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Chapter IX.—He Compares the Doctrine of the Platonists Concerning the Λόγος With the Much More Excellent Doctrine of Christianity.
13. And Thou, willing first to show me how Thou “resistest the proud, but givest grace unto the humble”497497 Jas. iv. 6, and l Pet. v. 5. and by how great art act of mercy Thou hadst pointed out to men the path of humility, in that Thy “Word was made flesh” and dwelt among men,—Thou procuredst for me, by the instrumentality of one inflated with most monstrous pride, certain books of the Platonists,498498 “This,”says Watts, “was likely to be the book of Amelius the Platonist, who hath indeed this beginning of St. John’s Gospel, calling the apostle a barbarian.” This Amelius was a disciple of Plotinus, who was the first to develope and formulate the Neo-Platonic doctrines, and of whom it is said that he would not have his likeness taken, nor be reminded of his birthday, because it would recall the existence of the body he so much despised. A popular account of the theories of Plotinus, and their connection with the doctrines of Plato and of Christianity respectively, will be found in Archer Butler’s Lectures on Ancient Philosophy, vol. ii. pp. 348–358. For a more systematic view of his writings, see Ueberweg’s History of Philosophy, sec. 68. Augustin alludes again in his De Vita Beata (sec. 4) to the influence the Platonic writings had on him at this time; and it is interesting to note how in God’s providence they were drawing him to seek a fuller knowledge of Him, just as in his nineteenth year (book iii. sec. 7, above) the Hortensius of Cicero stimulated him to the pursuit of wisdom. Thus in his experience was exemplified the truth embodied in the saying of Clemens Alexandrinus,—“Philosophy led the Greeks to Christ, as the law did the Jews.” Archbishop Trench, in his Hulsean Lectures (lecs. 1 and 3, 1846, “Christ the Desire of all Nations”), enters with interesting detail into this question, specially as it relates to the heathen world. “None,” he says in lecture 3, “can thoughtfully read the early history of the Church without marking how hard the Jewish Christians found it to make their own the true idea of a Son of God, as indeed is witnessed by the whole Epistle to the Hebrews—how comparatively easy the Gentile converts; how the Hebrew Christians were continually in danger of sinking down into Ebionite heresies, making Christ but a man as other men, refusing to go on unto perfection, or to realize the truth of His higher nature; while, on the other hand, the genial promptness is as remarkable with which the Gentile Church welcomed and embraced the offered truth, ‘God manifest in the flesh.’ We feel that there must have been effectual preparations in the latter, which wrought its greater readiness for receiving and heartily embracing this truth when it arrived.” The passage from Amelius the Platonist, referred to at the beginning of this note, is examined in Burton’s Bampton Lectures, note 90. It has been adverted to by Eusebius, Theodoret, and perhaps by Augustin in the De Civ. Dei, x. 29, quoted in note 2, sec. 25, below. See Kayes’ Clement, pp. 116–124. translated from Greek into Latin.499499 See i. sec. 23, note, above, and also his Life, in the last vol. of the Benedictine edition of his works, for a very fair estimate of his knowledge of Greek. And therein I read, not indeed in the same words, but to the selfsame effect,500500 The Neo-Platonic ideas as to the “Word” or Λόγος, which Augustin (1) contrasts during the remainder of this book with the doctrine of the gospel, had its germ in the writings of Plato. The Greek term expresses both reason and the expression of reason in speech; and the Fathers frequently illustrate, by reference to this connection between ideas and uttered words, the fact that the “Word” that was with God had an incarnate existence in the world as the “Word” made flesh. By the Logos of the Alexandrian school something very different was meant from the Christian doctrine as to the incarnation, of which the above can only be taken as a dim illustration. It has been questioned, indeed, whether the philosophers, from Plotinus to the Gnostics of the time of St. John, believed the Logos and the supreme God to have in any sense separate “personalities.” Dr. Burton, in his Bampton Lectures, concludes that they did not (lect. vii. p. 215, and note 93; compare Dorner, Person of Christ, i. 27, Clark); and quotes Origen when he points out to Celsus, that “while the heathen use the reason of God as another term for God Himself, the Christians use the term Logos for the Son of God.” Another point of difference which appears in Augustin’s review of Platonism above, is found in the Platonist’s discarding the idea of the Logos becoming man. This the very genius of their philosophy forbade them to hold, since they looked on matter as impure. (2) It has been charged against Christianity by Gibbon and other sceptical writers, that it has borrowed largely from the doctrines of Plato; and it has been said that this doctrine of the Logos was taken from them by Justin Martyr. This charge, says Burton (ibid. p. 194), “has laid open in its supporters more inconsistencies and more misstatements than any other which ever has been advanced.” We have alluded in the note to book iii. sec. 8, above, to Justin Martyr’s search after truth. He endeavoured to find it successively in the Stoical, the Peripatetic, the Pythagorean, and the Platonic schools; and he appears to have thought as highly of Plato’s philosophy as did Augustin. He does not, however, fail to criticise his doctrine when inconsistent with Christianity (see Burton, ibid. notes 18 and 86). Justin Martyr has apparently been chosen for attack as being the earliest of the post-apostolic Fathers. Burton, however, shows that Ignatius, who knew St. John, and was bishop of Antioch thirty years before his death, used precisely the same expression as applied to Christ (ibid. p. 204). This would appear to be a conclusive answer to this objection. (3) It may be well to note here Burton’s general conclusions as to the employment of this term Logos in St. John, since it occurs frequently in this part of the Confessions. Every one must have observed St. John’s use of the term is peculiar as compared with the other apostles, but it is not always borne in mind that a generation probably elapsed between the date of his gospel and that of the other apostolic writings. In this interval the Gnostic heresy had made great advances; and it would appear that John, finding this term Logos prevalent when he wrote, infused into it a nobler meaning, and pointed out to those being led away by this heresy that there was indeed One who might be called “the Word”—One who was not, indeed, God’s mind, or as the word that comes from the mouth and passes away, but One who, while He had been “made flesh” like unto us, was yet co-eternal with God. “You will perceive,” says Archer Butler (Ancient Philosophy, vol. ii. p. 10), “how natural, or rather how necessary, is such a process, when you remember that this is exactly what every teacher must do who speaks of God to a heathen; he adopts the term, but he refines and exalts its meaning. Nor, indeed, is the procedure different in any use whatever of language in sacred senses and for sacred purposes. It has been justly remarked, by (I think) Isaac Casaubon, that the principle of all these adaptations is expressed in the sentence of St. Paul, Ὀν ἀγνοοῦντες εὐσεβεῖτε, τοῦτον ἐγὼ καταγγέλλω ὑμῖν.” On the charge against Christianity of having borrowed from heathenism, reference may be made to Trench’s Hulsean Lectures, lect. i. (1846); and for the sources of Gnosticism, and St. John’s treatment of heresies as to the “Word,” lects. ii. and v. in Mansel’s Gnostic Heresies will be consulted with profit. enforced by many and divers reasons, 108that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” That which was made by Him is “life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehendeth it not.”501501 John i. 1–5. And that the soul of man, though it “bears witness of the light,”502502 Ibid. i. 7, 8. yet itself “is not that light;503503 See note, sec. 23, below. but the Word of God, being God, is that true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”504504 John i. 9. And that “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.”505505 Ibid. i. 10. But that “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.506506 Ibid. i. 11. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.”507507 Ibid. i. 12. This I did not read there.
14. In like manner, I read there that God the Word was born not of flesh, nor of blood, nor of the will of man, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God. But that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,”508508 Ibid. i. 14. I read not there. For I discovered in those books that it was in many and divers ways said, that the Son was in the form of the Father, and “thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” for that naturally He was the same substance. But that He emptied Himself, “and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him” from the dead, “and given Him a name above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father;”509509 Phil. ii. 6–11. those books have not. For that before all times, and above all times, Thy only-begotten Son remaineth unchangeably co-eternal with Thee; and that of “His fulness” souls receive,510510 John i. 16. that they may be blessed; and that by participation of the wisdom remaining in them they are renewed, that they may be wise, is there. But that “in due time Christ died for the ungodly,”511511 Rom. v. 6. and that Thou sparedst not Thine only Son, but deliveredst Him up for us all,512512 Rom. viii. 32. is not there. “Because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes;”513513 Matt. xi. 25. that they “that labour and are heavy laden” might “come” unto Him and He might refresh them,514514 Ibid. ver. 28. because He is “meek and lowly in heart.”515515 Ibid. ver. 29. “The meek will He guide in judgment; and the meek will He teach His way;”516516 Ps. xxv. 9. looking upon our humility and our distress, and forgiving all our sins.517517 Ibid. ver. 18. But such as are puffed up with the elation of would-be sublimer learning, do not hear Him saying, “Learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”518518 Matt. xi. 29. “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”519519 Rom. i. 21, 22.
15. And therefore also did I read there, that they had changed the glory of Thy incorruptible nature into idols and divers forms,—“into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things,”520520 Ibid. i. 23. namely, into that Egyptian food521521 In the Benedictine edition we have reference to Augustin’s in Ps. xlvi. 6, where he says: “We find the lentile is an Egyptian food, for it abounds in Egypt, whence the Alexandrian lentile is esteemed so as to be brought to our country, as if it grew not here. Esau, by desiring Egyptian food, lost his birthright; and so the Jewish people, of whom it is said they turned back in heart to Egypt, in a manner craved for lentiles, and lost their birthright.” See Ex. xvi. 3; Num. xi. 5. for which Esau lost his birthright;522522 Gen. xxv. 33, 34. for that Thy first-born people worshipped the head of a four-footed beast instead of Thee, turning back in heart towards Egypt, and prostrating Thy image—their own soul—before the image “of 109an ox that eateth grass.”523523 Ps. cvi. 20; Ex. xxxii. 1–6. These things found I there; but I fed not on them. For it pleased Thee, O Lord, to take away the reproach of diminution from Jacob, that the elder should serve the younger;524524 Rom. ix. 12. and Thou hast called the Gentiles into Thine inheritance. And I had come unto Thee from among the Gentiles, and I strained after that gold which Thou willedst Thy people to take from Egypt, seeing that wheresoever it was it was Thine.525525 Similarly, as to all truth being God’s, Justin Martyr says: “Whatever things were rightly said among all men are the property of us Christians” (Apol. ii. 13). In this he parallels what Augustin claims in another place (De Doctr. Christ. ii. 28): “Let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to his Master.” Origen has a similar allusion to that of Augustin above (Ep. ad Gregor. vol. i. 30), but echoes the experience of our erring nature, when he says that the gold of Egypt more frequently becomes transformed into an idol, than into an ornament for the tabernacle of God. Augustin gives us at length his views on this matter in his De Doctr. Christ. ii. 60, 61: “If those who are called philosophers, and especially the Platonists, have said aught that is true and in harmony with our faith, we are not only not to shrink from it, but to claim it for our own use from those who have unlawful possession of it. For, as the Egyptians had not only the idols and heavy burdens which the people of Israel hated and fled from, but also vessels and ornaments of gold and silver, and garments, which the same people when going out of Egypt appropriated to themselves, designing them for a better use,—not doing this on their own authority, but by the command of God, the Egyptians themselves, in their ignorance, providing them with things which they themselves were not making a good use of (Ex. iii. 21, 22, xii. 35, 36); in the same way all branches of heathen learning have not only false and superstitious fancies and heavy burdens of unnecessary toil, which every one of us, when going out under the leadership of Christ from the fellowship of the heathen ought to abhor and avoid, but they contain also liberal instruction which is better adapted to the use of the truth, and some most excellent precepts of morality; and some truths in regard even to the worship of the One God are found among them. Now these are, so to speak, their gold and silver, which they did not create themselves, but dug out of the mines of God’s providence which are everywhere scattered abroad, and are perversely and unlawfully prostituting to the worship of devils. These, therefore, the Christian, when he separates himself in spirit from the miserable fellowship of these men, ought to take away from them, and to devote to their proper use in preaching the gospel. Their garments, also,—that is, human institutions such as are adapted to that intercourse with men which is indispensable in this life,—we must take and turn to a Christian use. And what else have many good and faithful men among our brethren done? Do we not see with what quantity of gold and silver, and garments, Cyprian, that most persuasive teacher and most blessed martyr, was loaded when he came out of Egypt? How much Lactantius brought with him! And Victorinus, and Optatus, and Hilary, not to speak of living men! How much Greeks out of number have borrowed! And, prior to all these, that most faithful servant of God, Moses, had done the same thing; for of him it is written that he was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts vii. 22).…For what was done at the time of the exodus was no doubt a type prefiguring what happens now.” And to the Athenians Thou saidst by Thy apostle, that in Thee “we live, and move, and have our being;” as one of their own poets has said.526526 Acts xvii. 28. And verily these books came from thence. But I set not my mind on the idols of Egypt, whom they ministered to with Thy gold,527527 Hosea ii. 8. “who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator.”528528 Rom. i. 25.
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