Ancient History Sourcebook:
On Pagan Learning, c. 220 CE
For philosophy it is which is the material of the world's wisdom, the rash interpreter
of the nature and the dispensation of God. Indeed heresies are themselves instigated by
philosophy. From this source came the Aeons, and I known not what infinite forms, and the
Trinity of Man in the system of Valentinus, who was of Plato's school. From the same
source came Marcion's better god, with all his tranquillity; he came of the Stoics. Then,
again, the opinion that the soul dies is held by the Epicureans; while the denial of the
restoration of the body is taken from the aggregate school of all the philosophers; also,
when matter is made equal to God, then you have the teaching of Zeno; and when any
doctrine is alleged touching a god of fire, then Heraclitus comes in. The same matter is
discussed over and over again by the heretics and the philosophers; the same arguments are
involved. Whence comes evil? Why is it permitted? What is the origin of Man? And in what
way does he come? Besides the question which Valentinus has very lately proposed--Whence
comes God? Which he settles with the answer: From enthymesis and ectroma.
Unhappy Aristotle! who invented for these men dialectics, the art of building up and
pulling down; an art so evasive in its propositions, so far-fetched in its conjectures, so
harsh, in its arguments, so productive of contentions, embarrassing even to itself,
retracting everything, and really treating of nothing! Whence spring those "fables
and endless genealogies," and "unprofitable questions," and "words
which spread like a cancer?" From all these, when the apostle would restrain us, he
expressly names philosophy as that which he would have us be on our guard against. Writing
to The Colossians, he says, "See that no one beguile you through philosophy
and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, and contrary to the wisdom of the Holy
Ghost." He had been at Athens, and had in his interviews (with its philosophers)
become acquainted with that human wisdom which pretends to know the truth, while it only
corrupts it, and is itself divided into its own manifold heresies, by the variety of its
mutually repugnant sects.
What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy
and the Church? What between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from "the
porch of Solomon," who had himself taught that "the Lord should be sought in
simplicity of heart." Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of
Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after
possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we
desire no further belief. For this is our primary faith, that there is nothing which we
ought to believe besides!
From: Tertullian, On the Proscription of Heretics, trans. T. Herbert Bindley,
(London: SPCK, 1914).
Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg
has modernized the text.
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© Paul Halsall, August 1998