Clement of Alexandria and Soren K.

An ignorant man has sought, and having sought, he finds the teacher wrote Clement of Alexandria (150 – c. 215 AD) in his Miscellanies.

Clement of Alexandria

Soren Kierkegaard liked that idea expecially as expressed by Socrates.

Kierkegaard wrote of Socrates in his thesis: On the Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates (1841)

“If the Sophists had answer for everything, then he could pose questions; if the Sophists knew everything, then he knew nothing at all; if the Sophists could talk without stopping, then he could be silent-that is, he could converse.

If the Sophist’s pageant was pompous and pretentious, then Socrates’ appearance was quiet and modest; if the Sophists’ mode of living was sumptuous and self-indulgent, his was simple and abstemious; if the Sophists’ goal was influence in the state, Socrates was reluctant to have anything to do with political affairs; if the Sophists’ instruction was priceless, then Socrates’ was, too, in the opposite sense; if the Sophists’ wished to sit at the head of the table, Socrates was content to sits at the foot; if the Sophists wanted to be regarded as somebodies, Socrates preferred to be a nobody.

All this can be understood as examples of Socrates’ moral strength.”  P. 210 Howard and Edna Hong translation 1989

Kierkegaard sees Socrates as an example of one who used ignorance to find knowledge. Frances Bacon has maintained the same attitude in his 1605 book The Advancement of Learning:

“Another error is an impatience of doubt, and haste to assertion without due and mature suspension of judgment. For the two ways of contemplation are not unlike the two ways of action commonly spoken of by the ancients; the one plain and smooth in the beginning, and in the end impassable; the other rough and troublesome in the entrance, but after a while fair and even. So it is in contemplation; if a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” (Book 1 p. 45)

I came across Clement of Alexandria’s Miscellanies while looking for something to read for and was struck by what Clement wote in his fifth book third chapter regarding faith and hope.  He elevated the mind over the senses. He wrote about the crowd as Kierkegaard and Plato did. And he quotes ancient authors as he explains how their ideas fit well with the New Testament.

The Objects of Faith and Hope Perceived By the Mind Alone.

For he who hopes, as he who believes, sees intellectual objects and future things with the mind. If, then, we affirm that aught is just, and affirm it to be good, and we also say that truth is something, yet we have never seen any of such objects with our eyes, but with our mind alone. Now the Word of God says, “I am the truth.” (John 14.3)  The Word is then to be contemplated by the mind.

“Do you aver,” it was said, By Plato that there are any true philosophers’?” “Yes,” said I, “those who love to contemplate the truth.” In the Phaedrus also, Plato, speaking of the truth, shows it as an idea. Now an idea is a conception of God; and this the barbarians have termed the Word of God. The words are as follow: “For one must then dare to speak the truth, especially in speaking of the truth. For the essence of the soul, being colourless, formless, and intangible, is visible only to God, its guide.” Now the Word issuing forth was the cause of creation; then also he generated himself, ” when the Word had become flesh,” (2 John 1. 14) that He might be seen. The righteous man will seek the discovery that flows from love, to which if he hastes he prospers. For it is said, ” To him that knocketh, it shall be opened: ask, and it shall be given to you.” (Matt. 7. 7) “For the violent that storm the kingdom” (Matt. 11.12) are not so in disputatious speeches; but by continuance in a right life and unceasing prayers, are said ” to take it by force,” wiping away the blots left by their previous sins.

“You may obtain wickedness, even in great abundance. (Hesiod, first line, “Works and Days,” 285) And him who toils God helps;
For the gifts of the Muses, hard to win,
Lie not before you, for any one to bear away.”
(Plato, Alcibiades, book 1)

The knowledge of ignorance is, then, the first lesson in walking according to the Word.

An ignorant man has sought, and having sought, he finds the teacher; and finding has believed, and believing has hoped; and henceforward having loved, is assimilated to what was loved — endeavouring to be what he first loved.

Such is the method Socrates shows Alcibiades, who thus questions: “Do you not think that I shall know about what is right otherwise?” “Yes, if you have found out.” “But you don’t think I have found out?” “Certainly, if you have sought.” “Then you don’t think that I have sought?” “Yes, if you think you do not know.”

So with the lamps of the wise virgins, lighted at night in the great darkness of ignorance, which the Scripture signified by “night.” Wise souls, pure as virgins, understanding themselves to be situated amidst the ignorance of the world, kindle the light, and rouse the mind, and illumine the darkness, and dispel ignorance, and seek truth, and await the appearance of the Teacher.

“The mob, then,” said I, “cannot become a philosopher.” (Plato, Republic, 6. p. 678) “Many rod-bearers there are, but few Bacchi,” according to Plato. “For many are called, but few chosen.”(Matt. 20. 16) “Knowledge is not in all,” (1 Cor. 8. 7) says the apostle. “And pray that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith.” (2 Thess. 3. 1, 2) And the Poetics of Cleanthes, the Stoic, writes to the following effect :

“Look not to glory, wishing to be suddenly wise,
And fear not the undiscerniug and rash opinion of the many; For the multitude has not an intelligent, or wise, or right judgment, And it is in few men that you will find this.” (Quoted by Socrates in the Phaedo, p. 52)

And more sententiously the comic poet briefly says: “It is a shame to judge of what is right by much noise.” For they heard, I think, that excellent wisdom, which says to us, “Watch your opportunity in the midst of the foolish, and in the midst of the intelligent continue.” (Ecclesiasticus 27 12,) And again, “The wise will conceal sense.”(Prov. 10. 14) For the many demand demonstration as a pledge of truth, not satisfied with the bare salvation by faith.

“But it is strongly incumbent to disbelieve the dominant wicked, And as is enjoined by the assurance of our muse, Know by dissecting the utterance within your breast.”

“For this is habitual to the wicked,” says Empedocles, ” to wish to overbear what is true by disbelieving it.” And that our tenets are probable and worthy of belief, the Greeks shall know, the point being more thoroughly investigated in what follows.

For we are taught what is like by what is like. For says Solomon, “Answer a fool according to his folly.” (Prov. 26.5) Wherefore also, to those that ask the wisdom that is with us, we are to hold out things suitable, that with the greatest possible ease they may, through their own ideas, be likely to arrive at faith in the truth. For “I became all things to all men, that I might gain all men.” (1 Cor. 9. 22) Since also “the rain” of the divine grace is sent down “on the just and the unjust.” (Matt. 5. 45) “Is He the God of the Jews only, and not also of the Gentiles? Yes, also of the Gentiles: if indeed He is one God,”(Romans 3. 29, 30) exclaims the noble apostle.

Clement of Alexandria (150 – c. 215 AD)  The Miscellanies – Book V  CHAPTER III.   p. 229-232



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