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Chapter XVII.—On the Saying of the Saviour, “All that Came Before Me Were Thieves and Robbers.”19851985 John x. 8.
But, say they, it is written, “All who were before the Lord’s advent are thieves and robbers.” All, then, who are in the Word (for it is these that were previous to the incarnation of the Word) are understood generally. But the 319prophets, being sent and inspired by the Lord, were not thieves, but servants. The Scripture accordingly says, “Wisdom sent her servants, inviting with loud proclamation to a goblet of wine.”19861986 Prov. ix. 3.
But philosophy, it is said, was not sent by the Lord, but came stolen, or given by a thief. It was then some power or angel that had learned something of the truth, but abode not in it, that inspired and taught these things, not without the Lord’s knowledge, who knew before the constitution of each essence the issues of futurity, but without His prohibition.
For the theft which reached men then, had some advantage; not that he who perpetrated the theft had utility in his eye, but Providence directed the issue of the audacious deed to utility. I know that many are perpetually assailing us with the allegation, that not to prevent a thing happening, is to be the cause of it happening. For they say, that the man who does not take precaution against a theft, or does not prevent it, is the cause of it: as he is the cause of the conflagration who has not quenched it at the beginning; and the master of the vessel who does not reef the sail, is the cause of the shipwreck. Certainly those who are the causes of such events are punished by the law. For to him who had power to prevent, attaches the blame of what happens. We say to them, that causation is seen in doing, working, acting; but the not preventing is in this respect inoperative. Further, causation attaches to activity; as in the case of the shipbuilder in relation to the origin of the vessel, and the builder in relation to the construction of the house. But that which does not prevent is separated from what takes place. Wherefore the effect will be accomplished; because that which could have prevented neither acts nor prevents. For what activity does that which prevents not exert? Now their assertion is reduced to absurdity, if they shall say that the cause of the wound is not the dart, but the shield, which did not prevent the dart from passing through; and if they blame not the thief, but the man who did not prevent the theft. Let them then say, that it was not Hector that burned the ships of the Greeks, but Achilles; because, having the power to prevent Hector, he did not prevent him; but out of anger (and it depended on himself to be angry or not) did not keep back the fire, and was a concurring cause. Now the devil, being possessed of free-will, was able both to repent and to steal; and it was he who was the author of the theft, not the Lord, who did not prevent him. But neither was the gift hurtful, so as to require that prevention should intervene.
But if strict accuracy must be employed in dealing with them, let them know, that that which does not prevent what we assert to have taken place in the theft, is not a cause at all; but that what prevents is involved in the accusation of being a cause. For he that protects with a shield is the cause of him whom he protects not being wounded; preventing him, as he does, from being wounded. For the demon of Socrates was a cause, not by not preventing, but by exhorting, even if (strictly speaking) he did not exhort. And neither praises nor censures, neither rewards nor punishments, are right, when the soul has not the power of inclination and disinclination, but evil is involuntary. Whence he who prevents is a cause; while he who prevents not judges justly the soul’s choice. So in no respect is God the author of evil. But since free choice and inclination originate sins, and a mistaken judgment sometimes prevails, from which, since it is ignorance and stupidity, we do not take pains to recede, punishments are rightly inflicted. For to take fever is involuntary; but when one takes fever through his own fault, from excess, we blame him. Inasmuch, then, as evil is involuntary,—for no one prefers evil as evil; but induced by the pleasure that is in it, and imagining it good, considers it desirable;—such being the case, to free ourselves from ignorance, and from evil and voluptuous choice, and above all, to withhold our assent from those delusive phantasies, depends on ourselves. The devil is called “thief and robber;” having mixed false prophets with the prophets, as tares with the wheat. “All, then, that came before the Lord, were thieves and robbers;” not absolutely all men, but all the false prophets, and all who were not properly sent by Him. For the false prophets possessed the prophetic name dishonestly, being prophets, but prophets of the liar. For the Lord says, “Ye are of your father the devil; and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it.”19871987 John viii. 44.
But among the lies, the false prophets also told some true things. And in reality they prophesied “in an ecstasy,” as19881988 [The devil can quote Scripture. Hermas, p. 27, this volume. See, on this important chapter, Elucidation XIII., infra.] the servants of the apostate. And the Shepherd, the angel of repentance, says to Hermas, of the false prophet: “For he speaks some truths. For the devil fills him with his own spirit, if perchance he may be able to cast down any one from what is right.” All things, therefore, are dispensed from heaven for good, “that by the Church may be made known the manifold wisdom of God, according 320to the eternal foreknowledge,19891989 Clement reads πρόγνωσιν for πρόθεσιν. which He purposed in Christ.”19901990 Eph. iii. 10, 11. Nothing withstands God: nothing opposes Him: seeing He is Lord and omnipotent. Further, the counsels and activities of those who have rebelled, being partial, proceed from a bad disposition, as bodily diseases from a bad constitution, but are guided by universal Providence to a salutary issue, even though the cause be productive of disease. It is accordingly the greatest achievement of divine Providence, not to allow the evil, which has sprung from voluntary apostasy, to remain useless, and for no good, and not to become in all respects injurious. For it is the work of the divine wisdom, and excellence, and power, not alone to do good (for this is, so to speak, the nature of God, as it is of fire to warm and of light to illumine), but especially to ensure that what happens through the evils hatched by any, may come to a good and useful issue, and to use to advantage those things which appear to be evils, as also the testimony which accrues from temptation.
There is then in philosophy, though stolen as the fire by Prometheus, a slender spark, capable of being fanned into flame, a trace of wisdom and an impulse from God. Well, be it so that “the thieves and robbers” are the philosophers among the Greeks, who from the Hebrew prophets before the coming of the Lord received fragments of the truth, not with full knowledge, and claimed these as their own teachings, disguising some points, treating others sophistically by their ingenuity, and discovering other things, for perchance they had “the spirit of perception.”19911991 Ex. xxviii. 3. Aristotle, too, assented to Scripture, and declared sophistry to have stolen wisdom, as we intimated before. And the apostle says, “Which things we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth.”19921992 1 Cor. ii. 13. For of the prophets it is said, “We have all received of His fulness,”19931993 John i. 16. that is, of Christ’s. So that the prophets are not thieves. “And my doctrine is not Mine,” saith the Lord, “but the Father’s which sent me.” And of those who steal He says: “But he that speaketh of himself, seeketh his own glory.”19941994 John vii. 16, 18. Such are the Greeks, “lovers of their own selves, and boasters.”19951995 2 Tim. iii. 2. Scripture, when it speaks of these as wise, does not brand those who are really wise, but those who are wise in appearance.
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