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    THE ECLECTIC PHILOSOPHY

    Near the close of the second century, a new system of philosophy was started, called the Eclectic. “This philosophy was adopted by such of the learned at Alexandria, as wished to be accounted Christians, and yet to retain the name, the garb, and the rank of philosophers. In particular, all those who in this century presided in the schools of the Christians at Alexandria. Athenagoras, Pantaenus, and Clemens Alexandrinus, are said to have approved of it. These men were persuaded that true philosophy, the great and most salutary gift of God, lay in scattered fragments among all the sects of philosophers; and therefore, that it was the duty of every wise man, and especially of a Christian teacher, to collect those fragments from all quarters, and to use them for the defense of religion, and the confutation of impiety. Yet this selection of opinions did not prevent them from regarding Plato as wiser than all the rest, and as especially remarkable for treating the Deity, the soul, and things remote from sense, so as to suit the Christian scheme.”—Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History, century 2, part 2, chapter 1, section 6.SOOCC 42.1

    As Clement of Alexandria was the chief exponent of this system of philosophy, we shall, for brevity’s sake, confine our attention to him. Murdock, the translator of Mosheim, gives us in a note the following sketch:—SOOCC 43.1

    “Titus Flavius Clemens, whether born at Athens or Alexandria, was a pagan in early life, and devoted himself to philosophy. He traveled in Greece, in South Italy, in Coelo-Syria, in Palestine, and lastly in Egypt, where he was a pupil of Pantaenus, the master of the Christian school at Alexandria. Becoming a Christian, he was made a presbyter of the Alexandrian church, and succeeded his preceptor Pantaenus as master of the catechetic or divinity school. He taught with great applause during the reign of Severus (A. D. 193-211), and had Origen and other eminent men of the third century for pupils.... Clement had vast learning, a lively imagination, great fluency, considerable discrimination, and was a bold and independent speculator. That he had true piety, and held the essential truths of the gospel, is admitted by all [it is not necessary to call in question his sincerity; but his teachings show that he had a very meager knowledge of the gospel]; but no one of the Fathers, except Origen, has been more censured, in modern times, for an excessive attachment to philosophy or metaphysical theology. He was a true eclectic, which he also professed to be; that is, he followed no master implicitly, but examined and judged for himself. Yet his education, and the atmosphere in which he lived, led him to lean towards Platonism and Stoicism. His great error was, that he overrated the value of philosophy, or human reason, as a guide in matters of religion. He also indulged his imagination, as all the learned of this age did, to excess; and construed the Bible allegorically and fancifully.”—Note 9 to Ecclesiastical History, century 2, part 2, chapter 2, section 5.SOOCC 43.2

    In his “Commentaries” Mosheim tells us that there can be no question but that “Clement is to be ranked amongst the first and principal Christian defenders and teachers of philosophic science, deed that he may even be placed at the head of those who devoted themselves to the cultivation of philosophy with an ardor that knew no bounds, and were so blind and misguided as to engage in the hopeless attempt of producing an accommodation between the principles of philosophic science and those of the Christian religion.”—Century 2, section 25, note 2.SOOCC 44.1

    The high place which Clement gave to the Greek philosophy may be learned from two passages in his writings. In the following he places it on a level with the Bible, and supports his position by manufacturing a text of Scripture:—SOOCC 44.2

    “Accordingly, before the advent of the Lord, philosophy was necessary to the Greeks for righteousness. And now it becomes conducive to piety; being a kind of preparatory training to those who attain to faith through demonstration. ‘For thy foot,’ it is said, ‘will not stumble, if thou refer what is good, whether belonging to the Greeks or to us, to providence.’ For God is the cause of all good things; but of some primarily, as of the Old and the New Testament; and of the others by consequence, as philosophy. Perchance, too, philosophy was given to the Greeks directly and primarily, till the Lord should call the Greeks. ‘For this was a school-master to bring the Hellenic mind,’ as the law the Hebrews, ‘to Christ.’ Philosophy, therefore, was a preparation, paving the way for him who is perfected in Christ.”—Stromata, book 1, chapter 5.SOOCC 44.3

    We cannot see how anybody who knows what the gospel is can imagine that the writer of such a passage was ever acquainted with its essential principles. In chapter eight he says that “we shall not err in alleging that all things necessary and profitable for life came to us from God, and that philosophy more especially was given to the Greeks, as a covenant peculiar to them—being, as it is, a stepping stone to the philosophy which is according to Christ.” Elsewhere he argues, by a fanciful and absurd use of the record of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, that it is absolutely necessary to study philosophy in order to understand Christianity,—that as Hagar was Sarah’s handmaid, so philosophy is the handmaid of religion.SOOCC 45.1

    As a direct consequence of such teaching as this, by so renowned a church Father, two things resulted: The Scriptures were twisted out of all sense and positively contradicted, and the church was filled with men who, while professing to be Christian, were still pagan, for the reason that there was nothing in the instruction which they had received to cause them to think that Christianity was anything else than another phase of paganism. Of Clement’s estimate of the Scriptures let the following serve as a sufficient example:—SOOCC 45.2

    “For many reasons, then, the Scriptures hide the sense. First, that we may become inquisitive, and be ever on the watch for the discovery of the words of salvation. Then it was not suitable for all to understand, so that they might not receive harm in consequence of taking in another sense the things declared for salvation by the Holy Spirit. Wherefore the holy mysteries of the prophecies are veiled in parables—preserved for chosen men, selected to knowledge in consequence of their faith; for the style of the Scriptures is parabolic.”—Stromata, book 6, chapter 15.SOOCC 46.1

    The idea that the meaning of the Scriptures had to be hidden, to avoid the danger of their being misunderstood, may strike the reader as ludicrous; but, according to the custom which was fast forming at that time, it was a sure preventive. We shall refer to this later, in connection with the results of Origen’s teaching.SOOCC 46.2

    The motive which induced Clement and his fellows to exalt philosophy is thus set forth: “The Christian teachers were well aware of what essential benefit it would be in promoting their cause, not only with the multitude, but also amongst men of the higher orders, could the philosophers, whose authority and estimation with the world was unbounded, be brought to embrace Christianity. With a view, therefore, of accomplishing this desirable object, they not only adopted the study of philosophy themselves, but became loud in their recommendation of it to others, declaring that the difference between Christianity and philosophy [paganism] was but trifling, and consisted merely in the former being of a nature somewhat more perfect than the latter. And it is most certain that this kind of conduct was so far productive of the desired effect, as to cause not a few of the philosophers to enroll themselves under the Christian banner. Those who have perused the various works written by such of the ancient philosophers as had been induced to embrace Christianity, cannot have failed to remark, that the Christian discipline was regarded by all of them in no other light than as a certain mode of philosophizing.”—Ecclesiastical Commentary, century 2, section 26, note.SOOCC 46.3

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