Christian Platonism

Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom

St Clement of Alexandria – True Gnosticism 1

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St Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215)  — Stromateis 6.18

Chapter XVIII.-The Use of Philosophy to the Gnostic.

Greek philosophy the recreation of the Gnostic.

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. 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….

Philosophy necessary.

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….

For intensification of the righteousness which is according to the law shows the Gnostic. So one who is placed in the head, which is that which rules its own body-and who advances to the summit of faith, which is the knowledge (gnosis) itself, for which all the organs of perception exist-will likewise obtain the highest inheritance.

The primacy of knowledge the apostle shows to those capable of reflection, in writing to those Greeks of Corinth, in the following terms: “But having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall he magnified in you according to our rule abundantly, to preach the Gospel beyond you.” [2 Cor. x. 15, 16] He does not mean the extension of his preaching locally: for he says also that in Achaia faith abounded; and it is related also in the Acts of the Apostles that he preached the word in Athens. [Acts 17] ]But he teaches that knowledge (gnosis), which is the perfection of faith, goes beyond catechetical instruction, in accordance with the magnitude of the Lord’s teaching and the rule of the Church. Wherefore also he proceeds to add, “And if I am rude in speech, yet I am not in knowledge.”

Whence is the knowledge of truth?

[Comment: But mere secular philosophy is n0t reliable]

But let those who vaunt on account of having apprehended the truth tell us from whom they boast of having heard it. They will not say from God, but will admit that it was from men. And if so, it is either from themselves that they have learned it lately, as some of them arrogantly boast, or from others like them. But human teachers, speaking of God, are not reliable, as men….

[Comment: ultimately, wisdom (gnosis) comes from God]

Those even who claim God as their teacher, with difficulty attain to a conception of God, grace aiding them to the attainment of their modicum of knowledge; accustomed as they are to contemplate the will [of God] by the will, and the Holy Spirit by the Holy Spirit. “For the Spirit searches the deep things of God. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit.”

The only wisdom, therefore, is the God-taught wisdom we possess; on which depend all the sources of wisdom, which make conjectures at the truth.

via Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II.

Related link:  Pope Benedict’s biography of  Clement

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Written by John Uebersax

December 30, 2008 at 9:52 am

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