Clement of Alexandria 2.2, 4

Chapter 2. The Knowledge of God Can Be Attained Only Through Faith

Be not elated on account of your wisdom, say the Proverbs. In all your ways acknowledge her, that she may direct your ways, and that your foot may not stumble. By these remarks he means to show that our deeds ought to be conformable to reason, and to manifest further that we ought to select and possess what is useful out of all culture. Now the ways of wisdom are various that lead right to the way of truth. Faith is the way. Your foot shall not stumble is said with reference to some who seem to oppose the one divine administration of Providence. Whence it is added, Be not wise in your own eyes, according to the impious ideas which revolt against the administration of God. But fear God, who alone is powerful. Whence it follows as a consequence that we are not to oppose God. The sequel especially teaches clearly, that the fear of God is departure from evil; for it is said, and depart from all evil. Such is the discipline of wisdom (for whom the Lord loves He chastens ), causing pain in order to produce understanding, and restoring to peace and immortality. Accordingly, the Barbarianphilosophy, which we follow, is in reality perfect and true. And so it is said in the book of Wisdom: For He has given me the unerring knowledge of things that exist, to know the constitution of the word, and so forth, down to and the virtues of roots. Among all these he comprehends natural science, which treats of all the phenomena in the world of sense. And in continuation, he alludes also to intellectual objects in what he subjoins: And what is hidden or manifest I know; for Wisdom, the artificer of all things, taught me. You have, in brief, the professed aim of our philosophy; and the learning of these branches, when pursued with right course of conduct, leads through Wisdom, the artificer of all things, to the Ruler of all—a Being difficult to grasp and apprehend, ever receding and withdrawing from him who pursues. But He who is far off has— oh ineffable marvel!— come very near. I am a God that draws near, says the Lord. He is in essence remote; for how is it that what is begotten can have approached the Unbegotten? But He is very near in virtue of that power which holds all things in its embrace. Shall one do anything in secret, and I see him not? Jeremiah 23:23-24 For the power of God is always present, in contact with us, in the exercise of inspection, of beneficence, of instruction. Whence Moses, persuaded that God is not to be known by human wisdom, said, Show me Your glory; Exodus 33:18 and into the thick darkness where God’s voice was, pressed to enter— that is, into the inaccessible and invisible ideas respecting Existence. For God is not in darkness or in place, but above both space and time, and qualities of objects. Wherefore neither is He at any time in a part, either as containing or as contained, either by limitation or by section. For what house will you build to Me? says the Lord. Isaiah 66:1 Nay, He has not even built one for Himself, since He cannot be contained. And though heaven be called His throne, not even thus is He contained, but He rests delighted in the creation.

It is clear, then, that the truth has been hidden from us; and if that has been already shown by one example, we shall establish it a little after by several more. How entirely worthy of approbation are they who are both willing to learn, and able, according to Solomon, to know wisdom and instruction, and to perceive the words of wisdom, to receive knotty words, and to perceive true righteousness, there being another [righteousness as well], not according to the truth, taught by the Greek laws, and by the rest of the philosophers. And to direct judgments, it is said— not those of the bench, but he means that we must preserve sound and free of error the judicial faculty which is within us— That I may give subtlety to the simple, to the young man sense and understanding. For the wise man, who has been persuaded to obey the commandments, having heard these things, will become wiser by knowledge; and the intelligent man will acquire rule, and will understand a parable and a dark word, the sayings and enigmas of the wise. Proverbs 1:2-6 For it is not spurious words which those inspired by God and those who are gained over by them adduce, nor is it snares in which the most of the sophists entangle the young, spending their time on nought true. But those who possess the Holy Spirit search the deep things of God, 1 Corinthians 2:10 — that is, grasp the secret that is in the prophecies. To impart of holy things to the dogs is forbidden, so long as they remain beasts. For never ought those who are envious and perturbed, and still infidel in conduct, shameless in barking at investigation, to dip in the divine and clear stream of the living water. Let not the waters of your fountain overflow, and let your waters spread over your own streets. Proverbs 5:16 For it is not many who understand such things as they fall in with; or know them even after learning them, though they think they do, according to the worthy Heraclitus. Does not even he seem to you to censure those who believe not? Now my just one shall live by faith, Habakkuk 2:4 the prophet said. And another prophet also says, Unless you believe, neither shall you understand. Isaiah 7:9 For how ever could the soul admit the transcendental contemplation of such themes, while unbelief respecting what was to be learned struggled within? But faith, which the Greeks disparage, deeming it futile and barbarous, is a voluntary preconception, the assent of piety— the subject of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, according to the divine apostle. For hereby, pre-eminently, the elders obtained a good report. But without faith it is impossible to please God. Others have defined faith to be a uniting assent to an unseen object, as certainly the proof of an unknown thing is an evident assent. If then it be choice, being desirous of something, the desire is in this instance intellectual. And since choice is the beginning of action, faith is discovered to be the beginning of action, being the foundation of rational choice in the case of any one who exhibits to himself the previous demonstration through faith. Voluntarily to follow what is useful, is the first principle of understanding. Unswerving choice, then, gives considerable momentum in the direction of knowledge. The exercise of faith directly becomes knowledge, reposing on a sure foundation. Knowledge, accordingly, is defined by the sons of the philosophers as a habit, which cannot be overthrown by reason. Is there any other true condition such as this, except piety, of which alone the Word is teacher? I think not. Theophrastus says that sensation is the root of faith. For from it the rudimentary principles extend to the reason that is in us, and the understanding. He who believes then the divine Scriptures with sure judgment, receives in the voice of God, who bestowed the Scripture, a demonstration that cannot be impugned. Faith, then, is not established by demonstration. Blessed therefore those who, not having seen, yet have believed. The Siren’s songs, exhibiting a power above human, fascinated those that came near, conciliating them, almost against their will, to the reception of what was said.

Chapter 4. Faith the Foundation of All Knowledge

But we, who have heard by the Scriptures that self-determining choice and refusal have been given by the Lord to men, rest in the infallible criterion of faith, manifesting a willing spirit, since we have chosen life and believe God through His voice. And he who has believed the Word knows the matter to be true; for the Word is truth. But he who has disbelieved Him that speaks, has disbelieved God.

By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made of things which appear, says the apostle. By faith Abel offered to God a fuller sacrifice than Cain, by which he received testimony that he was righteous, God giving testimony to him respecting his gifts; and by it he, being dead, yet speaks, and so forth, down to than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. Faith having, therefore, justified these before the law, made them heirs of the divine promise. Why then should I review and adduce any further testimonies of faith from the history in our hands? For the time would fail me were I to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephtha, David, and Samuel, and the prophets, and what follows. Hebrews 11:32 Now, inasmuch as there are four things in which the truth resides— Sensation, Understanding, Knowledge, Opinion,— intellectual apprehension is first in the order of nature; but in our case, and in relation to ourselves, Sensation is first, and of Sensation and Understanding the essence of Knowledge is formed; and evidence is common to Understanding and Sensation. Well, Sensation is the ladder to Knowledge; while Faith, advancing over the pathway of the objects of sense, leaves Opinion behind, and speeds to things free of deception, and reposes in the truth.

Should one say that Knowledge is founded on demonstration by a process of reasoning, let him hear that first principles are incapable of demonstration; for they are known neither by art nor sagacity. For the latter is conversant about objects that are susceptible of change, while the former is practical solely, and not theoretical. Hence it is thought that the first cause of the universe can be apprehended by faith alone. For all knowledge is capable of being taught; and what is capable of being taught is founded on what is known before. But the first cause of the universe was not previously known to the Greeks; neither, accordingly, to Thales, who came to the conclusion that water was the first cause; nor to the other natural philosophers who succeeded him, since it was Anaxagoras who was the first who assigned to Mind the supremacy over material things. But not even he preserved the dignity suited to the efficient cause, describing as he did certain silly vortices, together with the inertia and even foolishness of Mind. Wherefore also the Word says, Call no man master on earth. Matthew 23:9 For knowledge is a state of mind that results from demonstration; but faith is a grace which from what is indemonstrable conducts to what is universal and simple, what is neither with matter, nor matter, nor under matter. But those who believe not, as to be expected, drag all down from heaven, and the region of the invisible, to earth, absolutely grasping with their hands rocks and oaks, according to Plato. For, clinging to all such things, they asseverate that that alone exists which can be touched and handled, defining body and essence to be identical: disputing against themselves, they very piously defend the existence of certain intellectual and bodiless forms descending somewhere from above from the invisible world, vehemently maintaining that there is a true essence. Lo, I make new things, says the Word, which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man. Isaiah 64:4;1 Corinthians 2:9 With a new eye, a new ear, a new heart, whatever can be seen and heard is to be apprehended, by the faith and understanding of the disciples of the Lord, who speak, hear, and act spiritually. For there is genuine coin, and other that is spurious; which no less deceivesunprofessionals, that it does not the money-changers; who know through having learned how to separate and distinguish what has a false stamp from what is genuine. So the money-changer only says to the unprofessional man that the coin is counterfeit. But the reason why, only the banker’s apprentice, and he that is trained to this department, learns.

Now Aristotle says that the judgment which follows knowledge is in truth faith. Accordingly, faith is something superior to knowledge, and is its criterion. Conjecture, which is only a feeble supposition, counterfeits faith; as the flatterer counterfeits a friend, and the wolf the dog. And as the workman sees that by learning certain things he becomes an artificer, and the helmsman by being instructed in the art will be able to steer; he does not regard the mere wishing to become excellent and good enough, but he must learn it by the exercise of obedience. But to obey the Word, whom we call Instructor, is to believe Him, going against Him in nothing. For how can we take up a position of hostility to God? Knowledge, accordingly, is characterized by faith; and faith, by a kind of divine mutual and reciprocal correspondence, becomes characterized by knowledge.

Epicurus, too, who very greatly preferred pleasure to truth, supposes faith to be a preconception of the mind; and defines preconception to be a grasping at something evident, and at the clear understanding of the thing; and asserts that, without preconception, no one can either inquire, or doubt, or judge, or even argue. How can one, without a preconceived idea of what he is aiming after, learn about that which is the subject of his investigation? He, again, who has learned has already turned his preconception into comprehension. And if he who learns, learns not without a preconceived idea which takes in what is expressed, that man has ears to hear the truth. And happy is the man that speaks to the ears of those who hear; as happy certainly also is he who is a child of obedience. Now to hear is to understand. If, then, faith is nothing else than a preconception of the mind in regard to what is the subject of discourse, and obedience is so called, and understanding and persuasion; no one shall learn anything without faith, since no one [learns anything] without preconception. Consequently there is a more ample demonstration of the complete truth of what was spoken by the prophet, Unless you believe, neither will you understand. Paraphrasing this oracle, Heraclitus of Ephesus says, If a man hope not, he will not find that which is not hoped for, seeing it is inscrutable and inaccessible. Plato the philosopher, also, in The Laws, says, that he who would be blessed and happy, must be straight from the beginning a partaker of the truth, so as to live true for as long a period as possible; for he is a man of faith. But the unbeliever is one to whom voluntary falsehood is agreeable; and the man to whom involuntary falsehood is agreeable is senseless; neither of which is desirable. For he who is devoid of friendliness, is faithless and ignorant. And does he not enigmatically say in Euthydemus, that this is the regal wisdom? In The Statesman he says expressly, So that the knowledge of the true king is kingly; and he who possesses it, whether a prince or private person, shall by all means, in consequence of this act, be rightly styled royal. Now those who have believed in Christ both are and are called Chrestoi (good), as those who are cared for by the true king are kingly. For as the wise are wise by their wisdom, and those observant of law are so by the law; so also those who belong to Christ the King are kings, and those that are Christ’s Christians. Then, in continuation, he adds clearly, What is right will turn out to be lawful, law being in its nature right reason, and not found in writings or elsewhere. And the stranger of Elea pronounces the kingly and statesmanlike man a living law. Such is he who fulfils the law, doing the will of the Father, Matthew 21:31 inscribed on a lofty pillar, and set as an example of divine virtue to all who possess the power of seeing. The Greeks are acquainted with the staves of the Ephori at Lacedæmon, inscribed with the law on wood. But my law, as was said above, is both royal and living; and it is right reason. Law, which is king of all— of mortals and immortals, as the Bœotian Pindar sings. For Speusippus, in the first book against Cleophon, seems to write like Plato on this wise: For if royalty be a good thing, and the wise man the only king and ruler, the law, which is right reason, is good; which is the case. The Stoics teach what is in conformity with this, assigning kinghood, priesthood, prophecy, legislation, riches, true beauty, noble birth, freedom, to the wise man alone. But that he is exceedingly difficult to find, is confessed even by them.