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Chapter V.—Philosophy the Handmaid of Theology.
Accordingly, before the advent of the Lord, philosophy was necessary to the Greeks for righteousness.18511851 [In connection with note 3, p. 303, supra, see Elucidation VII.] 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.”18521852 Prov. iii. 23. For God is the cause of all good things; but of some primarily, as of the Old and the New Testament; and of 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 schoolmaster to bring “the Hellenic mind,” as the law, the Hebrews, “to Christ.”18531853 Gal. iii. 24. Philosophy, therefore, was a preparation, paving the way for him who is perfected in Christ.18541854 [In connection with note 3, p. 303, supra, see Elucidation VII.]
“Now,” says Solomon, “defend wisdom, and it will exalt thee, and it will shield thee with a crown of pleasure.”18551855 Prov. iv. 8, 9. For when thou hast strengthened wisdom with a cope by philosophy, and with right expenditure, thou wilt preserve it unassailable by sophists. The way of truth is therefore one. But into it, as into a perennial river, streams flow from all sides. It has been therefore said by inspiration: “Hear, my son, and receive my words; that thine may be the many ways of life. For I teach thee the ways of wisdom; that the fountains fail thee not,”18561856 Prov. iv. 10, 11, 21. which gush forth from the earth itself. Not only did He enumerate several ways of salvation for any one righteous man, but He added many other ways of many righteous, speaking thus: “The paths of the righteous shine like the light.”18571857 Prov. iv. 18. The commandments and the modes of preparatory training are to be regarded as the ways and appliances of life.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children, as a hen her chickens!”18581858 Matt. xxiii. 37; Luke xiii. 34. And Jerusalem is, when interpreted, “a vision of peace.” He therefore shows prophetically, that those who peacefully contemplate sacred things are in manifold ways trained to their calling. What then? He “would,” and could not. How often, and where? Twice; by the prophets, and by the advent. The expression, then, “How often,” shows wisdom to be manifold; every mode of quantity and quality, it by all means saves some, both in time and in eternity. “For the Spirit of the Lord fills the earth.”18591859 [A favourite expression of the Fathers, expressing hope for the heathen. See Elucidations VIII., infra.] And if any should violently say that the reference is to the Hellenic culture, when it is said, “Give not heed to an evil woman; for honey drops from the lips of a harlot,” let him hear what follows: “who lubricates thy throat for the time.” But philosophy does not flatter. Who, then, does He allude to as having committed fornication? He adds expressly, “For the feet of folly lead those who use her, after death, to Hades. But her steps are not supported.” Therefore remove thy way far from silly pleasure. “Stand not at the doors of her house, that thou yield not thy life to others.” And He testifies, “Then shall thou repent in old age, when the flesh of thy body is consumed.” For this is the end of foolish pleasure. Such, indeed, is the case. And when He says, “Be not much with a strange woman,”18601860 Prov. v. 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 11, 20. He admonishes us to use indeed, but not to linger and spend time with, secular culture. For what was bestowed on each generation advantageously, and at seasonable times, is a preliminary training for the word of the Lord. “For already some men, ensnared by the charms of handmaidens, have despised their consort philosophy, and have grown old, some of them in music, some in geometry, others in grammar, the most in rhetoric.”18611861 Philo Judæus, On seeking Instruction, 435. See Bohn’s translation, ii. 173. “But as the encyclical branches of study contribute to philosophy, which is their mistress; so also philosophy itself co-operates for the acquisition of wisdom. For philosophy is the study of wisdom, and wisdom is the knowledge of things divine and human; and their causes.” Wisdom is therefore queen of philosophy, as philosophy is of preparatory culture. For if philosophy “professes control of the tongue, and the belly, and the parts below the belly, it is to be chosen on its own account. But it appears more worthy of respect and pre-eminence, if cultivated for the honour and knowledge of God.”18621862 Quoted from Philo with some alterations. See Bohn’s translation, vol. ii. p. 173. And Scripture will afford a testimony to what has been said in what follows. Sarah was at one time barren, being Abraham’s wife. Sarah having no child, assigned her maid, by name Hagar, the Egyptian, to Abraham, in order to get children. Wisdom, therefore, who dwells with the man of faith (and Abraham was reckoned faithful and righteous), was still barren and without child in that generation, not having brought forth to Abraham aught allied to virtue. And she, as was proper, thought that he, being now in the time of progress, should have intercourse with secular culture first (by Egyptian the world is designated figuratively); and afterwards should approach to her according to divine providence, and beget Isaac.”18631863 See Philo, Meeting to seek Instruction, Bohn’s translation, vol. ii. 160.
And Philo interprets Hagar to mean “sojourning.”18641864 Bohn’s trans., vol. ii. 161. For it is said in connection with this, “Be not much with a strange woman.”18651865 Prov. v. 20. Philo, On meeting to seek Knowledge, near beginning. Sarah he interprets to mean “my princedom.” He, then, who has received previous training is at liberty to approach to wisdom, which is supreme, from which grows up the race of Israel. These things show that that wisdom can be acquired through instruction, to which Abraham attained, passing from the contemplation of heavenly things to the faith and righteousness which are according to God. And Isaac is shown to mean “self-taught;” wherefore also he is discovered to be a type of Christ. He was the husband of one wife Rebecca, which they translate “Patience.” And Jacob is said to have consorted with several, his name being interpreted “Exerciser.” And exercises are engaged in by means of many and various dogmas. Whence, also, he who is really “endowed with the power of seeing” is called Israel,18661866 Philo, in the book above cited, interprets “Israel,” “seeing God.” From this book all the instances and etymologies occuring here are taken. having much experience, and being fit for exercise.
Something else may also have been shown by the three patriarchs, namely, that the sure seal of knowledge is composed of nature, of education, and exercise.
You may have also another image of what has been said, in Thamar sitting by the way, and presenting the appearance of a harlot, on whom the studious Judas (whose name is interpreted “powerful”), who left nothing unexamined and uninvestigated, looked; and turned aside to her, preserving his profession towards God. Wherefore also, when Sarah was jealous at Hagar being preferred to her, Abraham, as choosing only what was profitable in secular philosophy, said, “Behold, thy maid is in thine hands: deal with her as it pleases thee;”18671867 Gen. xvi. 6. manifestly meaning, “I embrace secular culture as youthful, and a handmaid; but thy knowledge I honour and reverence as true wife.” And Sarah afflicted her; which is equivalent to corrected and admonished her. It has therefore been well said, “My son, despise not thou the correction of God; nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him. For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.”18681868 Prov. iii. 11, 12; Heb. xii. 5, 6. And the foresaid Scriptures, when examined in other places, will be seen to exhibit other mysteries. We merely therefore assert here, that philosophy is characterized by investigation into truth and the nature of things (this is the truth of which the Lord Himself said, “I am the truth”18691869 John xiv. 6.); and that, again, the preparatory training for rest in Christ exercises the mind, rouses the intelligence, and begets an inquiring shrewdness, by means of the true philosophy, which the initiated possess, having found it, or rather received it, from the truth itself.
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