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Chapter XIX.—That the Philosophers Have Attained to Some Portion of Truth.

Since, then, the Greeks are testified to have laid down some true opinions, we may from this point take a glance at the testimonies. Paul, in the Acts of the Apostles, is recorded to have said to the Areopagites, “I perceive that ye are more than ordinarily religious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with the inscription, To The Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you. God, that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, seeing He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek God, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him; though He be not far from every one of us: for in Him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we also are His offspring.” 2004 Whence it is evident that the apostle, by availing himself of poetical examples from the Phenomena of Aratus, approves of what had been well spoken by the Greeks; and intimates that, by the unknown God, God the Creator was in a roundabout way worshipped by the Greeks; but that it was necessary by positive knowledge to apprehend and learn Him by the Son. “Wherefore, then, I send thee to the Gentiles,” it is said, “to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God; that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith which is in Me.” 2005 Such, then, are the eyes of the blind which are opened. The knowledge of the Father by the Son is the comprehension of the “Greek circumlocution;” 2006 and to turn from the power of Satan is to change from sin, through which bondage was produced. We do not, indeed, receive absolutely all philosophy, but that of which Socrates 2007 speaks in Plato. “For there are (as they say) in the mysteries many bearers of the thyrsus, but few bacchanals;” meaning, “that many are called, but few chosen.” He accordingly plainly adds: “These, in my opinion, are none else than those who have philosophized right; to belong to whose number, I myself have left nothing undone in life, as far as I could, but have endeavoured in every way. Whether we have endeavoured rightly and achieved aught, we shall know when we have gone there, if God will, a little afterwards.” Does he not then seem to declare from the Hebrew Scriptures the righteous man’s hope, through faith, after death? And in Demodocus 2008 (if that is really the work of Plato): “And do not imagine that I call it philosophizing to spend life pottering about the arts, or learning many p. 322 things, but something different; since I, at least, would consider this a disgrace.” For he knew, I reckon, “that the knowledge of many things does not educate the mind,” 2009 according to Heraclitus. And in the fifth book of the Republic, 2010 he says, “‘Shall we then call all these, and the others which study such things, and those who apply themselves to the meaner arts, philosophers?’ ‘By no means,’ I said, ‘but like philosophers.’ ‘And whom,’ said he, ‘do you call true?’ ‘Those,’ said I, ‘who delight in the contemplation of truth. For philosophy is not in geometry, with its postulates and hypotheses; nor in music, which is conjectural; nor in astronomy, crammed full of physical, fluid, and probable causes. But the knowledge of the good and truth itself are requisite,—what is good being one thing, and the ways to the good another.’” 2011 So that he does not allow that the curriculum of training suffices for the good, but co-operates in rousing and training the soul to intellectual objects. Whether, then, they say that the Greeks gave forth some utterances of the true philosophy by accident, it is the accident of a divine administration (for no one will, for the sake of the present argument with us, deify chance); or by good fortune, good fortune is not unforeseen. Or were one, on the other hand, to say that the Greeks possessed a natural conception of these things, we know the one Creator of nature; just as we also call righteousness natural; or that they had a common intellect, let us reflect who is its father, and what righteousness is in the mental economy. For were one to name “prediction,” 2012 and assign as its cause “combined utterance,” 2013 he specifies forms of prophecy. Further, others will have it that some truths were uttered by the philosophers, in appearance.

The divine apostle writes accordingly respecting us: “For now we see as through a glass;” 2014 knowing ourselves in it by reflection, and simultaneously contemplating, as we can, the efficient cause, from that, which, in us, is divine. For it is said, “Having seen thy brother, thou hast seen thy God:” methinks that now the Saviour God is declared to us. But after the laying aside of the flesh, “face to face,”—then definitely and comprehensively, when the heart becomes pure. And by reflection and direct vision, those among the Greeks who have philosophized accurately, see God. For such, through our weakness, are our true views, as images are seen in the water, and as we see things through pellucid and transparent bodies. Excellently therefore Solomon says: “He who soweth righteousness, worketh faith.” 2015 “And there are those who, sewing their own, make increase.” 2016 And again: “Take care of the verdure on the plain, and thou shalt cut grass and gather ripe hay, that thou mayest have sheep for clothing.” 2017 You see how care must be taken for external clothing and for keeping. “And thou shalt intelligently know the souls of thy flock.” 2018 “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves; uncircumcision observing the precepts of the law,” 2019 according to the apostle, both before the law and before the advent. As if making comparison of those addicted to philosophy with those called heretics, 2020 the Word most clearly says: “Better is a friend that is near, than a brother that dwelleth afar off.” 2021 “And he who relies on falsehoods, feeds on the winds, and pursues winged birds.” 2022 I do not think that philosophy directly declares the Word, although in many instances philosophy attempts and persuasively teaches us probable arguments; but it assails the sects. Accordingly it is added: “For he hath forsaken the ways of his own vineyard, and wandered in the tracks of his own husbandry.” Such are the sects which deserted the primitive Church. 2023 Now he who has fallen into heresy passes through an arid wilderness, abandoning the only true God, destitute of God, seeking waterless water, reaching an uninhabited and thirsty land, collecting sterility with his hands. And those destitute of prudence, that is, those involved in heresies, “I enjoin,” remarks Wisdom, saying, “Touch sweetly stolen bread and the sweet water of theft;” 2024 the Scripture manifestly applying the terms bread and water to nothing else but to those heresies, which employ bread and water in the oblation, not according to the canon of the Church. For there are those who celebrate the Eucharist with mere water. “But begone, stay not in her place:” place is the synagogue, not the Church. He calls it by the equivocal name, place. Then He subjoins: “For so shalt thou pass through the water of another;” reckoning heretical baptism not proper and true water. “And thou shalt pass over another’s river,” that rushes along and sweeps down to the sea; into which he is cast who, having diverged from the stability which is according to truth, rushes back into the heathenish and tumultous waves of life.

p. 323



Acts xvii. 22-28.


Acts 26:17, 18.


Viz., “The Unknown God.” [Hereafter to be noted.]


[Not in the original with Socrates, but a common adage:—

Multi thyrsigeri, pauci Bacchi.

The original Greek hexameter is given by Erasmus, in his Adagia (p. 650), with numerous equivalents, among which take this: Non omnes episcopi qui mitram gerunt bicornem. He reminds us that Plato borrows it in the Phœdo, and he quotes the parallel sayin gof Herodes Atticus, “I see a beard and a cloak, but as yet do not discover the philosopher.”]


There is no such utterance in the Demodocus. But in the Amatores, Basle Edition, p. 237, Plato says: “But it is not so, my friend: nor is it philosophizing to occupy oneself in the arts, nor lead a life of bustling, meddling activity, nor to learn many things; but it is something else. Since I, at least, would reckon this a reproach; and that those who devote themselves to the arts ought to be called mechanics.”


According to the emendations of Menagius: “ὡς ἄρα ὴ πολυμά θεια γοον οὐχὶ διδάσκει.”


[Sect. xix. xx. p. 475.]


Adopting the emendations, δεῖ ἐπιστήμης instead of δἰ ἐπιστήμης, and τἀγαθῶν for τάγαθοῦ, omitting ὡσπερ.






1 Cor. xii. 12.


Prov. xi. 21.


Prov. xi. 24.


Prov. 27:25, 26.


Prov. xxvii. 23.


Rom. 2:14, 15.


[His ideas of the conditions of the Gnostics, Montanists, and other heretical sects who divided the primitive unity, is important as illustrating Irenæus. Note his words, the primitive, etc.]


Prov. xxvii. 10.


Prov. ix. 12.


[His ideas of the conditions of the Gnostics, Montanists, and other heretical sects who divided the primitive unity, is important as illustrating Irenæus. Note his words, the primitive, etc.]


Prov. ix. 17.

Next: Chapter XX.—In What Respect Philosophy Contributes to the Comprehension of Divine Truth.