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Clement of Alexandria - Book VI

Chapter XII.—Human Nature Possesses an Adaptation for Perfection; The Gnostic Alone Attains It.

Chapter XII.--Human Nature Possesses an Adaptation for Perfection; The Gnostic Alone Attains It.

By which consideration [3364] is solved the question propounded to us by the heretics, Whether Adam was created perfect or imperfect? Well, if imperfect, how could the work of a perfect God--above all, that work being man--be imperfect? And if perfect, how did he transgress the commandments? For they shall hear from us that he was not perfect in his creation, but adapted to the reception of virtue. For it is of great importance in regard to virtue to be made fit for its attainment. And it is intended that we should be saved by ourselves. This, then, is the nature of the soul, to move of itself. Then, as we are rational, and philosophy being rational, we have some affinity with it. Now an aptitude is a movement towards virtue, not virtue itself. All, then, as I said, are naturally constituted for the acquisition of virtue.

But one man applies less, one more, to learning and training. Wherefore also some have been competent to attain to perfect virtue, and others have attained to a kind of it. And some, on the other hand, through negligence, although in other respects of good dispositions, have turned to the opposite. Now much more is that knowledge which excels all branches of culture in greatness and in truth, most difficult to acquire, and is attained with much toil. "But, as seems, they know not the mysteries of God. For God created man for immortality, and made him an image of His own nature;" [3365] according to which nature of Him who knows all, he who is a Gnostic, and righteous, and holy with prudence, hastes to reach the measure of perfect manhood. For not only are actions and thoughts, but words also, pure in the case of the Gnostic: "Thou hast proved mine heart; Thou hast visited me by night," it is said; "Thou hast subjected me to the fire, and unrighteousness was not found in me: so that my mouth shall not speak the works of men." [3366]

And why do I say the works of men? He recognises sin itself, which is not brought forward in order to repentance (for this is common to all believers); but what sin is. Nor does he condemn this or that sin, but simply all sin; nor is it what one has done ill that he brings up, but what ought not to be done. Whence also repentance is twofold: that which is common, on account of having transgressed; and that which, from learning the nature of sin, persuades, in the first instance, to keep from sinning, the result of which is not sinning.

Let them not then say, that he who does wrong and sins transgresses through the agency of demons; for then he would be guiltless. But by choosing the same things as demons, by sinning; being unstable, and light, and fickle in his desires, like a demon, he becomes a demoniac man. Now he who is bad, having become, through evil, sinful by nature, becomes depraved, having what he has chosen; and being sinful, sins also in his actions. And again, the good man does right. Wherefore we call not only the virtues, but also right actions, good. And of things that are good we know that some are desirable for themselves, as knowledge; for we hunt for nothing from it when we have it, but only [seek] that it be with us, and that we be in uninterrupted contemplation, and strive to reach it for its own sake. But other things are desirable for other considerations, such as faith, for escape from punishment, and the advantage arising from reward, which accrue from it. For, in the case of many, fear is the cause of their not sinning; and the promise is the means of pursuing obedience, by which comes salvation. Knowledge, then, desirable as it is for its own sake, is the most perfect good; and consequently the things which follow by means of it are good. And punishment is the cause of correction to him who is punished; and to those who are able to see before them he becomes an example, to prevent them falling into the like.

Let us then receive knowledge, not desiring its results, but embracing itself for the sake of knowing. For the first advantage is the habit of knowledge (gnostike), which furnishes harmless pleasures and exultation both for the present and the future. And exultation is said to be gladness, being a reflection of the virtue which is according to truth, through a kind of exhilaration and relaxation of soul. And the acts which partake of knowledge are good and fair actions. For abundance in the actions that are according to virtue, is the true riches, and destitution in decorous [3367] desires is poverty. For the use and enjoyment of necessaries are not injurious in quality, but in quantity, when in excess. Wherefore the Gnostic circumscribes his desires in reference both to possession and to enjoyment, not exceeding the limit of necessity. Therefore, regarding life in this world as necessary for the increase of science (episteme) and the acquisition of knowledge (gnosis), he will value highest, not living, but living well. He will therefore prefer neither children, nor marriage, nor parents, to love for God, and righteousness in life. To such an one, his wife, after conception, is as a sister, and is judged as if of the same father; then only recollecting her husband, when she looks on the children; as being destined to become a sister in reality after putting off the flesh, which separates and limits the knowledge of those who are spiritual by the peculiar characteristics of the sexes. For souls, themselves by themselves, are equal. Souls are neither male nor female, when they no longer marry nor are given in marriage. And is not woman translated into man, when she is become equally unfeminine, and manly, and perfect? Such, then, was the laughter of Sarah [3368] when she received the good news of the birth of a son; not, in my opinion, that she disbelieved the angel, but that she felt ashamed of the intercourse by means of which she was destined to become the mother of a son.

And did not Abraham, when he was in danger on account of Sarah's beauty, with the king of Egypt, properly call her sister, being of the same father, but not of the same mother? [3369]

To those, then, who have repented and not firmly believed, God grants their requests through their supplications. But to those who live sinlessly and gnostically, He gives, when they have but merely entertained the thought. For example, to Anna, on her merely conceiving the thought, conception was vouchsafed of the child Samuel. [3370] "Ask," says the Scripture, "and I will do. Think, and I will give." For we have heard that God knows the heart, not judging [3371] the soul from [external] movement, as we men; nor yet from the event. For it is ridiculous to think so. Nor was it as the architect praises the work when accomplished that God, on making the light and then seeing it, called it good. But He, knowing before He made it what it would be, praised that which was made, He having potentially made good, from the first by His purpose that had no beginning, what was destined to be good actually. Now that which has future He already said beforehand was good, the phrase concealing the truth by hyperbaton. Therefore the Gnostic prays in thought during every hour, being by love allied to God. And first he will ask forgiveness of sins; and after, that he may sin no more; and further, the power of well-doing and of comprehending the whole creation and administration by the Lord, that, becoming pure in heart through the knowledge, which is by the Son of God, he may be initiated into the beatific vision face to face, having heard the Scripture which says, "Fasting with prayer is a good thing." [3372]

Now fastings signify abstinence from all evils whatsoever, both in action and in word, and in thought itself. As appears, then, righteousness is quadrangular; [3373] on all sides equal and like in word, in deed, in abstinence from evils, in beneficence, in gnostic perfection; nowhere, and in no respect halting, so that he does not appear unjust and unequal. As one, then, is righteous, so certainly is he a believer. But as he is a believer, he is not yet also righteous--I mean according to the righteousness of progress and perfection, according to which the Gnostic is called righteous.

For instance, on Abraham becoming a believer, it was reckoned to him for righteousness, he having advanced to the greater and more perfect degree of faith. For he who merely abstains from evil conduct is not just, unless he also attain besides beneficence and knowledge; and for this reason some things are to be abstained from, others are to be done. "By the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left," [3374] the apostle says, the righteous man is sent on to the inheritance above,--by some [arms] defended, by others putting forth his might. For the defence of his panoply alone, and abstinence from sins, are not sufficient for perfection, unless he assume in addition the work of righteousness--activity in doing good.

Then our dexterous man and Gnostic is revealed in righteousness already even here, as Moses, glorified in the face of the soul, [3375] as we have formerly said, the body bears the stamp of the righteous soul. For as the mordant of the dyeing process, remaining in the wool, produces in it a certain quality and diversity from other wool; so also in the soul the pain is gone, but the good remains; and the sweet is left, but the base is wiped away. For these are two qualities characteristic of each soul, by which is known that which is glorified, and that which is condemned.

And as in the case of Moses, from his righteous conduct, and from his uninterrupted intercourse with God, who spoke to him, a kind of glorified hue settled on his face; so also a divine power of goodness clinging to the righteous soul in contemplation and in prophecy, and in the exercise of the function of governing, impresses on it something, as it were, of intellectual radiance, like the solar ray, as a visible sign of righteousness, uniting the soul with light, through unbroken love, which is God-bearing and God-borne. Thence assimilation to God the Saviour arises to the Gnostic, as far as permitted to human nature, he being made perfect "as the Father who is in heaven." [3376]

It is He Himself who says, "Little children, a little while I am still with you." [3377] Since also God Himself remains blessed and immortal, neither molested nor molesting another; [3378] not in consequence of being by nature good, but in consequence of doing good in a manner peculiar to Himself. God being essentially, and proving Himself actually, both Father and good, continues immutably in the self-same goodness. For what is the use of good that does not act and do good?