EARLY JEWISH-CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY
From Ancient and Medieval Philosophy: Essential Selections, by James Fieser
Copyright 2016, updated 12/1/2016
Lives of Early Jewish-Christian Philosophers
Philo Judaeus of Alexandria
Athenagoras of Athens
Clement of Alexandria
Origen of Alexandria
LIVES OF EARLY JEWISH-CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHERS
Life of Philo Judaeus of Alexandria (25 BCE -50 CE) (Eusebius, Church History, 2.2)
Under this emperor [Caius], Philo became known. He was a man most celebrated not only among many of our own, but also among many scholars outside of the Church. He was a Hebrew by birth, but was inferior to none of those who held high dignities in Alexandria. How greatly he labored in the Scriptures and in the studies of his nation is plain to all from the work which he has done. How familiar he was with philosophy and with the liberal studies of foreign nations, it is not necessary to say, since he is reported to have surpassed all his contemporaries in the study of Platonic and Pythagorean philosophy, to which he particularly devoted his attention.
Life of Athenagoras of Alexandria (133-190 CE) (Stockl, Handbook, 65)
Athenagoras of Athens, an expert in Greek and more specifically in Platonic philosophy, was at first a supporter of paganism. He is said to have read the Scriptures for the purpose of making an attack on Christianity, but to have been himself converted to Christianity as a result of this study. His work as a Christian writer is said to have been carried out between CE 177 and CE 180. He left two treatises: an apology addressed to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius under the title A Plea for the Christians, and a treatise The Resurrection of the Dead.
Life of Clement of Alexandria (150-215 CE) (Stockl, Handbook, 67)
Clement was born about the middle of the second century, in Alexandria as some maintain, in Athens as it is asserted by others. Gifted with extraordinary intellectual ability, he applied himself to the study of the various systems of Greek philosophy, and acquired in the study a knowledge which was at once comprehensive and profound. He became a Christian, but the character of his labors did not change with his conversion. After many wanderings he settled at Alexandria, became a member of the Catechetical School, and after the death of its president, Pantsenus, succeeded to his office. In this capacity he labored with unceasing energy in the cause of science and education. When the persecution of Septimus Severus began (202 CE), he moved to Cappadocia. It is not known whether he again returned to Alexandria. He died in 217 CE.
Life of Origen of Alexandria (185-254 CE) (Eusebius, Church History, 6)
When Severus began to persecute the churches, glorious testimonies were given everywhere by the athletes of religion. . . . Among these was Leonides, who was called the father of Origen, and who was beheaded while his son was still young. . . . As the flame of persecution had been kindled greatly, and multitudes had gained the crown of martyrdom, such desire for martyrdom seized the soul of Origen, although yet a boy, that he went close to danger, springing forward and rushing to the conflict in his eagerness. . . . Truly the termination of his life had been very near had not the divine and heavenly Providence, for the benefit of many, prevented his desire through the agency of his mother. For, at first, entreating him, she begged him to have compassion on her motherly feelings toward him; but finding, that when he had learned that his father had been seized and imprisoned, he was set the more resolutely, and completely carried away with his zeal for martyrdom, she hid all his clothing, and thus compelled him to remain at home. . . . But when his father ended his life in martyrdom, he was left with his mother and six younger brothers when he was not quite seventeen years old. . . .
He was in his eighteenth year when he took charge of the catechetical school. . . . But when he saw yet more coming to him for instruction, and the catechetical school had been entrusted to him alone by Demetrius, who presided over the church, he considered the teaching of grammatical science inconsistent with training in divine subjects, and immediately he gave up his grammatical school as unprofitable and a hindrance to sacred learning. . . . Then, with becoming consideration, that he might not need aid from others, he disposed of whatever valuable books of ancient literature he possessed, being satisfied with receiving from the purchaser four oboli a day. For many years he lived philosophically in this manner, putting away all the incentives of youthful desires. Through the entire day he endured no small amount of discipline; and for the greater part of the night he gave himself to the study of the Divine Scriptures. He restrained himself as much as possible by a most philosophic life; sometimes by the discipline of fasting, again by limited time for sleep. In his zeal he never lay upon a bed, but upon the ground. . . . By giving such evidences of a philosophic life to those who saw him, he aroused many of his pupils to similar zeal; so that prominent men even of the unbelieving heathen and men that followed learning and philosophy were led to his instruction. Some of them having received from him into the depth of their souls faith in the Divine Word, became prominent in the persecution then prevailing; and some of them were seized and suffered martyrdom. . . . At this time Origen was sent to Greece on account of a pressing necessity in connection with ecclesiastical affairs, and went through Palestine, and was ordained as presbyter in Cćsarea by the bishops of that country. The matters that were agitated concerning him on this account. . . demand a separate treatise. . . .
How many and how great things came upon Origen in the persecution [under Roman Emperor Decius], and what was their final result—as the demon of evil marshaled all his forces, and fought against the man with his utmost craft and power, assaulting him beyond all others against whom he contended at that time,— and what and how many things he endured for the word of Christ, bonds and bodily tortures and torments under the iron collar and in the dungeon; and how for many days with his feet stretched four spaces in the stocks he bore patiently the threats of fire and whatever other things were inflicted by his enemies; and how his sufferings terminated, as his judge strove eagerly with all his might not to end his life.
Tertullian (160-c. 240 CE) (Stockl, Handbook, 66)
Tertullian was born in Carthage, 160 CE, of heathen parents. Nature had endowed him with a quick and penetrating intellect, and a vivid imagination. He studied philosophy and the fine arts, and adopted the law as a profession. The circumstances which led to his conversion to Christianity (an event which happened in his thirtieth year) have not been recorded. After his conversion, he entered the ranks of the priesthood, and devoted himself to the defense of Christianity with voice and pen. The rigor of his views led him ultimately to join the Montanists (203 CE.) Whether he again returned to the Church is uncertain. He died around 240 CE.
PHILO JUDAEUS OF ALEXANDRIA
The Authority and Goodness of God, with the Logos Intermediating the Two (On the Cherubim, 1.9)
I have also, on one occasion, heard a more insightful train of reasoning from my own soul, which was accustomed frequently to be seized with a certain divine inspiration, even concerning matters which it could not explain even to itself. Now, if I can remember it accurately, I will relate it. It told me that in the one living and true God there were two supreme and primary powers, namely, goodness and authority. It is by his goodness he had created everything, and by his authority he governed all that he had created. The third thing that was between the two, and had the effect of bringing them together, was the Logos, for it was because of the Logos that God was both a ruler and good. Now, the cherubim were the symbols of this ruling authority and of this goodness, being two distinct powers, but the flaming sword was the symbol of the Logos. For the Logos [generally speaking] is a thing capable of rapid motion and impetuous. This is especially so for the Logos of the Creator of all things, inasmuch as it was before everything and passed by everything, and was conceived before everything, and appears in everything. My mind received a pure impression of each of these cherubim, that thus, becoming thoroughly instructed about the ruling authority of the Creator of all things and about his goodness, you may receive a happy inheritance. For immediately you will understand the conjunction and combination of these imperishable powers, and learn in what respects God is good, his majesty arising from his sovereign power being all the time conspicuous. You will learn in what he is powerful, his goodness, being equally the object of attention, that is this way you may attain to the virtues which are engendered by these conceptions, namely, a love and a reverential awe of God, neither being inflated to arrogance by any prosperity which may come upon you, having regard always to the greatness of the sovereignty of your King; nor abjectly giving up hope of better things in the hour of unexpected misfortune, having regard, then, to the mercifulness of your great and bounteous God. Let the flaming sword teach you that these things might be followed by a prompt and fiery Logos combined with action, which never ceases being in motion with rapidity and energy to the selection of good objects, and the avoidance of all such as are evil.
Logos the Intermediary Power between God and the World (Heir of Divine Things, 203-206)
When listening to the sacred oracles, I marvel still more and learn from them in what manner “a cloud came in the midst” (Exodus 14:19) between the army of the Egyptians and the company of the children of Israel. For the cloud no longer permitted the [Hebrew] race, which is temperate and beloved by God, to be persecuted by that which was devoted to the passions and a foe to God. It was a covering and a protection to its friends, but a weapon of vengeance and chastisement against its enemies. It gently showers down wisdom on the minds that study virtue, a wisdom that cannot be touched by any evil. But on those minds that are ill-disposed and unproductive of knowledge, it pours out a whole body of punishments, bringing upon them the most pitiable destruction of the deluge. The Father who created the universe has given a pre-eminent gift to his archangelic and most ancient Logos, to stand on the confines of both, and separated the Creator from his creation. This same Logos is continually a petitioner to the immortal God on behalf of the mortal race, which is exposed to affliction and misery. It is also the ambassador, sent by the Ruler of all, to the subject race. The Logos rejoices in the gift, and, delighting in it, announces it and boasts about it, saying, “I stood in the midst, between the Lord and You” (Numbers 16:48). It is neither uncreated as God is, nor created as you are, but being in the midst between these two extremities, like a hostage so to speak, to both parties. It is a hostage to the Creator, as a pledge and security that the whole race would never fly off and revolt entirely, choosing disorder rather than order. It is a hostage to the creature, to lead it to entertain a confident hope that the merciful God would not overlook his own work. For I will proclaim peaceful intelligence to the creation from him who has determined to destroy wars, namely God, who is always the guardian of peace.
Humans cannot give Positive Descriptions about God (Allegorical Interpretation, 3.107)
May we not, then, say, that the truth is something of this sort? None of those beings which are capable of entertaining belief, can entertain a firm belief respecting God. For he has not displayed his nature to anyone, but keeps it invisible to every kind of creature. Who can attempt to affirm of him who is the cause of all things either that he is a body, or that he is incorporeal, or that he has such and such distinctive qualities, or that he has no such qualities? Or who, in short, can venture to affirm anything positively about his essence, or his character, or his constitution, or his movements? But He alone can utter a positive assertion respecting himself, since he alone has an accurate knowledge of his own nature, without the possibility of mistake. His positive assertion, therefore, is one which may be thoroughly trusted in the first place, since he alone has any knowledge respecting his actions. Thus, he very appropriately swore by himself, adding himself confirmation to his assertion, which it was not possible for anyone else to do. On this account men who say that they swear by God may well be considered impious. For no man can properly swear by himself, because he is not able to have any certain knowledge respecting his own nature, but we must be content if we are able to understand even his name, that is to say, his word, which is the interpreter of his will. For that must be God to us imperfect beings, but the first mentioned, or true God, is so only to wise and perfect men.
Divine Triad: God: The Father, Creative Power and Ruling Power (On Abraham, 119-123)
When, therefore, the soul is shone upon by God as if at noonday, and when it is wholly and entirely filled with that light which is noticable only by the intellect, and by being completely surrounded with its brilliancy is free from all shade or darkness, it then perceives a threefold image of one subject, one image of the living God, and others of the other two, as if they were shadows irradiated by it. Some such thing as this happens to those who dwell in that light which is perceptible by the outward senses, for whether people are standing still or in motion, there is often a double shadow falling from them. Let not anyone then imagine that the word shadow is applied to God with perfect correctness. It is merely a misuse of the name, by way of bringing before our eyes a more vivid representation of the matter intended to be intimated. Since this is not the actual truth, but in order that one may when speaking keep as close to the truth as possible, the one in the middle is the Father of the universe, who in the sacred scriptures is called by his proper name, I am that I am. The beings on each side are those most ancient powers which are always close to the living God, one of which is called his creative power, and the other his ruling power. The creative power is God, for it is by this that he made and arranged the universe; and the ruling power is the Lord, for it is fitting that the Creator should lord it over and govern the creature. Therefore, the middle person of the three, being attended by each of his powers as by body-guards, presents to the mind, which is endowed with the faculty of sight, a vision at one time of one being, and at another time of three. It is one when the soul being completely purified, and having surmounted not only the multitudes of numbers, but also the number two, which is the neighbor of the unit, hastens onward to that idea which is devoid of all mixture, free from all combination, and by itself in need of nothing else whatever. It is three, when, not being as yet made perfect as to the important virtues, it is still seeking for initiation in those of less consequence, and is not able to attain to a comprehension of the living God by its own unassisted faculties without the aid of something else, but can only do so by judging of his deeds, whether as creator or as governor. This then, as they say, is the second best thing; and it no less partakes in the opinion which is dear to and devoted to God. But the first mentioned disposition has no such share, but is itself the very God-loving and God-beloved opinion itself, or rather it is truth which is older than opinion, and more valuable than any seeming. But we must now explain what is intimated by this statement in a more perspicuous manner.
Mystical Transcendence (Heir of Divine Things, 68-74)
Who, then, will be the heir [of divine things]? Not that reasoning which remains in the prison of the body according to its own voluntary intentions, but that which is loosened from those bonds and emancipated, and which has advanced beyond the walls, and if it is possible to say so, has itself forsaken itself. The scripture says, “one who comes from your own body will be your heir” (Genesis 15:4) Therefore if any desire comes upon you, soul, to be the inheritor of the good things of God, leave not only your country, the body, and your family, the outward senses, and your fathers house, that is speech; but also flee from yourself, and depart out of yourself, like the Corybantes, or those possessed with demons, being driven to frenzy, and inspired by some prophetic inspiration. For while the mind is in a state of enthusiastic inspiration, and while it is no longer mistress of itself, but is agitated and drawn into frenzy by heavenly love, and drawn upwards to that object, truth removing all impediments out of its way, and making everything before it plain, that so it may advance by a level and easy road, its destiny is to become an inheritor of the things of God.
But, Mind, take confidence, and explain to us how you depart and emigrate from those former things, you who utter things perceptible only by the intellect to those who have been taught to hear correctly. For you always say, I emigrated from my stay within the body when I learned to despise the flesh, and I emigrated from the outward sense when I learned to look upon the objects of outward sense as things which had no existence in reality condemning its judicial faculties as spurious and corrupted, and full of false opinion, and also condemning the objects submitted to that judgment as speciously devised to allure and to deceive, and to snatch the truth from out of the middle of nature. Again, I departed from speech when I convicted it of great unreasonableness, although it talked of sublime subjects and puffed itself up. For it dared a considerable act of boldness, namely, to show me bodies through the medium of shadows, and things by means of words, which was impossible. Therefore it kept stumbling about over repeated obstacles, and kept on talking vainly, being unable by common expressions to give a clear representation and understanding of the unique properties of the subjects with which it was dealing. But I, learning by experience, like an infant and untaught child, decided that it was better to depart from all these things, and to attribute the powers of each to God, who makes and consolidates the body, and who prepares the outward senses to feel appropriately, and who gives to speech the power of speaking at its desire; and in the same manner in which you have departed from the other things, now rise up and emigrate from yourself. But what is the meaning of this expression? Do not treasure up in yourself the faculties of perceiving, and thinking, and comprehending, but offer and dedicate these things to him who is the cause of thinking accurately, and of comprehending without being deceived.
ATHENAGORAS OF ATHENS
Various Philosophers On the Unity of God (A Plea for the Christians, 6)
Philolaus, too, when he says that all things are included in God as in a stronghold, teaches that He is one, and that He is superior to matter. Lysis and Opsimus thus define God: the one says that He is an ineffable number, the other that He is the excess of the greatest number beyond that which comes nearest to it. So that since ten is the greatest number according to the Pythagoreans, being the Tetractys, and containing all the arithmetic and harmonic principles, and the Nine stands next to it, God is a unit--that is, one. For the greatest number exceeds the next least by one. Then there are Plato and Aristotle--not that I am about to go through all that the philosophers have said about God, as if I wished to exhibit a complete summary of their opinions. For I know that, as you excel all men in intelligence and in the power of your rule, in the same proportion do you surpass them all in an accurate acquaintance with all learning, cultivating as you do each several branch with more success than even those who have devoted themselves exclusively to anyone. But, inasmuch as it is impossible to demonstrate without the citation of names that we are not alone in confining the notion of God to unity, I have presented an enumeration of opinions. Plato, then, says, "To find out the Maker and Father of this universe is difficult; and, when found, it is impossible to declare Him to all," conceiving of one uncreated and eternal God. If he recognizes others as well, such as the sun, moon, and stars, yet he recognizes them as created: "gods, offspring of gods, of whom I am the Maker, and the Father of works which are indissoluble apart from my will; but whatever is compounded can be dissolved." If, therefore, Plato is not an atheist for conceiving of one uncreated God, the Framer of the universe, neither are we atheists who acknowledge and firmly hold that He is God who has framed all things by the Logos, and holds them in being by His Spirit. Aristotle, again, and his followers, recognizing the existence of one whom they regard as a sort of compound living creature, speak of God as consisting of soul and body, thinking His body to be the ethereal space and the planetary stars and the sphere of the fixed stars, moving in circles. But His soul, the reason which presides over the motion of the body, itself not subject to motion, but becoming the cause of motion to the other.
The Stoics also, although by the names they employ to suit the changes of matter, which they say is permeated by the Spirit of God, they multiply the Deity in name, yet in reality they consider God to be one. For, if God is an artistic fire advancing methodically to the production of the several things in the world, embracing in Himself all the seminal principles by which each thing is produced in accordance with fate, and if His Spirit pervades the whole world, then God is one according to them, being named Zeus in respect of the fervid part of matter, and Hera in respect of the air, and called by other names in respect of that particular part of matter which He pervades. . . .
Argument for the Unity of God (A Plea for the Christians, 8)
Concerning the doctrine that there was from the beginning one God, the Maker of this universe, consider it in this way, that you may be acquainted with the argumentative grounds also of our faith. If there were from the beginning two or more gods, they were either in one and the same place, or each of them separately in his own. They could not be in one and the same place. For, if they are gods, they are not alike, but because they are uncreated they are unlike. For created things are like their patterns; but the uncreated are unlike, being neither produced from any one, nor formed after the pattern of any one. Hand and eye and foot are parts of one body, making up together one man: is God in this sense one? Indeed Socrates was compounded and divided into parts, just because he was created and perishable; but God is uncreated, and, impassible, and indivisible--does not, therefore, consist of parts. But if, on the contrary, each of them exists separately, since He that made the world is above the things created, and about the things He has made and set in order, where can the other or the rest be? For if the world, being made spherical, is confined within the circles of heaven, and the Creator of the world is above the things created, managing that by His providential care of these, what place is there for the second god, or for the other gods? For he is not in the world, because it belongs to the other; nor about the world, for God the Maker of the world is above it. But if he is neither in the world nor about the world (for all that surrounds it is occupied by this one), where is he? Is he above the world and [the first] God? In another world, or about another? But if he is in another or about another, then he is not about us, for he does not govern the world; nor is his power great, for he exists in a circumscribed space. But if he is neither in another world (for all things are filled by the other), nor about another (for all things are occupied by the other), he clearly does not exist at all, for there is no place in which he can be. Or what does he do, Seeing there is another to whom the world belongs, and he is above the Maker of the world, and yet is neither in the world nor about the world? Is there, then, some other place where he can stand? But God, and what belongs to God, are above him. And what, too, will be the place, seeing that the other fills the regions which are above the world? Perhaps he exerts a providential care? [By no means.] Yet, unless he does so, he has done nothing. If, then, he neither does anything nor exercises providential care, and if there is not another place in which he is, then this Being of whom we speak is the one God from the beginning, and the sole Maker of the world.
Defense of the Resurrection of the Dead: Animals do not Digest the Parts of Humans that they Eat (On the Resurrection of the Dead, 4-5)
[Critics of the resurrection of the dead] say that many bodies of those who have come to an unhappy death in shipwrecks and rivers have become food for fishes, and many of those who die in war, or who from some other sad cause or state of things are deprived of burial, lie exposed to become the food of any animals which may chance to see them. Since, then, bodies are thus consumed, and the members and parts composing them are broken up and distributed among a great multitude of animals, and by means of nutrition become incorporated with the bodies of those that are nourished by them, in the first place, they say, their separation from these is impossible. . . .
But it appears to me that such persons, in the first place, are ignorant of the power and skill of Him that fashioned and regulates this universe. For, He has adapted to the nature and kind of each animal the nourishment suitable and correspondent to it. He has neither ordained that everything in nature will unite and combine with every kind of body. Nor is He at any loss to separate what has been so united, but grants to the nature of each several created being or thing to do or to suffer what is naturally suited to it, and sometimes also hinders and allows or forbids whatever He wishes, and for the purpose He wishes. Further, they have not considered the power and nature of each of the creatures that nourish or are nourished. Otherwise they would have known that not everything which is taken for food under the pressure of outward necessity turns out to be suitable nourishment for the animal. For, some things no sooner come into contact with the folds of the stomach than they tend to be tainted, and are vomited or expelled, or disposed of in some other way, so that not even for a little time do they undergo the first and natural digestion, much less become incorporated with that which is to be nourished. Also, not even everything which has been digested in the stomach and received the first change actually arrives at the parts to be nourished. For, some of it loses, its nutritive power even in the stomach, and some during the second change, and the digestion that takes place in the liver is separated and passes into something else which is destitute of the power to nourish. Indeed, the change which takes place in the liver does not all issue in nourishment to men, but the matter changed is separated as refuse according to its natural purpose. The nourishment which is left in the members and parts themselves that have to be nourished sometimes changes to something else, according as that predominates which is present in greater or less, abundance, and is apt to corrupt or to turn into itself that which comes near it.
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA
Usefulness of Quoting Philosophy in this Book (Stromata, 1.2)
In reference to these commentaries which contain the Hellenic opinions, as the needs of the case demand, I say the following to those who are fond of finding fault. First, even if philosophy were useless, if the demonstration of its uselessness does good, it is yet useful. Then those cannot condemn the Greeks, who have only a mere hearsay knowledge of their opinions, and have not entered into a minute investigation in each department, in order to acquaintance with them. For the refutation, which is based on experience, is entirely trustworthy. For the knowledge of what is condemned is found the most complete demonstration. Many things, then, though not contributing to the final result, equip the artist. Otherwise erudition commends him, who sets forth the most essential doctrines so as to produce persuasion in his hearers, engendering admiration in those who are taught, and leads them to the truth. Such persuasion is convincing, by which those that love learning admit the truth. Thus, philosophy does not ruin life by being the originator of false practices and base deeds, although some have falsely claimed this, even though it is the clear image of truth and a divine gift to the Greeks. Nor does it drag us away from the faith, as if we were bewitched by some delusive art, but rather, so to speak, by the use of a larger path, it obtains a common exercise demonstrative of the faith. Further, the juxtaposition of doctrines, by comparison, saves the truth, from which follows knowledge.
Philosophy came into existence, not on its own account, but for the advantages reaped by us from knowledge, and we receive from it a firm persuasion of true perception, through the knowledge of things comprehended by the mind. For I do not state that this book of the Stromata, which forms a body of varied learning, artfully conceals the seeds of knowledge. He who is fond of hunting captures the game after seeking, tracking, scenting, hunting it down with dogs; so too, when truth is sought and obtained with toil, it appears a delicious thing. Why, then, you will ask, did you think it fit that such an arrangement should be adopted in your Memoranda? The reason is because there is great danger in divulging the secret of the true philosophy to those whose delight it is unsparingly to speak against everything, not justly, and who shout out all kinds of names and words inappropriately, deceiving themselves and enchanting those who adhere to them. For the Hebrews seek signs, as the apostle says, and the Greeks seek after wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:22).
Philosophy the Handmaid of Theology (Stromata, 1.5)
Accordingly, before the coming of the Lord, philosophy was necessary to the Greeks for attaining righteousness. Now it is beneficial for piety, being a kind of preparatory training for those who achieve faith through demonstration. For, it is said, your foot will not stumble, if you refer what is good to Providence, whether belonging to the Greeks or to us (Proverbs 3:23). For God is the cause of all good things, some primarily through the Old and the New Testament, and others because of philosophy. Perhaps, too, philosophy was given to the Greeks directly and primarily, until the Lord should call the Greeks. For this was a schoolmaster to bring the Hellenic mind to Christ, just as the law was for the Hebrews (Galatians 3:24). Philosophy, therefore, was a preparation, paving the way for him who is perfected in Christ.
Now, Solomon says, defend wisdom, and it will elevate you, and it will shield you with a crown of pleasure (Proverbs 4:8-9). For when you have strengthened wisdom through philosophy, and with right effort, you will preserve it without attack by sophists. The way of truth is therefore one, but, like a river, streams flow into it from all sides. . . .
The Eclectic Philosophy Paves the Way for Divine Virtue (Stromata, 1.7)
The Greek preparatory culture, therefore, with philosophy itself, is shown to have come down from God to men, not with a definite direction, but in the way in which showers fall down on the good land, on the dunghill, and on the houses. Similarly, on tombs we find growing grass wheat, figs and a variety of wild trees. Things that grow appear as a type of truth. For they enjoy the same influence of the rain. But they do not have the same grace as those which spring up in rich soil, insofar as they are withered or plucked up. Here we are aided by the parable of the sower, which the Lord interpreted. For the husbandman of the soil which is among men is one; He who from the beginning, from the foundation of the world, sowed nutritious seeds; He who in each age rained down the Lord, the Word. But the times and places which received [such gifts], created the differences which exist. Further, the husbandman sows not only wheat (of which there are many varieties), but also other seeds— barley, and beans, and peas, and vetches, and vegetable and flower seeds. To the same husbandry belongs both planting and the operations necessary in the nurseries, and gardens, and orchards, and the planning and rearing of all sorts of trees.
In like manner, with the care of sheep, the care of herds, breeding of horses and dogs, beekeeping, all arts and, generally speaking, the care of flocks and the rearing of animals: these all differ from each other more or less, but are still all useful for life. So too with Philosophy. I do not mean the Stoic, or the Platonic, or the Epicurean, or the Aristotelian, but, rather, whatever has been well said by each of those schools which teach righteousness along with a science pervaded with piety. This eclectic whole I call philosophy. But the conclusions of human reasoning that men have cut away and falsified, I would never call divine.
The Sophistical Arts Useless and even Harmful (Stromata, 1.8)
But the art of sophistry, which the Greeks cultivated, is a strange power, which makes false opinions seem like true ones by means of words. It produces rhetoric for the purpose of persuasion, disputation for wrangling. These arts, therefore, if not conjoined with philosophy, will be injurious to everyone. For Plato openly called sophistry an evil art. Aristotle, following him, demonstrates it to be a dishonest art, which abstracts in a specious manner the whole business of wisdom, and professes a wisdom which it has not studied. . . .
Thus the truth-loving Plato says, as if divinely inspired, I am such as to obey nothing but the word, which, after reflection, appears to me the best. Accordingly, he criticizes those who value opinions without intelligence and knowledge. He accuses them of unjustifiably abandoning right and sound reason, and believing those who are partners in falsehood. To cheat oneself of the truth is bad, but to speak the truth and adopt positive realities is good.
Human Knowledge Necessary for Truth, Not Faith Alone (Stromata, 1.9)
Some who think themselves naturally gifted do not wish to touch either philosophy or logic, and, even more, they do not wish to learn natural science. They demand bare faith alone, as if they wished to immediately gather clusters of grapes right from the start, without giving any care to the vine. Now the Lord is figuratively described as the vine, from which, with pains and the art of farming, according to the word, the fruit is to be gathered. We must lop, dig, bind, and perform the other operations. The pruning-knife, the pick-axe, and the other agricultural implements, I think, are necessary for the culture of the vine so that it may produce eatable fruit.
As it is with farming, so too it is with medicine. He who has practiced the various lessons has learned with purpose, and can cultivate and heal. So also here, I call him truly learned who brings everything to bear on the truth, including geometry, music, grammar, and philosophy itself. Selecting what is useful, he guards the faith against assault. Now, as was said, the athlete is despised who is not prepared for the contest. For instance, too, we praise the experienced helmsman who has seen the cities of many men, and the physician who has had vast experience, so too some describe the scientist. He who brings everything to bear on a right life, procuring examples from the Greeks and barbarians, this man is an experienced searcher after truth. He is in reality a man of great judgment, like the touch-stone (that is, the Lydian), which is believed to possess the power of distinguishing the false from the genuine gold. Our much-knowing gnostic [i.e., seeker of true knowledge] can distinguish sophistry from philosophy, the art of winning trophies from gymnastics, cookery from medicine, and rhetoric from dialectics, and the other schools which are according to the barbarian philosophy, from the truth itself. How necessary is it for him who desires to be partaker of the power of God, to treat intellectual subjects by philosophizing.
It is greatly useful to distinguish expressions which are ambiguous, and which in the Old and New Testaments are used synonymously. For the Lord, at the time of His temptation, skillfully matched the devil by an ambiguous expression.
All Schools of Philosophy Contain a Germ of Truth (Stromata, 1.13)
Truth is one, for falsehood has ten thousand side-paths. Just as the Bacchantes tore apart the limbs of Pentheus, so too the schools of both the barbarian and Hellenic philosophy have done with truth, and each brags to have the whole truth from the mere portion that has fallen to it. But, in my opinion, all are illuminated by the dawn of Light. Let all, therefore, both Greeks and barbarians, who have aspired after the truth (both those who possess not a little, and those who have any portion) produce whatever they have of the word of truth.
Eternity, for instance, presents in an instant the future, the present, and the past of time. But truth, much more powerful than limitless duration, can collect its proper germs, though they have fallen on foreign soil. For we will find that very many of the dogmas that are held by such schools as have not become utterly senseless, and are not cut out from the order of nature (by cutting off Christ, as the women of the fable dismembered the man), though appearing unlike one another, correspond in their origin and with the truth as a whole. For they coincide in one, either as a part, or a species, or a genus. For instance, though the highest note is different from the lowest note, yet both compose one harmony. In numbers an even number differs from an odd number, but both are part of arithmetic, and so too with shape, circle, triangle, square, and whatever figures differ from each other. Also, in the whole universe, all the parts, though differing one from another, preserve their relation to the whole.
The True Gnostic is an Imitator of God, Especially in Beneficence (Stromata, 2.19)
He is the Gnostic, who is after the image and likeness of God, who imitates God as far as possible, deficient in none of the things which contribute to the likeness as far as compatible. He practices self-restraint and endurance, lives righteously, controls the passions, gives of what he has as far as possible, and does good both by word and deed. It is said that He is the greatest in the kingdom who practices and teaches (Matthew 5:19), imitating God in giving similar benefits. God's gifts are for the common good. It is said that Whoever attempts to do anything with defiance, provokes God (Numbers 15:30). For arrogance is a vice of the soul, and, as with other sins, he commands us to repent from this. We should adjust our lives from their state of disorder to a the change for the better in these three things: the mouth, heart, and hands. These are signs— the hands for action, the heart for volition, and the mouth for speech. Thus, this oracle has been beautifully spoken regarding penitents: You have chosen God this day to be your God; and God has chosen you this day to be His people (Deuteronomy 26:17-18).
Knowledge of God Begins by Abstracting from Material Things (Stromata, 5.11)
To understand the type of purification [of the soul] by confession, and also that of contemplation by analysis, we must advance by analysis to the first notion, beginning with the properties that underlie it. We abstract from the body its physical properties, and take away the dimension of depth, then that of breadth, and then that of length. The point which then remains is a unit, so to speak, having position. If we then abstract position from this, there is the conception of unity.
If, then, abstracting all that belongs to bodies and things called incorporeal, we throw ourselves into the greatness of Christ, and thence advance into immensity by holiness, we may reach somehow to the conception of the Almighty, knowing not what He is, but what He is not. Form and motion, or standing, or a throne, or place, or right hand or left, are not at all to be conceived as belonging to the Father of the universe, although it is so written. But what each of these means will be shown in its proper place. The First Cause is not then in space, but above both space, and time, and name, and conception.
God Cannot be Embraced in Words or by the Mind (Stromata, 5.12)
Plato, the lover of truth, says the following: "It a difficult task to both discover the Father and Maker of this universe. If we find him, it is impossible to declare Him to all. For this is by no means capable of expression, like the other subjects of instruction." When the all-wise Moses, ascended the mount for holy contemplation, to the summit of intellectual objects, he necessarily commands that the whole people do not accompany him. When the Scripture says, "Moses entered the thick darkness where God was," this shows, to those capable of understanding, that God is invisible and beyond expression by words. "The darkness" (which is, in truth, the unbelief and ignorance of the multitude) obstructs the gleam of truth.
True Philosophy is Systematic Wisdom (Stromata, 6.7)
As we have pointed out earlier, what we propose as our subject is not the discipline which occurs in each school, but that which is really philosophy, strictly systematic Wisdom, which furnishes acquaintance with the things which pertain to life. We define Wisdom to be certain knowledge, being a sure and indisputable apprehension of things that are divine and human. This includes the present, past, and future, which the Lord has taught us, both by His arrival and by the prophets. It is indisputable by reason, inasmuch as it has been communicated. So it is wholly true according to [God's] intention, as being known through means of the Son. In one aspect it is eternal, and in another it becomes useful in time. Partly it is one and the same, partly many and indifferent -- partly without any movement of passion, partly with passionate desire -- partly perfect, partly incomplete.
This wisdom, then -- righteousness of soul, reason, and purity of life -- is the object of the desire of philosophy, which is kindly and lovingly disposed towards wisdom, and does everything to attain it.
Now those are called philosophers, among us, who love Wisdom, the Creator and Teacher of all things, that is, the knowledge of the Son of God. Among the Greeks, [the philosophers are] those who undertake arguments on virtue. Philosophy, then, consists of such dogmas found in each school (I mean philosophical school) as cannot be disputed, with a corresponding life, collected into one selection.
Philosophy Conveys Only an Imperfect Knowledge of God (Stromata, 6.17)
But, as appears, the philosophers of the Greeks, while naming God, do not know Him. But their philosophical speculations, according to Empedocles, "as passing over the tongue of the multitude, are poured out of mouths that know little of the whole." For as art changes the light of the sun into fire by passing it through a glass vessel full of water, so also philosophy, catching a spark from the divine Scripture, is visible in a few. Also, as all animals breathe the same air, some in one way, others in another, and to a different purpose; so also a considerable number of people occupy themselves with the truth, or rather with discourse concerning the truth. For they do not say anything respecting God, but expound Him by attributing their own affections to God. For they spend life in seeking the probable, not the true. But truth is not taught by imitation, but by instruction. For it is not that we may seem good that we believe in Christ, as it is not alone for the purpose of being seen, while in the sun, that we pass into the sun. But in the one case for the purpose of being warmed; and in the other, we are compelled to be Christians in order to be excellent and good. For the kingdom belongs pre-eminently to the violent, who, from investigation, and study, and discipline, reap this fruit, that they become kings.
He, then, who imitates opinion shows also preconception. When then one, having got an inkling of the subject, kindles it within in his soul by desire and study, he sets everything in motion afterwards in order to know it. For that which one does not apprehend, neither does he desire it, nor does he embrace the advantage flowing from it. Subsequently, therefore, the Gnostic at last imitates the Lord, as far as allowed to men, having received a sort of quality akin to the Lord Himself, in order to assimilation to God. But those who are not proficient in knowledge cannot judge the truth by rule. It is not therefore possible to share in the gnostic contemplations, unless we empty ourselves of our previous notions. For the truth in regard to every object of intellect and of sense is thus simply universally declared. For instance, we may distinguish the truth of painting from that which is vulgar, and decorous music from licentious. There is, then, also a truth of philosophy as distinct from the other philosophies, and a true beauty as distinct from the spurious. It is not then the partial truths, of which truth is predicated, but the truth itself, that we are to investigate, not seeking to learn names. For what is to be investigated respecting God is not one thing, but ten thousand. There is a difference between declaring God, and declaring things about God. To speak generally, in everything the accidents are to be distinguished from the essence.
The Recreational and Necessary Use of Philosophy to the Gnostic (Stromata, 6.18)
Now our Gnostic always occupies himself with the things of highest importance. But if at any time he has leisure and time for relaxation from what is of prime consequence, he applies himself to Hellenic philosophy in preference to other recreation, feasting on it as a kind of dessert at supper. It is not that he neglects what is superior, but that he takes this in addition, as long as proper, for the reasons I mentioned above. But those who give their mind to the unnecessary and superfluous points of philosophy, and addict themselves to wrangling sophisms alone, abandon what is necessary and most essential, pursuing plainly the shadows of words.
It is well indeed to know all. But the man whose soul is destitute of the ability to reach to acquaintance with many subjects of study, will select only the principal and better subjects. For real science (which we affirm the Gnostic alone possesses) is a sure comprehension, leading up through true and sure reasons to the knowledge (gnosis) of the cause. He, who is acquainted with what is true respecting any one subject, becomes of course acquainted with what is false respecting it.
For truly it appears to me to be a proper point for discussion, Whether we ought to philosophize: for its terms are consistent.
But if we are not to philosophize, what then? For no one can condemn a thing without first knowing it. The consequence, even in that case, is that we must philosophize.
ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA
God does Not Have a Body (Principles, 1.1.1)
I know that some will attempt to say that, even according to the declarations of our own Scriptures, God is a body, because in the writings of Moses they find it said, that "our God is a consuming fire;" and in the Gospel according to John, that "God is a Spirit, and they who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." Fire and spirit, according to them, are to be regarded as nothing else than a body. Now, I would like to ask these people what they have to say respecting that passage where it is declared that God is light. As John writes in his Epistle, "God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all." Truly He is that light which illuminates the whole understanding of those who are capable of receiving truth, as is said in the thirty-sixth Psalm, "In Your light we will see light." For what other light of God can be named, "in which any one sees light," save an influence of God, by which a man, being enlightened, either thoroughly sees the truth of all things, or comes to know God Himself, who is called the truth? Such is the meaning of the expression, "In Your light we will see light;" i.e., in Your word and wisdom which is Your Son, in Himself we will see You the Father. Because He is called light, will He be supposed to have any resemblance to the light of the sun? Or how should there be the slightest ground for imagining, that from that corporeal light any one could derive the cause of knowledge, and come to the understanding of the truth?
God is Incomprehensible, like the Splendor of the Sun (Principles, 1.1.5)
Having refuted, then, as well as we could, every notion which might suggest that we were to think of God as in any degree corporeal, we go on to say that, according to strict truth, God is incomprehensible, and incapable of being measured. For whatever be the knowledge which we are able to obtain of God, either by perception or reflection, we must of necessity believe that He is by many degrees far better than what we perceive Him to be. For, as if we were to see any one unable to bear a spark of light, or the flame of a very small lamp, and desired to acquaint such a one, whose vision could not admit a greater degree of light than what we have stated, with the brightness and splendor of the sun, would it not be necessary to tell him that the splendor of the sun was unspeakably and incalculably better and more glorious than all this light which he saw? Our understanding is restricted by the shackles of flesh and blood, and made, through its participation in such material substances, duller and more stupid (although, in comparison with our bodily nature, it is esteemed to be far superior). Yet, in its efforts to examine and see incorporeal things, the understanding barely holds the place of a spark or lamp. But among all intelligent incorporeal beings, what is so superior to all others as God? He is unspeakably and incalculably superior. His nature cannot be grasped or seen by the power of any human understanding, even the purest and brightest.
Separate Functions of Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Principles, 1.3.8)
Having made these declarations regarding the Unity of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, let us return to the order in which we began the discussion. God the Father confers existence upon all. Participation in Christ, in respect of His being the Logos makes them rational beings. From this it follows that they are deserving either of praise or blame, because capable of virtue and vice. For this reason, therefore, the grace of the Holy Ghost is present, so that those beings which are not holy in their essence may be made holy by participating in it. Thus, firstly, they derive their existence from God the Father; secondly, their rational nature from the Logos; thirdly, their holiness from the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, those who have been previously sanctified by the Holy Spirit are again made capable of receiving Christ, in respect that He is the righteousness of God. Further, those who have earned advancement to this grade by the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, will nevertheless obtain the gift of wisdom according to the power and working of the Spirit of God.
The Son as a Second God and as Wisdom and Righteousness (Contra Celsus, 5.39)
[Christians] have been taught to oppose evil, and turn away from wicked works, and to reverence and honor virtue as being created by God, and as being His Son. For we must not, because of their [grammatically] feminine name and nature, regard wisdom and righteousness as females. For these things are in our view the Son of God, as His true disciple [Paul] has shown, when he said of Him, "Who of God is made to us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption." Although we may call Him a "second" God, let men know that by the term "second God" we only mean a virtue capable of including all other virtues, and a reason capable of containing all reason whatsoever which exists in all things, which have arisen naturally, directly, and for the general advantage. This "reason," we say, lived in the soul of Jesus, and was united to Him in a degree far above all other souls, seeing He alone was enabled completely to receive the highest share in the absolute reason, and the absolute wisdom, and the absolute righteousness.
Holy Spirit works Only on Saints (Principles, 1.3.7)
In this manner, then, the working of the power of God the Father and of the Son is extended without distinction to every creature. But we find that a share in the Holy Spirit is possessed only by the saints. Therefore, it is said, "No man can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost." On one occasion, scarcely even the apostles themselves are deemed worthy to hear the words, "You will receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you." For this reason, also, I think it follows that he who has committed a sin against the Son of man is deserving of forgiveness. For, if he who is a participator of the word or reason of God cease to live agreeably to reason, he seems to have fallen into a state of ignorance or folly, and therefore to deserve forgiveness. However, he who has been deemed worthy to have a portion of the Holy Spirit, and who has relapsed, is, by this very act and work, said to be guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. We have said that the Holy Spirit is conferred upon the saints alone, but that the benefits or operations of the Father and of the Son extend to good and bad, to just and unjust. By saying this, no one should suppose that we give a preference to the Holy Spirit over the Father and the Son, or assert that His dignity is greater, which certainly would be a very illogical conclusion. For it is the uniqueness of His grace and operations that we have been describing.
All Creatures Created Equal, but through Free Will become Unequal (Principles, 2.9.6)
We, however, although but men, not to nourish the insolence of the heretics by our silence, will return to their objections such answers as occur to us, so far as our abilities enable us. We have frequently shown, by those declarations which we could produce from the holy Scriptures, that God, the Creator of all things, is good, and just, and all-powerful. When He in the beginning created those beings which He desired to create (i.e., rational natures), He had no other reason for creating them than because of Himself, namely, His own goodness. As He Himself, then, was the cause of the existence of those things which were to be created, in whom there was neither any variation nor change, nor want of power, He created all whom He made equal and alike. For, there was in Himself no reason for producing variety and diversity. But since those rational creatures themselves (as we have frequently shown and will yet show in the proper place), were endowed with the power of free-will, this freedom of will incited each one to either advance by imitating of God, or be reduced to failure through negligence. This, as we have already stated, is the cause of the diversity among rational creatures, deriving its origin not from the will or judgment of the Creator, but from the freedom of the individual will.
Now God, who deemed it just to arrange His creatures according to their merit, brought down these different understandings into the harmony of one world. He did this so that He might adorn, as it were, one house, in which there ought to be not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay (and some indeed to honor, and others to dishonor), with those different vessels, or souls, or understandings. These are the causes, in my opinion, why that world presents the aspect of diversity, while Divine Providence continues to regulate each individual according to the variety of his movements, or of his feelings and purpose. For this reason, the Creator will neither appear to be unjust in distributing (for the causes already mentioned) to everyone according to his merits; nor will the happiness or unhappiness of each one's birth, or whatever be the condition that falls to his lot, be deemed accidental. Nor will different creators, or souls of different natures, be believed to exist.
Universal Redemption and the Final Restoration (Principles, 1.6.1-2)
The end of the world, then, and the final consummation, will take place when everyone will be subjected to punishment for his sins; a time which God alone knows, when He will give each one what he deserves. We think, indeed, that the goodness of God, through His Christ, may recall all His creatures to one end, even His enemies being conquered and subdued. . . . I am of opinion the that it is this very subjection by which we also wish to be subject to Him, by which the apostles also were subject, and all the saints who have been followers of Christ. For the name "subjection," by which we are subject to Christ, indicates that the salvation which proceeds from Him belongs to His subjects, agreeably to the declaration of David, "Will not my soul be subject to God? From Him comes my salvation."
2. In the end, all enemies will be subdued to Christ, when death (the last enemy) will be destroyed, and the kingdom will be delivered up by Christ (to whom all things are subject) to God the Father. From such an end as this, let us contemplate the beginnings of things. For the end is always like the beginning: and, therefore, as there is one end to all things, so ought we to understand that there was one beginning. As there is one end to many things, so there spring from one beginning many differences and varieties, which again, through the goodness of God, and by subjection to Christ, and through the unity of the Holy Spirit, are recalled to one end, which is like the beginning.
Salvation of the Devil and Demons (Principles, 1.6.3)
It is to be kept in mind, however, that certain beings who fell away from that one beginning of which we have spoken, have sunk to such a depth of unworthiness and wickedness as to be deemed altogether undeserving of that training and instruction by which the human race, while in the flesh, are trained and instructed with the assistance of the heavenly powers. On the contrary, they continue in a state of enmity and opposition to those who are receiving this instruction and teaching. Hence it is that the whole of this mortal life is full of struggles and trials, caused by the opposition and enmity of those who fell from a better condition without at all looking back, and who are called the devil and his angels, and the other orders of evil, which the apostle classed among the opposing powers. Consider, now, whether any of these orders of evil who act under the government of the devil, and obey his wicked commands, will in a future world (a) be converted to righteousness because of their possessing the faculty of freedom of will, or (b) be changed from their persistent and inveterate wickedness by the power of habit into nature. This is something that you, reader, may approve of. If neither in these present worlds (which are seen and temporal), nor in those which are unseen and are eternal, that portion is to differ wholly from the final unity and fitness of things. But in the meantime, both in those temporal worlds which are seen, as well as in those eternal worlds which are invisible, all those beings are arranged, according to a regular plan, in the order and degree of their merits. Thus, some of them will be in the first, others in the second, some even in the last times. They will undergo heavier and severer punishments, enduring this for a lengthened period, and for many ages, so to speak, will improve by this stern method of training, and will be restored at first by the instruction of the angels, and subsequently by the powers of a higher grade. Thus, advancing through each stage to a better condition, they reach even to that which is invisible and eternal, having travelled through, by a kind of training, every single office of the heavenly powers. From this, I think the following can be inferred. Every rational nature may, in passing from one order to another, go through each to all, and advance from all to each, while made the subject of various degrees of proficiency and failure according to its own actions and endeavors, put forth in the enjoyment of its power of freedom of will.
All Spirits require Some Type of Body (Principles, 2.2.1-2)
1. On this topic some are inclined to inquire whether the following. The Father generates an uncreated Son, and brings forth a Holy Spirit (not as if He had no previous existence, but because the Father is the origin and source of the Son or Holy Spirit), and no “before” or “after” can be understood as existing in them. So too, then, a similar kind of union or relationship can be understood to exist between rational natures and bodily matter. That this point may be more fully and thoroughly examined, the start of the discussion is generally directed to the inquiry whether this very bodily nature, which bears the lives and contains the movements of spiritual and rational minds, will be equally eternal with them, or will altogether perish and be destroyed. That the question may be determined with greater precision, we have, in the first place, to inquire if it is possible for rational natures to remain altogether incorporeal after they have reached the summit of holiness and happiness (which seems to me a most difficult and almost impossible attainment), or whether they must always of necessity be united to bodies. Suppose that someone could give a reason why it was possible for them to dispense entirely with bodies. It would then appear to follow that, if a bodily nature was produced when it did not exist (created out of nothing after intervals of time), then it must cease to be when the purposes which it served had no longer an existence.
2. Suppose, on the other hand, it is impossible for this point to be at all maintained (that is, that any other nature than the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can live without a body). The necessity of logical reasoning compels us to understand that rational natures were indeed created at the beginning, but that material substance was separated from them only in thought and understanding. It appears to have been formed for them (or after them), and that they never have lived nor do live without it. For an incorporeal life will correctly be considered a prerogative of the Trinity alone. As we have remarked above, therefore, the material substance of this world, possessing a nature admitting of all possible transformations, is, when dragged down to beings of a lower order, molded into the crasser and more solid condition of a body, so as to distinguish those visible and varying forms of the world. But when it becomes the servant of more perfect and more blessed beings, it shines in the splendor of celestial bodies, and adorns either the angels of God or the sons of the resurrection with the clothing of a spiritual body, out of all which will be filled up the diverse and varying state of the one world.
God Creates an Eternity of Worlds, Past and Future (Principles, 3.5.3)
This is the objection which they generally raise: they say, "If the world had its beginning in time, what was God doing before the world began? For it is at once impious and absurd to say that the nature of God is inactive and immoveable, or to suppose that goodness at one time did not do good, and omnipotence at one time did not exercise its power." Such is the objection which they are accustomed to make to our statement that this world had its beginning at a certain time, and that, agreeably to our belief in Scripture, we can calculate the years of its past duration. To these propositions I consider that none of the heretics can easily return an answer that will be in conformity with the nature of their opinions. But we can give a logical answer in accordance with the standard of religion, when we say that when God made this visible world, this was not the first time that God began to work. For, just as after the destruction of this world God will create another world, so too do we believe that other worlds existed before the present one came into being. Both of these positions will be confirmed by the authority of holy Scripture. . . . It is not, however, to be supposed that several worlds existed at once, but that, after the end of this present world, others will take their beginning.
Heresies are Inevitable, and should Not Astonish Believers (Prescription against Heretics 1, 2)
1. The character of the times in which we live is such as to bring forth from us the following warning: we ought not to be astonished at the heresies [which abound], and neither should their existence surprise us, for it was foretold that they would occur. Nor should we be surprised at the fact that they subvert the faith of some, for their final cause [i.e., purpose] is, by providing a trial to faith, they also give it the opportunity of being "approved" (1 Corinthians 11:19). It is thus a groundless and inconsiderate offense when the many are scandalized by the very fact that heresies prevail to such a degree. How great (might their offense have been) if they had not existed. When it has been determined that a thing must certainly exist, it receives the [final] cause for which it has its being. This secures the power through which it exists, in such a way that it is impossible for it not to have existence.
2. Taking the similar case of fever, which is assigned a place among all other deadly and excruciating issues [of life] for destroying man. We are not surprised either that it exists, for there it is, or that it consumes man, for that is the purpose of its existence. The same applies to heresies, which are produced for the weakening and the extinction of faith. Since we feel a dread because they have this power, we should first dread the fact of their existence. For as long as they exist, they have their power, and as long as they have their power, they have their existence. But, still since fever is an evil both in its cause and in its power, as all know, we loathe it rather than wonder at it, and we guard against it to the best of our ability since we do not have the power to eliminate it. However, some men prefer wondering at heresies for possessing this power (which brings with them eternal death and the heat of a stronger fire); instead, they should avoid this power when they have the means to escape it. But heresies would have no power, if [men] would stop being astonished that they have such power. For it either happens that, while men are astonished, they fall into a snare, or, because they are ensnared, they cherish their surprise, as if heresies were so powerful because of some truth which belonged to them. It would no doubt be a thing of wonder that evil should have any force of its own, if it were not for the fact that heresies are strong in those persons who are not strong in faith. In a combat of boxers and gladiators, generally speaking, it is not because a man is strong that he gains the victory, or loses it because he is not strong. Rather, it is because he who is defeated was a man of no strength. Indeed this very conqueror, when afterwards matched against a really powerful man, actually retires in discouragement from the contest. In precisely the same way, heresies derive such strength as they have from the infirmities of individuals; they have no strength whenever when they encounter a very powerful faith. . . .
Philosophy is a Source of Heresy and has Nothing to do with Faith (Prescription against Heretics 7)
These are "the doctrines" of men and "of demons" (1 Timothy 4:1). They are produced for itching ears of the spirit of this world's wisdom. This the Lord called "foolishness," and "chose the foolish things of the world" to confound even philosophy itself. For it is [philosophy] which is the material of the world's wisdom, the rash interpreter of the nature and the dispensation of God. Indeed heresies are themselves instigated by philosophy. From this source came the [the Gnostic view of] Aeons, and I known not what infinite forms, and the trinity of man in the system of [the Gnostic] Valentinus, who was from Plato's school. From the same source came Marcion's better god [of love in the New Testament], with all his tranquility; he came from the Stoics. Then, again, the Epicureans held the opinion that the soul dies [with the body]. The denial of the resurrection of the body is taken from the combined school of all the philosophers. Further, when matter is made equal to God, then you have the teaching of Zeno [the Stoic]. When any doctrine is alleged touching a god of fire, then Heraclitus comes in. The same subject-matter is discussed over and over again by the heretics and the philosophers; the same arguments are involved. What is the origin of evil? Why is it permitted? What is the origin of man? In what way does he come? Further, there is the question which Valentinus has very recently proposed: What is the origin of God? He settles with the answer: From enthymesis and ectroma. Unhappy Aristotle, who invented dialectics for these men, the art of building up and pulling down. It is an art so evasive in its propositions, so far-fetched in its conjectures, so harsh, in its arguments, so productive of contentions. It is embarrassing even to itself, retracting everything, and really treating of nothing!
What is the source of those "fables and endless genealogies," (1 Timothy 1:4) and "unprofitable questions," (Titus 3:9) and "words which spread like a cancer" (2 Timothy 2:17)? When the apostle [Paul] would restrain us from all of these, he expressly names philosophy as that which he would have us be on our guard against. Writing to the Colossians, he says, "See that no one enchant you through philosophy and vain deceit, in the tradition of men, and contrary to the wisdom of the Holy Ghost." He had been at Athens, and had in his discussions [with its philosophers] become acquainted with that human wisdom which pretends to know the truth, while it only corrupts it, and is itself divided into its own many heresies, by the variety of its mutually opposed schools. What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What harmony is there between the Academy and the Church? What between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from "the porch of Solomon," who had himself taught that "the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart" (Wisdom 1:1). Away with all attempts to produce a Christianity speckled with Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no inquisitive disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no investigation after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief. For this is our praiseworthy faith, that there is nothing that we ought to believe besides it.
The Crucifixion of God: Absurd but True (On the Flesh of Christ, 5)
There are, to be sure, other things also quite as foolish [as the birth of Christ], regarding the humiliations and sufferings of God. Otherwise, let them call a crucified God “wisdom.” But Marcion [who argued that Christ had no genuine physical body] will apply the knife to this doctrine [of the crucifixion] also, and even with greater reason. For, which of the following is more unworthy of God, and is more likely to raise a blush of embarassment: that God should be born, or that he should die? That he should bear the flesh, or the cross? Be circumcised, or be crucified? Be cradled, or be coffined? Be laid in a manger, or in a tomb? Talk of “wisdom!” You will be more arbitrary if you refuse to believe this also. But, after all, you will not be “wise” unless you become a “fool” to the world, by believing “the foolish things of God.” Have you, then, [like Marcion] removed all sufferings from Christ, on the ground that, as a mere phantom, he was incapable of experiencing them? We have said above that He might possibly have undergone the unreal mockeries of an imaginary birth and infancy. But now answer me, you that murder truth: Was not God really crucified? Having been really crucified, did He not really die? And, having indeed really died, did He not really rise again? [If not, then] falsely did Paul “determine to know nothing amongst us but Jesus and Him crucified;” falsely has he impressed upon us that He was buried; falsely inculcated that He rose again. False, therefore, is our faith also. All that we hope for from Christ will be a phantom. You most wicked of men, who acquit the murderers of God of all guilt! For nothing did Christ suffer from them, if He really suffered nothing at all. Spare the whole world’s one only hope, you who are destroying the indispensable dishonor of our faith. Whatsoever is unworthy of God, is of gain to me. I am safe, if I am not ashamed of my Lord. “Whosoever,” He says, “will be ashamed of me, of him will I also be ashamed.” Other matters for shame find I none which can prove me to be shameless in a good sense, and foolish in a happy one, by my own contempt of shame. The Son of God was crucified; I am not ashamed because men are ashamed of it. The Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. He was buried, and rose again; the fact is certain, because it is impossible. But how will all this be true in him, if he was not himself true—if he really had not in himself that which might be crucified, might die, might be buried, and might rise again?
Questions for Review
1. According to Philo in On the Cherubim 1.9, what do the two cherubim represent?
2. According to Philo, what are the main features of the logos?
3. According to Philo in Heir of Divine Things 68-74, what are the main features of mystical transcendence?
4. According to Athenagoras in A Plea for the Christians 6, what are Plato’s and the Stoic’s views of the unity of God?
5. What are the main features of Athenagoras’s defense of the resurrection of the dead?
6. According to Clement in Stromata 1.2, in what ways is philosophy useful to the Christian?
7. In Stromata, 1.9, what does Clement say about the “faith alone” position?
8. According to Clement in Stromata 5.11, how does knowledge of God begin with abstraction from material things?
9. According to Clement throughout the Stromata, what are the main features of philosophy?
10. According to Origen what are the separate functions of father, son and holy spirit?
11. What is Origen’s view of universal redemption and final restoration?
12. According to Origen in Principles 2.2.1-2, why do all spirits require a body?
13. According to Tertullian in Prescription against Heretics 1, 2, why are heresies inevitable?
14. What is the context of Tertullian’s famous statement “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem” in Prescription against Heretics 7?
15. What is the context of Tertullian’s famous statement “I believe because it is absurd” in On the Flesh of Christ 5?
Questions for Analysis
1. Philo, Athenagoras, Clement, and Origen all have Platonist themes in their philosophy. Discuss some of these and how these authors connect these concepts with Judaism and Christianity.
2. Philo makes heavy use of the Stoic concept of the Logos. Describe the features of it that are distinctively Stoic, and the features he adapted to the Jewish concept of God.
3. Philo is famous for giving allegorical interpretations of scripture that reveal a higher philosophical meanings. Give some examples of this and discuss whether his interpretations are effective.
4. Explain Athenagoras’s argument for the unity of God.
5. Porphyry criticized the concept of the bodily resurrection on the grounds that, upon death, people’s bodily elements are continually recycled into the bodies of other people and animals. Athenagoras, while writing before the time of Porphyry, gives a Christian response to such a criticism. Discuss Athenagoras’s response and how Porphyry might respond.
6. Clement argued that philosophy is an important tool for understanding religion. Tertullian, on the other hand, argued that philosophy was useless in that capacity. Discuss which of the two makes a more compelling case.
7. Origen defended the idea of universal redemption and the final restoration, and argued that even Satan will be restored. Is this a good or bad idea? Explain.
8. Tertullian argued that heresies are inevitable, and should not astonish believers. Is he right? Explain.