation, and by sanctifying the Creator sanctifying assimilation to the divine. But I shall free myself from lust, let him say, O Lord, for the sake of alliance with Thee. For the economy of creation is good, and all things are well administered: nothing happens without a cause. I must be in what is Thine, O Omnipotent One. And if I am there, I am near Thee. And I would be free of fear that I may be able to draw near to Thee, and to be satisfied with little, practising Thy just choice between things good and things like.
Right mystically and sacredly the apostle, teaching us the choice which is truly gracious,
not in the way of rejection of other things as bad, but so as to do things better than what is good, has spoken, saying, “So he that giveth his virgin in marriage doeth well; and he that giveth her not doeth better; as far as respects seemliness and undistracted attendance on the Lord.”
Now we know that things which are difficult are not essential; but that things which are essential have been graciously made easy of attainment by God. Wherefore Democritus well says, that “nature and instruction” are like each other. And we have briefly assigned the cause. For instruction harmonizes man, and by harmonizing makes him natural; and it is no matter whether one was made such as he is by nature, or transformed by time and education. The Lord has furnished both; that which is by creation, and that which is by creating again and renewal through the covenant. And that is preferable which is advantageous to what is superior; but what is superior to everything is mind. So, then, what is really good is seen to be most pleasant, and of itself produces the fruit which is desired—tranquillity of soul. “And he who hears Me,” it is said, “shall rest in peace, confident, and shall be calm without fear of any evil.” “Rely with all thy heart and thy mind on God.”
On this wise it is possible for the Gnostic already to have become God. “I said, Ye are gods, and sons of the highest.” And Empedocles says that the souls of the wise become gods, writing as follows:—
“At last prophets, minstrels, and physicians,
And the foremost among mortal men, approach;
Whence spring gods supreme in honours.”
Man, then, genetically considered, is formed in accordance with the idea of the connate spirit. For he is not created formless and shapeless in the workshop of nature, where mystically the production of man is accomplished, both art and essence being common. But the individual man is stamped according to the impression produced in the soul by the objects of his choice. Thus we say that Adam was perfect, as far as respects his formation; for none of the distinctive characteristics of the idea and form of man were wanting to him; but in the act of coming into being he received perfection. And he was justified by obedience; this was reaching manhood, as far as depended on him. And the cause lay in his choosing, and especially in his choosing what was forbidden. God was not the cause.
For production is twofold—of things procreated, and of things that grow. And manliness in man, who is subject to perturbation, as they say, makes him who partakes of it essentially fearless and invincible; and anger is the mind’s satellite in patience, and endurance, and the like; and self-constraint and salutary sense are set over desire. But God is impassible, free of anger, destitute of desire. And He is not free of fear, in the sense of avoiding what is terrible; or temperate, in the sense of having command of desires. For neither can the nature of God fall in with anything terrible, nor does God flee fear; just as He will not feel desire, so as to rule over desires. Accordingly that Pythagorean saying was mystically uttered respecting us, “that man ought to become one;” for the high priest himself is one, God being one in the immutable state of the perpetual flow of good things. Now the Saviour has taken away wrath in and with lust, wrath being lust of vengeance. For universally liability to feeling belongs to every kind of desire; and man, when deified purely into a passionless state, becomes a unit. As, then, those, who at sea are held by an anchor, pull at the anchor, but do not drag it to them, but drag themselves to the anchor; so those who, according to the gnostic life, draw God towards them, imperceptibly bring themselves to God: for he who reverences God, reverences himself. In the contemplative life, then, one in worshipping God attends to himself, and through his own spotless purification beholds the holy God holily; for self-control, being present, surveying and contemplating itself uninterruptedly, is as far as possible assimilated to God.
Chapter XXIV.—The Reason and End of Divine Punishments.
Now that is in our power, of which equally with its opposite we are masters,—as, say to philosophize or not, to believe or disbelieve. In consequence, then, of our being equally masters of each of the opposites, what depends on us is found possible. Now the commandments may be done or not done by us, who, as is reasonable, are liable to praise and blame. And those, again, who are punished on account of sins committed by them, are punished for them alone; for what is done is past, and what is done can never be undone. The sins committed before faith are accordingly forgiven by the Lord, not that they may be undone, but as if they had not been done. “But not all,” says Basilides, “but only sins involuntary and in ignorance, are forgiven;” as would be the case were it a man, and not God, that conferred such a boon. To such an one Scripture says, “Thou thoughtest that I would be like thee.” But if we are punished
for voluntary sins, we are punished not that the sins which are done may be undone, but because they were done. But punishment does not avail to him who has sinned, to undo his sin, but that he may sin no more, and that no one else fall into the like. Therefore the good God corrects for these three causes: First, that he who is corrected may become better than his former self; then that those who are capable of being saved by examples may be driven back, being admonished; and thirdly, that he who is injured may not be readily despised, and be apt to receive injury. And there are two methods of correction—the instructive and the punitive, which we have called the disciplinary. It ought to be known, then, that those who fall into sin after baptism are those who are subjected to discipline; for the deeds done before are remitted, and those done after are purged. It is in reference to the unbelieving that it is said, “that they are reckoned as the chaff which the wind drives from the face of the earth, and the drop which falls from a vessel.”
Chapter XXV.—True Perfection Consists in the Knowledge and Love of God.
“Happy he who possesses the culture of knowledge, and is not moved to the injury of the citizens or to wrong actions, but contemplates the undecaying order of immortal nature, how and in what way and manner it subsists. To such the practice of base deeds attaches not,” Rightly, then, Plato says, “that the man who devotes himself to the contemplation of ideas will live as a god among men; now the mind is the place of ideas, and God is mind.” He says that he who contemplates the unseen God lives as a god among men. And in the Sophist, Socrates calls the stranger of Elea, who was a dialectician, “god:” “Such are the gods who, like stranger guests, frequent cities. For when the soul, rising above the sphere of generation, is by itself apart, and dwells amidst ideas,” like the Coryphæus in Theætetus, now become as an angel, it will be with Christ, being rapt in contemplation, ever keeping in view the will of God; in reality
“Alone wise, while these flit like shadows.”
“For the dead bury their dead.” Whence Jeremiah says: “I will fill it with the earth-born dead whom mine anger has smitten.”
God, then, being not a subject for demonstration, cannot be the object of science. But the Son is wisdom, and knowledge, and truth, and all else that has affinity thereto. He is also susceptible of demonstration and of description. And all the powers of the Spirit, becoming collectively one thing, terminate in the same point—that is, in the Son. But He is incapable of being declared, in respect of the idea of each one of His powers. And the Son is neither simply one thing as one thing, nor many things as parts, but one thing as all things; whence also He is all things. For He is the circle of all powers rolled and united into one unity. Wherefore the Word is called the Alpha and the Omega, of whom alone the end becomes beginning, and ends again at the original beginning without any break. Wherefore also to believe in Him, and by Him, is to become a unit, being indissolubly united in Him; and to disbelieve is to be separated, disjoined, divided.
“Wherefore thus saith the Lord, Every alien son is uncircumcised in heart, and uncircumcised in flesh” (that is, unclean in body and soul): “there shall not enter one of the strangers into the midst of the house of Israel, but the Levites.” He calls those that would not believe, but would disbelieve, strangers. Only those who live purely being true priests of God. Wherefore, of all the circumcised tribes, those anointed to be high priests, and kings, and prophets, were reckoned more holy. Whence He commands them not to touch dead bodies, or approach the dead; not that the body was polluted, but that sin and disobedience were incarnate, and embodied, and dead, and therefore abominable. It was only, then, when a father and mother, a son and daughter died, that the priest was allowed to enter, because these were related only by flesh and seed, to whom the priest was indebted for the immediate cause of his entrance into life. And they purify themselves seven days, the period in which Creation was consummated. For on the seventh day the rest is celebrated; and on the eighth he brings a propitiation, as is written in Ezekiel, according to which propitiation the promise is to be received. And the perfect propitiation, I take it, is that propitious faith in the Gospel which is by the law and the prophets, and the purity which shows itself in universal obedience, with the abandonment of the things of the world; in order to that grateful surrender of the tabernacle, which results from the enjoyment of the soul. Whether, then, the time be that which through the seven periods enumerated returns to the chiefest rest, or the seven heavens, which some reckon one above the other; or whether also the fixed sphere which borders on the intellectual world be called the eighth, the expression denotes that the Gnostic ought to rise out of the sphere of creation and of sin. After these seven days, sacrifices are offered for sins. For there is still fear of
change, and it touches the seventh circle. The righteous Job says: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there;” not naked of possessions, for that were a trivial and common thing; but, as a just man, he departs naked of evil and sin, and of the unsightly shape which follows those who have led bad lives. For this was what was said, “Unless ye be converted, and become as children,” pure in flesh, holy in soul by abstinence from evil deeds; showing that He would have us to be such as also He generated us from our mother—the water. For the intent of one generation succeeding another is to immortalize by progress. “But the lamp of the wicked shall be put out.” That purity in body and soul which the Gnostic partakes of, the all-wise Moses indicated, by employing repetition in describing the incorruptibility of body and of soul in the person of Rebecca, thus: “Now the virgin was fair, and man had not known her.” And Rebecca, interpreted, means “glory of God;” and the glory of God is immortality. This is in reality righteousness, not to desire other things, but to be entirely the consecrated temple of the Lord. Righteousness is peace of life and a well-conditioned state, to which the Lord dismissed her when He said, “Depart into peace.” For Salem is, by interpretation, peace; of which our Saviour is enrolled King, as Moses says, Melchizedek king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who gave bread and wine, furnishing consecrated food for a type of the Eucharist. And Melchizedek is interpreted “righteous king;” and the name is a synonym for righteousness and peace. Basilides, however, supposes that Righteousness and her daughter Peace dwell stationed in the eighth sphere.
But we must pass from physics to ethics, which are clearer; for the discourse concerning these will follow after the treatise in hand. The Saviour Himself, then, plainly initiates us into the mysteries, according to the words of the tragedy:—
“Seeing those who see, he also gives the orgies.”
And if you ask,
“These orgies, what is their nature?”
You will hear again:—
“It is forbidden to mortals uninitiated in the Bacchic rites to know.”
And if any one will inquire curiously what they are, let him hear:—
“It is not lawful for thee to hear, but they are worth knowing;
The rites of the God detest him who practices impiety.”
Now God, who is without beginning, is the perfect beginning of the universe, and the producer of the beginning. As, then, He is being, He is the first principle of the department of action, as He is good, of morals; as He is mind, on the other hand, He is the first principle of reasoning and of judgment. Whence also He alone is Teacher, who is the only Son of the Most High Father, the Instructor of men.
Chapter XXVI.—How the Perfect Man Treats the Body and the Things of the World.
Those, then, who run down created existence and vilify the body are wrong; not considering that the frame of man was formed erect for the contemplation of heaven, and that the organization of the senses tends to knowledge; and that the members and parts are arranged for good, not for pleasure. Whence this abode becomes receptive of the soul which is most precious to God; and is dignified with the Holy Spirit through the sanctification of soul and body, perfected with the perfection of the Saviour. And the succession of the three virtues is found in the Gnostic, who morally, physically, and logically occupies himself with God. For wisdom is the knowledge of things divine and human; and righteousness is the concord of the parts of the soul; and holiness is the service of God. But if one were to say that he disparaged the flesh, and generation on account of it, by quoting Isaiah, who says, “All flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass: the grass is withered, and the flower has fallen; but the word of the Lord endureth for ever;” let him hear the Spirit interpreting the matter in question by Jeremiah, “And I scattered them like dry sticks, that are made to fly by the wind into the desert. This is the lot and portion of your disobedience, saith the Lord. As thou hast forgotten Me, and hast trusted in lies, so will I discover thy hinder parts to thy face; and thy disgrace shall be seen, thy adultery, and thy neighing,” and so on. For “the flower of grass,” and “walking after the flesh,” and “being carnal,” according to the apostle, are those who are in their sins. The soul of man is confessedly the better part of man, and the body the inferior. But neither is the soul good by nature, nor, on the other hand, is the body bad by nature. Nor is that which is not good straightway bad. For there are things which occupy a middle place, and among them are things to be preferred, and things to be rejected.
The constitution of man, then, which has its place among things of sense, was necessarily composed of things diverse, but not opposite—body and soul.
Always therefore the good actions, as better, attach to the better and ruling spirit; and voluptuous and sinful actions are attributed to the worse, the sinful one.
Now the soul of the wise man and Gnostic, as sojourning in the body, conducts itself towards it gravely and respectfully, not with inordinate affections, as about to leave the tabernacle if the time of departure summon. “I am a stranger in the earth, and a sojourner with you,” it is said. And hence Basilides says, that he apprehends that the election are strangers to the world, being supramundane by nature. But this is not the case. For all things are of one God. And no one is a stranger to the world by nature, their essence being one, and God one. But the elect man dwells as a sojourner, knowing all things to be possessed and disposed of; and he makes use of the things which the Pythagoreans make out to be the threefold good things. The body, too, as one sent on a distant pilgrimage, uses inns and dwellings by the way, having care of the things of the world, of the places where he halts; but leaving his dwelling-place and property without excessive emotion; readily following him that leads him away from life; by no means and on no occasion turning back; giving thanks for his sojourn, and blessing [God] for his departure, embracing the mansion that is in heaven. “For we know, that, if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we walk by faith, not by sight,” as the apostle says; “and we are willing rather to be absent from the body, and present with God.” The rather is in comparison. And comparison obtains in the case of things that fall under resemblance; as the more valiant man is more valiant among the valiant, and most valiant among cowards. Whence he adds, “Wherefore we strive, whether present or absent, to be accepted with Him,” that is, God, whose work and creation are all things, both the world and things supramundane. I admire Epicharmus, who clearly says:—
“Endowed with pious mind, you will not, in dying,
Suffer aught evil. The spirit will dwell in heaven above;”
and the minstrel who sings:—
“The souls of the wicked flit about below the skies on earth,
In murderous pains beneath inevitable yokes of evils;
But those of the pious dwell in the heavens,
Hymning in songs the Great, the Blessed One.”
The soul is not then sent down from heaven to what is worse. For God works all things up to what is better. But the soul which has chosen the best life—the life that is from God and righteousness—exchanges earth for heaven. With reason therefore, Job, who had attained to knowledge, said, “Now I know that thou canst do all things; and nothing is impossible to Thee. For who tells me of what I know not, great and wonderful things with which I was unacquainted? And I felt myself vile, considering myself to be earth and ashes.” For he who, being in a state of ignorance, is sinful, “is earth and ashes;” while he who is in a state of knowledge, being assimilated as far as possible to God, is already spiritual, and so elect. And that Scripture calls the senseless and disobedient “earth,” will be made clear by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, in reference to Joachim and his brethren “Earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord; Write this man, as man excommunicated.” And another prophet says again, “Hear, O heaven; and give ear, O earth,” calling understanding “ear,” and the soul of the Gnostic, that of the man who has applied himself to the contemplation of heaven and divine things, and in this way has become an Israelite, “heaven.” For again he calls him who has made ignorance and hardness of heart his choice, “earth.” And the expression “give ear” he derives from the “organs of hearing,” “the ears,” attributing carnal things to those who cleave to the things of sense. Such are they of whom Micah the prophet says, “Hear the word of the Lord, ye peoples who dwell with pangs.” And Abraham said, “By no means. The Lord is He who judgeth the earth;” “since he that believeth not, is,” according to the utterance of the Saviour, “condemned already.” And there is written in the Kings the judgment and sentence of the Lord, which stands thus: “The Lord hears the righteous, but the wicked He saveth not, because they do not desire to know God.” For the Almighty will not accomplish what is absurd. What do the heresies say to this utterance, seeing Scripture proclaims the Almighty God to be good, and not the author of evil and wrong, if indeed ignorance arises from one not knowing? But God does nothing absurd. “For this God,” it is said, “is our God, and there is none to save besides Him.” “For there is no unrighteousness
with God,” according to the apostle. And clearly yet the prophet teaches the will of God, and the gnostic proficiency, in these words: “And now, Israel, what doth the Lord God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, and walk in all His ways, and love Him, and serve Him alone?” He asks of thee, who hast the power of choosing salvation. What is it, then, that the Pythagoreans mean when they bid us “pray with the voice”? As seems to me, not that they thought the Divinity could not hear those who speak silently, but because they wished prayers to be right, which no one would be ashamed to make in the knowledge of many. We shall, however, treat of prayer in due course by and by. But we ought to have works that cry aloud, as becoming “those who walk in the day.” “Let thy works shine,” and behold a man and his works before his face. “For behold God and His works.” For the gnostic must, as far as is possible, imitate God. And the poets call the elect in their pages godlike and gods, and equal to the gods, and equal in sagacity to Zeus, and having counsels like the gods, and resembling the gods,—nibbling, as seems to me, at the expression, “in the image and likeness.”
Euripides accordingly says, “Golden wings are round my back, and I am shod with the winged sandals of the Sirens; and I shall go aloft into the wide ether, to hold convene with Zeus.”
But I shall pray the Spirit of Christ to wing me to my Jerusalem. For the Stoics say that heaven is properly a city, but places here on earth are not cities; for they are called so, but are not. For a city is an important thing, and the people a decorous body, and a multitude of men regulated by law as the church by the word—a city on earth impregnable—free from tyranny; a product of the divine will on earth as in heaven. Images of this city the poets create with their pen. For the Hyperboreans, and the Arimaspian cities, and the Elysian plains, are commonwealths of just men. And we know Plato’s city placed as a pattern in heaven.
- 1 Cor. vii. 38, 35.
- Prov. i. 33.
- Prov. iii. 5.
- Ps. lxxxii. 6.
- θεῖν … Οεός.
- [Elucidation V.]
- Ps. l. 21.
- λουτρόν. [See Elucidation VI.]
- Ps. i. 4: Isa. xl. 15.
- Hom., Odyss., x. 495.
- Jer. xxxiii. 5.
- Ezek. xliv. 9, 10.
- Ezek. xliv. 27.
- The jubilee. [Elucidation VII.]
- Job i. 21.
- Matt. xviii. 3.
- i.e., Baptism.
- Job [xviii. 5.; Prov. xiii. 9.]
- Gen. xxiv. 16.
- [On Clement’s Hebrew, see Elucidation VIII.]
- Mark v. 34.
- Eurip., Bacchæ, 465, etc.
- Isa. xl. 6–8.
- Jer. xiii. 24–27.
- Gen. xxiii. 4; Ps. xxxix. 12.
- 2 Cor. v. 1, 2, 3, 7.
- 2 Cor. v. 9.
- Pindar, according to Theodoret.
- Job xlii. 2, 3, 6.
- Jer. xxii. 29, 30.
- Isa. i. 2.
- Mic. i. 2, where, however, the concluding words are not found.
- Gen. xviii. 25.
- John iii. 18.
- Isa. xlv. 21.
- Rom. ix. 14.
- Deut. x. 12
- Rom. xiii. 13.
- Matt. v. 16.
- Isa. lxii. 11.
- Gen. i. 26.
- [Elucidation IX.]