DOCTRINE THAT DREAMS ARE SENT FROM GOD.
I. THE treatise before this one has contained our opinions on those visions sent from heaven which are classed under the first species; in reference to which subject we delivered our opinion that the Deity sent the appearances which are beheld by man in dreams in accordance with the suggestions of his own nature. But in this treatise we will, to the best of our power, describe those dreams which come under the second species.
Now the second species is that in which our mind, being moved simultaneously with the mind of the universe, has appeared to be hurried away by itself and to be under the influence of divine impulses, so as to be rendered capable of comprehending beforehand, and knowing by anticipation some of the events of the future. Now the first dream which is akin to the species which I have been describing, is that which appeared on the ladder which reached up to heaven, and which was of this kind.
“And Jacob dreamed, and behold a ladder was firmly planted on the earth, the head of which reached up to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold there was a ladder firmly planted on the earth, and the Lord was standing steadily upon it; and he said, I am the God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: be not afraid. The earth on which thou art sleeping I will give unto thee and unto thy seed, and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and it shall be multiplied as the sand on the seashore, and shall spread to the south, and to the north, and to the east; and in thee shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed, and in thy seed also. And, behold, I am with thee, keeping thee in all thy ways, by whichever thou goest, and I will bring thee again into this land; because I will not leave thee until I have done everything which I have said thee.” [Genesis xxviii. 12.]
But the previous consideration of the circumstances of this vision require that we should examine them with accuracy, and then perhaps we shall be able to comprehend what is indicated by the vision. What, then, are the previous circumstances? The scripture tells us, “And Jacob went up from the well of the oath, and came to Charran, and went into a place and lay down there until the sun arose. And he took one of the stones of the place and placed it at his head, and went to sleep in that place.” And immediately afterwards came the dream. Therefore it is well at the outset to raise a question on these three points:- One, What was the well of the oath, [Genesis xxvi. 33] and why was it called by this name? Secondly, What is Charran, and why, after Jacob had departed from the well before-mentioned, did he immediately go to Charran? Thirdly, What was the place, and why, when he was in it, did the sun at once set, and did he go to sleep?
II. Let us then at once begin and consider the first of these points. To me, then, the well appears to be an emblem of knowledge; for its nature is not superficial, but very deep. Nor does it lie in an open place, but a well is fond of being hidden somewhere in secret. Nor is it found with ease, but only after great labor and with difficulty; and this too is seen to be the case with sciences, not only with such as have great and indescribable subjects of speculation, but even with respect to such as are the most insignificant. Choose, therefore, whichever art you please; not the most excellent, but even the most obscure of all, which perhaps no one who has been bred a free man in the whole city would ever study of his own accord, and which scarcely any servant in the field would attend to, who, against his will, was a slave to some morose and illtempered master who compelled him to do many unpleasant things.
For the matter will be found to be not a simple one, but rather one of great complications and variety, not easy to be seized upon, but difficult to discover, difficult to master, hostile to delay, and indolence and indifference, full of earnestness and contention, and sweat, and care. For which reason “those who dig in this well say that they cannot find even water in it;” because the ends of science are not only hard to discover, but are even altogether undiscoverable; and it is owing to this that one man is more thoroughly skilled in grammar or in geometry than another, because of its being impossible to circumscribe, increase, and extend one within certain limits; for there is always more that is left behind than what comes to be learnt; and what is left watches for and catches the learner, so that even he who fancies that he has comprehended and mastered the very extremities of knowledge would be considered but half perfect by another person who was his judge, and if he were before the tribunal of truth would appear to be only beginning knowledge; for life is short, as some one has said, but art is long; of which that man most thoroughly comprehends the magnitude, who sincerely and honestly plunges deeply into it, and who digs it out like a well. And such a man, when he is at the point of death, being now grey-headed and exceedingly old, it is said, wept, not that he feared death as being a coward, but out of a desire for instruction, as feeling that he was now, for the first time, entering upon it when he was finally departing from life.
For the soul flourishes for the pursuit of knowledge when the prime vigor of the body is withering away from the lapse of time; therefore, before one has arrived at one’s prime and vigor by reason of a more accurate comprehension of things, it is not difficult to be tripped up. But this accident is common to all people who are fond of learning, to whom new subjects of contemplation are continually rising up and striving after old ones, the soul itself producing many such subjects when it is not barren and unproductive. And nature, also, unexpectedly and spontaneously displaying a great number to those who are gifted with acute and penetrating intellects. Therefore the well of knowledge is shown to be of this kind, having no boundary and no end.
We must now explain why it was called the well of the oath. Those matters which are doubted about are decided by an oath, and those which are uncertain are confirmed in the same manner, and so, too, those which want certification receive it; from which facts this inference is drawn, that there is no subject respecting which any one can make an affirmation with greater certainty than he can respecting the fact that the race of wisdom is without limitation and without end. It is well, therefore, to enroll one’s self under the banners of one who discusses these matters without an oath; but he who is not very much inclined to assent to the assertions of another will at least assent to them when he has made oath to their correctness. But let no one refuse to take an oath of this kind, well knowing that he will have his name inscribed on pillars among those who are faithful to their oaths.
III. However, enough of this. The next thing must be to consider why it is that as four wells had been dug by the servants of Abraham and Isaac, the fourth and last was called the well of the oath. May it not be that the sacred historian here desires to represent, in a figurative manner, that as in the universe there are four elements of which this world is composed, and as there are an equal number in ourselves, of which we have been fashioned before we were moulded into our human shape, three of them are capable of being comprehended somehow or other, but the fourth is unintelligible to all who come forward as judges of it. Accordingly, we find that the four elements in the world are the earth, and the water, and the air, and the heaven, of which, even if some are difficult to find, they are still not classed in the utterly undiscoverable portion.
For that the earth, because it is a heavy, and indissoluble, and solid substance, is divided into mountains and champaign districts, and intersected by rivers and seas, so that some portion of it consists of islands, and some portions are continent. And again, some of it has a shallow and some a deep soil; and some is rough, and rugged, and strong, and altogether barren; and some is smooth and delicate, and exceedingly fertile; and besides all these facts we know a great number of others relative to the earth.
And again, there is the water, which we know has many of the aforesaid qualities in common with the earth, and many also peculiar to itself; for some of it is sweet, and some brackish, and some is mixed up of various characteristics; and some is good to drink, and some is not drinkable; and, moreover, neither of these last qualities is invariable with respect to every creature, but there are some to which it is the one and not the other, and vice versa. Again, some water is by nature cold, and other water naturally hot; for there is in all sorts of places an infinite number of springs pouring forth hot water, not on the land only but even in the sea: at all events, there have appeared before now veins pouring up warm water in the middle of the sea, which all the enormous efflux of salt water in all the sea that encircles the world, pouring over them from all eternity, has never been able to extinguish, nor even in the least degree to diminish.
Again, we know that the air has an attractive nature, yielding to such bodies as surround it in an altitude of resistance, being the organ of life, and breath, and sight, and hearing, and all the rest of the external senses, admitting of rarification, and condensation, and motion, and tranquillity, and changes, and variations of every kind, by which it is altered and modified, and generating summers and winters, and the seasons of autumn and spring, by means of which the circle of the year is at last brought to a conclusion.
IV. All these things, then, we feel: but the heaven has a nature which is incomprehensible, and it has never conveyed to us any distinct indication by which we can understand its nature; for what can we say? that it is solid ice, as some persons have chosen to assert? or that it is the purest fire? or that it is a fifth body, moving in a circle having no participation in any of the four elements? For what can we say? Has that most remote sphere of the fixed stars any density in an upward direction? or is it merely a superficies devoid of all depth, something like a plane figure? And what are the stars? Are they masses of earth full of fire? For some persons have said that they are hills, and valleys, and thickets, men who are worthy of a prison and a treadmill, or of any place where there are instruments proper for the punishment of impious persons; or are they, as some one has defined them, a continuous and dense harmony, the closely packed, indissoluble mass of aether?
Again, are they animated and intelligent? or are they destitute alike of mind and vitality? Have they their motions in consequence of any choice of their own? or merely because they are compulsory?
What, again, are we to say of the moon? Does she show us a light of her own, or a borrowed and illegitimate one, only reflected from the rays of the sun? or is neither of these things true, but has she something mixed, as it were, so as to be a sort of combination of her own light and of that which belongs to some other body? For all these things, and others like them, belonging to the fourth and most excellent of the bodies in the world, namely, the heaven, are uncertain and incomprehensible, and are spoken of in accordance with conjectures and guesses, and not with the solid, certain reasoning of truth, so that a person might venture to swear that no mortal man will ever be able to comprehend any one of these matters clearly. At all events, the fourth and dry well was called the well of the oath on this account, because the search after the fourth element in the world, that is to say the heaven, is without any result, and is in every respect fruitless.
V. But let us now see in what manner that fourth element in us is by nature in such an especial and singular manner incomprehensible.
There are, then, four principal elements in us, the body, the external sense, the speech, and the mind. Now of these, three are not uncertain or unintelligible in every respect, but they contain some indication in themselves by which they are comprehended. Now what is my meaning in this statement? We know already that the body is divisible into three parts. and that it is capable of motion in six directions, inasmuch as it has three dimensions, in length, in depth, in breadth; and twice as many motions, namely six, the upward motion, the downward motion, that to the right, that to the left, the forward, and the backward motion. But, moreover, we are not ignorant that it is the vessel of the soul; and we are also aware that it is subject to the changes of being young, of decaying, of growing old, of dying, of undergoing dissolution. And with respect to the outward senses, we are not, so far as that is concerned, utterly dull and mutilated, but we are able to say that that also is divided into five divisions, and that there are appropriate organs for the development of each sense formed by nature; for instance, the eyes for seeing, the ears for hearing, the nostrils for smelling, and the other organs for the exercise of the respective senses to which they are adapted, and also that we may call these outward senses messengers of the mind which inform it of colors, and shapes, and sounds, and the peculiar differences of vapors, and flavors, and, in short, which describe to it all bodies, and all the distinctive qualities which exist in them.
They also may be looked upon as body-guards of the soul, informing it of all that they see or hear; and if anything injurious attacks it from without, they foresee it, and guard against it, so that it may not enter by chance and unawares, and so become the cause of irremediable disaster to their mistress.
Again, the voice does not entirely escape our comprehension; but we know that one voice is shrill and another deep; that one is tuneful and harmonious, and another dissonant and very unmusical; and again, one voice is more powerful, and another less so. And they differ also in ten thousand other particulars, in kind, in complexion, in distance, in combined and separate tension of the tones, in the symphonies of fourths, of fifths, and of the diapason. Moreover, there are some things which we know also with respect to that articulate voice which has been allotted to man alone of all animals, as, for instance, we know that it is emitted by the mind, that it receives its articulate distinctness in the mouth, that it is by the striking of the tongue that articulate utterance is impressed upon the tones of the voice, and which renders the uttered sound not only a bare, naked, useless noise, void of all characteristic, and that it discharges the office of a herald or interpreter towards the mind which suggests it.
VI. Now then is the fourth element which exists within us, the dominant mind, comprehensible to us in the same manner as these other divisions ? Certainly not; for what do we think it to be in its essence? Do we look upon it as spirit, or as blood, or, in short, as any bodily substance! But it is not a substance, but must be pronounced incorporeal. Is it then a limit, or a species, or a number, or a continued act, or a harmony, or any existing thing whatever? Is it, the very first moment that we are born, infused into us from without, or is it some warm nature in us which is cooled by the air which is diffused around us, like a piece of iron which has been heated at a forge, and then being plunged into cold water, is by that process tempered and hardened? (And perhaps it is from the cooling process ('psuzis') to which it is thus submitted that the soul ('he psyche') derives its name.) What more shall we say? When we die, is it extinguished and destroyed together with our bodies? or does it continue to live a long time? or, thirdly, is it wholly incorruptible and immortal?
Again, where, in what part does this mind lie hid? Has it received any settled habitation? For some men have dedicated to it our head, as the principal citadel, around which all the outward senses have their lairs; thinking it natural that its body-guards should be stationed near it, as near the palace of a mighty king. Some again contend earnestly in favor of the position which they assign it, believing that it is enshrined like a statue in the heart.
Therefore now the fourth element is incomprehensible, in the world the heaven, in comparison of the nature of the earth, of the water, and of the air; and the mind in man, in comparison of the body and the outward sense, and the speech, which is the interpreter of the mind; may it not be the case also, that for this reason the fourth year is described as holy and praiseworthy in the sacred scriptures? For among created things, the heaven is holy in the world, in accordance with which body, the imperishable and indestructible natures revolve; and in man the mind is holy, being a sort of fragment of the Deity, and especially according to the statement of Moses, who says, “God breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” [Genesis ii. 7.]
And it appears to me, that it is not without reason that both these things are called praiseworthy; for these two things, the heaven and the mind, are the things which are able to utter, with all becoming dignity, the praises, and hymns, and glory, and beatitude of the Father who created them: for man has received an especial honor beyond all other animals, namely, that of ministering to the living God. And the heaven is always singing melodies, perfecting an all-musical harmony, in accordance with the motions of all the bodies which exist therein; of which, if the sound ever reached our ears, love, which could not be restrained, and frantic desires, and furious impetuosity, which could not be put an end to or pacified, would be engendered, and would compel us to give up even what is necessary, nourishing ourselves no longer like ordinary mortals on the meat and drink, which is received by means of our throat, but on the inspired songs of music in its highest perfection, as persons about to be made immortal through the medium of their ears: and it is said that Moses [Exodus xxiv. 18] was an incorporeal hearer of these melodies, when he went for forty days, and an equal number of nights, without at all touching any bread or any water.
VII. Therefore the heaven, which is the archetypal organ of music, appears to have been arranged in a most perfect manner, for no other object except that the hymns sung to the honor of the Father of the universe, might be attuned in a musical manner; and we hear that virtue, that is to say, Leah, [Genesis xxix. 35] after the birth of her fourth son, was no longer able to bring forth any more, but restrained, or perhaps I should say, was restrained, as to her generative powers; for she found, I conceive, all her generative power dry and barren, after she had brought forth Judah, that is to say, “confession,” the perfect fruit: and the phrase, “Leah desisted from bearing children,” differs in no respect from the statement, that “the children of Isaac found no water in the fourth well.” [Genesis xxvi. 32.] Since it appears from both these figurative expressions, that every creature thirsts for God, by whom all their births take place, and from whom nourishment is bestowed to them when they are born.
Perhaps therefore some petty cavilling critics will imagine that all this statement about the digging of the wells is a superfluous piece of prolixity on the part of the lawgiver: but those who deserve a larger classification, being citizens not of some petty state but of the wide world, being men of more perfect wisdom, will know well that the real question is not about the four wells, but about the parts of the universe that the men who are gifted with sight, and are fond of contemplation exercise their powers of investigation; namely, about the earth, the water, the air, and the heaven. And examining each of these matters with the most accurately refined conception, in three of them they have found some things within the reach of their comprehension; on which account they have given these names, injustice, enmity, and latitude to what they have discovered. But in the fourth, that is to say in heaven, they have found absolutely nothing whatever, which they could comprehend; as we explained a little time ago: for the fourth is found to be a well destitute of water, and dry; and for the reason above mentioned it is called a well.
VIII. We will now investigate what comes next, and inquire what Charran is, and why the man who went up from the well came to it. Charran then, as it appears to me, is a sort of metropolis of the outward senses: and it is interpreted at one time a pit dug, at another time holes; one fact being intimated by both these names; for our bodies are in a manner dug out to furnish the organs of the outward senses, and each of the organs is a sort of hole for the corresponding outward sense in which it shelters itself as in a cave: when therefore any one goes up from the well which is called the well of the oath, as if he were leaving a harbor, he immediately does of necessity come to Charran: for it is a matter of necessity that the outward senses should receive one who comes on an emigration from that most excellent country of knowledge, unbounded as it is in extent, without any guide.
For our soul is very often set in motion by its own self after it has put off the whole burden of the body, and has escaped from the multitude of the outward senses; and very often too, even while it is still clothed in them.
Therefore by its own simple motion it has arrived at the comprehension of those things which are appreciable only by the intellect; and by the motion of the body, it has attained to an understanding of those things which are perceptible by the outward senses; therefore, if any one is unable altogether to associate with the mind alone, he then finds for himself a second refuge, namely, the external senses; and whoever fails in attaining to a comprehension of the things which are intelligible only by the intellect is immediately drawn over to the objects of the outward senses; for the second organ is always to the outward senses, in the case of those things which are not able to make a successful one as far as the dominant mind. But it is well for man not to grow old or to spend all his time in this course either, but rather, as if they were straying in a foreign country like sojourners, to be always seeking for second migration, and for a return to their native land.
Therefore Laban, knowing absolutely nothing of either species or genus, or form, or conception, or of anything else whatever which is comprehended by the intellect alone, and depending solely on what lies externally visible, and such things as come under the notice of the eyes, and the ears, and the other hundred faculties, is thought worthy of Charran for his country, which Jacob, the lover of virtue, inhabits as a foreign land for a short time, always bearing in his recollection his return homewards; therefore his mother, perseverance, that is Rebecca, says to him, “Rise up and flee to Laban, my brother, to Charran, and dwell with him certain days.” [Genesis xxvii. 43.] Do you not perceive then that the practiser of virtue will not endure to live permanently in the country of the outward senses, but only to remain there a few days and a short time, on account of the necessities of the body to which he is bound? But a longer time and an entire life is allotted to him in the city which is appreciable only by the intellect.
IX. In reference to which fact, also, it appears to me to be that his grandfather also, by name Abraham, so called from his knowledge, would not endure to remain any great length of time in Charran, for it is said in the scriptures that “Abraham was seventy-five years old when he departed from Charran;” [Genesis xii. 4] although his father Terah, which name being interpreted means, the investigation of a smell, lived there till the day of his death. [Genesis xvii. 32.] Therefore it is expressly stated in the sacred scriptures that “Terah died in Charran,” for he was only a reconnoitrer of virtue, not a citizen. And he availed himself of smells, and not of the enjoyments of food, as he was not able as yet to fill himself with wisdom, nor indeed even to get a taste of it, but only to smell it; for as it is said that those dogs which are calculated for hunting can by exerting their faculty of smell, find out the lurking places of their game at a great distance, being by nature rendered wonderfully acute as to the outward sense of smell; so in the same manner the lover of instruction tracks out the sweet breeze which is given forth by justice, and by any other virtue, and is eager to watch those qualities from which this most admirable source of delight proceeds, and while he is unable to do so he moves his head all round in a circle, smelling out nothing else, but seeking only for that most sacred scent of excellence and food, for he does not deny that he is eager for knowledge and wisdom.
Blessed therefore are they to whom it has happened to enjoy the delights of wisdom, and to feast upon its speculations and doctrines, and even of the being cheered by them still to thirst for more, feeling an insatiable and inceasing desire for knowledge. And those will obtain the second place who are not allured indeed to enjoy the sacred table, but who nevertheless refresh their souls with its odors; for they will be excited by the fragrances of virtue like those languid invalids who, because they are not as yet able to take solid food, nevertheless feed on the smell of such viands as the sons of the physicians prepare as a sort of remedy for their impotency.
X. Therefore, having left the land of the Chaldaeans, Terah is said to have migrated to Charran; bringing with him his son Abraham and the rest of his household who agreed with him in opinion, not in order that we might read in the account of the historical chronicles that some men had become emigrants, leaving their native country and becoming inhabitants of a foreign land as if it were their own country, but in order that a lesson of the greatest importance to life and full of wisdom, and adapted to man alone, might not be neglected.
And what is the lesson? The Chaldaeans are great astronomers, and the inhabitants of Charran occupy themselves with the topics relating to the external senses. Therefore the sacred account says to the investigator of the things of nature, why are you inquiring about the sun, and asking whether he is a foot broad, whether he is greater than the whole earth put together, or whether he is even many times as large? And why are you investigating the causes of the light of the moon, and whether it has a borrowed light, or one which proceeds solely from itself? Why, again, do you seek to understand the nature of the rest of the stars, of their motion, of their sympathy with one another, and even with earthly things? And why, while walking upon the earth do you soar above the clouds? And why, while rooted in the solid land, do you affirm that you can reach the things in the sky? And why do you endeavor to form conjectures about matters which cannot be ascertained by conjecture? And why do you busy yourself about sublime subjects which you ought not to meddle with? And why do you extend your desire to make discoveries in mathematical science as far as the heaven? And why do you devote yourself to astronomy, and talk about nothing but high subjects? My good man, do not trouble your head about things beyond the ocean, but attend only to what is near you; and be content rather to examine yourself without flattery.
How, then, will you find out what you want, even if you are successful? Go with full exercise of your intellect to Charran, that is, to the trench which is dug, into the holes and caverns of the body, and investigate the eyes, the ears, the nostrils, and the other organs of the external senses; and if you wish to be a philosopher, study philosophically that branch which is the most indispensable and at the same time the most becoming to a man, and inquire what the faculty of sight is, what hearing is, what taste, what smell, what touch is, in a word, what is external sense; then seek to understand what it is to see, and how you see; what it is to hear, and how you hear; what it is to smell, or to taste, or to touch, and how each of these operations is ordinarily effected. But is it not the very extravagance of insane folly to seek to comprehend the dwelling of the universe, before your own private dwelling is accurately known to you? But I do not as yet lay the more important and extensive injunction upon you to make yourself acquainted with your own soul and mind, of the knowledge of which you are so proud; for in reality you will never be able to comprehend it.
Mount up then to heaven, and talk arrogantly about the things which exist there, before you are as yet able to comprehend, according to the words of the poet,
“All the good and all the evil
and, bringing down that messenger of yours from heaven, and dragging him down from his search into matters existing there, become acquainted with yourself, and carefully and diligently labor to arrive at such happiness as is permitted to man. Now this disposition the Hebrews called Terah, and the Greeks Socrates; for they say also that the latter grew old in the most accurate study by which he could hope to know himself, never once directing his philosophical speculations to the subjects beyond himself. But he was really a man; but Terah is the principle itself which is proposed to every one, according to which each man should know himself, like a tree full of good branches, in order that these persons who are fond of virtue might without difficulty gather the fruit of pure morality, and thus become filled with the most delightful and saving food.
Such, then, are those men who reconnoiter the quarters of wisdom for us; but those who are actually her athletes, and who practise her exercises, are more perfect. For these men think fit to learn with complete accuracy the whole question connected with the external senses, and after having done so, then to proceed to another and more important speculation, leaving all consideration of the holes of the body which they call Charran. Of the number of these men is Abraham, who attained to great progress and improvement in the comprehension of complete knowledge; for when he knew most, then he most completely renounced himself in order to attain to the accurate knowledge of him who was the truly living God. And, indeed, this is a very natural course of events; for he who completely understands himself does also very much, because of his thorough appreciation of it, renounce the universal nothingness of the creature; and he who renounces himself learns to comprehend the living God.
XI. We have now, then, explained what Charran is, and why he who left the well of the oath came thither. We must now consider the third point which comes next in order, namely, what the place is to which this man came; for it is said, “He met him in the place.” [Genesis xxviii. 11.] Now place is considered in three ways: firstly, as a situation filled by a body; secondly, as the divine word which God himself has filled wholly and entirely with incorporeal powers; for says the scripture, “I have seen the place in which the God of Israel stood,” [Exodus xxiv. 10] in which alone he permitted his prophet to perform sacrifice to him, forbidding him to do so in other places. For he is ordered to go up into the place which the Lord God shall choose, and there to sacrifice burnt offerings and sacrifices for salvation, and to bring other victims also without spot.
According to the third signification, God himself is called a place, from the fact of his surrounding the universe, and being surrounded himself by nothing whatever, and from the fact of his being the refuge of all persons, and since he himself is his own district, containing himself and resembling himself alone. I, indeed, am not a place, but I am in a place, and every existing being is so in a similar manner. So that which is surrounded differs from that which surrounds it; but the Deity, being surrounded by nothing, is necessarily itself its own place. And there is an evidence in support of my view of the matter in the following sacred oracle delivered with respect to Abraham: “He came unto the place of which the Lord God had told him: and having looked up with his eyes, he saw the place afar off.” [Genesis xxii. 4.]
Tell me, now, did he who had come to the place see it afar off? Or perhaps it is but an identical expression for two different things, one of which is the divine world, and the other, God, who existed before the world. But he who was conducted by wisdom comes to the former place, having found that the main part and end of propitiation is the divine word, in which he who is fixed does not as yet attain to such a height as to penetrate to the essence of God, but sees him afar off; or, rather, I should say, he is not able even to behold him afar off, but he only discerns this fact, that God is at a distance from every creature, and that any comprehension of him is removed to a great distance from all human intellect. Perhaps, however, the historian, by this allegorical form of expression, does not here mean by his expression, “place,” the Cause of all things; but the idea which he intends to convey may be something of this sort;- he came to the place, and looking up with his eyes he saw the very place to which he had come, which was a very long way from the God who may not be named nor spoken of, and who is in every way incomprehensible.
XII. These things, then, being defined as a necessary preliminary, when the practiser of virtue comes to Charran, the outward sense, he does not “meet” the place, nor that place either which is filled by a mortal body; for all those who are born of the dust, and who occupy any place whatever, and who do of necessity fill some position, partake of that; nor the third and most excellent kind of place, of which it was scarcely possible for that man to form an idea who made his abode at the well which was entitled the “well of the oath,” where the self-taught race, Isaac, abides, who never abandons his faith in God and his invisible comprehension of him, but who keeps to the intermediate divine word, which affords him the best suggestions, and teaches him everything which is suitable to the times.
For God, not condescending to come down to the external senses, sends his own words or angels for the sake of giving assistance to those who love virtue. But they attend like physicians to the diseases of the soul, and apply themselves to heal them, offering sacred recommendations like sacred laws, and inviting men to practise the duties inculcated by them, and, like the trainers of wrestlers, implanting in their pupils strength, and power, and irresistible vigor. Very properly, therefore, when he has arrived at the external sense, he is represented no longer as meeting God, but only the divine word, just as his grandfather Abraham, the model of wisdom, did; for the scripture tells us, “The Lord departed when he had finished conversing with Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.” [Genesis xviii. 33.]
From which expression it is inferred, that he also met with the sacred words from which God, the father of the universe, had previously departed, no longer displaying visions from himself but only those which proceed from his subordinate powers. And it is with exceeding beauty and propriety that it is said, not that he came to the place, but that he met the place: for to come is voluntary, but to meet is very often involuntary; so that the divine Word appearing on a sudden, supplies an unexpected joy, greater than could have been hoped, inasmuch as it is about to travel in company with the solitary soul; for Moses also “brings forward the people to a meeting with God,” [Exodus xix. 17] well knowing that he comes invisibly towards those souls who have a longing to meet with him.
XIII. And he subsequently alleges a reason why he “met the place;” for, says he, “the sun was set.” [Genesis xxviii. 11.] Not meaning the sun which appears to us, but the most brilliant and radiant light of the invisible and Almighty God. When this light shines upon the mind, the inferior beams of words (that is of angels) set. And much more are all the places perceptible by the external senses overshadowed; but when he departs in a different direction, then they all rise and shine. And do not wonder if, according to the rules of allegorical description, the sun is likened to the Father and Governor of the universe; for in reality nothing is like unto God: but those things which by the vain opinion of men are thought to be so, are only two things, one invisible and the other visible; the soul being the invisible thing, and the sun the visible one.
Now he has shown the similitude of the soul in another passage, where he says, “God made man, in the image of God created he him.” And again, in the law enacted against homicides, he says, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed in requital for that blood, because in the image of God did I make him.” [Genesis ix. 6.] But the likeness of the sun he only indicates by symbols. And it is easy otherwise by means of argument to perceive this, since God is the first light, “For the Lord is my light and my Savior,” [Psalm xxvi. 1] is the language of the Psalms; and not only the light, but he is also the archetypal pattern of every other light, or rather he is more ancient and more sublime than even the archetypal model, though he is spoken of as the model; for the real model was his own most perfect word, the light, and he himself is like to no created thing. Since, as the sun divides day and night, so also does Moses say that God divided the light from the darkness; for “God made a division between the light and between the darkness.” [Genesis i. 4.]
And besides all this, as the sun, when he arises, discovers hidden things, so also does God, who created all things, not only bring them all to light, but he has even created what before had no existence, not being only their maker, but also their founder.
XIV. And the sun is also spoken of in many passages of holy writ in a figurative manner. Once as the human mind, which men build up as a city [Genesis xi. 4] and furnish, who are compelled to serve the creature in preference to the uncreated God, of whom it is said that, “They built strong cities for Pharaoh and Peitho,” [Exodus i. 11.] that is, for discourse; to which persuasion ('to peithein') is attributed, and Rameses, or the outward sense, by which the soul is devoured as if by moths; for the name Rameses, being interpreted, means, “the shaking of a moth;” and On, the mind, which they called Heliopolis, since the mind, like the sun, has the predominance over the whole mass of our body, and extends its powers like the beams of the sun, over everything.
But he who appropriates to himself the regulation of corporeal things, by name Joseph, takes the priest and minister of the mind to be his father-in law; for says the scripture, “he gave him Aseneth, the daughter of Peutephres, the priest of Heliopolis, for his wife.” [Genesis xli. 45.] And, using symbolical language, he calls the outward sense a second sun, inasmuch as it shows all the objects of which it is able to form a judgment to the intellect, concerning which he speaks thus, “The sun rose upon him when he passed by the appearance of God.” [Genesis xxxii. 31.] For in real truth, when we are no longer able to endure to pass all our time with the most sacred appearances, and as it were with incorporeal images, but when we turn aside in another direction, and forsake them, we use another light, that, namely, in accordance with the external sense, which in real truth, is in no respect different from darkness, which, after it has arisen, arouses as if from sleep the senses of seeing, and of hearing, and also of taste, and of touch, and of smell, and sends to sleep the intellectual qualities of prudence, and justice, and knowledge, and wisdom, which were all awake.
And it is for this reason that the sacred scripture says, that no one can be pure before the evening, [Leviticus iv. 31] as the disorderly motions of the outward senses agitate and confuse the intellect. Moreover, he establishes a law for the priests also which may not be avoided, combining with it an expression of a grave opinion when it says, “He shall not eat of the holy things unless he have washed his body in water, and unless the sun has set, and he has become pure.” [Leviticus xxii. 6.] For by these words it is very clearly shown that there is no one whatever completely pure, so as to be fit to be initiated into the holy and sacred mysteries, to whose lot it has fallen to be honored with these glories of life which are appreciable by the external senses. But if any one rejects these glories, he is deservedly made conspicuous by the light of wisdom, by means of which he will be able to wash off the stains of vain opinion and to become pure.
Do you not see that even the sun itself produces opposite effects when he is setting from those which he causes when rising? For when he rises everything upon the earth shines, and the things in heaven are hidden from our view; but, on the other hand, when he sets then the stars appear and the things on earth are overshadowed. In the same manner, also, in us, when the light of the outward senses rises like the sun, the celestial and heavenly sciences are really and truly hidden from view; but when this light is near setting, then the starlike radiance of the virtues appears, when the mind is pure, and concealed by no object of the outward senses.
XV. But according to the third signification, when he speaks of the sun, he means the divine word, the model of that sun which moves about through the heaven, as has been said before, and with respect to which it is said, “The sun went forth upon the earth, and Lot entered into Segor, and the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire.” [Genesis xix. 23.] For the word of God, when it reaches to our earthly constitution, assists and protects those who are akin to virtue, or whose inclinations lead them to virtue; so that it provides them with a complete refuge and salvation, but upon their enemies it sends irremediable overthrow and destruction.
And in the fourth signification, what is meant by the sun is the God and ruler of the universe himself, as I have said already, by means of whom such offenses as are irremediable, and which appear to be overshadowed and concealed, are revealed; for as all things are possible, so, likewise, all things are known to God.
In reference to which faculty of his it is that he drags those persons who are living dissolutely as regards their souls, and who are in a debauched and intemperate manner, cohabiting with the daughters of the mind the outward senses, as prostitutes and harlots, to the light of the sun, in order to display their true characters; for the scripture says, “And the people abode in Shittim;” now the meaning of the name Shittim is, “the thorns of the passions” which sting and wound the soul. “And the people was polluted, and began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab,” [Numbers xxv. 1] and these who are called daughters are the outward senses, for the name Moab is interpreted, “of a father;” and the scripture adds, “Take all the chiefs of the people, and make an example of them unto the Lord in the face of the sun, and the anger of the Lord shall be turned from Israel.” [Numbers xxv. 4.] For he not only desires that the wicked deeds which are hidden shall be made manifest, and therefore turns upon them the beams of the sun, but he also by this symbolical language calls the father of the universe the sun, that being by whom all things are seen beforehand, and even all those things which are invisibly concealed in the recesses of the mind; and when they are made manifest, then he promises that he who is the only merciful being, will become merciful to the people. Why so? Because, even if the mind, fancying that though it does wrong it can escape the notice of the Deity as not being able to see everything, should sin secretly and in dark places, and should after that, either by reason of its own notions or through the suggestions of some one else, conceive that it is impossible that anything should be otherwise than clear to God, and should disclose itself and all its actions, and should bring them forward, as it were, out of the light of the sun, and display them to the governor of the universe, saying, that it repents of the perverse conduct which it formerly exhibited when under the influence of foolish opinion (for that nothing is indistinct before God, but all things are known and clear to him, not merely such as have been done, but even such are merely hoped or designed, by reason of the boundless character of his wisdom), it then is purified and benefited, and it propitiates the chastiser who was ready to punish it, namely, conscience, who was previously filled with just anger towards it, and who now admits repentance as the younger brother of perfect innocence and freedom from sin.
XVI. Moreover, it appears that Moses has in other passages also taken the sun as a symbol of the great Cause of all things, of which I see an instance in the law which is enacted with respect to those who borrow on pledges: let us recite the law, “If thou takest as a pledge the garment of thy neighbor, thou shalt give it back before the setting of the sun: for it is his covering, it is the only covering of his nakedness, in which he lies down. If he cries unto me I will hearken unto him, for I am merciful.” [Exodus xxii. 26.] Is it not natural that those who fancy that the lawgiver displays such earnestness about a garment should, if they do not reproach him, at least make a suggestion, saying, “What are ye saying, my good men? Do ye affirm that the Creator and ruler of the world calls himself merciful with respect to so trivial a matter, as that of a garment not being restored to the borrower by the lender?” These are the opinions and notions of men who have never had the least conception or comprehension of the virtue of the almighty God, and who, contrary to all human and divine law, impart the triviality of human affairs to the uncreate and immortal nature, which is full of happiness, and blessedness, and perfection; for in what respect do those lenders act unreasonably, who retain in their own hands the pledges which are deposited with them as security, until they receive back their own which they have lent? The debtors are poor, some one will perhaps say, and it is right to pity them: would it not then have been reasonable and better to enact a law in accordance with which a contribution should be made to assist their necessities, rather than allow them to appear as debtors, or else one which should forbid the lending on pledges at all?
But the law which has permitted the lending on pledges, cannot fairly be indignant against those who will not give up the pledges which they have received before the proper time, as if they were acting unjustly.
But if any one having come, so to say, to the very farthest limits of poverty, and, being clothed in rags, loads himself with new debts, neglecting the pity which he receives from the bystanders, which is freely bestowed, upon those who fall into such misfortunes, in their own houses, and in the temples, and in the market-place, and everywhere; such an one brings and offers to his creditor, the only covering which he had for his shame, with which he has been wont to cover the secret parts of his nature, as a pledge for something. For what, I pray? Is it for some other and better garment? For no one is unprovided with necessary food as long as the springs of the rivers bubble up, and the torrents flow abundantly, and the earth gives forth its annual fruits.
Again, is any creditor so covetous of riches, or so very cruel, or so perverse, as not to be willing to contribute a tetradrachm, or even less, to one in distress? Or is anyone so stingy as to be willing to lend it, but to refuse to give it? or as to take the only garment that the poor man has as a pledge? which indeed under another name may fairly be called running away with a man’s clothes; for men who do this are accustomed to put on other peoples’ clothes, and steal them, and to leave the proper owners naked.
And why has the law provided so carefully that the debtor may not be without his clothes by night, and that he may not lie down to sleep without them, but has not paid the same attention to the fact of his being indecorously naked by day? Are not all things concealed by night and darkness, so as to cause less shame, or rather none at all at that time, but are they not disclosed by day and by light, so as then to compel persons to blush more freely? And why does the law not use the expression “to give,” but “to restore?” For restoration takes place with respect to the property of other persons, but pledges belong rather to those who have lent on them than to those who have borrowed on them. Moreover, do you not perceive that the law has not enjoined the debtor, who has received back his garment that it may serve as bed-clothes, to bring it back again to his creditor at the return of daylight? And, indeed, if the exact propriety of the language be considered, even the most stupid person may see that there is something additional meant beyond what is formally expressed. For the injunction rather resembles a maxim than a recommendation. For, if a person had been giving a recommendation, he would have said: “Give back to your debtor, at the approach of evening, the garment which has been pledged to you, if it be the only garment that he is possessed of, that he may have something with which to cover himself at night.” But one who was laying down a maxim would speak thus; as indeed the law does here, “For it is his garment, the only covering of his nakedness, in which he will lie down to sleep.”
XVII. These things then, and other things of the same kind, may be urged in reply to those assertors of the literal sense of a passage; and who superciliously reject all other explanations. We will now, in accordance with the usual law of allegorical speaking, say what is becoming with respect to these subjects.
We say, therefore, that a garment is here spoken of symbolically, to signify speech; for clothes keep off the injuries which are wont to visit the body, from cold and heat, and they also conceal the unmentionable parts of nature, and moreover, a cloak is a fitting garment for the body. In much the same manner, speech has been given to man by God, as the most excellent of gifts; for in the first place, it is a defensive weapon against those who would attack him with innovations. For as nature has fortified all other animals with their own appropriate and peculiar means of defense, by which they are able to repel those who attempt to injure them, so also has it bestowed upon man that greatest defense and most impregnable protection of speech, with which, as with a panoply, every one who is completely clothed, will have a domestic and most appropriate bodyguard; and employing it as a champion, will be able to ward off all the injuries which can be brought against him by his enemies.
In the second place, it is a most necessary defense against shame and reproach; for speech is very well calculated to conceal and obscure the faults of men.
In the third place, it conduces to the whole ornament of life: for this is the thing which improves every one, and which conducts every one to what is best; for there are many disgraceful and mischievous men, who take conversation as a pledge, and deprive its proper owners of it, and utterly cut off what they ought to seek to increase; like men who ravage the lands of their enemies, and who attempt to destroy their corn and all the rest of their crops, which, if it were left unhurt, would be a great advantage to those who would use it.
For some men carry on an irreconcilable and never-ending war against rational nature, and utterly extirpate its every shoot and beginning, and destroy all its first appearances of propagation, and render it, as one may say, utterly unproductive and barren of all good practices. For sometimes, when it is borne onwards towards sacred instruction with irresistible impetuosity, and when it is smitten with a love of the speculations of true philosophy, they - out of jealousy and envy, fearing lest, when it has derived strength from its noble aspirations and has been elevated to a splendid height, it may overwhelm all their petty cavils and plausible devices against the truth, like an irresistible torrent - turn its energy in another direction by their own evil artifices, guiding it in another channel to vulgar and illiberal acts: and very often they seek to blunt it or to hedge it in, and in this way leave the nobility of its nature uncultivated, just as at times wicked guardians of orphan children have rendered a deep-soiled and fertile land barren.
And these most pitiless of all men have not been restrained by shame from stripping the man of his only garment, namely, speech; “For,” says the scripture, “it is his only covering.”- What is a man’s only covering, except speech? For, as neighing is the peculiar attribute of a horse, and barking of a dog, and lowing of an ox, and roaring of a lion, so also is speaking, and speech itself, the peculiar property of man: for this is what man has received above all other animals as his peculiar gift, as a protection, and bulwark, and panoply, and wall of defense; he being, of all living creatures, the most beloved by God.
XVIII. On which account the scripture adds, “This is the only covering of his nakedness;” for what can so becomingly overshadow and conceal the reproaches and disgraces of life, as speech? For ignorance is a disgrace akin to irrational nature, but education is the brother of speech, and an ornament properly belonging to man. In what then will a man lie down to rest? That is to say, in what will a man find tranquillity and a respite from his labors, except in speech? For speech is a relief to our most miserable and afflicted race? As therefore, when men have been overwhelmed by grief, or by fear, or by any other evil, tranquillity, and constancy, and the kindness of friends have often restored them; so it happens, not often, but invariably, that speech, the only real averter of evil, wards off that most heavy burden which the necessities of that body in the which we are bound up, and the unforeseen accidents of external circumstances which attack us, impose upon us; for speech is a friend, and an acquaintance, and a kinsman, and a companion bound up within us; I should rather say, fitted close and united to us by some indissoluble and invisible cement of nature.
On this account it is, that it forewarns us of what will be expedient for us, and when any unexpected event befalls us it comes forward of its own accord to assist us; not only bringing advantage of one kind only, such as that which he who is an adviser without acting, or an agent who can give no advice, may supply, but of both kinds: for he does not display a halfcomplete power, but one which is perfect in every part. Inasmuch, as even if it were to fail in his endeavor, and in any conceptions which may have been formed, or efforts which may have been made, it still can have recourse to the third species of assistance, namely, consolation.
For speech is, as it were, a medicine for the wounds of the soul, and a saving remedy for its passions, which, “even before the setting of the sun,” the lawgiver says one must restore: that is to say, before the all-brilliant beams of the almighty and all-glorious God are obscured, which he, out of pity for our race, sends down from heaven upon the human mind. For while that most God-like light abides in the soul, we shall be able to give back the speech, which was deposited as a pledge, as if it were a garment, in order that he who has received this peculiar possession of man, may by its means conceal the discreditable circumstances of life, and reap the benefit of the divine gift, and indulge in a respite combined with tranquillity, in consequence of the presence of so useful an adviser and defender, who will never leave the ranks in which he has been stationed.
Moreover, white God pours upon you the light of his beams, do you hasten in the light of day to restore his pledge to the Lord; for when the sun has set, then you, like the whole land of Egypt, [Exodus x. 21] will have an everlasting darkness which may be felt, and being stricken with blindness and ignorance, you will be deprived of all those things of which you thought that you had certain possession, by that sharp-sighted Israel, whose pledges you hold, having made one who was by nature exempt from slavery a slave to necessity.
XIX. We have discussed this subject at this length with no other object except that of teaching that the mind, which is inclined to practise virtue, having irregular motions towards prolificness and sterility, and as one may say, being in a manner always ascending and descending, when it becomes prolific and is elevated to a height is illuminated with the archetypal and incorporeal beams of the rational spring of the all-perfecting sun; but when it descends and becomes unproductive, then it is again illuminated by those images of those beams, the immortal words which it is customary to call angels. On which account we now read in the scripture, “He met the place; for the sun was set.” [Genesis xxviii.]
For when those beams of God desert the soul by means of which the clearest comprehensions of affairs are engendered in it, then arises that second and weaker light of words, and the light of things is no longer seen, just as is the case in this lower world. For the moon, which occupies the second rank next to the sun, when that body has set, pours forth a somewhat weaker light than his upon the earth; and to meet a place or a word is a most sufficient gift for those who cannot discern that God is superior to every place or word; because they have not a soul wholly destitute of light, but because, since that most unmixed and brilliant light has set, they have been favored with one which is alloyed.
“For the children of Israel had light in all their dwellings,” [Exodus x. 23] says the sacred historian in the book of the Exodus, so that night and darkness were continually banished from them, though it is in night and darkness that those men live who have lost the eyes of the soul rather than those of the body, having no experience of the beams of virtue. But some persons - supposing that what is meant here by the figurative expression of the sun is the external sense and the mind, which are looked upon as the things which have the power of judging; and that what is meant by place is the divine word - understand the allegory in this manner: the practiser of virtue met with the divine word, after the mortal and human light had set; for as long as the mind thinks that it attains to a firm comprehension of the objects of intellect, and the outward sense conceives that it has a similar understanding of its appropriate objects, and that it dwells amid sublime objects, the divine word stands aloof at a distance; but when each of these comes to confess its own weakness, and sets in a manner while availing itself of concealment, then immediately the right reason of a soul well-practised in virtue comes in a welcome manner to their assistance, when they have begun to despair of their own strength, and await the aid which is invisibly coming to them from without.
XX. Therefore, the scripture says in the next verses, “That he took one of the stones of the place and placed it at his head, and slept in that place.” [Genesis xxviii. 11.] Any one may wonder not only at the interior and mystical doctrine contained in these words, but also at the distinct assertion, which gives us a lesson in labor and endurance: for the historian does not think it becoming, that the man who is devoted to the study of virtue should adopt a luxurious life, and live softly, imitating the pursuits and rivalries of those who are called indeed happy, but who are in reality full of all unhappiness; whose entire life is a sleep and a dream, according to the holy lawgiver.
These men, after they have during the whole day been doing all sorts of injustice to others, in courts of justice, and council halls, and theatres, and everywhere, then return home, like miserable men as they are, to overturn their own house. I mean not that house which comes under the class of buildings, but that which is akin to the soul, I mean the body. Introducing immoderate and incessant food, and irrigating it with an abundance of pure wine, until the reason is overwhelmed, and disappears; and the passions which have their seat beneath the belly, the offspring of satiety, rise up, being carried away by unrestrained frenzy, and falling upon, and vehemently attacking all that they meet with, are only at last appeased after they have worked off their excessive violence of excitement.
But by night, when it is time to turn towards rest, having prepared costly couches and the most exquisite of beds, they lie down in the most exceeding softness, imitating the luxury of women, whom nature has permitted to indulge in a more relaxed system of life, inasmuch as their maker, the Creator of the universe, has made their bodies of a more delicate stamp. Now no such person as this is a pupil of the sacred word, but those only are the disciples of that who are real genuine men, lovers of temperance, and orderliness, and modesty, men who have laid down continence, and frugality, and fortitude, as a kind of base and foundation for the whole of life; and safe stations for the soul, in which it may anchor without danger and without changeableness: for being superior to money, and pleasure, and glory, they look down upon meats and drinks, and everything of that sort, beyond what is necessary to ward off hunger: being thoroughly ready to undergo hunger, and thirst, and heat, and cold, and all other things, however hard they may be to be borne, for the sake of the acquisition of virtue. And being admirers of whatever is most easily provided, so as not to be ashamed of ever such cheap or shabby clothes, thinking rather, on the other hand, that sumptuous apparel is a reproach and great scandal to life.
To these men, the soft earth is their most costly couch; their bed is bushes, and grass, and herbage, and a thick layer of leaves; and the pillows for their head are a few stones, or any little mounds which happen to rise a little above the surface of the plain.
Such a life as this, is, by luxurious men, denominated a life of hardship, but by those who live for virtue, it is called most delightful; for it is well adapted, not for those who are called men, but for those who really are such. Do you not see, that even now, also, the sacred historian represents the practiser of honorable pursuits, who abounds in all royal materials and appointments, as sleeping on the ground, and using a stone for his pillow; and a little further on, he speaks of him as asking in his prayers for bread and a cloak, the necessary wealth of nature? like one who has at all times held in contempt, the man who dwells among vain opinions, and who is inclined to revile all those who are disposed to admire him; this man is the archetypal pattern of the soul which is devoted to the practice of virtue, and an enemy of every effeminate person.
XXI. Hitherto I have been uttering the praises of the man devoted to labor and to virtue, as it occurred to me naturally; but now we must examine what is symbolically signified under the expressions made use of.
Now it is well that we should know, that the divine place and the sacred region are full of incorporeal intelligences; and these intelligences are immortal souls. Taking then one of these intelligences, and selecting one of them according as it appears to be the most excellent, this lover of virtue, of whom we are speaking, applies it to our own mind, to it as to the head of a united body; for, indeed, the mind is in a manner the head of the soul; and he does this, using the pretext indeed as if he were going to sleep, but, in reality, as being about to rest upon the word of God, and to place the whole of his life as the lightest possible burden upon it; and it listens to him gladly, and receives the laborer in the paths of virtue at first, as if he were going to become a disciple; then when he has shown his approbation of the dexterity of his nature, he gives him his hand, like a gymnastic trainer, and invites him to the gymnasia, and standing firmly, compels him to wrestle with him, until he has rendered his strength so great as to be irresistible, changing his ears by the divine influences into eyes, and calling this newly-modelled disposition Israel, that is, the man who sees.
Then also he crowns him with the garland of victory. But this garland has a singular and foreign, and, perhaps, not altogether a well-omened name, for it is called by the president of the games torpor, for it is said, that the breadth became torpid [Genesis xxxii. 25] of all the rewards and of the proclamations of the heralds, and of all those most wonderful prizes for pre-eminent excellence which are had in honor; for the soul which has received a share of irresistible power, and which has been made perfect in the contests of virtue, and which has arrived at the very furthest limit of what is honorable, will never be unduly elated or puffed up by arrogance, nor stand upon tiptoes, and boast as if it were well to make vast strides with bare feet; but the breadth which was extended wide by opinion, will become torpid and contracted, and then will voluntarily succumb and yield to tameness, so as being classed in an inferior order to that of the incorporeal natures, it may carry off the victory while appearing to be defeated; for it is accounted a most honorable thing to yield the palm to those who are superior to one’s self, voluntarily rather than through compulsion; for it is incredible how greatly the second prize in this contest is superior in real dignity and importance to the first prize in the others.
XXII. Such then may be said, by way of preface, to the discussion of that description of visions which are sent from God. But it is time now to turn to the subject itself, and to investigate, with accuracy, every portion of it.
The scripture therefore says, “And he dreamed a dream. And behold a ladder was planted firmly on the ground, the head of which reached to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending along it.” [Genesis xxviii. 12.] By the ladder in this thing, which is called the world, is figuratively understood the air; the foundation of which is the earth; and the head is the heaven; for the large interior space, which being extended in every direction, reaches from the orb of the moon, which is described as the most remote of the order in heaven, but the nearest to us by those who contemplate sublime objects, down to the earth, which is the lowest of such bodies, is the air. This air is the abode of incorporeal souls, since it seemed good to the Creator of the universe to fill all the parts of the world with living creatures. On this account he prepared the terrestrial animals for the earth, the aquatic animals for the sea and for the rivers, and the stars for the heaven; for every one of these bodies is not merely a living animal, but is also properly described as the very purest and most universal mind extending through the universe; so that there are living creatures in that other section of the universe, the air.
And if these things are not comprehensible by the outward senses, what of that? For the soul also is invisible. And yet it is probable that the air should nourish living animals even more than the land or the water. Why so? Because it is the air which has given vitality to those animals which live on the earth and in the water. For the Creator of the universe formed the air so that it should be the habit of those bodies which are immoveable, and the nature of those which are moved in an invisible manner, and the soul of such as are able to exert an impetus and visible sense of their own. Is it not then absurd that that element, by means of which the other elements have been filled with vitality, should itself be destitute of living things? Therefore let no one deprive the most excellent nature of living creatures of the most excellent of those elements which surround the earth; that is to say, of the air. For not only is it not alone deserted by all things besides, but rather, like a populous city, it is full of imperishable and immortal citizens, souls equal in number to the stars.
Now of these souls some descend upon the earth with a view to being bound up in mortal bodies, those namely which are most nearly connected with the earth, and which are lovers of the body. But some soar upwards, being again distinguished according to the definitions and times which have been appointed by nature. Of these, those which are influenced by a desire for mortal life, and which have been familiarised to it, again return to it. But others, condemning the body of great folly and trifling, have pronounced it a prison and a grave, and, flying from it as from a house of correction or a tomb, have raised themselves aloft on light wings towards the aether, and have devoted their whole lives to sublime speculations.
There are others, again, the purest and most excellent of all, which have received greater and more divine intellects, never by any chance desiring any earthly thing whatever, but being as it were lieutenants of the Ruler of the universe, as though they were the eyes and ears of the great king, beholding and listening to everything. Now philosophers in general are wont to call these demons, but the sacred scripture calls them angels, using a name more in accordance with nature. For indeed they do report ('diangelliusi') the injunctions of the father to his children, and the necessities of the children to the father.
And it is in reference to this employment of theirs that the holy scripture has represented them as ascending and descending, not because God, who knows everything before any other being, has any need of interpreters; but because it is the lot of us miserable mortals to use speech as a mediator and intercessor; because of our standing in awe of and fearing the Ruler of the universe, and the all-powerful might of his authority; having received a notion of which he once entreated one of those mediators, saying: “Do thou speak for us, and let not God speak to us, lest we die.” [Exodus xx. 19.] For not only are we unable to endure his chastisements, but we cannot bear even his excessive and unmodified benefits, which he himself proffers us of his own accord, without employing the ministrations of any other beings.
Very admirably therefore does Moses represent the air under the figurative symbol of a ladder, as planted solidly in the earth and reaching up to heaven. For it comes to pass that the evaporations which are given forth by the earth becoming rarefied, are dissolved into air, so that the earth is the foundation and root of the air, and that the heaven is its head. Accordingly it is said that the moon is not an unadulterated consolidation of pure aether, as each of the other stars is, but is rather a combination of the aether-like and air-like essence. For that black spot which appears in it, which some call a face, is nothing else but the air mingled with it, which is by nature black, and which extends as far as heaven.
XXIII. The ladder therefore in the world which is here spoken of in this symbolical manner, was something of this sort. But if we carefully investigate the soul which exists in men, the foundation of which is something corporeal, and as it were earth-like, we shall find that foundation to be the outward sense; and the head to be something heavenly, as it were the most pure mind. But all the words of God move incessantly upwards and downwards through the whole of it, dragging it upwards along with them whenever they soar aloft, and separating it from whatever is mortal, and exhibiting to it a sight of those things which alone are worthy of being beheld; but yet not casting it down when they descend. For neither is God himself, nor the word of God, worthy of blame. But they join with them in their descent, by reason of their love for mankind and compassion for our race, for the sake of being their allies and rendering them assistance, in order that by breathing in a saving inspiration they may recall to life the soul which was still being tossed about in the body as in the river.
Now the God and governor of the universe does by himself and alone walk about invisibly and noiselessly in the minds of those who are purified in the highest degree. For there is extant a prophecy which was delivered to the wise man, in which it is said: “I will walk among you, and I will be your God.” [Leviticus xxvi. 12.] But the angels — the words of God — move about in the minds of those persons who are still in a process of being washed, but who have not yet completely washed off the life which defiles them, and which is polluted by the contact of their heavy bodies, making them look pure and brilliant to the eyes of virtue.
But it is plain enough what vast numbers of evils are driven out, and what a multitude of wicked inhabitants is expelled in order that one good man may be introduced to dwell there. Do thou, therefore, O my soul, hasten to become the abode of God, his holy temple, to become strong from having been most weak, powerful from having been powerless, wise from having been foolish, and very reasonable from having been doting and childless.
And perhaps too the practiser of virtue represents his own life as like to a ladder; for the practice of anything is naturally an anomalous thing, since at one time it soars up to a height, and at another it turns downwards in a contrary direction; and at one time has a fair voyage like a ship, and at another has but an unfavorable passage; for, as some one says, the life of those who practise virtue is full of vicissitudes: being at one time alive and waking, and at another dead or sleeping. And perhaps this is no incorrect statement; for the wise have obtained the heavenly and celestial country as their habitation; having learnt to be continually mounting upwards, but the wicked have received as their share the dark recesses of hell, having from the beginning to the end of their existence practised dying, and having been from their infancy to their old age familiarised with destruction.
But the practisers of virtue, for they are on the boundary between two extremities, are frequently going upwards and downwards as if on a ladder, being either drawn upwards by a more powerful fate, or else being dragged down by that which is worse; until the umpire of this contention and conflict, namely God, adjudges the victory to the more excellent class and utterly destroys the other.
XXIV. There is also in this dream another sort of similitude or comparison apparent, which must not be passed over in silence; the affairs of mankind are naturally compared to a ladder, on account of their irregular motion and progress: for as some one or other has said; “One day has cast one man down from on high and destroyed him, and another it has raised up, nothing that belongs to our human race being formed by nature so as to remain long in the same condition, but all such things changing with all kinds of alteration. Do not men become rulers from having been private individuals, and private individuals from having been rulers, poor from having been rich, and very rich from having been poor; glorious from been despised, and most illustrious from having been infamous?” [...]
A very beautiful way of life: for it is very possible that the being whose habitation is the whole world, may dwell with you also, and take care of your house, so that it may be completely protected and free from injury for ever; and there is such a way as this in which human affairs move upwards and downwards, meeting with an unstable and variable fortune, the anomalous character of which, unerring time proves by evidence which is not indistinct but manifest and legible.
XXV. But the dream also represented the archangel, namely the Lord himself, firmly planted on the ladder; for we must imagine that the living God stands above all things, like the charioteer of a chariot, or the pilot of a ship; that is, above bodies, and above souls, and above all creatures, and above the earth, and above the air, and above the heaven, and above all the powers of the outward senses, and above the invisible natures, in short, above all things whether visible or invisible; for having made the whole to depend upon himself, he governs it and all the vastness of nature.
But let no one who hears that he was firmly planted thus suppose that any thing at all assists God, so as to enable him to stand firmly, but let him rather consider this fact that what is here indicated is equivalent to the assertion that the firmest position, and the bulwark, and the strength, and the steadiness of everything is the immoveable God, who stamps the character of immobility on whatever he pleases; for, in consequence of his supporting and consolidating things, those which he does combine remain firm and indestructible.
Therefore he who stands upon the ladder of heaven says to him who is beholding the dream, “I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac; be not afraid.” [Genesis xxviii. 13.] This oracle and this vision were also the firmest support of the soul devoted to the practice of virtue, inasmuch as it taught it that the Lord and God of the universe is both these things also to his own race, being entitled both the Lord and God of all men, and of his grandfathers and ancestors, and being called by both names in order that the whole world and the man devoted to virtue might have the same inheritance; since it is also said, “The Lord himself is his inheritance.” [Deuteronomy x. 9.]
XXVI. But do not fancy that it is an accidental thing here for him to be called in this place the God and Lord of Abraham, but only the God of Isaac; for this latter is the symbol of the knowledge which exists by nature, which hears itself, and teaches itself, and learns of itself; but Abraham is the symbol of that which is derived from the teaching of others; and the one again is an indigenous and native inhabitant of his country, but the other is only a settler and a foreigner; for having forsaken the language of those who indulge in sublime conversations about astronomy, a language imitating that of the Chaldaeans, foreign and barbarous, he was brought over to that which was suited to a rational being, namely, to the service of the great Cause of all things.
Now this disposition stands in need of two powers to take care of it, the power that is of authority, and that of conferring benefits, in order that in accordance with the authority of the governor, it may obey the admonitions which it receives, and also that it may be greatly benefited by his beneficence. But the other disposition stands in need of the power of beneficence only; for it has not derived any improvement from the authority which admonishes it, inasmuch as it naturally claims virtue as its own, but by reason of the bounty which is showered upon it from above, it was good and perfect from the beginning; therefore God is the name of the beneficent power, and Lord is the title of the royal power.
What then can any one call a more ancient and important good, than to be thought worthy to meet with unmixed and unalloyed beneficence? And what can be less valuable than to receive a mixture of authority and liberality? And it appears to me that it was because the practiser of virtue saw that he uttered that most admirable prayer that, “the Lord might be to him as God;” [Genesis xxviii. 21] for he desired no longer to stand in awe of him as a governor, but to honor and love him as a benefactor. Now is it not fitting that even blind men should become sharp-sighted in their minds to these and similar things, being endowed with the power of sight by the most sacred oracles, so as to be able to contemplate the glories of nature, and not to be limited to the mere understanding of the words? But even if we voluntarily close the eye of our soul and take no care to understand such mysteries, or if we are unable to look up to them, the hierophant himself stands by and prompts us. And do not thou ever cease through weariness to anoint thy eyes until you have introduced those who are duly initiated to the secret light of the sacred scriptures, and have displayed to them the hidden things therein contained, and their reality, which is invisible to those who are uninitiated.
It is becoming then for you to act thus; but as for ye, O souls, who have once tasted of divine love, as if you had even awakened from deep sleep, dissipate the mist that is before you; and hasten forward to that beautiful spectacle, putting aside slow and hesitating fear, in order to comprehend all the beautiful sounds and sights which the president of the games has prepared for your advantage.
XXVII. There are then a countless number of things well worthy of being displayed and demonstrated; and among them one which was mentioned a little while ago; for the oracle calls the person who was really his grandfather, the father of the practiser of virtue, and to him who was really his father, it has not given any such title; for the scripture says, “I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father,” [Genesis xxviii. 13] but in reality Abraham was his grandfather; and then proceeds, “And the God of Isaac,” and in this case he does not add, “thy father:” is it not then worth while to examine into the cause of this difference? Undoubtedly it is; let us then in a careful manner apply ourselves to the consideration of the cause.
Philosophers say that virtue exists among men, either by nature, or by practice, or by learning. On which account the sacred scriptures represent the three founders of the nation of the Israelites as wise men; not indeed originally endowed with the same kind of wisdom, but arriving rapidly at the same end. For the eldest of them, Abraham, had instruction for his guide in the road which conducted him to virtue; as we shall show in another treatise to the best of our power. And Isaac, who is the middle one of the three, had a self-taught and self-instructed nature. And Jacob, the third, arrived at this point by industry and practice, in accordance with which were his labors of wrestling and contention.
Since then there are thus three different manners by which wisdom exists among men, it happens that the two extremes are the most nearly and frequently united. For the virtue which is acquired by practice, is the offspring of that which is derived from learning. But that which is implanted by nature is indeed akin to the others, for it is set below them, as the root for them all. But it has obtained its prize without any rivalry or difficulty. So that it is thus very natural for Abraham, as one who had been improved by instruction, to be called the father of Jacob, who arrived at his height of virtue by practice. By which expression is indicated not so much the relationship of one man to the other, but that the power which is fond of hearing is very ready for learning; the power which is devoted to practice being also well suited for wrestling. If, however, this practiser of virtue runs on vigorously towards the end and learns to see clearly what he previously only dreamed of in an indistinct way, being altered and re-stamped with a better character, and being called Israel, that is, “the man who sees God,” instead of Jacob, that is, “the supplanter,” he then is no longer set down as the son of Abraham, as his father, of him who derived wisdom from instruction, but as the son of Israel, who was born excellent by nature.
These statements are not fables of my own invention, but are the oracle written on the sacred pillars. For, says the scripture: “Israel having departed, he and all that he had came to the well of the oath, and there he sacrificed a sacrifice to the God of his father Isaac.” [Genesis xlvi. 1.] Do you not now perceive that this present assertion has reference not to the relationship between mortal men, but, as was said before, to the nature of things? For look at what is before us. At one time, Jacob is spoken of as the son of his father Abraham, and at another time he is called Israel, the son of Isaac, on account of the reason which we have thus accurately investigated.
XXVIII. Having then said: “I am the Lord God of Abraham, the father and the God of Isaac,” he adds: “Be not afraid,” very consistently. For how can we any longer be afraid when we have thee, O God, as our armor and defender? Thee, the deliverer from fear and from every painful feeling? Thee, who hast also fashioned the archetypal forms of our instruction while they were still indistinct, so as to make them visible, teaching Abraham wisdom, and begetting Isaac, who was wise from his birth. For you condescended to be called the guide of the one and the father of the other, assigning to the one the rank of a pupil, and to the other that of a son.
For this reason, too, God promised that he would give him the land. I mean by the land here, all-prolific virtue, on which the practiser rests from his contests and sleeps, from the fact of the life according to the outward sense being lulled asleep, and that of the soul being awakened. Receiving gladly peaceful repose there, which he did not obtain without war, and the afflictions which arise from war, not by means of bearing arms and slaying men; away with any such notion! but by overthrowing the array of vices and passions which are the adversaries of virtue.
But the race of wisdom is likened to the sand of the sea, by reason of its boundless numbers, and because also the sand, like a fringe, checks the incursions of the sea; as the reasonings of instruction beat back the violence of wickedness and iniquity. And these reasonings, in accordance with the divine promises, are extended to the very extremities of the universe. And they show that he who is possessed of them is the inheritor of all the parts of the world, penetrating everywhere, to the east, and to the west, to the south, and to the north. For it is said in the scripture: “He shall be extended towards the sea, and towards the south, and towards the north, and towards the east.” [Genesis xxviii. 14.] But the wise and virtuous man is not only a blessing to himself, but he is also a common good to all men, diffusing advantages over all from his own ready store. For as the sun is the light of all those beings who have eyes, so also is the wise man light to all those who partake of a rational nature.
XXIX. “For in thee shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” And this oracle applies to the wise man in respect of himself, and also in respect of others. For if the mind which is in me is purified by perfect virtue, and if the tribes of that earthly part which is about me are purified at the same time, which tribes have fallen to the lot of the external senses, and of the greatest channel of all, namely the body; and if any one, either in his house, or in his city, or in his country, or in his nation, becomes a lover of wisdom, it is inevitable that that house, and that city, and that country, and that nation, must attain to a better life. For, as those spices which are set on fire fill all persons near them with their fragrance, so in the same manner do all those persons who are neighbors of and contiguous to the wise man catch some of the exhalations which reach to a distance from him, and so become improved in their characters.
XXX. And it is the greatest of all advantages to a soul engaged in labors and contests, to have for its fellow traveller God, who penetrates everywhere. “For behold,” says God, “I am with thee.” [Genesis xxviii. 15.] Of what then can we be in need while we have for our wealth Thee, who art the only true and real riches, who keepest us in the road which leads to virtue in all its different divisions? For it is not one portion only of the rational life which conducts to justice and to all other virtue, but the parts are infinite in number, from which those who desire to arrive at virtue can set out.
XXXI. Very admirably therefore is it said in the scripture: “I will lead thee back to this land.” For it was fitting that the reason should remain with itself, and should not depart to the outward sense. And if it has departed, then the next best thing is for it to return back again. And perhaps also a doctrine bearing on the immortality of the soul is figuratively intimated by this expression. For the soul, having left the region of heaven, as was mentioned a little while before, came to the body as to a foreign country. Therefore the father who begot it promises that he will not permit it to be for ever held in bondage, but that he will have compassion on it, and will unloose its chains, and will conduct it in safety and freedom as far as the metropolis, and will not cease to assist it till the promises which he has made in words are confirmed by the truth of actions. For it is by all means the peculiar attribute of God to foretell what is to happen.
And why do we say this? for his words do not differ from his actions; therefore the soul which is devoted to the practice of virtue, being set in motion, and roused up to the investigations relating to the living God, at first suspected that the living God existed in place; but after a short space it became perplexed by the difficulty of the question, and began to change its opinion. “For,” says the scripture, “Jacob awoke and said, Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not;” and it would have been better, I should have said, not to know it, than to fancy that God existed in any place, he who himself contains all things in a circle.
XXXII. Very naturally, therefore, was Jacob afraid, and said in a spirit of admiration, “how dreadful is this place.” [Genesis xxviii. 16.] For, in truth, of all the topics or places in natural philosophy, the most formidable is that in which it is inquired where the living God is, and whether in short he is in any place at all. Since some persons affirm that everything which exists occupies some place or other, and others assign each thing a different place, either in the world or out of the world, in some space between the different bodies of the universe. Others again affirm that the uncreated God resembles no created being whatever, but that he is superior to everything, so that the very swiftest conception is outstripped by him, and confesses that it is very far inferior to the comprehension of him; wherefore it speedily cries out, This is not what I expected, because the Lord is in the place; for he surrounds everything, but in truth and reason he is not surrounded by anything.
And this thing which is demonstrated and visible, this world perceptible by the outward senses, is nothing else but the house of God, the abode of one of the powers of the true God, in accordance with which he is good; and he calls this world an abode, and he has also pronounced it with great truth to be the gate of heaven. Now, what does this mean? We cannot comprehend the world which consists of various species, in that which is fashioned in accordance with the divine regulations, appreciable only by the intellect, in any other manner than by making a migration upwards from this other world perceptible by the outward senses and visible; for it is not possible either to perceive any other existing being which is incorporeal, without deriving our principles of judgment from bodies. For while they are quiet, their place is perceived, and when they are in motion we judge of their time; but the points, and the lines, and the superficies, and in short the boundaries [...] as of a garment wrapped externally around it.
According to analogy, therefore, the knowledge of the world appreciable by the intellect is attained to by means of our knowledge of that which is perceptible by the outward senses, which is as it were a gate to the other. For as men who wish to see cities enter in through the gates, so also they who wish to comprehend the invisible world are conducted in their search by the appearance of the visible one. And the world of that essence which is only open to the intellect without any visible appearance or figure whatever, and which exists only in the archetypal idea which exists in the mind, which is fashioned according to its appearance, will be brought on without any shade; all the walls, and all the gates which could impede its progress being removed, so that it is not looked at through any other medium, but by itself, putting forth a beauty which is susceptible of no change, presenting an indescribable and exquisite spectacle.
XXXIII. But enough of this. There is another dream also which belongs to the same class, that one I mean about the spotted flock, which the person who beheld it relates after he had awoke, saying, “The angel of God spake unto me in a dream, and said, Jacob; and I said, What is it? And he said unto me, Look up with thine eyes, and see the goats and the rams mounting on the flocks, and the she-goats, some white, and spotted, and ring-straked, and speckled: for I have beheld all that Laban does unto thee. I am that God who was seen by thee in the place of God, where thou anointedst the pillar, and vowedst a vow unto me. Now therefore, rise up and depart out of this land, and go into the land of thy birth, and I will be with thee.” [Genesis xxxi. 11.]
You see here, that the divine word speaks of dreams as sent from God; including in this statement not those only which appear through the agency of the chief cause itself, but those also which are seen through the operation of his interpreters and attendant angels, who are thought by the father who created them to be worthy of a divine and blessed lot: consider, however, what comes afterwards. The sacred word enjoins some persons what they ought to do by positive command, like a king; to others it suggests what will be for their advantage, as a preceptor does to his pupils; to others again, it is like a counsellor suggesting the wisest plans; and in this way too, it is of great advantage to those who do not of themselves know what is expedient; to others it is like a friend, in a mild and persuasive manner, bringing forward many secret things which no uninitiated person may lawfully hear.
For at times it asks some persons, as for instance, Adam, “Where art thou?” And any one may properly answer to such a question, “No where?” Because all human affairs never remain long in the same condition, but are moved about and changed, whether we speak of their soul or their body, or of their external circumstances; for their minds are unstable, not always having the same impressions from the same things, but such as are diametrically contrary to their former ones. The body also is unstable, as all the changes of the different ages from infancy to old age show; their external circumstances also are variable, being tossed up and down by the impetus of ever-agitated fortune.
XXXIV. When, however, he comes into an assembly of friends, he does not begin to speak before he has first accosted each individual among them, and addressed him by name, so that they prick up their ears, and are quiet and attentive, listening to the oracles thus delivered, so as never to forget them or let them escape their memory: since in another passage of scripture we read, “Be silent and listen.” [Deuteronomy xxvii. 9.] In this manner too, Moses is called up to the bush. For, the scripture says, “When he saw that he was turning aside to see, God called him out of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses: and he said, What is it, Lord?” [Exodus iii. 4.]
And Abraham also, on the occasion of offering up his beloved and only son as a burnt-offering, when he was beginning to sacrifice him, and when he had given proof of his piety, was forbidden to destroy the self-taught race, Isaac by name, from among men; for at the beginning of his account of this transaction, Moses says that “God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham, Abraham; and he said, Behold, here am I. And he said unto him, Take now thy beloved son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and offer him up.” And when he had brought the victim to the altar, then the angel of the Lord called him out of heaven, saying, “Abraham, Abraham,” and he answered, “Behold, here am I. And he said, Lay not thy hand upon the child, and do nothing to him.” [Genesis xxii. 1.]
Also the practiser of virtue is also called one of this company dear to God, being deservedly accounted worthy of the same honor; for, says the scripture, “The angel of God said to me in my sleep, Jacob: and I answered, and said, What is it?” [Genesis xxxi. 10.] But after he has been called he exerts his attention, endeavoring to arrive at an accurate knowledge of the symbols which are displayed to him; and these symbols are the connection and generation of reasonings, as flocks and herds. For, says the scripture, “Jacob, looking up with his eyes, saw the goats and the rams leaping upon the she-goats and upon the sheep.” Now the he-goat is the leader of the flock of goats, and the ram is the leader of the flock of sheep, and these two animals are symbols of perfect reasonings, one of which purifies and cleanses the soul of sins, and the other nourishes it and renders it full of good actions.
Such then are the leaders of the flocks in us, namely, reasons; and the flocks themselves, resembling the sheep and goats whose names they bear, rush forwards and hasten with zeal and earnestness towards justice.
Therefore, looking up with the eye of his mind, which up to that time had been closed, he saw the perfect and thoroughly sharpened reasons analogically resembling the goats and rams, prepared for the diminution of offenses and the increase of good actions. And he beheld how they leap upon the sheep and the goats, that is on those souls which are still young and tender, and in the vigor of youth, and beautiful in the flower of their age; not pursuing irrational pleasure, but indulging in the invisible sowing of the doctrines of prudence. For this is a marriage which is blessed in its children; not uniting bodies, but adapting perfect virtues to well-disposed souls.
Therefore do all ye right reasons of wisdom leap up, form connections, sow seed, and pass by no soul which you see rich and fertile, and well-disposed, and virgin; but inviting it to association and connection with you, render it perfect and pregnant; for so you will become the parents of all kinds of good things, of a male offspring, white, variegated, ring-straked, and speckled.
XXXV. But we must now examine what power each of these offspring has. Now those which are purely white ('dialeukoi') are the most beautiful and the most conspicuous; the word 'dia' being often prefixed in composition by way of adding force to the word, so that the words 'diadelon' and 'diasemon' are commonly used to signify what is very conspicuous ('delon') and very remarkable ('episemon'); therefore the meaning here is that the first-born offspring of the soul which has received the sacred seed, is purely white; being like light in which there is no obscurity, and like the most brilliant radiance: like the unclouded beam which might proceed from the rays of the sun in fine weather at mid-day. Again, by the statement that some are variegated, what is meant is, not that the flocks are marked by such a multiform and various spottedness as to resemble the unclean leprosy, and which is an emblem of a life unsteady and tossed about in any direction by reason of the fickleness of the mind, but only that they have marks drawn in regular lines and different characters, shaped and impressed with all kinds of well approved forms, the peculiarities of which, being mingled together and combined properly, will produce a musical harmony.
For some persons have looked upon the art of variegating as so random and obscure a matter, that they have referred it to weavers. But I admire not only the art itself, but the name likewise, and most especially so when I look upon the divisions of the earth and the spheres in heaven, and the differences between various plants and various animals, and that most variegated texture, I mean the world; for I am compelled to suppose, that the maker of this universal textile fabric was also the inventor of all varied and variegating science; and I look with reverence upon the inventor, and I honor the art which he invented, and I am amazed at the work which is the result, and this too, though it is but a very small portion of it which I have been able to see, but still, from the portion which has been unfolded to me, if indeed I may say that it has been unfolded, I hope to form a tolerably accurate judgment of the whole, guiding my conjectures by the light of analogy.
Nevertheless I admire the lover of wisdom for having studied the same art, collecting and thinking fit to weave together many things, though different, and proceeding from different sources, into the same web; for taking the two first elements from the grammatical knowledge imparted to children, that is to say, reading and writing, and taking from the more perfect growth of knowledge the skill which is found among poets, and the comprehension of ancient history, and deriving certainty and freedom from deception from arithmetic and geometry, in which sciences there is need of proportions and calculations; and borrowing from music rhyme, and metre, and harmonies, and chromatics, and diatonics, and combined and disjoined melodies; and having derived from rhetoric invention, and language, and arrangement, and memory, and action; and from philosophy, whatever has been omitted in any of these separate branches, and all the other things of which human life consists, he has put together in one most admirably arranged work, combining great learning of one kind with great learning of another kind.
Now the sacred scripture calls the maker of this compound work Besaleel, which name, being interpreted, signifies “in the shadow of God;” for he makes all the copies, and the man by name Moses makes all the models, as the principal architect; and for this reason it is, that the one only draws outlines as it were, but the other is not content with such sketches, but makes the archetypal natures themselves, and has already adorned the holy places with his variegating art; but the wise man is called the only adorner of the place of wisdom in the oracles delivered in the sacred scriptures.
XXXVI. And the most beautiful and varied work of God, this world, has been created in this its present state of perfection by all-wise knowledge; and how can it be anything but right to receive the art of variegating as a noble effort of knowledge? the most sacred copy of which is the whole word of wisdom, which will bear about in its bosom the things of heaven and of earth, from which the practiser of virtue elaborates his notions of various things.
For after the white sheep he immediately beheld the variegated animals, stamped with the impression of instruction. The third kind are the ring-straked and speckled; and what man in his senses would deny that these also are, as to their genus, variegated? but still he is not so very eager about the varieties of the members of the flocks, as about the road which leads to virtue and excellence; for the prophet intends that he who proceeds along this road shall be besprinkled with dust and water; because it is related that the earth and water being kneaded together and fashioned into shape by the Creator of man, was formed into one body, not being made by hand, but being the work of invisible nature.
Therefore it is the first principle of wisdom not to forget one’s self, and always to keep before one’s eyes the materials of which one has been compounded; for in this way a man will get rid of boasting and arrogance, which of all evils is the one most hated by God; for who that ever admits into his mind the recollection that the first principles of his formation are dust and water, would ever be so puffed by vanity as to be unduly elated? On this account the prophet has thought it fit that those who are about to offer sacrifice shall be be sprinkled with the aforesaid things; thinking no one worthy to appear at a sacrifice who has not first of all learnt to know himself, and to comprehend the nothingness of mankind, and the elements of which he is composed, conjecturing from them that he himself is utterly insignificant.
XXXVII. These three signs, the white, the variegated, and the ring-straked and speckled, are as yet imperfect in the practiser of virtue, who has not himself as yet attained to perfection. But, in the case of him who is perfect, they also appear to be perfect. And in what manner they appear so we will examine. The sacred scripture has appointed that the great High Priest, when he was about to perform the ministrations appointed by the law, should be besprinkled with water and ashes in the first place, that he might come to a remembrance of himself. For the wise Abraham also, when he went forth to converse with God, pronounced himself to be dust and ashes. In the second place, it enjoins him to put on a tunic reaching down to his feet, and the variously-embroidered thing which was called his breast-plate, an image and representation of the light-giving stars which appear in heaven.
For there are, as it seems, two temples belonging to God; one being this world, in which the high priest is the divine word, his own first-born son. The other is the rational soul, the priest of which is the real true man, the copy of whom, perceptible to the senses, is he who performs his paternal vows and sacrifices, to whom it is enjoined to put on the aforesaid tunic, the representation of the universal heaven, in order that the world may join with the man in offering sacrifice, and that the man may likewise co-operate with the universe.
He is now therefore shown to have these two things, the speckled and the variegated character. We will now proceed to explain the third, and most perfect kind, which is denominated thoroughly white. When this same high priest enters into the innermost parts of the holy temple, he is clothed in the variegated garment, and he also assumes another linen robe, made of the very finest flax. And this is an emblem of vigor, and incorruptibility, and the most brilliant light. For such a veil is a thing very difficult to be broken, and it is made of nothing mortal, and when it is properly and carefully purified it has a most clear and brilliant appearance. And these injunctions contain this figurative meaning, that of those who in a pure and guileless spirit serve the living God, there is no one who does not at first depend upon the firmness and obstinacy of his mind, despising all human affairs, which allure men with their specious bait, and injure them, and produce weakness in them. In the next place, he aims at immortality, laughing at the blind inventions with which mortals delude themselves. And last of all, he shines with the unclouded and most brilliant light of truth, no longer desiring any of the things which belong to false opinion, which prefer darkness rather than light.
XXXVIII. The great high priest of the confession, then, may have now been sufficiently described by us, being stamped with the impressions above-mentioned, the white, the variegated, and the ring-straked and speckled. But he who is desirous of the administration of human affairs, by name Joseph, does not, as it appears, claim for himself any of the extreme characteristics, but only that variegated one which is in the middle between the others. For we read that Joseph had a “coat of many colors,” [Genesis xxxvii. 3] not being sprinkled with the sacred purifications, by means of which he might have known that he himself was only a compound of dust and water, and not being able to touch that thoroughly white and most shining raiment, virtue. But being clothed in the much-variegated web of political affairs, with which the smallest possible portion of truth is mixed up; and also many and large portions of plausible, probable, and likely falsehoods, from which all the sophists of Egypt, and all the augurs, and ventriloquists, and sorcerers spring; men skillful in juggling, and in incantations, and in tricks of all kinds, from whose treacherous arts it is very difficult to escape.
And it is on this account that Moses very naturally represents this robe as stained with blood; since the whole life of the man who is mixed up in political affairs is tainted, warring on others and being warred against, and being aimed at, and attacked, and shot at by all the unexpected chances which befall him.
Examine now the man who has great influence with the people, on whom the affairs of the city depend. Do not be alarmed at those who look with admiration upon him; and you will find many diseases lurking within him, and you will see that he is entangled in many disasters, and that fortune is dragging him violently in different directions, though he bends his neck the other way, and resists, although invisibly, and in fact that fortune is seeking to overthrow and destroy him; or else the people themselves are impatient at his supremacy, or he is exposed to the attacks of some more powerful rival. And envy is a formidable enemy, and one hard to be shaken off, clinging also to everything that is called good fortune, and it is not easy to escape from it.
XXXIX. What reason is there then for our congratulating ourselves on the administration of political affairs as if we were clothed in a garment of many colors, deceived by its external splendor, and not perceiving its ugliness, which is kept out of sight, and hidden, and full of treachery and guile? Let us then put off this flowery robe, and put on that sacred one woven with the embroideries of virtue; for thus we shall escape the snares which want of skill, and ignorance, and want of knowledge, and education lay for us, of which Laban is the companion. For when the sacred word has purified us with the sprinklings prepared beforehand for purification, and when it has adorned us with the select reasonings of true philosophy, and, having led us to that man who has stood the test, has made us genuine, and conspicuous, and shining, it blames the treacherous disposition which seeks to raise itself up to invalidate what is said.
For the scripture says: “I have seen what Laban does unto thee,” [Genesis xxxi. 12] namely, things contrary to the benefits which I conferred on you, things impure, wicked, and altogether suited to darkness. But it is not right for the man who anchors on the hope of the alliance of God to crouch and tremble, to whom God says, “I am the God who was seen by thee in the place of God.” A very glorious boast for the soul, that God should think fit to appear to and to converse with it. And do not pass by what is here said, but examine it accurately, and see whether there are really two Gods. For it is said : “I am the God who was seen by thee;” not in my place, but in the place of God, as if he meant of some other God.
What then ought we to say? There is one true God only: but they who are called Gods, by an abuse of language, are numerous; on which account the holy scripture on the present occasion indicates that it is the true God that is meant by the use of the article, the expression being, “I am the God ('ho theos');” but when the word is used incorrectly, it is put without the article, the expression being, “He who was seen by thee in the place,” not of the God ('tou theou'), but simply “of God” ('theou'); and what he here calls God is his most ancient word, not having any superstitious regard to the position of the names, but only proposing one end to himself, namely, to give a true account of the matter; for in other passages the sacred historian, when he considered whether there really was any name belonging to the living God, showed that he knew that there was none properly belonging to him; but that whatever appellation any one may give him, will be an abuse of terms; for the living God is not of a nature to be described, but only to be.
XL. And a proof of this may be found in the oracular answer given by God to the person who asked what name he had, “I am that I am,” [Exodus iii. 14] that the questioner might know the existence of those things which it was not possible for man to conceive not being connected with God. Accordingly, to the incorporeal souls which are occupied in his service, it is natural for him to appear as he is, conversing with them as a friend with his friends; but to those souls which are still in the body he must appear in the resemblance of the angels, though without changing his nature (for he is unchangeable), but merely implanting in those who behold him an idea of his having another form, so that they fancy that it is his image, not an imitation of him, but the very archetypal appearance itself.
There is then an old story much celebrated, that the Divinity, assuming the resemblance of men of different countries, goes round the different cities of men, searching out the deeds of iniquity and lawlessness; and perhaps, though the fable is not true, it is a suitable and profitable one. But the scripture, which at all times advances its conceptions with respect to the Deity, in a more reverential and holy tone, and which likewise desires to instruct the life of the foolish, has spoken of God under the likeness of a man, though not of any particular man; attributing to him, with this view, the possession of a face, and hands, and feet, and of a mouth and voice, and also anger and passion, and moreover, defensive weapons, and goings in and goings out, and motions upwards and downwards, and in every direction, not indeed using all these expressions with strict truth, but having regard to the advantage of those who are to learn from it; for the writers knew that some men are very dull in their natures, so as to be utterly unable to form any conception whatever of God apart from a body, whom it would be impossible to admonish if they were to speak in any other style than the existing one, of representing God as coming and departing like a man; and as descending and ascending, and as using his voice, and as being angry with sinners, and being implacable in his anger; and speaking too of his darts and swords, and whatever other instruments are suitable to be employed against the wicked, as being all previously ready.
For we must be content if such men can be brought to a proper state, by the fear which is suspended over them by such descriptions; and one may almost say that these are the only two paths taken, in the whole history of the law; one leading to the plain truth, owing to which we have such assertions as, “God is not as a man;” [Numbers xxiii. 19] the other, that which has regard to the opinions of foolish men, in reference to whom it is said, “The Lord God shall instruct you, like as if a man instructs his son.” [Deut. i. 31.]
XLI. Why then do we any longer wonder, if God at times assumes the likeness of the angels, as he sometimes assumes even that of men, for the sake of assisting those who address their entreaties to him? so that when he says, “I am the God who was seen by thee in the place of God;” [Genesis xxxi. 13] we must understand this, that he on that occasion took the place of an angel, as far as appearance went, without changing his own real nature, for the advantage of him who was not, as yet, able to bear the sight of the true God; for as those who are not able to look upon the sun itself, look upon the reflected rays of the sun as the sun itself, and upon the halo around the moon as if it were the moon itself; so also do those who are unable to bear the sight of God, look upon his image, his angel word, as himself.
Do you not see that encyclical instruction, that is, Hagar, says to the angel, “Art thou God who seest me?” [Genesis xvi. 13] for she was not capable of beholding the most ancient cause, inasmuch as she was by birth a native of Egypt. But now the mind begins to be improved, so as to be able to contemplate the governor of all the powers; on which account he says himself, “I am the Lord God,” [Genesis xxxi. 13] I whose image you formerly beheld instead of me, and whose pillar you set up, engraving on it a most sacred inscription; and the inscription indicated that I stood alone, and that I established the nature of all things, bringing disorder and irregularity into order and regularity, and supporting the universe firmly, so that it might rest on a firm and solid foundation, my own ministering word.
XLII. For the pillar is the symbol of three things; of standing, of dedication, and of an inscription: now the standing and the inscription have been described, but the dedication it is necessary should be explained to all men. For heaven and the world are an offering dedicated to God who made them; and all the cosmopolitan and God-loving souls, which dedicate and consecrate themselves to him, not allowing any mortal thing to drag them in an opposite direction, are never weary of hallowing their own life, and adorning it with every kind of beauty as a meet offering for him. And he is a foolish man who does not set up a pillar to God, but who erects one to himself instead, attributing stability to the things of creation, which is tossed about in every direction, and thinking those things worthy of inscriptions and panegyrics, which are in reality full of matter for blame and accusation, and which as such had better never have been mentioned in an inscription at all, or if they had, had better have been speedily erased again.
On which account the holy scripture says distinctly, “Thou shalt not set up a pillar to thyself;” [Deut. xvi. 22] for in truth there is nothing belonging to man that is stable, no, not though some persons persist even so obstinately in affirming it. But they not only think that they stand firmly, but also that they are worthy of honors and inscriptions, forgetting him who is alone worthy of honor, and who is alone firmly fixed; for while they are turning aside and wandering away from the path which leads to virtue, the outward sense leads them still more astray, that is to say, the woman who is akin to them, she also compels them to run ashore; therefore, the whole soul, like a ship, being shut in all around, is offered up as a pillar; for the sacred scriptures tell us that Lot’s wife having turned back to look behind her, became a pillar of salt, and this is said very naturally and fitly; for if any one does not look forwards at those things which are worthy of being seen and heard (and these things are the virtues and the actions done in accordance with virtue), but looks backwards at the things which are behind him, at deaf glory, and blind riches, and senseless vigor of body, and an empty elegance of mind, pursuing these objects only, and such as are akin to them, he will lie as a lifeless pillar melting away by itself; for salt is not a thing to preserve his firmness.
XLIII. Very admirably therefore does the practiser of virtue, having learnt by continued study that creation is a thing in its own nature moveable, but that the uncreated God is unchangeable and immoveable, erect a pillar to God, and anoint it after he has erected it; for God says, “Thou hast anointed my pillar.” [Genesis xxxi. 13.] But do not fancy that that stone was anointed with oil, but understand rather that that opinion, that God is the only being who stands firmly, was thoroughly hardened by exercise, and established in the soul by the science of wrestling, not that science by which bodies are made fat, but that by which the mind acquires strength and irresistible vigor; for the man who is eager in the pursuit of good studies and virtuous objects is fond of labors, and fond of exercises; so that very naturally, having worked out the science of training which is the sister of the art of medicine, he anoints and brings to perfection all the reasonings of virtue and piety, and dedicates them, as a most beautiful and lasting offering to God.
For this reason, after mentioning the dedication of the pillar, God adds that, “Thou vowedst a vow to me.” Now a vow also is, to speak properly, a dedication, since he who makes a vow is said to offer up, as a gift to God, not only his own possessions, but himself likewise, who is the owner of them; for says the scripture, “the man is holy who nourishes the locks of the hair of his head; who has vowed a vow.” But if he is holy he is undoubtedly an offering to God, no longer meddling with anything unholy or profane; and there is an evidence in favor of my argument, in the conduct of the prophetess, and mother of a prophet, Hannah, whose name being translated, signifies grace; for she says that she gives her son, “Samuel, as a gift to the Holy One,” [1 Samuel i. 28] not dedicating him more as a human being, than as a disposition full of inspiration, and possessed by a divinely sent impulse; and the name Samuel being interpreted means, “appointed to God.”
Why then, O my soul, do you any longer waste yourself in vain speculations and labors? and why do you not go as a pupil to the practiser of virtue, taking up arms against the passions, and against vain opinion, to learn from him the way to wrestle with them? For as soon as you have learnt this art, you will become the leader of a flock, not of one which is destitute of marks, and of reason, and of docility, but of one which is well approved, and rational, and beautiful, of which, if you become the leader, you will pity the miserable race of mankind, and will not cease to reverence the Deity; and you will never be weary of blessing God, and moreover you will engrave hymns suited to your sacred subject upon pillars, that you may not only speak fluently, but may also sing musically the virtues of the living God; for by these means you will be able to return to your father’s house, being delivered from a long and profitless wandering in a foreign land.