Clement of Alexandria

(Miscellanies, Book III, excerpts from ch. 2)

Translation by John Ernest Leonard Oulton & Henry Chadwick

On the Carpocratians

[5] But the followers of Carpocrates and Epiphanes think that wives should be common property. Through them the worst calumny has become current against the Christian name. This fellow Epiphanes, whose writings I have at hand, was a son of Carpocrates and his mother was named Alexandria. On his father's side he was an Alexandrine, on his mother's a Cephallenian. He lived in all only seventeen years, and at Same in Cephallenia was honored as a god. There a temple of vast blocks of stone was erected and dedicated to him, with altars, sacred precincts, and a "museum." The Cephallenians gather at the temple every new moon and celebrate with sacrifices the day when Epiphanes became a god as his birthday; they pour libations to him, feast in his honor, and sing his praises. He was educated by his father in the general education and in Platonism, and he was instructed in the knowledge of the Monad, which is the root-origin of the Carpocratians' heresy.

[6] This is what he says, then, in the book Concerning Righteousness: "The righteousness of God is a kind of universal fairness and equality. There is equality in the heaven which is stretched out in all directions and contains the entire earth in its circle. The night reveals equally all the stars. The light of the sun, which is the cause of the daytime and the father of light, God pours out from above upon the earth in equal measure on all who have power to see. For all see alike. There is no distinction between rich and poor, people and governor, stupid and clever, female and male, free men and slaves. Even the irrational animals are not accorded any different treatment; but in just the same way God pours out from above sunlight equally upon all the animals. He establishes his righteousness to both good and bad by seeing that none is able to get more than his share and to deprive his neighbor, so that he has twice the light his neighbor has. The sun causes food to grow for all living beings alike; the universal righteousness is given to all equally. In this respect there is no difference between the entire species of oxen and any individual oxen, between the species of pigs and particular pigs, between the species of sheep and particular sheep, and so on with all the rest. In them the universality of God's fairness is manifest. Furthermore all plants of whatever sort are sown equally in the earth. Common nourishment grows for all beasts which feed on the earth's produce; to all it is alike. It is regulated by no law, but rather is harmoniously available to all through the gift of him who gives it and makes it to grow.

[7] "And for birth there is no written law (for otherwise it would have been transcribed). All beings beget and give birth alike, having received by God's righteousness an innate equality. The Creator and Father of all with his own righteousness appointed this, just as he gave equally the eye to all to enable them to see. He did not make a distinction between female and male, rational and irrational, nor between anything and anything else at all; rather he shared out sight equally and universally. It was given to all alike by a single command. As the laws (he says) could not punish men who were ignorant of them, they taught men that they were transgressors. But the laws, by pre-supposing the existence of private property, cut up and destroyed the universal equality decreed by the divine law." As he does not understand the words of the apostle where he says "Through the law I knew sin," he says that the idea of Mine and Thine came into existence through the laws so that the earth and money were no longer put to common use. And so also with marriage. "For God has made vines for all to use in common, since they are not protected against sparrows and a thief; and similarly corn and the other fruits. But the abolition, contrary to divine law, of community of use and equality begat the thief of domestic animals and fruits.

[8] He brought female to be with male and in the same way united all animals. He thus showed righteousness to be a universal fairness and equality .But those who have been born in this way have denied the universality which is the corollary of their birth and say, 'Let him who has taken one woman keep her,' whereas all alike can have her, just as the other animals do." After this, which is quoted word for word, he again continues in the same spirit as follows: "With a view to the permanence of the race, he has implanted in males a strong and ardent desire which neither law nor custom nor any other restraint is able to destroy. For it is God's decree."

And how can this man still be reckoned among our number when he openly abolishes both law and gospel by these words. The one says: "Thou shalt not commit adultery." The other says: "Everyone who looks lustfully has already committed adultery." The saying in the law, "Thou shalt not covet," lt shows that one God is proclaimed by law, prophets, and gospel; for it says: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife." But for a Jew the "neighbor" is not a Jew, for he is a brother and has the same spirit. Therefore it remains that "neighbor" means one of another race. But how can he not be a neighbor who is able to share in the same spirit? For Abraham is father not only of the Hebrews, but also of the Gentiles.

[9] If the adulteress and he who committed fornication with her are punished with death, clearly the command which says "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife" speaks of the Gen- tiles, in order that anyone who, as the law directs, abstains from his neighbor's wife and from his sister may hear clearly from the Lord, "But I say unto you, Thou shalt not lust." The addition of the word "I," however, shows the stricter force of the commandment, and that Carpocrates fights against God, and Epiphanes likewise. The latter in the same notorious book, I mean Concerning Righteousness, writes in one passage as follows: "Consequently one must understand the saying 'Thou shalt not covet' as if the lawgiver was making a jest, to which he added the even more comic words 'thy neighbor's goods'. For he himself who gave the desire to sustain the race orders that it is to be suppressed, though he removes it from no other animals. And by the words 'thy neighbor's wife' he says something even more ludicrous, since he forces what should be common property to be treated as a private possession."

[10] These then are the doctrines of the excellent Carpocratians. These, so they say, and certain other enthusiasts for the same wickednesses, gather together for feasts (I would not call their meeting an Agape), men and women together. After they have sated their appetites ("on repletion Cypris, the goddess of love, enters," as it is said), then they overturn the lamps and so extinguish the light that the shame of their adulterous "righteousness" is hidden, and they have intercourse where they will and with whom they will. After they have practiced community of use in this love-feast, they demand by daylight of whatever women they wish that they will be obedient to the law of Carpocrates-it would not be right to say the law of God. Such, I think, is the law that Carpocrates must have given for the copulations of dogs and pigs and goats. He seems to me to have misunderstood the saying of Plato in the Republic that the women of all are to be common. Plato means that the unmarried are common for those who wish to ask them, as also the theatre is open to the public for all who wish to see, but that when each one has chosen his wife, then the married woman is no longer common to all.


From- The Library of Christian Classics: Volume II
Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1954