Hermes Trismegistus or “Trismegistos thrice greatest master or magus”
The Corpus Hermeticum
An Introduction to the Corpus Hermeticum
I. Poemandres, the Shepherd of Men
II. To Asclepius
III. The Sacred Sermon
IV. The Cup or Monad
V. Though Unmanifest God Is Most Manifest
VI. In God Alone Is Good And Elsewhere Nowhere
VII. The Greatest Ill Among Men is Ignorance of God
VIII. That No One of Existing Things doth Perish, but Men in Error Speak of Their Changes as Destructions and as Deaths
IX. On Thought and Sense
X. The Key
XI. Mind Unto Hermes
XII. About the Common Mind
XIII. The Secret Sermon on the Mountain
An Introduction to the Corpus Hermeticum
by John Michael Greer
The fifteen tractates of the Corpus Hermeticum, along with the Perfect Sermon or Asclepius, are the foundation documents of the Hermetic tradition. Written by unknown authors in Egypt sometime before the end of the third century C.E., they were part of a once substantial literature attributed to the mythic figure of Hermes Trismegistus, a Hellenistic fusion of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth.
This literature came out of the same religious and philosophical ferment that produced Neoplatonism, Christianity, and the diverse collection of teachings usually lumped together under the label “Gnosticism”: a ferment which had its roots in the impact of Platonic thought on the older traditions of the Hellenized East. There are obvious connections and common themes linking each of these traditions, although each had its own answer to the major questions of the time.
The treatises we now call the Corpus Hermeticum were collected into a single volume in Byzantine times, and a copy of this volume survived to come into the hands of Lorenzo de Medici’s agents in the fifteenth century. Marsilio Ficino, the head of the Florentine Academy, was pulled off the task of translating the dialogues of Plato in order to put the Corpus Hermeticum into Latin first. His translation saw print in 1463, and was reprinted at least twenty-two times over the next century and a half.
The treatises divide up into several groups. The first (CH I), the “Poemandres”, is the account of a revelation given to Hermes Trismegistus by the being Poemandres or “Man-Shepherd”, an expression of the universal Mind. The next eight (CH II-IX), the “General Sermons”, are short dialogues or lectures discussing various basic points of Hermetic philosophy. There follows the “Key” (CH X), a summary of the General Sermons, and after this a set of four tractates – “Mind unto Hermes”, “About the Common Mind”, “The Secret Sermon on the Mountain”, and the “Letter of Hermes to Asclepius” (CH XI-XIV) – touching on the more mystical aspects of Hermeticism. The collection is rounded off by the “Definitions of Asclepius unto King Ammon” (CH XV), which may be composed of three fragments of longer works.
The Perfect Sermon
The Perfect Sermon or Asclepius, which is also included here, reached the Renaissance by a different route. It was translated into Latin in ancient times, reputedly by the same Lucius Apuleius of Madaura whose comic-serious masterpiece The Golden Ass provides some of the best surviving evidence on the worship of Isis in the Roman world. Augustine of Hippo quotes from the old Latin translation at length in his City of God, and copies remained in circulation in medieval Europe all the way up to the Renaissance. The original Greek version was lost, although quotations survive in several ancient sources.
The Perfect Sermon is substantially longer than any other surviving work of ancient Hermetic philosophy. It covers topics which also occur in the Corpus Hermeticum, but touches on several other issues as well – among them magical processes for the manufacture of gods and a long and gloomy prophecy of the decline of Hermetic wisdom and the end of the world.
The Significance of the Hermetic Writings
The Corpus Hermeticum landed like a well-aimed bomb amid the philosophical systems of late medieval Europe. Quotations from the Hermetic literature in the Church Fathers (who were never shy of leaning on pagan sources to prove a point) accepted a traditional chronology which dated “Hermes Trismegistus,” as a historical figure, to the time of Moses. As a result, the Hermetic tractates’ borrowings from Jewish scripture and Platonic philosophy were seen, in the Renaissance, as evidence that the Corpus Hermeticum had anticipated and influenced both. The Hermetic philosophy was seen as a primordial wisdom tradition, identified with the “Wisdom of the Egyptians” mentioned in Exodus and lauded in Platonic dialogues such as the Timaeus. It thus served as a useful club in the hands of intellectual rebels who sought to break the stranglehold of Aristotelian scholasticism on the universities at this time.
It also provided one of the most important weapons to another major rebellion of the age – the attempt to reestablish magic as a socially acceptable spiritual path in the Christian West. Another body of literature attributed to Hermes Trismegistus was made up of astrological, alchemical and magical texts. If, as the scholars of the Renaissance believed, Hermes was a historical person who had written all these things, and if Church Fathers had quoted his philosophical works with approval, and if those same works could be shown to be wholly in keeping with some definitions of Christianity, then the whole structure of magical Hermeticism could be given a second-hand legitimacy in a Christian context.
This didn’t work, of course; the radical redefinition of Western Christianity that took place in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation hardened doctrinal barriers to the point that people were being burned in the sixteenth century for practices that were considered evidences of devoutness in the fourteenth. The attempt, though, made the language and concepts of the Hermetic tractates central to much of post-medieval magic in the West.
The translation of the Corpus Hermeticum and Perfect Sermon given here is that of G.R.S. Mead (1863-1933), originally published as Vol. 2 of his Thrice Greatest Hermes (London, 1906). Mead was a close associate of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the founder and moving spirit of the Theosophical Society, and most of his considerable scholarly output was brought out under Theosophical auspices. The result, predictably, was that most of that output has effectively been blacklisted in academic circles ever since.
This is unfortunate, for Mead’s translations of the Hermetic literature were until quite recently the best available in English. (They are still the best in the public domain; thus their use here.) The Everard translation of 1650, which is still in print, reflects the state of scholarship at the time it was made – which is only a criticism because a few things have been learned since then! The Walter Scott translation – despite the cover blurb on the recent Shambhala reprint, this is not the Sir Walter Scott of Ivanhoe fame – while more recent than Mead’s, is a product of the “New Criticism” of the first half of this century, and garbles the text severely; scholars of Hermeticism of the caliber of Dame Frances Yates have labeled the Scott translation worthless. By contrast, a comparison of Mead’s version to the excellent modern translation by Brian Copenhaver, or to the translations of CH I (Poemandres) and VII (The Greatest Ill Among Men is Ignorance of God) given in Bentley Layton’s The Gnostic Scriptures, shows Mead as a capable translator, with a usually solid grasp of the meaning of these sometimes obscure texts.
There is admittedly one problem with Mead’s translation: the aesthetics of the English text. Mead hoped, as he mentioned at the beginning of Thrice Greatest Hermes, to “render…these beautiful theosophic treatises into an English that might, perhaps, be thought in some small way worthy of the Greek originals.” Unfortunately for this ambition, he was writing at a time when the last remnants of the florid and pompous Victorian style were fighting it out with the more straightforward colloquial prose that became the style of the new century. Caught in this tangle like so many writers of the time, Mead wanted to write in the grand style but apparently didn’t know how. The result is a sometimes bizarre mishmash in which turn-of-the-century slang stands cheek by jowl with overblown phrases in King James Bible diction, and in which mishandled archaicisms, inverted word order, and poetic contractions render the text less than graceful – and occasionally less than readable. Seen from a late twentieth century sensibility, the result verges on unintentional self-parody in places: for example, where Mead uses the Scots contraction “ta’en” (for “taken”), apparently for sheer poetic color, calling up an image of Hermes Trismegistus in kilt and sporran.
The “poetic” word order is probably the most serious barrier to readability; it’s a good rule, whenever the translation seems to descend into gibberish, to try shuffling the words of the sentence in question. It may also be worth noting that Mead consistently uses “for that” in place of “because” and “aught” in place of “any”, and leaves out the word “the” more or less at random.
Finally, comments in (parentheses) and in [square brackets] are in Mead’s original; those in <angle brackets> are my own additions.
I. Poemandres, the Shepherd of Men
<This is the most famous of the Hermetic documents, a revelation account describing a vision of the creation of the universe and the nature and fate of humanity. Authors from the Renaissance onward have been struck by the way in which its creation myth seems partly inspired by Genesis, partly reacting against it. The Fall has here become the descent of the Primal Man through the spheres of the planets to the world of Nature, a descent caused not by disobedience but by love, and done with the blessing of God.
<The seven rulers of fate discussed in sections 9, 14 and 25 are the archons of the seven planets, which also appear in Plato’s Timaeus and in a number of the ancient writings usually lumped together as “Gnostic”. Their role here is an oddly ambivalent one, powers of Harmony who are nonetheless the sources of humanity’s tendencies to evil. – JMG>
1. It chanced once on a time my mind was meditating on the things that are, my thought was raised to a great height, the senses of my body being held back – just as men who are weighed down with sleep after a fill of food, or from fatigue of body.
Methought a Being more than vast, in size beyond all bounds, called out my name and saith: What wouldst thou hear and see, and what hast thou in mind to learn and know?
2. And I do say: Who art thou?
He saith: I am Man-Shepherd (Poemandres), Mind of all-masterhood; I know what thou desirest and I’m with thee everywhere.
3. [And] I reply: I long to learn the things that are, and comprehend their nature, and know God. This is, I said, what I desire to hear.
He answered back to me: Hold in thy mind all thou wouldst know, and I will teach thee.
4. E’en with these words His aspect changed, and straightway, in the twinkling of an eye, all things were opened to me, and I see a Vision limitless, all things turned into Light – sweet, joyous [Light]. And I became transported as I gazed.
But in a little while Darkness came settling down on part [of it], awesome and gloomy, coiling in sinuous folds, so that methought it like unto a snake.
And then the Darkness changed into some sort of a Moist Nature, tossed about beyond all power of words, belching out smoke as from a fire, and groaning forth a wailing sound that beggars all description.
[And] after that an outcry inarticulate came forth from it, as though it were a Voice of Fire.
5. [Thereon] out of the Light […] a Holy Word (Logos) descended on that Nature. And upwards to the height from the Moist Nature leaped forth pure Fire; light was it, swift and active too.
The Air, too, being light, followed after the Fire; from out of the Earth-and-Water rising up to Fire so that it seemed to hang therefrom.
But Earth-and-Water stayed so mingled with each other, that Earth from Water no one could discern. Yet were they moved to hear by reason of the Spirit-Word (Logos) pervading them.
6. Then saith to me Man-Shepherd: Didst understand this Vision what it means?
Nay; that shall I know, said I.
That Light, He said, am I, thy God, Mind, prior to Moist Nature which appeared from Darkness; the Light-Word (Logos) [that appeared] from Mind is Son of God.
What then? – say I.
Know that what sees in thee and hears is the Lord’s Word (Logos); but Mind is Father-God. Not separate are they the one from other; just in their union [rather] is it Life consists.
Thanks be to Thee, I said.
So, understand the Light [He answered], and make friends with it.
7. And speaking thus He gazed for long into my eyes, so that I trembled at the look of him.
But when He raised His head, I see in Mind the Light, [but] now in Powers no man could number, and Cosmos grown beyond all bounds, and that the Fire was compassed round about by a most mighty Power, and [now] subdued had come unto a stand.
And when I saw these things I understood by reason of Man-Shepherd’s Word (Logos).
8. But as I was in great astonishment, He saith to me again: Thou didst behold in Mind the Archetypal Form whose being is before beginning without end. Thus spake to me Man-Shepherd.
And I say: Whence then have Nature’s elements their being?
To this He answer gives: From Will of God. [Nature] received the Word (Logos), and gazing upon the Cosmos Beautiful did copy it, making herself into a cosmos, by means of her own elements and by the births of souls.
9. And God-the-Mind, being male and female both, as Light and Life subsisting, brought forth another Mind to give things form, who, God as he was of Fire and Spirit, formed Seven Rulers who enclose the cosmos that the sense perceives. Men call their ruling Fate.
10. Straightway from out the downward elements God’s Reason (Logos) leaped up to Nature’s pure formation, and was at-oned with the Formative Mind; for it was co-essential with it. And Nature’s downward elements were thus left reason-less, so as to be pure matter.
11. Then the Formative Mind ([at-oned] with Reason), he who surrounds the spheres and spins them with his whorl, set turning his formations, and let them turn from a beginning boundless unto an endless end. For that the circulation of these [spheres] begins where it doth end, as Mind doth will.
And from the downward elements Nature brought forth lives reason-less; for He did not extend the Reason (Logos) [to them]. The Air brought forth things winged; the Water things that swim, and Earth-and-Water one from another parted, as Mind willed. And from her bosom Earth produced what lives she had, four-footed things and reptiles, beasts wild and tame.
12. But All-Father Mind, being Life and Light, did bring forth Man co-equal to Himself, with whom He fell in love, as being His own child; for he was beautiful beyond compare, the Image of his Sire. In very truth, God fell in love with his own Form; and on him did bestow all of His own formations.
13. And when he gazed upon what the Enformer had created in the Father, [Man] too wished to enform; and [so] assent was given him by the Father.
Changing his state to the formative sphere, in that he was to have his whole authority, he gazed upon his Brother’s creatures. They fell in love with him, and gave him each a share of his own ordering.
And after that he had well learned their essence and had become a sharer in their nature, he had a mind to break right through the Boundary of their spheres, and to subdue the might of that which pressed upon the Fire.
14. So he who hath the whole authority o’er [all] the mortals in the cosmos and o’er its lives irrational, bent his face downwards through the Harmony, breaking right through its strength, and showed to downward Nature God’s fair form.
And when she saw that Form of beauty which can never satiate, and him who [now] possessed within himself each single energy of [all seven] Rulers as well as God’s own Form, she smiled with love; for ’twas as though she’d seen the image of Man’s fairest form upon her Water, his shadow on her Earth.
He in turn beholding the form like to himself, existing in her, in her Water, loved it and willed to live in it; and with the will came act, and [so] he vivified the form devoid of reason.
And Nature took the object of her love and wound herself completely around him, and they were intermingled, for they were lovers.
15. And this is why beyond all creatures on the earth man is twofold; mortal because of body, but because of the essential man immortal.
Though deathless and possessed of sway o’er all, yet doth he suffer as a mortal doth, subject to Fate.
Thus though above the Harmony, within the Harmony he hath become a slave. Though male-female, as from a Father male-female, and though he’s sleepless from a sleepless [Sire], yet is he overcome [by sleep].
16. Thereon [I say: Teach on], O Mind of me, for I myself as well am amorous of the Word (Logos).
The Shepherd said: This is the mystery kept hid until this day.
Nature embraced by Man brought forth a wonder, oh so wonderful. For as he had the nature of the Concord of the Seven, who, as I said to thee, [were made] of Fire and Spirit – Nature delayed not, but immediately brought forth seven “men”, in correspondence with the natures of the Seven, male-female and moving in the air.
Thereon [I said]: O Shepherd, …, for now I’m filled with great desire and long to hear; do not run off.
The Shepherd said: Keep silence, for not as yet have I unrolled for thee the first discourse (logoi).
Lo! I am still, I said.
17. In such wise than, as I have said, the generation of these seven came to pass. Earth was as woman, her Water filled with longing; ripeness she took from Fire, spirit from Aether. Nature thus brought forth frames to suit the form of Man.
And Man from Light and Life changed into soul and mind – from Life to soul, from Light to mind.
And thus continued all the sense-world’s parts until the period of their end and new beginnings.
18. Now listen to the rest of the discourse (Logos) which thou dost long to hear.
The period being ended, the bond that bound them all was loosened by God’s Will. For all the animals being male-female, at the same time with Man were loosed apart; some became partly male, some in like fashion [partly] female. And straightway God spake by His Holy Word (Logos):
“Increase ye in increasing, and multiply in multitude, ye creatures and creations all; and man that hath Mind in him, let him learn to know that he himself is deathless, and that the cause of death is love, though Love is all.”
19. When He said this, His Forethought did by means of Fate and Harmony effect their couplings and their generations founded. And so all things were multiplied according to their kind.
And he who thus hath learned to know himself, hath reached that Good which doth transcend abundance; but he who through a love that leads astray, expends his love upon his body – he stays in Darkness wandering, and suffering through his senses things of Death.
20. What is the so great fault, said I, the ignorant commit, that they should be deprived of deathlessness?
Thou seem’st, He said, O thou, not to have given heed to what thou heardest. Did I not bid thee think?
Yea do I think, and I remember, and therefore give Thee thanks.
If thou didst think [thereon], [said He], tell me: Why do they merit death who are in Death?
It is because the gloomy Darkness is the root and base of the material frame; from it came the Moist Nature; from this the body in the sense-world was composed; and from this [body] Death doth the Water drain.
21. Right was thy thought, O thou! But how doth “he who knows himself, go unto Him”, as God’s Word (Logos) hath declared?
And I reply: the Father of the universals doth consist of Light and Life, from Him Man was born.
Thou sayest well, [thus] speaking. Light and Life is Father-God, and from Him Man was born.
If then thou learnest that thou art thyself of Life and Light, and that thou [happen’st] to be out of them, thou shalt return again to Life. Thus did Man-Shepherd speak.
But tell me further, Mind of me, I cried, how shall I come to Life again…for God doth say: “The man who hath Mind in him, let him learn to know that he himself [is deathless].”
22. Have not all men then Mind?
Thou sayest well, O thou, thus speaking. I, Mind, myself am present with holy men and good, the pure and merciful, men who live piously.
[To such] my presence doth become an aid, and straightway they gain gnosis of all things, and win the Father’s love by their pure lives, and give Him thanks, invoking on Him blessings, and chanting hymns, intent on Him with ardent love.
And ere they give up the body unto its proper death, they turn them with disgust from its sensations, from knowledge of what things they operate. Nay, it is I, the Mind, that will not let the operations which befall the body, work to their [natural] end. For being door-keeper I’ll close up [all] the entrances, and cut the mental actions off which base and evil energies induce.
23. But to the Mind-less ones, the wicked and depraved, the envious and covetous, and those who mured do and love impiety, I am far off, yielding my place to the Avenging Daimon, who sharpening the fire, tormenteth him and addeth fire to fire upon him, and rusheth upon him through his senses, thus rendering him readier for transgressions of the law, so that he meets with greater torment; nor doth he ever cease to have desire for appetites inordinate, insatiately striving in the dark.
24. Well hast thou taught me all, as I desired, O Mind. And now, pray, tell me further of the nature of the Way Above as now it is [for me].
To this Man-Shepherd said: When the material body is to be dissolved, first thou surrenderest the body by itself unto the work of change, and thus the form thou hadst doth vanish, and thou surrenderest thy way of life, void of its energy, unto the Daimon. The body’s senses next pass back into their sources, becoming separate, and resurrect as energies; and passion and desire withdraw unto that nature which is void of reason.
25. And thus it is that man doth speed his way thereafter upwards through the Harmony.
To the first zone he gives the Energy of Growth and Waning; unto the second [zone], Device of Evils [now] de-energized; unto the third, the Guile of the Desires de-energized; unto the fourth, his Domineering Arrogance, [also] de-energized; unto the fifth, unholy Daring and the Rashness of Audacity, de-energized; unto the sixth, Striving for Wealth by evil means, deprived of its aggrandizement; and to the seventh zone, Ensnaring Falsehood, de-energized.
26. And then, with all the energisings of the harmony stript from him, clothed in his proper Power, he cometh to that Nature which belongs unto the Eighth, and there with those-that-are hymneth the Father.
They who are there welcome his coming there with joy; and he, made like to them that sojourn there, doth further hear the Powers who are above the Nature that belongs unto the Eighth, singing their songs of praise to God in language of their own.
And then they, in a band, go to the Father home; of their own selves they make surrender of themselves to Powers, and [thus] becoming Powers they are in God. This the good end for those who have gained Gnosis – to be made one with God.
Why shouldst thou then delay? Must it not be, since thou hast all received, that thou shouldst to the worthy point the way, in order that through thee the race of mortal kind may by [thy] God be saved?
27. This when He’d said, Man-Shepherd mingled with the Powers.
But I, with thanks and belssings unto the Father of the universal [Powers], was freed, full of the power he had poured into me, and full of what He’d taught me of the nature of the All and of the loftiest Vision.
And I began to preach unto men the Beauty of Devotion and of Gnosis:
O ye people, earth-born folk, ye who have given yourselves to drunkenness and sleep and ignorance of God, be sober now, cease from your surfeit, cease to be glamoured by irrational sleep!
28. And when they heard, they came with one accord. Whereon I say:
Ye earth-born folk, why have ye given yourselves up to Death, while yet ye have the power of sharing Deathlessness? Repent, O ye, who walk with Error arm in arm and make of Ignorance the sharer of your board; get ye out from the light of Darkness, and take your part in Deathlessness, forsake Destruction!
29. And some of them with jests upon their lips departed [from me], abandoning themselves unto the Way of Death; others entreated to be taught, casting themselves before my feet.
But I made them arise, and I became a leader of the Race towards home, teaching the words (logoi), how and in what way they shall be saved. I sowed in them the words (logoi) of wisdom; of Deathless Water were they given to drink.
And when even was come and all sun’s beams began to set, I bade them all give thanks to God. And when they had brought to an end the giving of their thanks, each man returned to his own resting place.
30. But I recorded in my heart Man-Shepherd’s benefaction, and with my every hope fulfilled more than rejoiced. For body’s sleep became the soul’s awakening, and closing of the eyes – true vision, pregnant with Good my silence, and the utterance of my word (logos) begetting of good things.
All this befell me from my Mind, that is Man-Shepherd, Word (Logos) of all masterhood, by whom being God-inspired I came unto the Plain of Truth. Wherefore with all my soul and strength thanksgiving give I unto Father-God.
31. Holy art Thou, O God, the universals’ Father.
Holy art Thou, O God, whose Will perfects itself by means of its own Powers.
Holy art Thou, O God, who willeth to be known and art known by Thine own.
Holy art Thou,who didst by Word (Logos) make to consist the things that are.
Holy art Thou, of whom All-nature hath been made an image.
Holy art Thou, whose Form Nature hath never made.
Holy art Thou, more powerful than all power.
Holy art Thou, transcending all pre-eminence.
Holy Thou art, Thou better than all praise.
Accept my reason’s offerings pure, from soul and heart for aye stretched up to Thee, O Thou unutterable, unspeakable, Whose Name naught but the Silence can express.
32. Give ear to me who pray that I may ne’er of Gnosis fail, [Gnosis] which is our common being’s nature; and fill me with Thy Power, and with this Grace [of Thine], that I may give the Light to those in ignorance of the Race, my Brethren, and Thy Sons.
For this cause I believe, and I bear witness; I go to Life and Light. Blessed art Thou, O Father. Thy Man would holy be as Thou art holy, e’en as Thou gave him Thy full authority [to be].
II. To Asclepius
<This dialogue sets forth the difference between the physical and metaphysical worlds in the context of Greek natural philosophy. Some of the language is fairly technical: the “errant spheres” of sections 6 and 7 are the celestial spheres carrying the planets, while the “inerrant sphere” is that of the fixed stars. It’s useful to keep in mind, also, that “air” and “spirit” are interchangeable concepts in Greek thought, and that the concept of the Good has a range of implications which don’t come across in the English word: one is that the good of any being, in Greek thought, was also that being’s necessary goal.
<The criticism of childlessness in section 17 should probably be read as a response to the Christian ideal of celibacy, which horrified many people in the ancient world. – JMG>
1. Hermes: All that is moved, Asclepius, is it not moved in something and by something?
H: And must not that in which it’s moved be greater than the moved?
A: It must.
H: Mover, again, has greater power than moved?
A: It has, of course.
H: The nature, furthermore, of that in which it’s moved must be quite other from the nature of the moved?
A: It must completely.
2. H: Is not, again, this cosmos vast, [so vast] that than it there exists no body greater?
H: And massive, too, for it is crammed with multitudes of other mighty frames, nay, rather all the other bodies that there are?
A: It is.
H: And yet the cosmos is a body?
A: It is a body.
H: And one that’s moved?
3. A: Assuredly.
H: Of what size, then, must be the space in which it’s moved, and of what kind [must be] the nature [of that space]? Must it not be far vaster [than the cosmos], in order that it may be able to find room for its continued course, so that the moved may not be cramped for want of room and lose its motion?
A: Something, Thrice-greatest one, it needs must be, immensely vast.
4. H: And of what nature? Must it not be, Asclepius, of just the contrary? And is not contrary to body bodiless?
H: Space, then, is bodiless. But bodiless must either be some godlike thing or God [Himself]. And by “some godlike thing” I mean no more the generable [i.e., that which is generated] but the ingenerable.
5. If, then, space be some godlike thing, it is substantial; but if ’tis God [Himself], it transcends substance. But it is to be thought of otherwise [than God], and in this way.
God is first “thinkable” <or “intelligible”> for us, not for Himself, for that the thing that’s thought doth fall beneath the thinker’s sense. God then cannot be “thinkable” unto Himself, in that He’s thought of by Himself as being nothing else but what He thinks. But he is “something else” for us, and so He’s thought of by us.
6. If space is, therefore, to be thought, [it should] not, [then, be thought as] God, but space. If God is also to be thought, [He should] not [be conceived] as space, but as energy that can contain [all space].
Further, all that is moved is moved not in the moved but in the stable. And that which moves [another] is of course stationary, for ’tis impossible that it should move with it.
A: How is it, then, that things down here, Thrice-greatest one, are moved with those that are [already] moved? For thou hast said the errant spheres were moved by the inerrant one.
H: This is not, O Asclepius, a moving with, but one against; they are not moved with one another, but one against the other. It is this contrariety which turneth the resistance of their motion into rest. For that resistance is the rest of motion.
7. Hence, too, the errant spheres, being moved contrarily to the inerrant one, are moved by one another by mutual contrariety, [and also] by the spable one through contrariety itself. And this can otherwise not be.
The Bears up there <i.e., Ursa Major and Minor>, which neither set nor rise, think’st thou they rest or move?
A: They move, Thrice-greatest one.
H: And what their motion, my Asclepius?
A: Motion that turns for ever round the same.
H: But revolution – motion around same – is fixed by rest. For “round-the-same” doth stop “beyond-same”. “Beyond-same” then, being stopped, if it be steadied in “round-same” – the contrary stands firm, being rendered ever stable by its contrariety.
8. Of this I’ll give thee here on earth an instance, which the eye can see. Regard the animals down here – a man, for instance, swimming! The water moves, yet the resistance of his hands and feet give him stability, so that he is not borne along with it, nor sunk thereby.
A: Thou hast, Thrice-greatest one, adduced a most clear instance.
H: All motion, then, is caused in station and by station.
The motion, therefore, of the cosmos (and of every other hylic <i.e., material> animal) will not be caused by things exterior to the cosmos, but by things interior [outward] to the exterior – such [things] as soul, or spirit, or some such other thing incorporeal.
‘Tis not the body that doth move the living thing in it; nay, not even the whole [body of the universe a lesser] body e’en though there be no life in it.
9. A: What meanest thou by this, Thrice-greatest one? Is it not bodies, then, that move the stock and stone and all the other things inanimate?
H: By no means, O Asclepius. The something-in-the-body, the that-which-moves the thing inanimate, this surely’s not a body, for that it moves the two of them – both body of the lifter and the lifted? So that a thing that’s lifeless will not move a lifeless thing. That which doth move [another thing] is animate, in that it is the mover.
Thou seest, then, how heavy laden is the soul, for it alone doth lift two bodies. That things, moreover, moved are moved in something as well as moved by something is clear.
10. A: Yea, O Thrice-greatest one, things moved must needs be moved in something void.
H: Thou sayest well, O [my] Asclepius! For naught of things that are is void. Alone the “is-not” is void [and] stranger to subsistence. For that which is subsistent can never change to void.
A: Are there, then, O Thrice-greatest one, no such things as an empty cask, for instance, and an empty jar, a cup and vat, and other things like unto them?
H: Alack, Asclepius, for thy far-wandering from the truth! Think’st thou that things most full and most replete are void?
11. A: How meanest thou, Thrice-greatest one?
H: Is not air body?
A: It is.
H: And doth this body not pervade all things, and so, pervading, fill them? And “body”; doth body not consist from blending of the “four” <elements>? Full, then, of air are all thou callest void; and if of air, then of the “four”.
Further, of this the converse follows, that all thou callest full are void – of air; for that they have their space filled out with other bodies, and, therefore, are not able to receive the air therein. These, then, which thou dost say are void, they should be hollow named, not void; for they not only are, but they are full of air and spirit.
12. A: Thy argument (logos), Thrice-greatest one, is not to be gainsaid; air is a body. Further, it is this body which doth pervade all things, and so, pervading, fill them. What are we, then, to call that space in which the all doth move?
H: The bodiless, Asclepius.
A: What, then, is Bodiless?
H: ‘Tis Mind and Reason (logos), whole out of whole, all self-embracing, free from all body, from all error free, unsensible to body and untouchable, self stayed in self, containing all, preserving those that are, whose rays, to use a likeness, are Good, Truth, Light beyond light, the Archetype of soul.
A: What, then, is God?
13. H: Not any one of these is He; for He it is that causeth them to be, both all and each and every thing of all that are. Nor hath He left a thing beside that is-not; but they are all from things-that-are and not from things-that-are-not. For that the things-that-are-not have naturally no power of being anything, but naturally have the power of the inability-to-be. And, conversely, the things-that-are have not the nature of some time not-being.
14. A: What say’st thou ever, then, God is?
H: God, therefore, is not Mind, but Cause that the Mind is; God is not Spirit, but Cause that Spirit is; God is not Light, but Cause that the Light is. Hence one should honor God with these two names [the Good and Father] – names which pertain to Him alone and no one else.
For no one of the other so-called gods, no one of men, or daimones, can be in any measure Good, but God alone; and He is Good alone and nothing else. The rest of things are separable all from the Good’s nature; for [all the rest] are soul and body, which have no place that can contain the Good.
15. For that as mighty is the Greatness of the Good as is the Being of all things that are – both bodies and things bodiless, things sensible and intelligible things. Call thou not, therefore, aught else Good, for thou would’st imious be; nor anything at all at any time call God but Good alone, for so thou would’st again be impious.
16. Though, then, the Good is spoken of by all, it is not understood by all, what thing it is. Not only, then, is God not understood by all, but both unto the gods and some of the men they out of ignorance do give the name of Good, though they can never either be or become Good. For they are very different from God, while Good can never be distinguished from Him, for that God is the same as Good.
The rest of the immortal ones are nonetheless honored with the name of God, and spoken of as gods; but God is Good not out of courtesy but out of nature. For that God’s nature and the Good is one; one os the kind of both, from which all other kinds [proceed].
The Good is he who gives all things and naught receives. God, then, doth give all things and receive naught. God, then, is Good, and Good is God.
17. The other name of God is Father, again because He is the that-which-maketh-all. The part of father is to make.
Wherefore child-making is a very great and a most pious thing in life for them who think aright, and to leave life on earth without a child a very great misfortune and impiety; and he who hath no child is punished by the daimones after death.
And this is the punishment: that that man’s soul who hath no child, shall be condemned unto a body with neither man’s nor woman’s nature, a thing accursed beneath the sun.
Wherefore, Asclepius, let not your sympathies be with the man who hath no child, but rather pity his mishap, knowing what punishment abides for him.
Let all that has been said then, be to thee, Asclepius, an introduction to the gnosis of the nature of all things.
III. The Sacred Sermon
<This brief and apparently somewhat garbled text recounts the creation and nature of the world in terms much like those of the Poemandres. The major theme is the renewal of all things in a cyclic universe, with the seven planetary rulers again playing a major role. – JMG>
1. The Glory of all things is God, Godhead and Godly Nature. Source of the things that are is God, who is both Mind and Nature – yea Matter, the Wisdom that reveals all things. Source [too] is Godhead – yea Nature, Energy, Necessity, and End, and Making-new-again.
Darkness that knew no bounds was in Abyss, and Water [too] and subtle Breath intelligent; these were by Power of God in Chaos.
Then Holy Light arose; and there collected ‘neath Dry Space <literally: “sand”> from out Moist Essence Elements; and all the Gods do separate things out from fecund Nature.
2. All things being undefined and yet unwrought, the light things were assigned unto the height, the heavy ones had their foundations laid down underneath the moist part of Dry Space, the universal things being bounded off by Fire and hanged in Breath to keep them up.
And Heaven was seen in seven circles; its Gods were visible in forms of stars with all their signs; while Nature had her members made articulate together with the Gods in her. And [Heaven’s] periphery revolved in cyclic course, borne on by Breath of God.
3. And every God by his own proper power brought forth what was appointed him. Thus there arose four-footed beasts, and creeping things, and those that in the water dwell, and things with wings, and everything that beareth seed, and grass, and shoot of every flower, all having in themselves seed of again-becoming.
And they selected out the births of men for gnosis of the works of God and attestation of the energy of Nature; the multitude of men for lordship over all beneath the heaven and gnosis of its blessings, that they might increase in increasing and multiply in multitude, and every soul infleshed by revolution of the Cyclic Gods, for observation of the marvels of Heaven and Heaven’s Gods’ revolution, and of the works of God and energy of Nature, for tokens of its blessings, for gnosis of the power of God, that they might know the fates that follow good and evil [deeds] and learn the cunning work of all good arts.
4. [Thus] there begins their living and their growing wise, according to the fate appointed by the revolution of the Cyclic Gods, and their deceasing for this end.
And there shall be memorials mighty of their handiworks upon the earth, leaving dim trace behind when cycles are renewed.
For every birth of flesh ensouled, and of the fruit of seed, and every handiwork, though it decay, shall of necessity renew itself, both by the renovation of the Gods and by the turning-round of Nature’s rhythmic wheel.
For that whereas the Godhead is Nature’s ever-making-new-again the cosmic mixture, Nature herself is also co-established in that Godhead.
IV. The Cup or Monad
<This short text gives an unusually lucid overview of the foundations of Hermetic thought. The stress on rejection of the body and its pleasures, and on the division of humanity into those with Mind and those without, are reminiscent of some of the so-called “Gnostic” writings of the same period. The idea that the division is a matter of choice, on the other hand, is a pleasant variation on the almost Calvinist flavor of writings such as the Apocalypse of Adam.
<Mead speculates that the imagery of the Cup in this text may have a distant connection, by way of unorthodox ideas about Communion, with the legends of the Holy Grail. – JMG>
1. Hermes: With Reason (Logos), not with hands, did the World-maker make the universal World; so that thou shouldst think of him as everywhere and ever-being, the Author of all things, and One and Only, who by His Will all beings hath created.
This Body of Him is a thing no man can touch, or see, or measure, a body inextensible, like to no other frame. ‘Tis neither Fire nor Water, Air nor Breath; yet all of them come from it. Now being Good he willed to consecrate this [Body] to Himself alone, and set its Earth in order and adorn it.
2. So down [to Earth] He sent the Cosmos of this Frame Divine – man, a life that cannot die, and yet a life that dies. And o’er [all other] lives and over Cosmos [too], did man excel by reason of the Reason (Logos) and the Mind. For contemplator of God’s works did man become; he marvelled and did strive to know their Author.
3. Reason (Logos) indeed, O Tat, among all men hath He distributed, but Mind not yet; not that He grudgeth any, for grudging cometh not from Him, but hath its place below, within the souls of men who have no Mind.
Tat: Why then did God, O father, not on all bestow a share of Mind?
H: He willed, my son, to have it set up in the midst for souls, just as it were a prize.
4. T: And where hath He set it up?
H: He filled a mighty Cup with it, and sent it down, joining a Herald [to it], to whom He gave command to make this proclamation to the hearts of men:
Baptize thyself with this Cup’s baptism, what heart can do so, thou that hast faith thou canst ascend to him that hath sent down the Cup, thou that dost know for what thoudidst come into being!
As many then as understood the Herald’s tidings and doused themselves in Mind, became partakers in the Gnosis; and when they had “received the Mind” they were made “perfect men”.
But they who do not understand the tidings, these, since they possess the aid of Reason [only] and not Mind, are ignorant wherefor they have come into being and whereby.
5. The senses of such men are like irrational creatures’; and as their [whole] make-up is in their feelings and their impulses, they fail in all appreciation of <lit.: “they do not wonder at”> those things which really are worth contemplation. These center all their thought upon the pleasures of the body and its appetites, in the belief that for its sake man hath come into being.
But they who have received some portion of God’s gift, these, Tat, if we judge by their deeds, have from Death’s bonds won their release; for they embrace in their own Mind all things, things on the earth, things in the heaven, and things above the heaven – if there be aught. And having raised themselves so far they sight the Good; and having sighted it, they look upon their sojourn here as a mischance; and in disdain of all, both things in body and the bodiless, they speed their way unto that One and Only One.
6. This is, O Tat, the Gnosis of the Mind, Vision of things Divine; God-knowledge is it, for the Cup is God’s.
T: Father, I, too, would be baptized.
H: Unless thou first shall hate thy Body, son, thou canst not love thy Self. But if thou lov’st thy Self thou shalt have Mind, and having Mind thou shalt share in the Gnosis.
T: Father, what dost thou mean?
H: It is not possible, my son, to give thyself to both – I mean to things that perish and to things divine. For seeing that existing things are twain, Body and Bodiless, in which the perishing and the divine are understood, the man who hath the will to choose is left the choice of one or the other; for it can never be the twain should meet. And in those souls to whom the choice is left, the waning of the one causes the other’s growth to show itself.
7. Now the choosing of the Better not only proves a lot most fair for him who makes the choice, seeing it makes the man a God, but also shows his piety to God. Whereas the [choosing] of the Worse, although it doth destroy the “man”, it doth only disturb God’s harmony to this extent, that as processions pass by in the middle of the way, without being able to do anything but take the road from others, so do such men move in procession through the world led by their bodies’ pleasures.
8. This being so, O Tat, what comes from God hath been and will be ours; but that which is dependent on ourselves, let this press onward and have no delay, for ’tis not God, ’tis we who are the cause of evil things, preferring them to good.
Thou see’st, son, how many are the bodies through which we have to pass, how many are the choirs of daimones, how vast the system of the star-courses [through which our Path doth lie], to hasten to the One and Only God.
For to the Good there is no other shore; It hath no bounds; It is without an end; and for Itself It is without beginning, too, though unto us it seemeth to have one – the Gnosis.
9. Therefore to It Gnosis is no beginning; rather is it [that Gnosis doth afford] to us the first beginning of its being known.
Let us lay hold, therefore, of the beginning. and quickly speed through all [we have to pass].
`Tis very hard, to leave the things we have grown used to, which meet our gaze on every side, and turn ourselves back to the Old Old [Path].
Appearances delight us, whereas things which appear not make their believing hard.
Now evils are the more apparent things, whereas the Good can never show Itself unto the eyes, for It hath neither form nor figure.
Therefore the Good is like Itself alone, and unlike all things else; or `tis impossible that That which hath no body should make Itself apparent to a body.
10. The “Like’s” superiority to the “Unlike” and the “Unlike’s” inferiority unto the “Like” consists in this:
The Oneness being Source and Root of all, is in all things as Root and Source. Without [this] Source is naught; whereas the Source [Itself] is from naught but itself, since it is Source of all the rest. It is Itself Its Source, since It may have no other Source.
The Oneness then being Source, containeth every number, but is contained by none; engendereth every number, but is engendered by no other one.
11. Now all that is engendered is imperfect, it is divisible, to increase subject and to decrease; but with the Perfect [One] none of these things doth hold. Now that which is increasable increases from the Oneness, but succumbs through its own feebleness when it no longer can contain the One.
And now, O Tat, God’s Image hath been sketched for thee, as far as it can be; and if thou wilt attentively dwell on it and observe it with thine heart’s eyes, believe me, son, thou’lt find the Path that leads above; nay, that Image shall become thy Guide itself, because the Sight [Divine] hath this peculiar [charm], it holdeth fast and draweth unto it those who succeed in opening their eyes, just as, they say, the magnet [draweth] iron.
V. Though Unmanifest God Is Most Manifest
<This sermon is a fairly straightforward Hermetic version of the “argument by design”, a standard approach since ancient times to a proof of the existence of God. Typically, for a Hermetic tractate, its choice of evidence includes a paean on the beauty and perfection of the human form. – JMG>
1. I will recount to thee this sermon (logos) too, O Tat, that thou may’st cease to be without the mysteries of the God beyond all name. And mark thou well how that which to the many seems unmanifest, will grow most manifest for thee.
Now were it manifest, it would not be. For all that is made manifest is subject to becoming, for it hath been made manifest. But the Unmanifest for ever is, for It doth not desire to be made manifest. It ever is, and maketh manifest all other things.
Being Himself unmanifest, as ever being and ever making-manifest, Himself is not made manifest. God is not made Himself; by thinking-manifest <i.e., thinking into manifestation>, He thinketh all things manifest.
Now “thinking-manifest” deals with things made alone, for thinking-manifest is nothing else than making.
2. He, then, alone who is not made, ’tis clear, is both beyond all power of thinking-manifest, and is unmanifest.
And as He thinketh all things manifest, He manifests through all things and in all, and most of all in whatsoever things He wills to manifest.
Do thou, then, Tat, my son, pray first unto our Lord and Father, the One-and-Only One, from whom the One doth come, to show His mercy unto thee, in order that thou mayest have the power to catch a thought of this so mighty God, one single beam of Him to shine into thy thinking. For thought alone “sees” the Unmanifest, in that it is itself unmanifest.
If, then, thou hast the power, He will, Tat, manifest to thy mind’s eyes. The Lord begrudgeth not Himself to anything, but manifests Himself through the whole world.
Thou hast the power of taking thought, of seeing it and grasping it in thy own “hands”, and gazing face to face upon God’s Image. But if what is within thee even is unmanifest to thee, how, then, shall He Himself who is within thy self be manifest for thee by means of [outer] eyes?
3. But if thou wouldst “see” him, bethink thee of the sun, bethink thee of moon’s course, bethink thee of the order of the stars. Who is the One who watcheth o’er that order? For every order hath its boundaries marked out by place and number.
The sun’s the greatest god of gods in heaven; to whom all of the heavenly gods give place as unto king and master. And he, this so-great one, he greater than the earth and sea, endures to have above him circling smaller stars than him. Out of respect to Whom, or out of fear of Whom, my son, [doth he do this]?
Nor like nor equal is the course each of these stars describes in heaven. Who [then] is He who marketh out the manner of their course and its extent?
4. The Bear up there that turneth round itself, and carries round the whole cosmos with it – Who is the owner of this instrument? Who He who hath set round the sea its bounds? Who He who hath set on its seat the earth?
For, Tat, there is someone who is the Maker and the Lord of all these things. It cound not be that number, place and measure could be kept without someone to make them. No order whatsoever could be made by that which lacketh place and lacketh measure; nay, even this is not without a lord, my son. For if the orderless lacks something, in that it is not lord of order’s path, it also is beneath a lord – the one who hath not yet ordained it order.
5. Would that it were possible for thee to get thee wings, and soar into the air, and, poised midway ‘tween earth and heaven, behold the earth’s solidity, the sea’s fluidity (the flowings of its streams), the spaciousness of air, fire’s swiftness, [and] the coursing of the stars, the swiftness of heaven’s circuit round them [all]!
Most blessed sight were it, my son, to see all these beneath one sway – the motionless in motion, and the unmanifest made manifest; whereby is made this order of the cosmos and the cosmos which we see of order.
6. If thou would’st see Him too through things that suffer death, both on the earth and in the deep, think of a man’s being fashioned in the womb, my son, and strictly scrutinize the art of Him who fashions him, and learn who fashioneth this fair and godly image of the Man.
Who [then] is He who traceth out the circles of the eyes; who He who boreth out the nostrils and the ears; who He who openeth [the portal of] the mouth; who He who doth stretch out and tie the nerves; who He who channels out the veins; who He who hardeneth the bones; who He who covereth the flesh with skin; who He who separates the fingers and the joints; who He who widens out a treading for the feet; who He who diggeth out the ducts; who He who spreadeth out the spleen; who he who shapeth heart like to a pyramid; who He who setteth ribs together; who He who wideneth the liver out; who He who maketh lungs like to a sponge; who He who maketh belly stretch so much; who he who doth make prominent the parts most honorable, so that they may be seen, while hiding out of sight those of least honor?
7. Behold how many arts [employed] on one material, how many labors on one single sketch; and all exceeding fair, and all in perfect measure, yet all diversified! Who made them all? What mother, or what sire, save God alone, unmanifest, who hath made all things by His Will?
8. And no one saith a statue or a picture comes to be without a sculptor or [without] a painter; doth [then] such workmanship as this exist without a Worker? What depth of blindness, what deep impiety, what depth of ignorance! See, [then] thou ne’er, son Tat, deprivest works of Worker!
Nay, rather is He greater than all names, so great is He, the Father of them all. For verily He is the Only One, and this is His work, to be a father.
9. So, if thou forcest me somewhat too bold, to speak, His being is conceiving of all things and making [them].
And as without its maker its is impossible that anything should be, so ever is He not unless He ever makes all things, in heaven, in air, in earth, in deep, in all of cosmos, in every part that is and that is not of everything. For there is naught in all the world that is not He.
He is Himself, both things that are and things that are not. The things that are He hath made manifest, He keepeth things that are not in Himself.
10. He is the God beyond all name; He the unmanifest, He the most manifest; He whom the mind [alone] can contemplate, He visible to the eyes [as well]; He is the one of no body, the one of many bodies, nay, rather He of every body.
Naught is there which he is not. For all are He and He is all. And for this cause hath He all names, in that they are one Father’s. And for this cause hath He Himself no nome, in that He’s Father of [them] all.
Who, then, may sing Thee praise of Thee, or [praise] to Thee?
Whither, again, am I to turn my eyes to sing Thy praise; above, below, within, without?
There is no way, no place [is there] about Thee, nor any other thing of things that are.
All [are] in Thee; all [are] from Thee, O Thou who givest all and takest naught, for Thou hast all and naught is there Thou hast not.
11. And when, O Father, shall I hymn Thee? For none can seize Thy hour or time.
For what, again, shall I sing hymn? For things that Thou hast made, or things Thou hast not? For things Thou hast made manifest, or things Thou hast concealed?
How, further, shall I hymn Thee? As being of myself? As having something of mine own? As being other?
For that Thou art whatever I may be; Thou art whatever I may do; Thou art whatever I may speak.
For Thou art all, and there is nothing else which Thou art not. Thou art all that which doth exist, and Thou art what doth not exist – Mind when Thou thinkest, and Father when Thou makest, and God when Thou dost energize, and Good and Maker of all things.
For that the subtler part of matter is the air, of air the soul, of soul the mind, and of mind God.
VI. In God Alone Is Good And Elsewhere Nowhere
<This sermon on the nature of the Good, like To Asclepius (CH II), relies heavily on the technical language of classical Greek philosophy – a point which some of Mead’s translations tend to obscure. “The Good,” in Greek thought, is also the self-caused and self-sufficient, and thus has little in common with later conceptions of “goodness,” just as the Latin word virtus and the modern Christian concept of “virtue” are very nearly opposites despite their etymological connection. The word “passion” here also needs to be understood in its older sense, as the opposite of “action” (cf. “active” and “passive”).
<The negative attitude toward humanity and the cosmos which appears in this text contrasts sharply with the more positive assessment found, for example, in the Poemandres (CH I) or in the Asclepius – a reminder that these documents are relics of a diverse and not necessarily consistent school of thought. – JMG>
1. Good, O Asclepius, is in none else save in God alone; nay, rather, Good is God Himself eternally.
If it be so, [Good] must be essence, from every kind of motion and becoming free (though naught is free from It), possessed of stable energy around Itself, never too little, nor too much, an ever-full supply. [Though] one, yet [is It] source of all; for what supplieth all is Good. When I, moreover, say [supplieth] altogether [all], it is for ever Good. But this belongs to no one else save God alone.
For He stands not in need of any thing, so that desiring it He should be bad; nor can a single thing of things that are be lost to him, on losing which He should be pained; for pain is part of bad.
Nor is there aught superior to Him, that He should be subdued by it; nor any peer to Him to do Him wrong, or [so that] He should fall in love on its account; nor aught that gives no ear to Him, whereat He should grow angry; nor wiser aught, for Him to envy.
2. Now as all these are non-existent in His being, what is there left but Good alone?
For just as naught of bad is to be found in such transcendent Being, so too in no one of the rest will Good be found.
For in them are all of the other things <i.e., those things which are not Good> – both in the little and the great, both in each severally and in this living one that’s greater than them all and the mightiest [of them] <i.e., the cosmos>.
For things subject to birth abound in passions, birth in itself being passible. But where there’s passion, nowhere is there Good; and where is Good, nowhere a single passion. For where is day, nowhere is night; and where is night, day is nowhere.
Wherefore in genesis the Good can never be, but only be in the ingenerate.
But seeing that the sharing in all things hath been bestowed on matter, so doth it share in Good.
In this way is the Cosmos Good; that, in so far as it doth make all things, as far as making goes it’s Good, but in all other things it is not Good. For it’s both passible and subject unto motion, and maker of things passible.
3. Whereas in man by greater or less of bad is good determined. For what is not too bad down here, is good, and good down here is the least part of bad.
It cannot, therefore, be that good down here should be quite clean of bad, for down here good is fouled with bad; and being fouled, it stays no longer good, and staying not it changes into bad.
In God alone, is, therefore, Good, or rather Good is God Himself.
So then, Asclepius, the name alone of Good is found in men, the thing itself nowhere [in them], for this can never be.
For no material body doth contain It – a thing bound on all sides by bad, by labors, pains, desires and passions, by error and by foolish thoughts.
And greatest ill of all, Asclepius, is that each of these things that have been said above, is thought down here to be the greatest good.
And what is still an even greater ill, is belly-lust, the error that doth lead the band of all the other ills – the thing that makes us turn down here from Good.
4. And I, for my part, give thanks to God, that He hath cast it in my mind about the Gnosis of the Good, that it can never be It should be in the world. For that the world is “fullness” of the bad, but God of Good, and Good of God.
The excellencies of the Beautiful are round the very essence [of the Good]; nay, they do seem too pure, too unalloyed; perchance ’tis they that are themselves Its essences.
For one may dare to say, Asclepius – if essence, sooth, He have – God’s essence is the Beautiful; the Beautiful is further also Good.
There is no Good that can be got from objects in the world. For all the things that fall beneath the eye are image-things and pictures as it were; while those that do not meet [the eye are the realities], especially the [essence] of the Beautiful and Good.
Just as the eye cannot see God, so can it not behold the Beautiful and Good. For that they are integral parts of God, wedded to Him alone, inseparate familiars, most beloved, with whom God is Himself in love, or they with God.
5. If thou canst God conceive, thou shalt conceive the Beautiful and Good, transcending Light, made lighter than the Light by God. That Beauty is beyond compare, inimitate that Good, e’en as God is Himself.
As, then, thou dost conceive of God, conceive the Beautiful and Good. For they cannot be joined with aught of other things that live, since they can never be divorced from God.
Seek’st thou for God, thou seekest for the Beautiful. One is the Path that leadeth unto It – Devotion joined with Gnosis.
6. And thus it is that they who do not know and do not tread Devotion’s Path, do dare to call man beautiful and good, though he have ne’er e’en in his visions seen a whit that’s Good, but is enveloped with every kind of bad, and thinks the bad is good, and thus doth make unceasing use of it, and even feareth that it should be ta’en from him, so straining every nerve not only to preserve but even to increase it.
Such are the things that men call good and beautiful, Asclepius – things which we cannot flee or hate; for hardest thing of all is that we’ve need of them and cannot live without them.