Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume II/CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA/The Stromata, or Miscellanies/Book VI/Chapter XVI.

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Chapter XVI.—Gnostic Exposition of the Decalogue.

Let the Decalogue be set forth cursorily by us as a specimen for gnostic exposition.

The number “Ten.”

That ten is a sacred number, it is superfluous to say now. And if the tables that were written were the work of God, they will be found to exhibit physical creation. For by the “finger of God” is understood the power of God, by which the creation of heaven and earth is accomplished; of both of which the tables will be understood to be symbols. For the writing and handiwork of God put on the table is the creation of the world.

And the Decalogue, viewed as an image of heaven, embraces sun and moon, stars, clouds, light, wind, water, air, darkness, fire. This is the physical Decalogue of the heaven.

And the representation of the earth contains men, cattle, reptiles, wild beasts; and of the inhabitants of the water, fishes and whales; and again, of the winged tribes, those that are carnivorous, and those that use mild food; and of plants likewise, both fruit-bearing and barren. This is the physical Decalogue of the earth.

And the ark which held them[1] will then be the knowledge of divine and human things and wisdom.[2]

And perhaps the two tables themselves may be the prophecy of the two covenants. They were accordingly mystically renewed, as ignorance along with sin abounded. The commandments are written, then, doubly, as appears, for twofold spirits, the ruling and the subject. “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.”[3]

And there is a ten in man himself: the five senses, and the power of speech, and that of reproduction; and the eighth is the spiritual principle communicated at his creation; and the ninth the ruling faculty of the soul; and tenth, there is the distinctive characteristic of the Holy Spirit, which comes to him through faith.

Besides, in addition to these ten human parts, the law appear to give its injunctions[4] to sight, and hearing, and smell, and touch, and taste, and to the organs subservient to these, which are double—the hands and the feet. For such is the formation of man. And the soul is introduced, and previous to it the ruling faculty, by which we reason, not produced in procreation; so that without it there is made up the number ten, of the faculties by which all the activity of man is carried out. For in order, straightway on man’s entering existence, his life begins with sensations. We accordingly assert that rational and ruling power is the cause of the constitution

of the living creature; also that this, the irrational part, is animated, and is a part of it. Now the vital force, in which is comprehended the power of nutrition and growth, and generally of motion, is assigned to the carnal spirit, which has great susceptibility of motion, and passes in all directions through the senses and the rest of the body, and through the body is the primary subject of sensations. But the power of choice, in which investigation, and study, and knowledge, reside, belongs to the ruling faculty. But all the faculties are placed in relation to one—the ruling faculty: it is through that man lives, and lives in a certain way.

Through the corporeal spirit, then, man perceives, desires, rejoices, is angry, is nourished, grows. It is by it, too, that thoughts and conceptions advance to actions. And when it masters the desires, the ruling faculty reigns.

The commandment, then, “Thou shalt not lust,” says, thou shalt not serve the carnal spirit, but shall rule over it; “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit,”[5] and excites to disorderly conduct against nature; “and the Spirit against the flesh” exercises sway, in order that the conduct of the man may be according to nature.

Is not man, then, rightly said “to have been made in the image of God?”—not in the form of his [corporeal] structure; but inasmuch as God creates all things by the Word (λόγῳ), and the man who has become a Gnostic performs good actions by the faculty of reason (τῷ λογικῷ), properly therefore the two tables are also said to mean the commandments that were given to the twofold spirits,—those communicated before the law to that which was created, and to the ruling faculty; and the movements of the senses are both copied in the mind, and manifested in the activity which proceeds from the body. For apprehension results from both combined. Again, as sensation is related to the world of sense, so is thought to that of intellect. And actions are twofold—those of thought, those of act.

The First Commandment.

The first commandment of the Decalogue shows that there is one only Sovereign God;[6] who led the people from the land of Egypt through the desert to their fatherland; that they might apprehend His power, as they were able, by means of the divine works, and withdraw from the idolatry of created things, putting all their hope in the true God.

The Second Commandment.

The second word[7] intimated that men ought not to take and confer the august power of God (which is the name, for this alone were many even yet capable of learning), and transfer His title to things created and vain, which human artificers have made, among which “He that is” is not ranked. For in His uncreated identity, “He that is” is absolutely alone.

The Fourth Commandment.

And the fourth[8] word is that which intimates that the world was created by God, and that He gave us the seventh day as a rest, on account of the trouble that there is in life. For God is incapable of weariness, and suffering, and want. But we who bear flesh need rest. The seventh day, therefore, is proclaimed a rest—abstraction from ills—preparing for the Primal Day,[9] our true rest; which, in truth, is the first creation of light, in which all things are viewed and possessed. From this day the first wisdom and knowledge illuminate us. For the light of truth—a light true, casting no shadow, is the Spirit of God indivisibly divided to all, who are sanctified by faith, holding the place of a luminary, in order to the knowledge of real existences. By following Him, therefore, through our whole life, we become impassible; and this is to rest.[10]

Wherefore Solomon also says, that before heaven, and earth, and all existences, Wisdom had arisen in the Almighty; the participation of which—that which is by power, I mean, not that by essence—teaches a man to know by apprehension things divine and human. Having reached this point, we must mention these things by the way; since the discourse has turned on the seventh and the eighth. For the eighth may possibly turn out to be properly the seventh, and the seventh manifestly the sixth, and the latter properly the Sabbath, and the seventh a day of work. For the creation of the world was concluded in six days. For the motion of the sun from solstice to solstice is completed in six months—in the course of which, at one time the leaves fall, and at another plants bud and seeds come to maturity. And they say that the embryo is perfected exactly in the sixth month, that is, in one hundred and eighty days in addition to the two and a half, as Polybus the physician relates in his book On the Eighth Month, and Aristotle the philosopher in his book On Nature. Hence the Pythagoreans, as I think, reckon six the perfect number, from the creation of the world, according to the prophet, and call it Meseuthys[11]

and Marriage, from its being the middle of the even numbers, that is, of ten and two. For it is manifestly at an equal distance from both.

And as marriage generates from male and female, so six is generated from the odd number three, which is called the masculine number, and the even number two, which is considered the feminine. For twice three are six.

Such, again, is the number of the most general motions, according to which all origination takes place—up, down, to the right, to the left, forward, backward. Rightly, then, they reckon the number seven motherless and childless, interpreting the Sabbath, and figuratively expressing the nature of the rest, in which “they neither marry nor are given in marriage any more.”[12] For neither by taking from one number and adding to another of those within ten is seven produced; nor when added to any number within the ten does it make up any of them.

And they called eight a cube, counting the fixed sphere along with the seven revolving ones, by which is produced “the great year,” as a kind of period of recompense of what has been promised.

Thus the Lord, who ascended the mountain, the fourth,[13] becomes the sixth, and is illuminated all round with spiritual light, by laying bare the power proceeding from Him, as far as those selected to see were able to behold it, by the Seventh, the Voice, proclaimed to be the Son of God; in order that they, persuaded respecting Him, might have rest; while He by His birth, which was indicated by the sixth conspicuously marked, becoming the eighth, might appear to be God in a body of flesh, by displaying His power, being numbered indeed as a man, but being concealed as to who He was. For six is reckoned in the order of numbers, but the succession of the letters acknowledges the character which is not written. In this case, in the numbers themselves, each unit is preserved in its order up to seven and eight. But in the number of the characters, Zeta becomes six and Eta seven.

And the character[14] having somehow slipped into writing, should we follow it out thus, the seven became six, and the eight seven.

Wherefore also man is said to have been made on the sixth day, who became faithful to Him who is the sign (τῷ ἐπισήμῳ[15]), so as straightway to receive the rest of the Lord’s inheritance. Some such thing also is indicated by the sixth hour in the scheme of salvation, in which man was perfected. Further, of the eight, the intermediates are seven; and of the seven, the intervals are shown to be six. For that is another ground, in which seven glorifies eight, and “the heavens declare to the heavens the glory of God.”[16]

The sensible types of these, then, are the sounds we pronounce. Thus the Lord Himself is called “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end,”[17] “by whom all things were made, and without whom not even one thing was made.”[18] God’s resting is not, then, as some conceive, that God ceased from doing. For, being good, if He should ever cease from doing good, then would He cease from being God, which it is sacrilege even to say. The resting is, therefore, the ordering that the order of created things should be preserved inviolate, and that each of the creatures should cease from the ancient disorder. For the creations on the different days followed in a most important succession; so that all things brought into existence might have honour from priority, created together in thought, but not being of equal worth. Nor was the creation of each signified by the voice, inasmuch as the creative work is said to have made them at once. For something must needs have been named first. Wherefore those things were announced first, from which came those that were second, all things being originated together from one essence by one power. For the will of God was one, in one identity. And how could creation take place in time, seeing time was born along with things which exist.

And now the whole world of creatures born alive, and things that grow, revolves in sevens. The first-born princes of the angels, who have the greatest power, are seven.[19] The mathematicians also say that the planets, which perform their course around the earth, are seven; by which the Chaldeans think that all which concerns mortal life is effected through sympathy, in consequence of which they also undertake to tell things respecting the future.

And of the fixed stars, the Pleiades are seven. And the Bears, by the help of which agriculture and navigation are carried through, consist of seven stars. And in periods of seven days the moon undergoes its changes. In the first week she becomes half moon; in the second, full moon; and in the third, in her wane, again half moon; and in the fourth she disappears. Further, as Seleucus the mathematician lays down, she has seven phases. First, from being invisible she becomes crescent-shaped, then half

moon, then gibbous and full; and in her wane again gibbous, and in like manner half moon and crescent-shaped.

“On a seven-stringed lyre we shall sing new hymns,”

writes a poet of note, teaching us that the ancient lyre was seven-toned. The organs of the senses situated on our face are also seven—two eyes, two passages of hearing, two nostrils, and the seventh the mouth.

And that the changes in the periods of life take place by sevens, the Elegies of Solon teach thus:—

“The child, while still an infant, in seven years,
Produces and puts forth its fence of teeth;
And when God seven years more completes,
He shows of puberty’s approach the signs;
And in the third, the beard on growing cheek
With down o’erspreads the bloom of changing skin;
And in the fourth septenniad, at his best
In strength, of manliness he shows the signs;
And in the fifth, of marriage, now mature,
And of posterity, the man bethinks;
Nor does he yet desire vain works to see.
The seventh and eighth septenniads see him now
In mind and speech mature, till fifty years;
And in the ninth he still has vigour left,
But strength and body are for virtue great
Less than of yore; when, seven years more, God brings
To end, then not too soon may he submit to die.”

Again, in diseases the seventh day is that of the crisis; and the fourteenth, in which nature struggles against the causes of the diseases. And a myriad such instances are adduced by Hermippus of Berytus, in his book On the Number Seven, regarding it as holy.[20] And the blessed David delivers clearly to those who know the mystic account of seven and eight, praising thus: “Our years were exercised like a spider. The days of our years in them are seventy years; but if in strength, eighty years. And that will be to reign.”[21] That, then, we may be taught that the world was originated, and not suppose that God made it in time, prophecy adds: “This is the book of the generation: also of the things in them, when they were created in the day that God made heaven and earth.”[22] For the expression “when they were created” intimates an indefinite and dateless production. But the expression “in the day that God made,” that is, in and by which God made “all things,” and “without which not even one thing was made,” points out the activity exerted by the Son. As David says, “This is the day which the Lord hath made; let us be glad and rejoice in it;”[23] that is, in consequence of the knowledge[24] imparted by Him, let us celebrate the divine festival; for the Word that throws light on things hidden, and by whom each created thing came into life and being, is called day.

And, in fine, the Decalogue, by the letter Iota,[25] signifies the blessed name, presenting Jesus, who is the Word.

The Fifth Commandment.

Now the fifth in order is the command on the honour of father and mother. And it clearly announces God as Father and Lord. Wherefore also it calls those who know Him sons and gods. The Creator of the universe is their Lord and Father; and the mother is not, as some say, the essence from which we sprang, nor, as others teach, the Church, but the divine knowledge and wisdom, as Solomon says, when he terms wisdom “the mother of the just,” and says that it is desirable for its own sake. And the knowledge of all, again, that is lovely and venerable, proceeds from God through the Son.

The Sixth Commandment.

Then follows the command about murder. Now murder is a sure destruction. He, then, that wishes to extirpate the true doctrine of God and of immortality, in order to introduce falsehood, alleging either that the universe is not under Providence, or that the world is uncreated, or affirming anything against true doctrine, is most pernicious.

The Seventh Commandment.

This is followed by the command respecting adultery. Now it is adultery, if one, abandoning the ecclesiastical and true knowledge, and the persuasion respecting God, accedes to false and incongruous opinion, either by deifying any created object, or by making an idol of anything that exists not, so as to overstep, or rather step from, knowledge. And to the Gnostic false opinion is foreign, as the true belongs to him, and is allied with him. Wherefore the noble apostle calls one of the kinds of fornication, idolatry,[26] in following the prophet, who says: “[My people] hath committed fornication with stock and stone. They have said to the stock, Thou art my father; and to the stone, Thou hast begotten me.”[27]

The Eighth Commandment.

And after this is the command respecting theft. As, then, he that steals what is another’s, doing great wrong, rightly incurs ills suitable to

his deserts; so also does he, who arrogates to himself divine works by the art of the statuary or the painter, and pronounces himself to be the maker of animals and plants. Likewise those, too, who mimic the true philosophy are thieves. Whether one be a husbandman or the father of a child, he is an agent in depositing seeds. But it is God who, ministering the growth and perfection of all things, brings the things produced to what is in accordance with their nature. But the most, in common also with the philosophers, attribute growth and changes to the stars as the primary cause, robbing the Father of the universe, as far as in them lies, of His tireless might.

The elements, however, and the stars—that is, the administrative powers—are ordained for the accomplishment of what is essential to the administration, and are influenced and moved by what is commanded to them, in the way in which the Word of the Lord leads, since it is the nature of the divine power to work all things secretly. He, accordingly, who alleges that he has conceived or made anything which pertains to creation, will suffer the punishment of his impious audacity.

The Tenth Commandment.[28]

And the tenth is the command respecting all lusts. As, then, he who entertains unbecoming desires is called to account; in the same way he is not allowed to desire things false, or to suppose that, of created objects, those that are animate have power of themselves, and that inanimate things can at all save or hurt. And should one say that an antidote cannot heal or hemlock kill, he is unwittingly deceived. For none of these operates except one makes use of the plant and the drug; just as the axe does not without one to cut with it, or a saw without one sawing with it. And as they do not work by themselves, but have certain physical qualities which accomplish their proper work by the exertion of the artisan; so also, by the universal providence of God, through the medium of secondary causes, the operative power is propagated in succession to individual objects.


  1. i.e., the Commandments.
  2. For perfect wisdom, which is knowledge of things divine and human, which comprehends all that relates to the oversight of the flock of men, becomes, in reference to life, art (Instructor, book ii. chap. ii. p. 244, supra).
  3. Gal. v. 17.
  4. The text reads ἐντολαῖς, which, however, Hervetus, Heinsius, and Sylburgius, all concur in changing to the accusative, as above.
  5. Gal. v. 17.
  6. Ex. xx. 2, 3.
  7. i.e., commandment. The Decalogue is in Hebrew called “the ten words.”
  8. The text has τρίτος, but Sylburgius reads τέταρτος, the third being either omitted, or embraced in what is said of the second. The next mentioned is the fifth.
  9. i.e., Christ. [And the first day, or the Christian Sabbath.]
  10. [Barnabas, vol. i. chap. xv. p. 146, this series.]
  11. μεσευθύς, μέσος and εὐθύς, between the even ones, applied by the Pythagoreans to 6, a half-way between 2 and 10, the first and the last even numbers of the dinary scale.
  12. Luke xx. 35.
  13. i.e., with the three disciples.
  14. The numeral ϛ´ = 6. This is said to be the Digamma in its original place in the alphabet, and afterwards used in mss. and old editions as a short form of στ (Liddell and Scott’s Lexicon).
  15. That is, Christ, who answers to the numeral six.
  16. Ps. xix. 1.
  17. Rev. xxi. 6.
  18. John i. 3.
  19. [By Rabbinical tradition. But see Calmet, Dict. Bib., p. 78.]
  20. [The honour put upon this number in the Holy Scriptures is obvious to all, and it seems to be wrought into nature by the author of Scripture. But see Dan. viii. 13, the original, and (Palmoni) Eng. margin.]
  21. Ps. xc. 9, 10.
  22. Gen. ii. 4.
  23. Ps. cxviii. 24.
  24. [1 Cor. v. 7.]
  25. The first letter of the name of Jesus, and used as the sign of ten.
  26. In close conjunction with idolatry, fornication is mentioned, Col. iii. 5, Gal. v. 20, 1 Pet. iv. 3.
  27. Jer. ii. 27, iii. 9.
  28. [The ninth is not altogether omitted, but is supposed to be included in the eighth. False testimony is theft of another’s credit, or of another’s truth. Migne, Strom., vi. 361. Elucidation X.]