Zeno’s Porch Is Not Solomon’s

I am puzzled by the assertion that, in order to hold to ecumenical truth (e.g., the eternal generation of the Son), one must be a Platonist.

The Apostle John was not a Platonist and neither was the author of Hebrews (Apollos?) but both made use of a category (Λογος) that would have been familiar to both Stoics and Platonists. John and the author of Hebrews used it in a way that would have, to use the colloquial expression, blown the minds of both the Platonists and the Stoics. When I subscribe the ecumenical creeds, I am not subscribing Plato, Plutarch, or Plotinus. We do not need Plato to teach us ontology. We have holy Scripture. Christianity has an ontology. Tertullian was right: I do not need Zeno’s porch, I have Solomon’s.1

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.



1. “These are “the doctrines” of men and “of demons” produced for itching ears of the spirit of this world’s wisdom: this the Lord called “foolishness,” and “chose the foolish things of the world” to confound even philosophy itself. 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 subject-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 Spirit.” 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, whilst 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 palmary faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides” (Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, ch. 7).

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  1. Well, but Tertullian in the same time said, that Seneca was “saepe noster” (“often our”). St. Jerome called him “Seneka noster” (“our Seneca”). Nilus of Sinai edited the “Enchiridion” of Epictetus for monks, and etc.

    • Ihor,

      Tertullian was, to speak anachronistically, a presuppositionalist. “I will contest the ground of my opponent’s appeal.” Of course he read the classics! He was amazingly literate and articulate but he also understood the difference between revealed theology and natural theology. He did not reject natural revelation. He affirmed it but he knew its limits. He knew that Christianity does not require paganism to make it complete or to give its substance to it. Certainly he learned the rhetoric and the categories of the pagans, as every learned person should but there is a difference between borrowing the rhetoric and categories of the pagans and letting them become our theologians. Tertullian understood that difference. That’s why he brilliantly distinguished between Zeno’s porch and Solomon’s,

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