Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Philo and Clement of Alexandria on the Voice Which Spoke From the Fire

This, then, may be enough to say on these subjects; but it is necessary now to connect with these things what I am about to say, namely, that it was the Father of the universe who delivered these ten maxims, or oracles, or laws and enactments, as they truly are, to the whole assembled nation of men and women altogether. Did he then do so, uttering himself some kind of voice? Away! let not such an idea ever enter your mind; for God is not like a man, in need of a mouth, and of a tongue, and of a windpipe, but as it seems to me, he at that time wrought a most conspicuous and evidently holy miracle, commanding an invisible sound to be created in the air, more marvellous than all the instruments that ever existed, attuned to perfect harmonies; and that not an inanimate one, nor yet, on the other hand, one that at all resembled any nature composed of soul and body; but rather it was a rational soul filled with clearness and distinctness, which fashioned the air and stretched it out and changed it into a kind of flaming fire, and so sounded forth so loud and articulate a voice like a breath passing through a trumpet, so that those who were at a great distance appeared to hear equally with those who were nearest to it.  For the voices of men, when they are spread over a very long distance, do naturally become weaker and weaker, so that those who are at a distance from them cannot arrive at a clear comprehension of them, but their understanding is gradually dimmed by the extension of the sound over a larger space, since the organs also by which it is extended are perishable. But the power of God, breathing forth vigorously, aroused and excited a new kind of miraculous voice, and diffusing its sound in every direction, made the end more conspicuous at a distance than the beginning, implanting in the soul of each individual another hearing much superior to that which exists through the medium of the ears. For the one, being in some degree a slower kind of external sense, remains in a state of inactivity until it is struck by the air, and so put in motion. But the sense of the inspired mind outstrips that, going forth with the most rapid motion to meet what is said. [Philo, Decalogue 32, 33]

And, moreover, as was natural, he filled the whole place with miraculous signs and works, with noises of thunder too great for the hearing to support, and with the most radiant brilliancy of flashes of lightning, and with the sound of an invisible trumpet extending to a great distance, and with the march of a cloud, which, like a pillar, had its foundation fixed firmly on the earth, but raised the rest of its body even to the height of heaven; and, last of all, by the impetuosity of a heavenly fire, which overshadowed everything around with a dense smoke. For it was fitting that, when the power of God came among them, none of the parts of the world should be quiet, but that everything should be put in motion to minister to his service.  And the people stood by, having kept themselves clean from all connection with women, and having abstained from all pleasures, except those which arise from a participation in necessary food, having been purifying themselves with baths and ablutions for three days, and having washed their garments and being all clothed in the purest white robes, and standing on tiptoe and pricking up their ears, in compliance with the exhortations of Moses, who had forewarned them to prepare for the solemn assembly; for he knew that such would take place, when he, having been summoned up alone, gave forth the prophetic commands of God.  And a voice sounded forth from out of the midst of the fire which had flowed from heaven, a most marvellous and awful voice, the flame being endowed with articulate speech in a language familiar to the hearers, which expressed its words with such clearness and distinctness that the people seemed rather to be seeing than hearing it.  And the law testifies to the accuracy of my statement, where it is written, "And all the people beheld the voice most evidently." For the truth is that the voice of men is calculated to be heard; but that of God to be really and truly seen. Why is this? Because all that God says are not words, but actions which the eyes determine on before the ears.  It is, therefore, with great beauty, and also with a proper sense of what is consistent with the dignity of God, that the voice is said to have come forth out of the fire; for the oracles of God are accurately understood and tested like gold by the fire.  And God also intimates to us something of this kind by a figure. Since the property of fire is partly to give light, and partly to burn, those who think fit to show themselves obedient to the sacred commands shall live for ever and ever as in a light which is never darkened, having his laws themselves as stars giving light in their soul. But all those who are stubborn and disobedient are for ever inflamed, and burnt, and consumed by their internal appetites, which, like flame, will destroy all the life of those who possess them. [ibid 44, 46]

Immediately after comes the festival of the sacred moon; in which it is the custom to play the trumpet in the temple at the same moment that the sacrifices are offered. From which practice this is called the true feast of trumpets, and there are two reasons for it, one peculiar to the nation, and the other common to all mankind. Peculiar to the nation, as being a commemoration of that most marvellous, wonderful, and miraculous event that took place when the holy oracles of the law were given; for then the voice of a trumpet sounded from heaven, which it is natural to suppose reached to the very extremities of the universe, so that so wondrous a sound attracted all who were present, making them consider, as it is probable, that such mighty events were signs betokening some great things to be accomplished. [ibid Special Laws 2, 189]

But the man who appeared to be endued with a thin voice, and with slowness of speech, and to be almost dumb, is nevertheless found to be talkative, so that in one place he is represented not merely as speaking, but even as crying out; and, in another, as exerting a ceaseless and uninterrupted flow of words; for, says the scripture, "Moses spoke, and God answered him with a Voice." (Ex 19:19) He did not speak in brief periods or sentences, but in one continuously extended speech; and God also instructed him, not in brief sentences, but gave him one unbroken and continuous answer.  And whenever there is an answer, there then must of necessity have been, in every case, a question. But whenever any one puts a question it is respecting something which he does not know, because he is desirous to learn; inasmuch as he is aware that there is nothing so useful with regard to acquiring knowledge as to ask, to inquire, to investigate, to appear to know nothing, and not to have an idea that one comprehends anything firmly.  The wise, therefore, take God for their teacher and instructor; and those who are less perfectly initiated in wisdom take the wise men for theirs. On which account they say, also, "Do thou speak with us, and let not God speak to us, let we Die."(Ex 20:19) [ibid Quis rerum diuinarum 17]

How then shall the Greeks any longer disbelieve the divine appearance on Mount Sinai, when the fire burned, consuming none of the things that grew on the mount; and the sound of trampets issued forth, breathed without instruments? For that which is called the descent on the mount of God is the advent of divine power, pervading the whole world, and proclaiming "the light that is inaccessible" ... But it is possible for God Almighty, even without a medium, to produce a voice and vision through the ear, showing that His greatness has a natural order beyond what is customary, in order to the conversion of the hitherto unbelieving soul, and the reception of the commandment given. But there being a cloud and a lofty mountain, how is it not possible to hear a different sound, the wind moving by the active cause? Wherefore also the prophet says, "Ye heard the voice of words, and saw no similitude." You see how the Lord's voice, the Word, without shape, the power of the Word, the luminous word of the Lord, the truth from heaven, from above, coming to the assembly of the Church, wrought by the luminous immediate ministry.

Πῶς δὲ ἔτι ἀπιστήσουσιν Ἕλληνες τῇ θείᾳ ἐπιφανείᾳ περὶ τὸ ὄρος τὸ Σινᾶ, ὁπηνίκα πῦρ μὲν ἐφλέγετο, μηδὲν καταναλίσκον τῶν φυομένων κατὰ τὸ ὄρος, σαλπίγγων τε ἦχος ἐφέρετο ἄνευ ὀργάνων ἐμπνεόμενος; ἐκείνη γὰρ ἡ λεγομένη κατάβασις ἐπὶ τὸ ὄρος θεοῦ ἐπίφασίς ἐστι θείας δυνάμεως ἐπὶ πάντα τὸν κόσμον διηκούσης καὶ κηρυττούσης τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀπρόσιτον ... θεῷ δὲ τῷ παντοκράτορι καὶ μηδενὸς ὄντος ὑποκειμένου φωνὴν καὶ φαντασίαν ἐγγεννῆσαι ἀκοῇ δυνατόν, ἐνδεικνυμένῳ τὴν ἑαυτοῦ μεγαλειότητα παρὰ τὰ εἰωθότα φυσικὴν ἔχειν τὴν ἀκολουθίαν, εἰς ἐπιστροφὴν τῆς μηδέπω πιστευούσης ψυχῆς καὶ παραδοχὴν τῆς διδομένης ἐντολῆς. νεφέλης δ' οὔσης καὶ ὄρους ὑψηλοῦ πῶς οὐ δυνατὸν διάφορον ἦχον ἐξακούεσθαι, πνεύματος κινουμένου διὰ τῆς ἐνεργούσης αἰτίας; διὸ καί φησιν ὁ προφήτης· φωνὴν ῥημάτων ὑμεῖς ἠκούετε, καὶ ὁμοίωμα οὐκ εἴδετε. ὁρᾷς, ὅπως ἡ κυριακὴ φωνὴ λόγος ἀσχημάτιστος· ἡ <γὰρ> τοῦ λόγου δύναμις, ῥῆμα κυρίου φωτεινόν, ἀλήθεια οὐρανόθεν ἄνωθεν ἐπὶ τὴν συναγωγὴν τῆς ἐκκλησίας ἀφιγμένη, διὰ φωτεινῆς τῆς προσεχοῦς διακονίας ἐνήργει. [Clement Stromata]

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