Questions, and Solutions to Those Questions, Which Arise in Genesis.
What is the meaning of the expression, "I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of the Chaldaeans to give thee this land for an inheritance?" [Genesis 15:7].
1. As the literal statement is plain enough, we need only consider the inner meaning, which was meant to be interpreted in this manner.
The law of the Chaldaeans taken symbolically is mathematical speculation, one part of which is recognized to be astronomy, which the Chaldaeans study with great industry and with great success. Therefore God is here honoring the wise man with a gift; in the first place, by taking men out of the sect of the astrologers, that is to say, away from the hallucinations of the Chaldaeans, which, as they are difficult to detect and refute, are found to be the cause of great evils and wickedness, since they ascribe the attributes of the Creator to created things, and persuade men to worship and to venerate the works of the world as God.
In the second place, God honors him by granting to him the wisdom which bears fruit, which he has here symbolically called the earth; but the Father of the universe shows that wisdom and virtue are invariable and immutable, since it is not consistent with his character that God should show to any one that which can undergo any variation or change, for that which is shown by the being who is immutable and consistent must be so too; but that which is liable to change, as being incessantly in the habit of suffering variation, admits of no proper or divine demonstration.
Why does he say, "Lord, by what shall I know that I shall inherit it?" [Genesis 15:8].
2. He here is seeking a sign for a ratification of the promise; but two things only are described deserving of study; one that which is an affection of the mind, namely, the belief in God according to his literal word; the other a being borne on with the most exceeding desire not to be left in want of some signs, by which the hearer may feel, to the conviction of his outer senses, a confirmation of the promise: and to him who has given the promise he offers worthy veneration by the appellation, "Lord."
For by this title he says, I know thee to be the Lord and prince of all things, who art also able to do all things, and there is no disability with thee. But in truth, if I have already given credence to thy promise, still I nevertheless wish to obtain speedily if not a completion of it, yet at all events some evident signs by which its consummation may be indicated; in truth I am thy creature, and even if I were to arrive at the highest degree of excellence, I am not always able to restrain the violence of my desire, so as not, when I have seen or heard anything good, to be contented with obtaining it slowly and not immediately; therefore I entreat that thou wilt give me some means of knowledge, by which I may comprehend those future events.
Why is it that he says, "Take for me a heifer of three years old, and a goat of three years old, and a raven of three years old, and a turtle dove and a pigeon?" [Genesis 15:9].
3. He here mentions five animals, which are offered on the sacred altar; for these are divided into classes of victims, three kinds of terrestrial animals, the ox, the goat, and the sheep; and two kinds of birds, the turtle dove and the pigeon; for the sacred writer constantly tells us that the everlasting reverence of victims derived its origin from the patriarch, who was also the origin of the race: but instead of the expression, "Bring to me," he has very admirably used the words, "Take for me;" since there is nothing especially and peculiarly belonging to the creature, but everything is the gift of and blessing bestowed by God, who is altogether willing that when any one has received anything he should offer thanks for it with all his heart.
But he orders him to take every animal at the age of three years; since three is a full and perfect number, consisting of a beginning, a middle, and an end; but still we may raise the question, why of these three animals, he takes two females, the heifer, and the she-goat, and one male, the ram; may it not be perhaps because the heifer and the she-goat are offered as an atonement for sin; but the sheep is not, as sin arises from frailty, and the female is frail?
This much I have thought fit to say with especial appositeness to this question; but I am not however ignorant that all things of this kind offer a handle to those who wish to cavil, to disparage the sacred scriptures; therefore in this instance they say that there is nothing here described and indicated but a command to sacrifice, by the division of the animals and an examination of their entrails; and what is visible in them they affirm to be an indication of what is convenient, and of the similitude which arises from things visible.
But those men, as it appears to me, are of that class which forms a part alone from a judgment of the whole, but which on the contrary does not from a judgment of a part form the whole, which last is the better way of coming to an opinion, as being that by which both the name and the fact are altogether established.
Therefore the giving of the law, that is to say the sacred scriptures, that I may so express myself, is a sort of living unity, the whole of which one ought to examine carefully with all one's eyes, and so discern with truth, and certainty, and clearness, the universal intention of the whole of the scripture without dissecting or lacerating its harmony, or disuniting its unity; by any other mode everything would appear utterly inconsistent and absurd, being dissociated from all community or equity.
What then is the intention of the delivery of the law as exhibited to us? It is scientific, and so is everything which describes scientific species; since the offering of sacrifice and all science admits of a consistent usage, and of expressions well adapted to them, and of various opinions, by which not only the footsteps of truth are occupied, but sometimes are even darkened, as affection is by flattery; but in such way that the very things which are genuine and established by experiment are perverted by things which are both inconsistent and unproved.
And the natures of the animals above mentioned have an intimate connection with the parts of the universe; the ox is connected with the earth, as being an animal employed in drawing the plough and in tilling the earth; the goat again is connected with the water (it is called in Greek and Armenian aix, or ajx), being an animal deriving its name from driving and rushing on (from ago or aisso); since water is an impetuous thing, and the course of rivers, and the extent of the breadth of the sea, and the sea itself agitated as it is by its ebb and flow, are witnesses of the propriety of the name and of the closeness of the connection.
And the ram (aries) is connected with the air, as being a very violent and vivacious animal, on which account too the ram is more useful to mankind than any other animal as affording them raiment.
Therefore, on account of these reasons, as I think, God orders him first to take these two female animals, the cow and the she-goat; since both these elements, earth and water, are material, and for the most part feminine. But the third he will have a male, namely the ram; because the air or wind has been explained as masculine; since the natures of all things are divided into bodies or into earth and water, and female animals exist by nature. But that which exhibits a similitude to the soul is arranged under the head of air and the breath of life. And this, as I have said, is masculine. If therefore we are to call that masculine which is the moving and active cause we must call that feminine which is moved and passive.
But the whole heaven is found to be familiarly connected with flying birds such as the pigeon and turtle dove, being distributed as it is into the rotatory path of the planets and fixed stars.
Therefore he dedicates the pigeon to the planets, for that is a tame and domestic animal, as also the planets are more familiarly connected with us as being nearer to the earth, and as having sympathies with us; but he consecrates the turtle dove to the fixed stars, for that animal is a lover of solitude, and flees from the conversation of the multitude, and from all connection of every kind. And so also the globe itself is remote, and a thing which wanders into the furthest extremities of the world.
Therefore both the species of these two birds are assimilated to the divine attributes, since as Plato, the disciple of Socrates, says it is fitting that the heaven should have a swift chariot by reason of its very swift rotatory motion, which in fact surpasses even the birds themselves in the velocity of their course. But the birds above mentioned are singers; the prophet indicating by an enigmatical expression that perfect music which exists in heaven harmoniously adapted from the motion of the stars, since it is a proof of human art when the corresponding music of the voices of animals and of living instruments is adapted together by the industry of genius. But this heavenly music has been abundantly extended over the earth by the Creator, as he has also extended the rays of the sun, being always prompt to exercise his beneficent care for the human race.
For such music excites frenzy in the ears, and brings unrestrained pleasure to the mind; and so causes men to forget even their meat and drink, and even when hunger brings death to the door to be willing even to die out of a desire to hear music.
And if the song of the Sirens, [Homer, Od. xii. 39-47] as Homer tells us, invites the heavens so forcibly, that they forget while listening to it, their country, their houses, their friends, and necessary food; how much more must that most perfect and consummate music, so truly heavenly and endowed with the highest degree of harmony, when it touches the organs of the ear, compel men to go mad and to yield to rapture.
But the reason on account of which every one of the animals to be offered is to be three years of age has already been explained; and we must now discuss it under another form of mystery, since it has been seen that every one of those things which were called into existence and subsequently to the moon, such as the earth, water, and air, rejoice in an order connected with the number three.
In the divisions of earth there is a vast quantity of dry continent, islands and peninsulas. Water is divided into sea, rivers, and lakes; and the air into the two equinoxes, the vernal and the autumnal; and they may be taken as one, for they have an equal proportion of day and night, and accordingly the equinoxes are neither hot nor cold. Add to these the changes of summer and winter, for the sun is borne through those three circles into the seasons of summer, winter, and the equinoxes. Therefore, in the first place, the natural arrangement will be of this kind; and the moral arrangement is properly thus.
In every one of us there are three things: flesh, the outward sense, and reason; therefore the calf exhibits a familiarity with the corporeal substance, since our flesh is subdued by, and kept in subservience to, and in connection with the ministrations of life; also their nature is female according to matter, being calculated rather to be passive and to be subject rather than the be active.
But the similitude of the she-goat is connected with the communion of the outward senses, either because all the objects of those outward senses are each borne towards their appropriate sensation, or because each impulse and motion of the soul takes place in consequence of an imagination formed of the objects received through the medium of the external senses. And this is followed, in the first place, by a certain inflexion or alienation, which by some is called an occasion, that is to say, an impulse affecting each kind of sense. But since the female is the outward sense, as being passive in consequence of what is subjected to the outward senses, therefore God has adapted to it a female animal, the she-goat.
But the ram is akin to the word, or to reason. In the first place, because it is a male animal; secondly, because it is a working animal; and thirdly, because it is the cause of the world, and of the firmament; that is to say, the ram is so by means of the clothing which it supplies; and reason, or the word, is so in the arrangement of life; for whatever is not irregular and absurd immediately exhibits reason. And there are two species of reason; the one derived from that nature by which the affairs of the world subjected to the outward senses are finished; the other from that of those things which are called incorporeal species, by which the affairs of that world which is the object of the intellect are brought to their accomplishment. Therefore the pigeon and the turtle dove are found to resemble these.
The pigeon, forsooth, resembles speculation in natural philosophy; for it is a more familiar bird, as the objects of the outward sense are exceedingly familiar to the sight: and the soul of the inquirer into natural science flies upward as if it were furnished with wings; and being borne aloft is carried round the heaven, discerning every part of every thing, and the principles of every separate thing; for the turtle dove imitates that species which is the subject of intellect and incorporeal; for as that animal is fond of solitude, so it is superior to the violent species which come under the outward sense, associating itself as it does with the invisible species by its essence.
Why does he say, "And he took unto him all these things?" [Genesis 15:10].
4. He has added also that expression, "And he took unto him," with especial propriety; for it is the sign of a soul thoroughly imbued with the love of God to ascribe whatever good and noble theories and feelings it receives, not unto itself, but wholly to God who is the giver of all benefits.
What is the meaning of, "He divided them in the middle and laid the pieces opposite to one another?" [Genesis 15:10].
5. Also the whole structure of the body, as of flesh, is to be looked at in such a light as this according to its whole creation; for the parts are brothers; not as they are divided and placed opposite to one another; but, being naturally inclined to one another, and having a mutual regard to one another, on account of their natural co-operation; the original Creator who gave them life making this division for the sake of usefulness, so that one part should be opposed to the other part, and again that both should reciprocally seek one another in all necessary ministrations.
In this way he has directly separated the sense of sight, distributing it equally to two eyes by placing the nose between them and thus turning each eye to the other; for the pupils, if I may so say, lean both in one direction so as mutually to behold the same thing, scarcely ever straying beyond the position in which they are placed, but only looking towards one another, especially when anything comes across their sight.
And in similar manner the faculty of hearing is distributed between the two ears, which are both reciprocally turned to one another, both tending to one and the same operation. And the sense of smell is divided between the two nostrils, being turned towards the two tubes of the nostrils, which are not revolving around or inclined towards the cheeks, so as being drawn in two different directions to look the one towards the right and the other towards the left, but being both collected together and turned inwards they await all smells with a common action.
So also the hands are not made of an appearance contrary to that of one another, but being like brothers and like divisible parts, looking to one another mutually, and being prepared by nature for an operation and employment suitable to them, they thus act in the operations of receiving, giving, and working. And the feet are not constituted differently from the hands; as each of them behaves in such a manner that they both yield the one to the other, and progress is effected by the motion of both together, so that nothing can be accomplished by one alone. Nor is it only the feet and shins, but also the legs and knee-pans, and hips, and the breasts, and in fact every part on the right or left of the body, being divided in a similar manner, indicate one general harmony and correspondence and union as it were of connatural parts; that is to say, of all of those different members enumerated according to their separate species.
And generally, whoever considers together and in an equal manner all the above mentioned parts thus subdivided, in reference to their joint operation, will find one nature combined of the two parts. As the hands, united and connected together with the fingers, are seen when in union with them to exhibit a harmony; and the feet, when re-united in operation, are seen to tend to union; and the ears, when similarly combined in the figure of an amphitheatre, are seen to unite themselves, in effect extending across the space which separates them.
Therefore our nature, continually making in this manner a division of those parts which exist in us according to each separate species, has first of all separated and arranged the different sections, placing them as it were opposite to one another in the same way in which it has arranged the world; and it has also arranged them with reference to the easy discharge of their several duties. And again it has combined each of these members according to each species into one action, and into the same operation, collecting together all of them when considered generally.
Nor is it only the parts of the body which any one may see thus united and in pairs, separated in their union, and again united in their division, but the parts of the soul are so too. But since the two superior sections of this are so many separate classes, namely the rational and the irrational, so also the separate parts of each section have their own appropriate division; as for instance, the rational part is divided into the intention and into the uttered word; and that part which exists in accordance with the outward senses is divided into the four senses; for the fifth sense, touch, is common to the other four, two of which, those with which we see and hear, are philosophical senses, so that it is by means of them that the power of living well is acquired for us; the others are non-philosophical, namely smell and taste, but are servile, being created only for living; for the sense of smell, by means of its exercise, contains many things which awaken it, and receives a continual breathing which is as it were the continual food of living creatures; therefore smell and taste support this mortal body, but sight and hearing afford service to the immortal soul.
Therefore these divisions of our members, according to our body and soul, were made and separated by the Creator; however, we must know that the parts of the world also are arranged in two divisions and are placed opposite to one another; the earth being divided into mountainous and champaign districts; the water into sweet and salt, sweet being that which is supplied by springs and rivers, and salt being that which comes from the sea; as also the atmosphere is divided into summer and winter, and also into spring and autumn.
And it is on this account that Heraclitus wrote his books about nature, having borrowed his theory of contraries from our sacred historian, with the addition of an infinite number of laborious arguments.
Why is it said, "But he did not divide the birds?" [Genesis 15:10].
6. He is shadowing forth a fifth and periodical nature, from which the ancients say that the heaven was made; for the four elements are mixtures rather than elements: by which he subdivides those things which are already divided into those materials of which they were originally composed, as the earth includes within itself a portion of the elements of water, and also of air, and also of fire, which however obtains the appellation not so much in accordance with our apprehension of it, as with our sight; and again the water is not so clear or pure, as not to have some participation in wind and earth; and so also in each of the other elements there is a certain tempering and combination; but the fifth substance is the only one which has been made unmixed and pure, on which account it was not accustomed to be mentioned at all.
Therefore it is well said, he did not divide the birds; since the heavenly nature, both of the planets and also of the fixed stars, is raised on high like that of birds, in the similitude of both kinds, that is to say, of clean birds, the turtle dove and the pigeon, which scarcely admit of being divided or cut up; for the indivisible nature is of a fifth essence, more unmixed and pure than the others, and therefore it more closely resembles unity.
What is the meaning of, "And the birds descended on the bodies which were divided?" [Genesis 15:11].
7. Since the three animals, the heifer, and the she-goat, and the ram, were divided in a symbolical manner, they are signs, as we have already said, of the earth, and water, and air; still it is necessary to give now a reason for this, examining the truth carefully under the mystery of a similitude.
Perhaps therefore he designs and intimates by the descent of the birds on the cut pieces an invasion of enemies; for all the nature of the world beneath the moon is full of battles and ill will, both domestic and external; and the birds in truth appear to fly down on the divided bodies for the sake of meat and drink; naturally indeed it is the stronger which descend upon the weaker animals, as upon dead bodies, attacking them in general unexpectedly, but they do not fly down on the turtle dove and pigeon, since the heavenly bodies are free from desires and unconscious of suffering wrong.
Why is it that he says, "Abraham passed over and sat upon them?" [Genesis 15:11].
8. Those who think that sacrifice is indicated by the matters about which we are at present speaking will say that the virtuous man, sitting as it were in a synagogue, has examined into the entrails of the divided animals, as if that were looked upon as an unerring symbol for the declaration of the truth; but we, who adhere to Moses and who are thoroughly acquainted with the views of that teacher, one who, turning away his face from every sophistical appearance and prognostic, trusted in God alone, will rather say, that he has here introduced the just man who is endued with virtue with the birds themselves, who were congregated together and flying about over him, intending to denote nothing else by this parabolical presentation, but that he is desirous of hindering injustice and covetousness, and is most hostile to quarrels and wars, and a lover of consistency and peace; for he himself is truly a guardian of peace.
Since no one state has ever rested in tranquillity owing to the conduct of the wicked, but kingdoms have become fixed steadily when one or two men endued with virtue have arisen, whose virtue has put an end to civil disturbances, God granting to those who are earnest in the pursuit of virtue good habits calculated to procure them honor; and not to them only, but to those also who approach near to the production of general advantage.
What is the meaning of the words, "About the time of the setting of the sun a trance fell upon Abraham; and lo, a great horror of darkness came over him?" [Genesis 15:12].
9. A certain divine excess was suddenly rendered calm to the man endued with virtue; for the trance, or ecstasy as the word itself evidently points out, is nothing else than a departure of the mind wandering beyond itself. [ekstasis, derived from existamai, in 2nd aor. act. exesten, "I was beside myself."]
But the class of prophets loves to be subject to such influences; for when it is divining, and when the intellect is inspired with divine things, it no longer exists in itself, since it receives the divine spirit within and permits it to dwell with itself; or rather, as he himself has expressed it, a spirit falls upon him; since it does not come slowly over him, but rushes down upon him suddenly.
Moreover, that which he has added afterwards applies admirably, that a great horror of darkness fell upon him. For all these things are ecstasies of the mind; for he also who is in a state of alarm is not in himself; but darkness is a hindrance to his sight; and in proportion as the horror is greater, so also do his powers of seeing and understanding become more obscured.
And this is not said without reason: but as an indication of the evident knowledge of prophecy by which oracles and laws are given from God.
Why was it said to him, "Thou shalt know to a certainty that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall be reduced to slavery, and shall be grievously afflicted for forty years?" [Genesis 15:13].
10. That expression is admirably used, "It was said to him," since a prophet is supposed to utter something, but yet he is not pronouncing any command of his own, but is only the interpreter of another who sends something into his mind; and moreover whatever he does utter and deliver in words is all true and divine. And in the first place, he declares that a family of the human race is to dwell in a land belonging to another; for all things which are beneath the heaven are the possession of God, and those living creatures which exist on the earth may more properly and truly be said to be sojourners in a foreign land than to be dwelling in a country of their own which by nature they have not got.
In the second place, he thus declares to us that every mortal is a slave after his kind. But no man is found to be free, but every one has many masters who vex and afflict him both within and without; for instance, without there are the winter which affects him with the cold, the summer which scorches him with heat, and hunger, and thirst, and many other calamities; and within there are pleasures and concupiscences, and sorrows, and fears. But his servitude is limited to a period of four hundred years, during which the aforesaid pleasures shall rise up against him. On which account it has been said above, that Abraham passed over and sat upon them, hindering and repelling them; as far as the literal words go, repelling those carnivorous birds which were hovering over the divided animals, but in fact repelling the afflictions which come upon men. Since a man who is in his own proper nature a lover of, and also by diligent practice a studier of virtue, is a most humane physician of our race, and a true protector of it, and guardian of it from evil. For all these things have an allegorical reference to the soul.
For while the soul of the wise man, descending from above from the sky, comes down upon and enters a mortal and is sown in the field of the body, it is truly sojourning in a land which is not his own. Since the earthly nature of the body is wholly alien from pure intellect, and tends to subdue it and to drag it downwards into slavery, bringing every kind of affliction upon it, until the sorrow, bringing the attractive multitude of vices to judgment, condemns them; and thus at last the soul is restored to freedom. And it is on this account that he subsequently adds the sentence, "Nevertheless the nation which they shall send I will judge: and afterwards they shall go forth with great substance;" namely, with the same measure, and still better. Because then the mind is released from its mischievous colleague, departing out of the body and being transferred not only with freedom but also with much substance; so as to leave nothing good or useful behind to its enemies.
Since every rational soul is productive, but he who thinks himself loaded and endued with virtue in his own counsel, is unable to preserve his fruit unto the end. For it becomes a virtuous man to attain to the objects which he has intended of his own accord, as also the counsels of wisdom correspond to those objects. Since, as some trees, although they appear productive at the first season of the budding of their fruits, are yet unable to bring them to maturity, so that the whole fruit before it becomes ripe is shaken off by every trifling cause; in the same manner the souls of inconstant men feel many influences which contribute to their productiveness, but nevertheless are unable to keep them sound till they arrive at perfection, as a man studious of virtue ought to do in order eventually to gather them as his own possessions.
What is the meaning of, "But thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace, being nourished in a fair old age?" [Genesis 15:15].
11. He here clearly indicates the incorruptibility of the soul: when it transfers itself out of the abode of the mortal body and returns as it were to the metropolis of its native country, from which it originally emigrated into the body. Since to say to a dead man, "Thou shalt go to thy fathers," what else is this but to propose to him and set before him a second existence apart from the body as far as it is proper for the soul of the wise man to dwell by itself?
But when he says this he does not mean by the fathers of Abraham his father, and his grandfather, and his great-grandfathers after the flesh, for they were not all deserving of praise so as to be by any possibility any honor to him who arrived at the succession of the same order, but he appears by this expression to be assigning to him for his fathers, according to the opinion of many commentators, all the elements into which the mortal man when deceased is resolved.
But to me he appears to intend to indicate the incorporeal substances and inhabiters of the divine world, whom in other passages he is accustomed to call angels. Moreover the words which follow are not by any means without an object, that he is nourished in peace and in a fair old age. For the wicked and depraved man is nourished in battle, and lives and departs in a very bad old age. But the good man, in both phases of existence, both in that which is in connection with the body and in that which is apart from the body, cultivates peace, and is alone completely virtuous, such as no foolish person is found to be, even though he should live longer than an elephant; on which account he here carefully said, "Thou shalt go to thy fathers, being nourished -- not in an advanced old age, but -- in a fair old age." For many foolish persons also have their lives extended to a greatly lengthened period, but it is only the man who is desirous of virtue who enjoys a good old age and one endued with virtue.
Why is it that he says, "And in the fourth generation they shall return again hither?" [Genesis 15:16].
12. The number four is more fit than any other number, for this reason, that as it is more perfect, and is the root and foundation of the perfect number ten; and it is according to the principle of the number four that all collected are to return hither, as he himself has said. But as he by himself is perfect, so also those of whom he is the father are evidently perfect.
But what is it that I am saying? In the generation of animals the sowing of the seed has the first place; in the second place, comes the fact of each instrument being, in some manner, impressed by something akin to nature; thirdly, there is the growth after the first formation of the creature; fourthly, after everything else comes the perfection, that is to say, the birth. And the same principle and order prevail in plants; the seed is cast into the earth, then it pushes its way both upwards and downwards, partly in roots and partly in branches; after that it increases; and fourthly, it produces fruit; and in the same manner again the trees, when made, first of all produce fruit, which subsequently grows; then, as it becomes ripe, it changes color; and, fourthly, and this is the last operation, it completes and perfects its work, the consequence of which is the use and enjoyment of it by men.
What is the meaning of, "For the sins of the Amorites were not as yet completed?" [Genesis 15:16].
13. Some persons have said, that by this expression of the principle of Moses fate is expressly introduced, as if, in truth, everything was to be accomplished according to some particular hour and appointed period of time.
What is the meaning of, "And when the sun was in the west a flame arose?" [Genesis 15:17].
14. It means either that the sun himself appeared in the west in the similitude of a flame, or that some other flame appeared at eventide, not lightning, but some fire like it, which descended from above. The manifest interpretation of the oracle is this; but we must now discuss that which regards the inner sense.
What is the meaning of the expression, "Behold there was a smoking furnace and torches of fires, which passed through the middle of those divisions?" [Genesis 15:18].
15. The literal meaning of the statement is plain, for the fountain or root of the divine word will have the victims consumed, not by that fire which is given for our use, but by that which descends from above, out of heaven, in order that the purity of the essence of heaven may bear witness to the sanctity of the victims.
But if we regard the inward meaning of the words, all things which are done beneath the moon are here compared to a smoking furnace, on account of the vapor which rises up out of the earth and water. As also the divisions of nature are, as has been already shown, every portion of the world being divided into two parts; and by these there are kindled, as it were, torches of fire, being powers which are more rapid in motion and more efficacious, being burning, in truth, like divine fiery discourses, at one time keeping the whole universe in a state of integrity reciprocally with themselves, and at another cleansing away the superfluous darkness.
But the following interpretation may also be given with propriety in a more familiar manner. Human life is like unto a smoking furnace, because it has not a pure fire and an unalloyed brilliancy, but a great deal of smoke, smoking darkly through the flame, which causes mist and darkness, and an obscuration, not of the body but of the soul, so that this last cannot discern things clearly, until God the redeemer commands the heavenly lamps to arise, I mean those more pure and more holy radiations which unite those parts previously divided in two, on the right hand and on the left, and, at the same time, illuminate them, being the causes of harmony and of lucid clearness.
Why did he say, "On that day, God made a covenant with Abraham, saying, To thy seed will I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river Euphrates?" [Genesis 15:19].
16. The literal expression describes the boundaries of the space which lies in the middle, between the two rivers Egyptus and Euphrates, for anciently the river was also called by the same name as the district, Egypt, as the poet also testifies when he says--
"And in the river Egypt did I fix
My double-oared ships." [Odyssey xiv. 258.]
But if we look to the inner meaning of the expression, it intimates happiness, which is the perfect fullness of three good things, namely, of spiritual, and corporeal, and external blessings, as some of those men describe it in their panegyrics, who were afterwards called philosophers, such as Aristotle and the Peripatetics; nevertheless, such a giving of the law as this is called Pythagorean.
Therefore the Egypt is a symbol of corporeal and external blessings, and the Euphrates of spiritual advantages, in which alone, it is plain, their real joy consists, which has wisdom and all the other virtues for its foundation; and the boundaries of this happiness are very rightly described as beginning with the Egyptus and ending with the Euphrates; for the things affecting the soul come at the end, which we usually approach with difficulty after we have passed through corporeal and external things, in such a manner that, by this progress, we have felt our unity, the integrity of our outward senses, and the beauty and strength which existed in our youth, advance, increase, and come to maturity. And in a similar manner, those things which relate to acquiring gain and to trafficking, as the management of ships, and agriculture, and commerce; for it is well said, that all things, especially those above-mentioned, become a young man.
Who are the Kenites, the Kenezites, and the Kadmonites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites? [Genesis 15:20].
17. Ten nations of wickedness are here enumerated, which he here destroys because of their neighborhood, since the number ten, when false and improperly stamped, is very near to that which is good and an object of affection; but the complete perfection of the number ten is exceedingly fit, as being the measure of infinite numbers, since the world is arranged in accordance with it, and so likewise is the mind of the wise man, the substance of which, nevertheless, wickedness perverts and overthrows, despising all very necessary powers, so that that alone remains which the sacred writer has said, namely, that the pursuit of virtue is a blessing, for the wicked man is such that he embraces vague opinions rather than truth, and of such is Ishmael, though the seed of the prophets.
Why it was that Sarah, the wife of Abraham, bore him no children? [Genesis 16:1].
18. The mother of opinion is here spoken of as barren. In the first place in order that the son of generation might appear more wonderful, as being born by a miracle. In the second place in order that his conception and nativity might appear to be owing not more to the marriage of the man than to divine providence. For it is not owing to the faculty of conception that a barren woman should bear a son, but rather to the operation of divine power. This is the literal meaning of the statement.
But if we look to its inward sense, then we shall say, in the first place, that to bring forth is peculiar to the female sex, as to beget is the office of the male: therefore God wills in the first place to render the mind, which is filled with virtue, like to the male sex rather than to the female, thinking it suited to its character to be active, not passive. In the second place both do generate, both the virtuous mind and the wicked one: but they generate in a different manner, and they produce contrary offspring, the virtuous mind producing good and useful things, but the depraved or wicked mind producing base and useless things.
In the third place he who is still advancing and making progress is to be incited to the summit itself, and is near to the light which by some persons is said to be delivered to oblivion, and to be made unknown. He therefore, as he is making progress, does not generate bad things, nor yet good things, because he is not yet perfect; but he resembles that man who is neither sick nor yet thoroughly well, but who, after a long sickness, is at last proceeding to convalescence.
What is the meaning of the statement, she had an Egyptian handmaid whose name was Hagar? [Genesis 16:1].
19. Hagar is interpreted travelling, and she is the servant of a more perfect nature, being by nature an Egyptian less naturally; for the study of encyclical learning loves an abundance of knowledge, and abundant knowledge is, as it were, the handmaid of virtue, since the whole course and connection of sciences and arts is subservient to his use who is able to profit by their acquisition so as to attain to virtue, for virtue has the soul for its abode; but the course of arts and sciences stands in need of bodily instruments.
But the body is symbolically Egypt; therefore the sacred writer here properly asserts the likeness of encyclical knowledge to Egypt. Nevertheless he has also given it a name by reason of its travelling abroad, since sophistry is a foreign thing, unconnected with the acquisition of that wisdom which alone is native, and which alone is necessary, which is the mistress of intermediate wisdom, and which conducts itself in a beautiful course through the guidance of encyclical studies.
Why did Sarah say to Abraham, Behold the Lord has shut me up so that I shall not bring forth: go in now unto my handmaid so as to beget a son by her? [Genesis 16:2].
20. In the actual letter of this statement it is the same thing to feel no envy, and also to provide for the welfare of the wise man who is her husband and her genuine brother; so that she, wishing to find a remedy for her own barrenness by means of her handmaid of whom she was mistress, gives her as a concubine to her husband. But there is a still greater abundance of her affection towards her husband indicated by this; for as she herself was accounted barren, she did not think it reasonable that the family of her husband should be left entirely without offspring, but preferred his advantage to her own dignity. This is what is indicated by this statement taken literally.
But if we look to the inner sense of the passage it bears such an interpretation as this: it becomes those persons who are unable in respect of their virtue to bring forth beautiful works deserving of praise, to apply themselves to the intermediate kind of study, and, if I may so express myself, to procure themselves children from the encyclical branches of knowledge; for an abundance of knowledge is as it were the whetstone of the mind and of the intellect.
And it is with great propriety that she says, The Lord has shut me up; for that which is shut up is generally opened again at a seasonable time. Therefore she was not destitute of hope, nor was her wisdom fixed in the belief that she should be for ever without offspring, but she knew that some day or other she should bring forth. Nevertheless she will not bring forth at present, but when the soul displays the purity of its perfection. But inasmuch as it is at present imperfect it is satisfied with using a milder kind of learning, such as is attainable by encyclical studies. On which account it is not without a purpose that in the sacred contests at Olympia also, those who are unable to attain to the first prize of victory are contented to be thought worthy of the second; for there is offered to the competitors a first, and a second, and a third prize by the presidents of the games, who are representatives of nature. So now to her the sacred writer attributes the first prize of virtues, and the second prize of encyclical study.
Why has he called Abraham's wife Sarah, for he says, Sarah the wife of Abraham, taking her handmaid Hagar the Egyptian, gave her into his hand? [Genesis 16:2].
21. The sacred writer here sums up with his approbation the marriage of the good on account of those who are incontinent and lascivious; for those persons despise their wise wives for the sake of concubines, whom they love with a frantic passion: on which account he here introduces the man endued with virtue, the constant husband of one wife, at that time in which it was lawful for him to make use of her handmaid; and his wife in fact indicates that he is wise, that is to say temperate, when he enters into the bed of another woman, since his connection with his concubine was only a connection of the body for the sake of propagating children; but his union with his wife was that of two souls joined together in harmony by heavenly affection. This is the literal effect of the statement.
But if we look to the inner meaning of it, then he who has truly entrusted all his secret wishes to wisdom, and justice, and the other virtues, when once he has received the counsel of wisdom, and has tasted the joys of a matrimonial connection with it, remains constant to it as the partner and companion of his life; although encyclical education would lead him in a beautiful course, since when the man eminent in virtue has become master of the sciences of geometry, and arithmetic, and grammar, and rhetoric, and the other exercises of the mind, he is not the less on that account mindful of the pursuit of honesty, but is borne on towards the one as to a necessary aim, to the other as an accessory.
But it is altogether fair that that fact also should meet with our approbation, -- the fact I mean of his calling his handmaid also by the name of wife, because he went up to her bed out of complacency to and at the exhortation of his real wife, and not of his own genuine inclination; on which account he no longer calls her his handmaid, that even if it were not wholly deserved still his handmaid having been given to him to wife might at least obtain the same title.
But those who study allegory may be allowed to say that the exercise of the middle disciplines also stands in the place of a concubine, having nevertheless the shape and ornaments of a wife, for all encyclical learning re-produces in itself and imitates genuine virtue.
What is the meaning of, "When she saw that she had conceived her mistress was despised before her?" [Genesis 16:4].
22. The sacred writer now carefully calls Sarah the mistress when it might else have been thought that her dignity was diminished, and that she was surpassed by her handmaid, that she, that is, who had no children, was surpassed by her who was gifted with offspring.
But this kind of language is extended to nearly all the necessary affairs of human life: for a poor man who is wise is more approved of and is superior in authority to a rich man who is destitute of wisdom and reputation, or than a boasting man; and even a sick man who is wise is better than a foolish man who is well; for whatever is united with wisdom is genuine, and is endued with an authority of its own, but whatever is combined with folly is found to be slavish and inconstant.
But it has been excellently said not that she despised her mistress, but that her mistress was despised; for the one statement would imply an accusation of the person, but the other contains only a declaration of an event. The scripture forsooth does not intend here to impute blame to any one while praising another, but only to hand down in an intelligible manner the pure truth of the facts.
This is what is indicated by the literal statement. But if we seek the inner meaning of the words, whoever honors and embraces rank before genius and wisdom, and whoever esteems and considers the external senses of more importance than prudence and counsel, is departing from the real character of things, thinking that they have brought forth much offspring, and that having produced a great generation of visible things they are great and perfect goods, and in a singular degree noble, but that barrenness in this respect is evil, and deserving of disapprobation, because they do not see that invisible seed and that offspring which is appreciable only by the intellect, which the mind is accustomed to generate in itself and by itself.
Why does Sarah as it were repent of what she has done, saying to Abraham, I am receiving injury from you: I gave my handmaid into your bosom, and now, because she sees that she has conceived, I am despised before her? [Genesis 16:5].
23. This language indicates her anxiety and hesitation; displaying them first in the expression, "since," that is to say from the time that I gave my handmaiden, and in the second place it betokens a regard to the person of whom complaint is made, for she says, "I am receiving injury from you," a statement which in fact is a reproof, since she thinks that her husband ought always to be preserved without any stain, or any liability to blame, always virtuous and true, and in no respect forgetful of her, for she always introduces him, honoring him with all possible veneration, and calling him lord.
Nevertheless, the first fact stated by her is true; for from the time that she gave her handmaiden to him to be his concubine, she herself was looked upon as despised. This is the literal meaning of her words.
But if we look to their inner sense, when any one bestows on another the handmaid of wisdom, she being influenced by the counsels of sophistry, will, because she is ignorant of propriety, despise her mistress; for as she herself possesses encyclical knowledge, and is delighted with its brilliancy, where every one of the separate branches of education is by itself very attractive to the soul, as if it possesses the power of drawing it by force to itself, then she, the handmaiden, can no longer agree with her mistress, that is to say, with the image of wisdom and its glorious and admirable beauty, until that acute judge of all things, the word of God, coming in, separates and distinguishes what is probable from what is true, and the middle from the extremities, and what is second from what is placed in the first rank. On which account Sarah says, at the end of her remonstrance, "Let God judge between me and thee."
Why does Abraham say, "Behold thy handmaid is in thy hand, do unto her what seems good to thee?" [Genesis 16:6].
24. The literal expression used by the wise man contains a panegyric; for he does not call the woman who had conceived by himself, his wife, or his concubine, but the handmaiden of his wife. But since he saw that she also was a mother, he did not indulge in anger and embitter the feelings of her mind, but rather tranquillized her, and made her prudent.
But the passage contains an allegory in the expression, "In thy hand:" as if, if I may so say, sophistry lives under the dominion of wisdom, which indeed does spring forth from the same fountain, but only in one part, and not directly; nor does it preserve the whole of its emanations pure, but draws up with its waters many fetid things, and many others of a similar character. Since, therefore, it is in thy hand and in thy power (for to whomsoever wisdom belongs, he is possessed also of all the branches of encyclical learning), do with it whatsoever pleases thee, for I am quite persuaded that you will judge with not more severity than justice; because that very thing is especially agreeable to you: I mean the distributing to every one according to his deserts, and giving to no one more than is just, either in the way of honoring or despising him.
Why does he say, Sarah afflicted her? [Genesis 16:6].
25. The literal meaning of the words is plain: but if we look to the inner sense of them, they contain a principle of this kind. It is not every affliction that is injurious, but there are even some occasions when they are salutary; and this is experienced by sick men at the hands of physicians, and by boys under their tutors, and by foolish people from those who correct them so as to bring them to wisdom. And this I can by no means consent to call affliction, but rather the salvation and benefit of both soul and body.
Now a part of such benefit wisdom affords to the circle of encyclical knowledge; rightly admonishing the soul which is devoted to an abundance of discipline, and which is pregnant with sophism, not to rebel as if it had acquired some great and excellent good, but to acquiesce and venerate that superior and more excellent nature as its genuine mistress, in whose power is constancy itself, and authority over all things.
Why did Hagar flee from her face? [Genesis 16:6].
26. It is not every soul which is capable of proper respect and of submitting to salutary discipline, but the mind which is gentle, and good-tempered, and consistent loves reproof, and becomes more and more attached to those who correct it. But the stubborn soul becomes malignant and hates them, and turns from them, and flees away from them, preferring those discourses which are agreeable rather than those which tend to his advantage, and looking upon them as more excellent.
What is the meaning of the statement, "The angel of the Lord found her sitting by a fountain of water in the desert in the way to Sur?" [Genesis 16:7].
27. All these statements are as it were symbols by which the sacred writer indicates that the well-instructed soul, which is the possession of virtue, is nevertheless not yet able to discern the beauty of her mistress. They are, I say, symbols; I mean the statements that she was found, and that she was found by an angel in the desert, and in no other way than that leading to Sur. However we must begin with what is plain.
Now the too subtle sophist and the real lover of disputations is commonly unable to be detected by reason of his artifices and sophistical persuasions, with which he is accustomed to deceive and perplex men. But he who, being free from bad habits, has only an eager desire for obtaining instruction by the course of encyclical training, although he is difficult to be detected, is yet not altogether incapable of being so; for perdition is near at hand to him who cannot be detected, but safety to him who can be discovered, especially when he is sought for and found by a more holy and more excellent spirit. And who is more holy and more excellent than the angel of the Lord? For it is to him that it has been entrusted to seek out the erring soul, the soul which, on account of its presumed erudition, is continually ignorant of her whom it ought to respect, but still she could be susceptible of correction and amendment; for which object she was sought out. Nor was she found imperfect, but ready to the hand, since the soul was found which had fled from perfect virtue, not being able to submit to discipline.
But the third symbol takes place after she is found and after the discovery has been made by an angel, namely, in the fact of her being found by a fountain, that is to say, by nature; for it is nature which bestows on clever people abilities in proportion to the industry of each individual, effacing unseasonable learning, which is no learning at all: and praise is implied in the very place in which the soul is found, which is thirsting after genius and after its placid law, wishing to draw water while in the society of those who drink wine; for thus it associates with those who feed upon and are delighted with the exercise of proper training, where nature itself affords sufficient nourishment, namely, education and instruction as if from a fountain.
The fourth symbol is contained in the fact that the discovery took place in the desert; since difficulty coming over each of the outward senses, together with an influx of each separate desire, represses the mind, and does not permit it to drink pure water: but when it cannot avoid these things as in the desert, it acquiesces, and, abandoning the thoughts which agitated and perplexed it, it becomes convalescent, so as to receive a hope not only of life, but even of eternal life.
The fifth symbol is contained in the fact that she was found in the way; for dispositions which are incorrigible are led by devious paths; but that one which can be changed for the better, lo! it proceeds along the road which leads to virtue, and that road is like a fortified wall and guardian to the souls which are capable of being saved, for Sur means a fortified wall.
Do you not see, then, that the whole is a symbolical, or indeed a legitimate, figure of an improving soul? And, in fact, the soul which is improving does not perish as one which is wholly foolish does; for if the divine word be found by it, then again it seeks it; and he who is not pure and clean in his habits and disposition, flees from the divine word; but yet he has a fountain of water in which he washes away his vices and wickednesses, drawing from thence the fertility of the law.
Besides this, it loves the desert, to which it has fled from its vices and wickednesses, and when it has once beheld the way of virtue it returns from the devious paths of wickedness. And all these things are fortified walls and bulwarks to it, so as to protect it from being ever injured by any words or circumstances which attack it, and from suffering any damage.
Why did the angel say to her, "Hagar, the handmaid of Sarah, whence comest thou, and whither goest thou?" [Genesis 16:8].
28. The plain letter of the question requires no explanation, for it is exceedingly clear; but with reference to the inner meaning contained in it, there is some asperity expressed; since the divine word is full of instruction, and is a physician of the infirmity of the soul. Therefore the angel says to her, "Whence comest thou?" knowest thou not what good thou has abandoned? Art thou not altogether lame and blind? For thou dost not see at all; and though endowed with the outward senses, dost not feel, and dost not appear to me to have any portion whatever of intellect, as if thou wert quite senseless.
But "whither goest thou?" From what excellence to what misery? Why have you so erred as to cast away the blessings which you had in your power, and to pursue good things which are more remote?
Do not, do not, I say, act thus; but, quitting your insane impetuosity, go back again, and return into the same way as before, looking upon wisdom as thy mistress, her whom you had before as your governess and directress in all the things which you did.
What is the meaning of the answer, "I am fleeing from the face of Sarah, my mistress?" [Genesis 16:8].
29. It is reasonable to praise a sincere disposition, and to think it friendly to truth. And moreover it is reasonable now to admit the veracity of a mind which confesses what it has suffered; for she says, "I am fleeing from the face," that is to say, I have recoiled at the outward appearance of wisdom and virtue; since, beholding its royal and imperial presence, she trembled, not being able to endure to look upon its majesty and sublimity, but rather thinking it an object of avoidance; for there are some people who do not turn from virtue from any hatred of it, but from a reverential modesty, looking upon themselves as unworthy to live with such a mistress.
Why did the angel say to her, "Return to thy mistress and be humbled beneath her hands?" [Genesis 16:8].
30. As the letter is plain, we must rather investigate its inner meaning. The word of God corrects that soul which is able to be lured, and instructs it, and converts it, leading it to wisdom as its mistress, that it may not, through being abandoned by its mistress, rush at once into absurd folly. But it warns it, not only to return to virtue, but also to be humbled beneath its hands, that is to say, beneath its several excellencies.
But there are two kinds of humiliation; one, in accordance with defect, which arises from spiritual infirmity, which it is easy to overcome, seize upon, and reprove. But there is another kind which the word of the Lord enjoins, proceeding from reverence and modesty; such as that humility which children exhibit to their fathers, pupils to their masters, and young men to the aged; since it is very advantageous to be obedient, and to be subject to those who are better than one's self; for he who has learnt to be under authority is in a moment imbued with a power which he alone may exercise; for, although any one were to be clothed with the authority of all the earth and sea, yet he would not be able to possess the royal supremacy of virtue, unless he had first been instructed and taught to obey.
Why did the angel say to her, "I will multiply thy seed, and it shall not be numbered for multitude?" [Genesis 16:9].
31. It is the honor of the docile mind not to be presumptuous or rebellious on account of its progress in knowledge, or because of the very useful seed which it has received from various kinds of erudition; for it does not any more, as word-catchers and cavillers do, employ all the arguments of encyclical learning to establish any whimsical object, but to prove the truth which is contained in them. And when it has begun to prosecute that by diligent investigation, it is then rendered worthy to behold the sight of its mistress, free from all acceptance of persons, and from all reproof.
What is the meaning of the statement, "The angel said to her, Behold, thou hast conceived, and thou shalt bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has heard the voice of thy affliction?" [Genesis 16:11].
32. The literal sense of the words admits of no question except this allegorical explanation. Erudition, which is acquired and trained by the dispensation of virtue as a mistress, is found not to be barren, but it has conceived the seed of wisdom; and when it has conceived it brings forth; but it brings forth a work which is not perfect but imperfect, like an infant which has need of care, and aliment, and nourishment; for in truth, it is quite plain that the offspring of a perfect soul is perfect, that is to say, its words and works; but that of the soul of the second class, which is still lying in servitude and subordination, is more imperfect. On which account it had a certain name given to it, Ishmael, which is interpreted "the hearing of God." But hearing is honored with the second dignity among the outward senses, being next to sight; for nature has arranged a succession of ranks in the contests of the senses, giving the first place to the eyes, the second to the ears, the third to the nostrils, and the fourth to that sense by which we taste.
What is the meaning of the statement, "He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be upon every one, and every one's hand shall be upon him, and he shall dwell over against all his brethren?" [Genesis 16:12].
33. If we look to the letter of the statement, up to this time Ishmael has not any brothers, for he was the first child of his parents. But the sacred writer is here figuring a certain nature, too secret to be thoroughly investigated; for he has set forth the figure of his future character. And such a figure evidently represents the sophist whose mother is erudition or wisdom. But the sophist himself is a man of wild opinions; since the wise man as being civilized is fitted for living in cities, and for urbanity, or for statesmanlike and political companionship; but he who is wild and a man of wild opinions is immediately also quarrelsome.
And it is on this account that the sacred writer makes an addition, saying, "His hand shall be upon every one, and every one's hand shall be upon him;" for the abundance of science and the use of erudition is able to contradict all men. As those men of the present day who are called academicians and inquirers, consistently setting no bounds to the determinations of their will and resolution, and among the different opinions which they investigate preferring neither this nor that one, admit those men to be philosophers who attack the opinions of every sect; and those whom it has been usual to call opposers of will, as if they called them thelemachoi or thelemamachoi, because they in the first place raise contentions and declare themselves the champions of their national sect, not to be convinced or put down by those who oppose them. But they are all kinsmen, and as it were brothers of the same womb, being the offspring of one mother, namely, of philosophy.
And it is on this account that he says, "And he shall dwell over against all his brethren;" for in good truth the academician and the inquirer are diametrically opposed to sects, finding fault in each of them with their certain limitation of the resolution.
Why does he say, "But Hagar called on the name of the Lord, who spoke to her, saying, 'Thou God who hast had regard unto me.' Because he said, 'In truth I have beheld thee appearing before me.'" [Genesis 16:13].
34. In the first place, take notice carefully that the angel, after the manner of the handmaiden of wisdom, was a minister to her on the part of God. But still why is he here called Lord or God who ought only to have been styled his angel? It was in order to adapt the fact to the proper person; for it was right that the Lord and chief of all the universe should appear to wisdom as God, and that his word should appear as a minister to the handmaid and servant of wisdom.
But we may not suppose that she mistakenly looked upon the angel as God; for those who are unable to behold the first cause may easily be deceived and look upon the second as the first; in the same manner as he who has but weak sight, not being able to behold the sun which is in heaven in its real appearance, thinks that the ray which falls upon the earth is the sun itself; and those who have never seen the king attribute frequently the dignity of the supreme sovereign to his ministers.
And in truth mild and rustic men who never have beheld a city, not even from the summits of the hills where they live, think every country house or farm-yard a mighty city, and look upon the people who dwell there as citizens of a great city, out of ignorance of what a city really is.
What is the meaning of, "On this account she called that well the well of him whom I have seen face to face?" [Genesis 16:14].
35. The well has both a spring and depth. But the learning of the students of encyclical science is neither all on the surface, nor is it destitute of first principles; for it has for its source corrective discipline. Therefore it is with perfect correctness that she says that the angel appeared before the well as God; since the erudition of the encyclical training possessing the second rank is supposed to rejoice in the first authority, though it is in reality separated from that first wisdom which it is permitted to wise men to behold, but not to sophists.
Why is the well said to have been between Cadesh and Pharan? [Genesis 16:14].
36. Cadesh is interpreted holy, but Pharan is translated hail, or corn.
What is the meaning of the statement, "Hagar brought forth a son to Abraham?" [Genesis 16:15].
37. It is made in perfect accordance with nature; for no habit of possession brings forth for itself, but for him who possesses it; as grammar does for the grammarian, and music for the musician, and mathematical science for the mathematician; because it is a part of him, and stands in need of him. And the habit is not received as a thing in need of something, just as fire has no need of heat, for it is heat to itself; and it gives a portion of the participation in it to those who approach it.
Why is Abraham said to have been eighty and six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to him? [Genesis 16:16].
38. Because the number which follows eighty, that is to say six, is the first perfect number, being equal to its parts, and being the first number which is composed of the multiplication of an odd and an even number; receiving also something from its efficient cause according to the odd or redundant number, and from its material and effective cause according to the even number. On which account, among the most ancient of our ancestors, some persons have called it matrimony, and others harmony; and our sacred historian too has divided the creation of the world into six days.
But among numbers, eighty rejoices in perfect harmony, since it is composed of two generous diameters in a double and treble proportion, according to the figure of a square of four sides. And it contains within itself all the four inferences; the arithmetical, and the geometrical, and the harmonious one.
Being in the first place composed of double numbers, as of six, eight, nine, twelve, the union of which makes thirty-five; in the second place of triple number, six, nine, twelve, eighteen, the sum of which amounts to forty-five. And from these two numbers thirty-five and forty-five, the whole number eighty is completed.
Again, when the sacred historian Moses himself began by divine inspiration to utter the oracular precepts which he was commissioned to deliver, he was eighty years old. And the first man who existed of our nation according to the law of circumcision, being circumcised on the eighth day, being eminent for virtue, bears that name of joy, being called Isaac in the Chaldaic tongue, and Isaac means laughter; being naturally called so because nature rejoices or laughs at everything, being never vexed at any thing which is done in the world, but rather looking with complacency on every thing which occurs as being done well and profitably.
Why when he was ninety and nine years old does the sacred writer say, "The Lord God appeared to him and said, I am the Lord thy God?" [Genesis 17:1].
39. He here makes use of both the titles of each superior virtue, applying them in the case of his address to the wise man, because it was by them that all things were created, and by them that the world is regulated after it had been created. By one of them therefore the wise man, just in the same manner as the world itself, was fashioned and made according to the likeness of God; and God is the name of creative virtue; and by the other of them that he was made according to the Lord, as falling under his authority and supreme power.
Therefore he designs here to show that the man who is conspicuous in virtue is both a citizen of the world, and also equal in dignity to the whole world, declaring that both the virtues of the world, the divine and the royal attributes, are in a singular manner appointed to and set over him as protectors. And it was with great correctness and propriety that this appearance took place when he was about ninety and nine years old, because that number is very near the hundred. And the number a hundred is composed of the number ten multiplied by itself, which the sacred historian calls the holy of holies.
Since the first court, the first ten, is simply called holy, and that is permitted to be entered by the sweepers of the temple; but the ten of tens, which he again enjoins the sweepers of the temple to pay above all things to the existing high priest, is the number ten computed along with the number a hundred, for what else is the tenth of the tenths but the hundredth?
However the number ninety and nine has been set forth and adorned not only by its affinity to the number a hundred, but it has also received a particular participation in a wonderful nature, since it consists of the number fifty, and of seven times seven. For the fiftieth year, as the year of Pentecost or the Jubilee, is called remission in the giving forth of the law, as then all things are given their liberty, whether living or inanimate.
And the mystery of the seventh year is one of quiet and profound peace to both body and soul. For the seventh is the recollection of all the good things which come of their own accord without industry or labor, which at the first creation of the world nature produced of herself; but the number forty-nine, consisting as it does of seven times seven, indicates no trifling blessings, but rather those which have virtue and wisdom, in such a degree as to contribute to invincible and mighty constancy.
What is the meaning of, "Do thou please me, and keep thyself from stain, and I will make my treaty between me and thee, and I will multiply thee exceedingly?" [Genesis 17:1].
40. God here lays down a law for the human race in a somewhat familiar manner; for he who has no participation in wickedness and is free from evil, will be perfectly good, which is peculiar to incorporeal natures. But those who are in the body are called good in proportion to the measure in which wickedness and the practice of sin are removed from them. Therefore the life of those men has appeared honorable, not that of those who have been free from sickness from the beginning to the end, but that of those who from a state of infirmity have advanced to sanity; on which account he says directly and plainly, "Keep thyself free from stain," for it is sufficient to conduct a mortal nature to felicity not to be blamed, and neither to do nor say anything deserving of reproof; and such conduct is at once pleasing to the Father.
Therefore it is that he said, "Do thou please me, and keep thyself free from stain." Where the form of expression implies a mutual conversion; since the habits which please God do not deserve reproof, and he who keeps himself free from stain and avoids reproof in all things is altogether pleasing to God. Therefore he promises to bestow a double blessing on him who keeps himself free from all reproof; in the first place, to make him the guardian of the deposits of the divine covenant: and in the second place to cause him to increase to a multitude without any limit.
For that expression, "I will make my treaty, or covenant, between me and thee," shows the office of guardianship of the truth which is entrusted to an honest man; for the whole treaty of God is the incorporeal word; which is the form and measure of the universe according to which this world was made. And then repeating the expression, "I will multiply thee exceedingly," twice manifestly shows the immense numbers to which the multitude promised shall grow, I mean the increase which shall take place in the people, not in human virtue.
What is the meaning of, "Abraham fell on his face?" [Genesis 17:3].
41. The present expression is the interpretation of what has already been promised; for God had said, "Keep thyself free from stain," but there is not other cause of a man leading a life which is disapproved but the outward sense, because that is the origin and source of the passions; on which account he rightly and properly falls on his face, that is to say, the offenses caused by the outward senses fall to the bottom, showing that the man is now devoted to all good works.
This is enough to say in the first place. But in the second place we must say that he was so struck by the manifest appearance of the living God that he was scarcely able to behold him through fear, but fell to the ground and offered adoration, being overwhelmed with awe at the appearance which presented itself to him.
In the third place, he fell to the ground on account of the revelation thus made to him, at the form of his appearance by the living God who exists alone, whom he knew and regarded as truth opposed to created nature; since the one exists in unvarying constancy and the other vacillates and falls into its proper place, that is to say, to the earth.
What is the meaning of, "And God conversed with him, saying, And I, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be the father of a multitude of nations?" [Genesis 17:4].
42. Since he had previously used the expression, "treaty," he now proceeds to say, do not seek that treaty in letters, since I myself, in accordance with what has been said before, am myself the genuine and true covenant.
For after he has shown himself and said, "I," he makes an addition, saying, "Behold, my covenant," which is nothing but I myself; for I am myself my covenant, according to which my treaty and agreement are made and agreed to, and according to which again all things are properly distributed and arranged. Now the form of this prototypal treating is put together from the ideas and incorporeal measures and forms in accordance with which this world was made. Is it not therefore a climax to the benefits which the Father bestowed on the wise man, to raise him up and conduct him not only from earth to heaven, nor only from heaven to the incorporeal world appreciable only by the intellect, but also to draw him up from this world to himself, showing himself to him, not as he is in himself, for that is not possible but as far as the visual organs of the beholder who beholds virtue herself as appreciable by the intellect are able to attain to.
And it is on this account that he says, "Be no more a son but a father; and the father, not of one individual but of a multitude; and of a multitude, not according to a part, but of all nations;" therefore of the revealed promises two admit of a literal interpretation, but the third of one which is rather spiritual. One of those which admit of a literal interpretation is to be construed in this way: in truth thou shalt be the father of nations, and shalt beget nations, that is to say, each individual among thy sons shall be the founder of a nation.
But the second is of this kind; like a father you shall be clothed with power over, and authority to rule, many nations; for a lover of God is necessarily and at once also a lover of men; so that he will diligently devote his attention, not only to his relations but also to all mankind, and especially to those who are able to go through the discipline of strict attention, and who are of a disposition the reverse of anything cruel or hard, but of one which easily submits to virtue, and willingly gives obedience to right reason.
But the third we may explain under this allegory: the multitude of nations spoken of indicates as it were the multifarious inclination of the will in each of our minds, both those inclinations which it is accustomed to form with reference to itself, and also those others which it admits by the agency of the senses, as they enter clandestinely through the intervention of the imagination, and if the mind possesses the supreme authority over all these, it, like a common father, turns them to better objects, cherishing their infant opinions, as it were, with milk, exhorting those which are older and more mature, though still imperfect, to improvement, and honoring with commendation those which perform their duty aright; and again, putting a bridle, by means of discipline and reproof, on those which rebel and act rashly; since, wishing to imitate the Deity, it receives a twofold influx from the virtues of that same being, one from his beneficent attributes and another from his avenging might, as if from two sources; therefore the docile receive his kindness, and towards the rebellious he uses reproof; so that some are led to improvement by praise and others by chastisement: in truth, he who is eminent for virtue is able to be of great, and extensive, and just service to all, according to his power.
What is the meaning of, "Thy name shall not be called Abram, but Abraham shall thy name be?" [Genesis 17:5].
43. Some of those who are destitute of all knowledge of music and dancing, some indeed being wholly foolish and keeping aloof from the divine company, mock the one existing or only wise Being, immaculate by nature, saying, in a tone of vituperation, "Oh the great gift, the governor and Lord of the whole universe has given one letter, by which the name of the patriarch was to be increased and become of great importance, so as to be made a trisyllable instead of a dissyllable!" Oh the great misery, and wickedness, and impiety, of such men! If some persons dare, in any respect, to endeavor to detract from God, being deceived by the outward appearance of a name, when they ought rather to thrust their minds down into the depths, and inquire into the things themselves more closely, on account of the real magnitude and importance of the possession.
Besides this, why do ye not think the concession of one letter, although a small and easy gift, nevertheless an act of providence? and why do ye not weigh its value? since, above all things, the very first element of language, as expressed in letters, is A, both in order and in virtue. In the second place, it is also a vowel, and the very first of vowels, being placed above them as their head. In the third place, because it does not belong to long properties, nor to short properties, but it is of the number of those which comprise each characteristic, for it is extended into greater length, and then again it is recalled into shortness, by reason of its softness, resembling wax, and being figured into many shapes, and afterwards figuring words, according to infinite numbers; besides all this it is a cause, for it is the brother of unity, from which all things begin and in which all things terminate.
Therefore, when any one sees such great beauty, and a letter set forth with such great importance and necessity, how can he accuse it as if he had not seen this? for if he has seen it, he then shows himself to be a person of insulting disposition and a hater of what is good; and if he has not seen a fact, which is so easy to comprehend, how does he presume to ridicule and despise that which he does not understand as if he did understand it? But however these things may be said by the way, as I stated before. But we must now examine into its necessary and most important task.
The addition of the letter A, by one single element, changed and reformed the whole character of the mind, causing it, instead of the sublime knowledge and learning of sublime things, that is to say, instead of astronomy, to acquire a comprehension of wisdom, since it is by the knowledge of things above that the faculty is acquired of mounting up to one portion of the world, that is to say, to heaven, and to the periodical revolutions and motions of the stars; but wisdom has reference to the nature of all things, both such as are visible to the outward senses, and such as are appreciable only by the intellect, for the intellect is the wisdom which gives a knowledge of divine and human things and of their principles.
Therefore, in divine things there is something which is visible, and something else which is invisible, and a demonstrative idea. And in human affairs there are some things which are corporeal and some which are incorporeal; to attain to the right comprehension of which is a great task, and a real employment for the abilities and courage of man. But to be able, not only to behold the substances and natures of the universe, but also the principles which regulate each separate fact, indicates a virtue more perfect than that which is allotted to mankind; for it is necessary for the mind, which perceives so many and such great things, to be altogether and wholly eye, and to dispense with sleep, passing its whole existence in the world in a state of incessant wakefulness, and being surrounded by a light which knows no darkness, and which exhibits the appearance of light itself, as by an ever-flashing lightning, taking God for its leader and guide, to the comprehension of the knowledge of those things which are, and to the faculty of explaining their principles.
Therefore the dissyllabic name Abram is explained as meaning "excellent father," on account of his affinity to the knowledge of sublime wisdom, that is, astronomy and mathematics. But the trisyllabic name Abraham is interpreted "the father of elect sound," being the name of a really wise man; for what else is sound in us, except the utterance of a pronounced word? for which object we have an instrument constructed by nature, passing through the thick tube of the throat, and united with the mouth and tongue; and the father of such a sound is our intellect, and elect intellect is endued with virtue.
But if we are to keep to exact propriety, then it is plain that the mind is the familiar and natural father of the uttered word, because it is the especial property of the father to beget, and the word is born from the mind; and it will be a certain proof of this if we recollect that when it is set in motion by counsels it sounds, and when they are absent it ceases to sound: and the evidences of this are the rhetoricians and philosophers who demonstrate its habit by objects; for whenever the mind publishes abroad different heads of designs, and in the manner of a mother about to bring forth produces each individual means previously stored up in itself, then also the word, flowing forth like a fountain, is borne to the ears of the bystander as to its appropriate receptacles: but when those are wanting, then it also is unable to publish itself further, and rests, and the sound is inactive as being struck by no one.
Now therefore, O ye men, full and crammed with superfluous loquacity, ye men devoid of wisdom, does not the gift of one single element appear to you to have been such that by the intervention of a single letter the wise man is rendered worthy of the divine attribute of wisdom, than which there is nothing more excellent in our nature? because instead of the sublime erudition of astronomy he gave him intellect, that is to say, instead of a small part of wisdom, he gave him the whole and perfect blessing of entire wisdom, since a knowledge of things above is included and comprehended in wisdom, as a part is included in the whole; for mathematics are only a part.
But it becomes you, O men, to consider this point also, that the man who is well instructed and skillful in the investigation of the nature of things above may by possibility be a man of depraved and wicked habits; but the wise man is altogether approved as virtuous. Shall we then now any longer ridicule this gift, than which nothing more excellent can be found? For what is more shameful than wickedness or more excellent than virtue? Can anything be found here not good, and is it not wholly opposed to evil? Or can this gift be compared to riches, or honor, or liberty, or health, or to any other superfluous possession of any kind around or exterior to the body?
For the whole of philosophy is thus added to our life as a sort of college of medicine to the soul, in order from thence to dispense to it freedom from suffering and immunity from disease; but in truth it is noble to be a philosopher, and that wonderful knowledge is truly noble; and the end is even more admirable, on account of which the act is called into existence.
Here therefore is wisdom, and that the best kind of wisdom, which God called in the Chaldaic dialect Abraham, namely the father of elect sound, giving as it were a definition of a wise man; for as the definition of man is a mortal animal endowed with reason, so also the mysterious definition of a wise man is the father of elect sound.
What is the meaning of, "I will greatly increase thee, and set thee among the nations, and kings shall proceed from thee?" [Genesis 17:6].
44. That expression, "I will greatly increase thee," was used to the wise man with exceeding propriety; since every wicked or bad man does increase and advance, not to improvement but towards deficiency; as withering flowers advance not towards life but towards death; but the man whose life is extended long and is greatly increased is like a passing cloud, or like the continually flowing stream of a river, because as it increases it is extended more and more out of doors, as its wisdom also is divine.
And that expression, "I will set thee among the nations," was used in order that God might the more evidently demonstrate that he was making him worthy to be as a foundation and firm support to the nations through his wisdom, not only to his own nation, but also to all other peoples who in various manners are in want in respect of their minds, as has been said before; since the wise man is the redeemer of nations and intercessor for them before God, and since it is he who implores pardon for the sins of his relations.
Last of all, the promise, "Kings shall come forth from thee," is again used with especial propriety; for everything which relates to wisdom is a royal seed; the offspring of the chief and master according to nature: but the wise man has no seed or fruit of his own, but is fertile and abundant in the seed which proceeds from the great cause himself.
What is the meaning of, "I will give this land to thee and to thy seed after thee, in which thou hast sojourned, namely all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession?" [Genesis 17:8].
45. The letter of the promise is so clear that the language does not stand in need of any explanation whatever; but with respect to the inward meaning of it we must have recourse to an allegory of this kind.
The mind which is endowed with virtue is rather a sojourner in the corporeal space allotted to it, than a regular inhabitant of it; for its real country is the air and the heaven; and the earth, and the earthly body in which it is said to sojourn, is only a colony; therefore the Father, conferring a benefit upon it, gives to it the sovereign authority over all the things of the earth for ever and ever, as he says himself, for an everlasting possession; so that it for the future shall not be governed by the body, but shall always be its master and ruler, having the body for its servant and attendant.
What is the meaning of, "And every male of you shall be circumcised, and you shall circumcise, or you shall be circumcised, in, the flesh of your foreskin?" [Genesis 17:10].
46. I see here a twofold circumcision, one of the male creature, and the other of the flesh; that which is of the flesh takes place in the genitals, but that which is of the male creature takes place, as it seems to me, in respect of his thoughts.
Since that which is, properly speaking, masculine in us is the intellect, the superfluous shoots of which it is necessary to prune away and to cast off, so that it, becoming clean and pure from all wickedness and vile, may worship God as his priest.
This therefore is what is designated by the second circumcision, where God says by an express law, "Circumcise the hardness of your hearts," that is to say, your hard and rebellious thoughts and ambition, which when they are cut away and removed from you, your most important part will be rendered free.
Why orders he the males only to be circumcised? [Genesis 17:11].
47. For in the first place, the Egyptians, in accordance with the national customs of their country, in the fourteenth year of their age, when the male begins to have the power of propagating his species, and when the female arrives at the age of puberty, circumcise both bride and bridegroom.
But the divine legislator appoints circumcision to take place in the case of the male alone for many reasons: the first of which is, that the male creature feels venereal pleasures and desires matrimonial connections more than the female, on which account the female is properly omitted here, while he checks the superfluous impetuosity of the male by the sign of circumcision.
But the second reason is, that the material of the female is supplied to the son from what remains over of the eruption of blood, while the immediate maker and cause of the son is the male. Because therefore the male supplies the most indispensable part in the act of generation, God deservedly represses his pride by the figure of circumcision, but the material or feminine cause, as being inactive, does not display ambition in the same degree. And this is enough to say on this head.
But afterwards we must note this likewise, that the intellect in us is endued with the power of sight, therefore it is necessary to cut away its superfluous shoots. And these superfluous shoots are empty opinions, and all the actions which are done in accordance with them. So that the intellect after circumcision may only bear about with itself what is necessary and useful; and that whatever causes pride to increase may be cut away; with which also the eyes are circumcised as if they did not see.
Why did he say, "And let the child, every male child, be circumcised at eight days old?" [Genesis 17:12].
48. He orders the freeborn to be circumcised, which, in the first place, was permitted on account of diseases that might arise; for it is more difficult to heal a disease in the genitals, and it is commonly done by burning by fire those parts over which a membrane grows, but this rarely affects those who have been circumcised.
And in truth, if it were possible that other infirmities also could be avoided by amputating any member or any part of the body, so that though it was amputated still the operation of each necessary part would not be hindered, then without the knowledge of mortal man he would be transmitted into immortality.
But that here it was thought fit that man should be circumcised out of a provident care for his mind without any previous infirmity is plain, since not the Jews alone, but also the Egyptians, and Arabians, and Ethiopians, and nearly all the nations who live in the southern parts of the world, down to the torrid zone are circumcised.
What then is the chief reason of this fact? except that in those districts, and especially in the summer, when the genitals are protected with a skin, it burns and is injured by inflammation, but when that covering is laid bare by circumcision it is cooled, and the disease is repelled; and on this account the northern nations and others, to whom the cooler portion of the habitable earth has been allotted, are not circumcised, for not only is the solar heat moderate in those regions, but so is also all inflammatory disease which affects the membranes of the members. Let every one take a firm judgment, and from that time when the disease comes in more vigorously; for it never comes at all in the winter, but in the summer it shows itself and flourishes and ripens; for it loves, if I may so say, like fire to burn in those parts.
In the second place, it was not only from a regard to sound health that our ancestors diligently employed this method of cure, but also from a regard to the multiplication of the human race, seeing that nature was very vivacious and too eager to propagate the human species.
Therefore they knew, like wise men, how the seed when poured over the folds of the membrane is often accustomed to be wasted and so to become unfruitful; but if no impediment arises then it would easily be able to arrive at the situation suited to receive it. On which account also those nations which adopt the practice of circumcision have grown into an exceedingly numerous population: and our legislator, weighing the consequences also, commanded the circumcision of infants to be performed at an earlier age, keeping in view the same effect of circumcision with regard to the population.
Therefore it is in truth, as it seems to me, that the Egyptians also in the fourteenth year of their children's age, in which the desire to propagate the species usually begins, have said that it is suitable to circumcise them, with the view of increasing the population; but it was better and more carefully done in our nation, where the circumcision of infants was ordained, since perhaps the man when grown up would delay the operation out of fear, because he then has a will of his own.
In the third place, he says this with a view to cleanliness in the sacred oblations; for in truth those who enter into the courts of the temples are made clean by sprinkling and ablutions. Moreover the Egyptians scrape the whole body, removing all the hairs which cover and envelop the body, so as to appear white all over; but the circumcision of the skin is no small assistance towards cleanliness, otherwise everyone would abhor it when he beheld it as it is in itself.
In the fourth place, there are in us two generative principles, one in the soul and one in the body; the generative principle of the soul is the intellect, and that of the body is the corporeal organ; therefore the ancients chose to refer the generative principle of the body to an imitation of the intellect which is rather the generative principle of the heart. And in truth there is nothing to which it is found more like than the circumcision of the heart; these therefore are real facts like the celebrated reasons for things which have been investigated. But we must now speak of those which have greater symbols belonging to them and which exhibit a certain principle.
Therefore the circumcision of the skin is said to be a symbol, but as one indicating that it is proper to cut away all superfluous and extravagant desires, by studying continence and religion; for as the skin of the prepuce is quite superfluous for generation, and is moreover especially injurious by reason of the disease of inflammation which burns within it, so also an over abundance of desire is as superfluous as it is pernicious, superfluous because it is not necessary, and pernicious because it is the cause of diseases to both body and soul; and by the greater desire he also warns us that all the other desires are likewise to be cut off. And that is called the greater desire which has a regard to the matrimonial connection of the male and the female; since it is the beginning of a great thing, namely, of generating; and since it creates a great affection on the part of the father towards her who is to bring forth; for it is natural for them both to be influenced by love and affection for their offspring. Therefore, he here warns us to cut away not only all the superfluous desires, but also pride, as being a great wickedness and an associate of wickedness.
For pride, as the language of the ancients tells us, is what keeps men back and hinders them in their improvement; since it will not exhibit that honesty which it really possesses, thinking that it is itself an adequate cause for anything. Moreover it naturally influences those who think themselves the causes of generation; so that they scarcely ever turn their minds at all to behold the true Father of the universe. For he is in truth the one real and genuine Father of all; and we, who are called fathers, are only instruments of his, serving to generation; since, as in a wonderful resemblance, all things which are represented in appearance are yet in reality inanimate, but that which strengthens the nerves is invisible, and yet is itself the cause of virtue, and of motion, and of sight. So, in like manner, from everlasting and invisible space there extends the Creator of the universe, and we, like so many puppets, are strengthened by him with nerves for the purpose which belongs to us, namely, sowing seed and raising a generation; unless we choose to fancy that a flute is blown by itself, and is not made by an artist in a way adapted for the production of harmony, by whom it was constructed as an instrument for service and for its own necessary end.
Why does he order circumcision to be performed on the eighth day? [Genesis 17:12].
49. The number eight has many beauties in it; for it is, in the first place, a cubic number. Secondly, it has beauties, because it everywhere contains in itself the form of equality, because longitude, and breadth, and depth, which are all equal to one another, are indicated by the first number eight.
In the third place, the composition of the number eight produces agreement, namely, the number thirty-six, which the Pythagoreans call agreement, since that is the first number in which odd numbers being added together agree with even numbers. If, indeed, four odd numbers from the unit are separately taken and added together and four even numbers beginning with two, they united make thirty-six. Now the odd numbers are these: one, three, five, seven, which make sixteen. And the even numbers are these: two, four, six, eight, which make twenty. And the addition of the two together makes thirty-six, which is in truth a more fertile number.
Since it is a square, having each side composed of the number six; the first of which is both odd and even; which some persons most correctly call harmony or matrimony; and it was by the employment of this number that the Creator of the universe made the world, as the holy and admirable book of Moses relates.
In the fourth place, the idea of eight produces sixty-four, which is the first number, which is a cube and also a square, being the type of incorporeal substance appreciable only by the intellect and invisible, and also of corporeal substance. Of incorporeal substance, inasmuch as it produces superficies according to the square; and of corporeal substance, as producing a solid according to the cube.
In the fifth place, it is always a kindred number to the virgin number seven, for seven makes up the parts of eight; because four is the half of it, two is the fourth part of it, one the eighth of it, and four, two, and one, added together, make seven.
In the sixth place, the power of eight is sixty-four, which we call the first number, being both a cube and a square.
In the seventh place, taken separately from the units by these doubled numbers, one, two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, the sum makes sixty-four.
And the number eight has also other more distinguished virtues still, which we have enumerated in another place; but now it seems better to explain the principle which corresponds to the present question, and which depends on the grounds now laid down.
But in the first place we must premise this: that nation to whom it is enjoined, having the commandments given to it, that it should be circumcised on the eighth day, is called in the Chaldaic language Israel, that is to say, "he that seeth by day." Therefore God wills, in the first place, that he should be a partaker both of his own just rights, and also of those which exist according to election, and according to the principle of Genesis (or creation), by that first number six, which immediately followed the creation. This number, in fact, the Father and Creator of all things evidently exhibited to the world as the festival of generation, completing the world on the sixth day. And the other number, that which is according to election, he exhibited by the number eight, which is the beginning of the second seven; as eight is seven and one, so the race which has been honored is always a race receiving that number also in addition, so that it should be elect, both by nature and in accordance with the decree of the Father.
In the second place, the number eight exhibits equality everywhere, showing that all its separations are equal, as has been already said, I mean its length, and breadth, and depth. And equality it is which is the parent of equity and justice, by which he shows that the nation which loves God is adorned with equity or justice, and has advanced to complete possession.
In the third place, eight is not only a measure of complete equity in all its dimensions, but is the very first number that is so, for it is the first cube; since the number eight indicates equality, and so it has the second and not the first rank: therefore it demonstrates in a symbolical manner that that nature was the first which was ever completely furnished with consummate and perfect equity and justice, and that it is the first nature of the human race, not in point of creation or of time, but in the dignity of virtue, as if justice united with equality were a connatural part of it.
In the fourth place, since there are four elements, the appearances of earth, water, air, and fire; fire has received for its figure a shape becoming a similar name, a pyramid; [pyramis, resembling the word pyr, "fire"] and air has received for its figure an eight-sided one; water, a twenty-sided one; and the earth, a cube. Therefore he thought it necessary that the earth, which was to be the allotment of the race of man, who were endowed with virtue, should participate in the cubic number, as the whole earth has been formed in its figure. And a part of it receives the parts of that which should bring forth, because by nature the earth is very fertile, producing all the various and distinct species of every kind of animal and plant.
Why does he order all slaves to be circumcised, those born in the family and also those who are bought? [Genesis 17:12].
50. The literal meaning is plain; for it is fitting that servants should imitate their masters on account of their necessary employment, and the services to which they are bound in life. But with respect to the inner object of the command, those dispositions are what may be called born in the family which are influenced by nature itself, and those are bought which can be changed for the better by teaching and instruction. Each of these has its appropriate employment, and requires like a plant to be cleared and pruned in order that the good and fruitful parts may acquire constancy; for fertile plants produce many superfluous things by reason of their fecundity, and those superfluities must be cut away; but those who are taught by instructors cut away their ignorance.
What is the meaning of, "And it shall be my covenant (or agreement) in your flesh?" [Genesis 17:13].
51. God is willing to do good, not only to the man who is endued with virtue, but he wishes that the divine word should regulate not only his soul but his body also, as if it had become its physician. And it must be its care to prune away all excesses of seeing, and hearing, and taste, and smell, and touch, and also those of the instrument of voice and articulation, and also all the redundant and pernicious impulses of the genitals, as also of the whole body, the effect of which is, that at times we are delighted by our passions and at times pained by them.
Why is it that he pronounces a sentence of death on an infant, saying, "Every male child who is not circumcised, who has not been circumcised (or, as the Greek has it, who shall not be circumcised) in the flesh of his foreskin on the eighth day, that soul shall be cut off from his generation?" [Genesis 17:14].
52. The law never declares a man guilty for any unintentional offense; since even those who have committed an unintentional homicide are pardoned by it, cities being set apart into which such men may flee and there find security; for whoever escapes to them is rendered secure and free from danger; and no one has the power to drag him forth, or to cite him before the tribunal of the judge for the deed.
Therefore, if a boy is not circumcised on the eighth day after his birth, what offense will he have committed that he is to be held guilty, and suffer the penalty of death?
Some persons may perhaps say that the form of the command points to the parents themselves, for they look upon them as despisers of the command of the law. But others say that it has here exerted excessive severity against infants, as it seems, imposing this heavy penalty in order that grown up persons who break the law may thus be irrevocably subjected to most severe punishment. This is the literal effect of the words.
But if we look to their inward meaning, then what is male in us is most especially the intellect, and that God here commands to be circumcised on the eighth day, for the reason previously stated, not in any other part, but in the flesh of the foreskin, by this expression symbolically indicating those parts which in the flesh do subsequently become the organs of pleasure and impulse. And on this account it is that he introduces a legitimate reason, warning men that the intellect, which is not circumcised and cleared away from the flesh and the vices of the flesh, is corrupt and cannot be saved.
But that this language is not to be applied to the man, but to the intellect, which is thus put in a sound condition, he tells us in the subsequent words, saying, "that soul shall be cut off," not that human body, or that man, but that soul and mind. Cut off from what? From its generation; for the whole generation is incorrupt. Therefore the wicked man is removed from incorruption to corruption.
Why does God say, "Sara thy wife shall not be called Sara, but Sarra shall be her name?" [Genesis 17:15].
53. Here again some foolish persons may laugh at the addition of one single letter, that is to say, of a hundred, for in Greek characters the letter rho means a hundred; but if they jest in this way they are foolish, as being unwilling to behold the inward merits of things and to cleave to the footsteps of truth; for that element, rho, which is here thought of merely as the addition of one letter, is the parent of all harmony, making things great instead of small, general instead of particular, and mortal instead of immortal; since Sara, when called Sara with one r, is interpreted "thy princedom," but with two r's, Sarra, "princess." Let us then be careful, and see how these two names are distinguished from one another. In me wisdom (or prudence), integrity (or temperance), justice, and fortitude have only a prince-like power and are mortal; moreover, when I die they die too.
But this wisdom is herself a princess, and justice is a prince too, and each separate one of these virtues is not the principal or princely part in me, but is itself a mistress and a queen, an everlasting monarchy and sovereignty. Do you not now see the magnitude of the gift? By this slight change, God changes the part into the whole, the species into the genus, the corruptible into the incorruptible. And all these things are previously dispensed on account of the impending birth of a more perfect joy than all joys, whose name is Isaac.
Why does he say, "And from her I will give thee children, and I will bless him, and he shall be over the nations, and kings of the nations shall come forth from him?" [Genesis 17:16].
54. It is scarcely proper to inquire why he has said children in the plural number, when he meant their only and beloved son; for the intention of God's words applies to his offspring, from which nations and kings should arise.
This is the literal meaning of the words. But if we look to their more inward sense, when the soul possesses that virtue, small and mortal as it is, which is only particular, she is still barren. But from the time that it acquires a share of the divine and incorruptible virtue, it begins to conceive and to bring forth varieties of nations, namely, of all other holy and sacred persons; for every one of the everlasting virtues is subject to an immense number of voluntary laws, which bear in themselves a similarity to nations and kingdoms; for virtue and the generations of virtue are royal things, being previously instructed by nature what it is which rejoices in princely power, and has no knowledge of a servile condition.
Why did Abraham fall on his face and laugh? [Genesis 17:17].
55. Two things are indicated by his falling on his face. One an act of adoration on account of the excess of his divine ecstasy; the other that it corresponds to and is suitable to the aforesaid harmony, by which the intellect has confessed that God alone exists in a continual and unvarying existence. But those creatures which owe their existence to creation and generation, all are subject to changes in time; for they fall to a certain extent, inasmuch as they are accustomed to rise up, and to be corrected in accordance with their original appearance.
And it was very natural for Abraham to laugh at the promise, as he was then filled with the great hope that the things which he expected should be accomplished, especially because he had received a manifest revelation from that appearance, by which he became more thoroughly acquainted with him who exists for everlasting without variation, and with him also who is continually stooping and falling.
Why did Abraham appear to hesitate about the promise, for the sacred writer says, He said in his mind, shall there be a son to one who is a hundred years old; and shall Sarra, who is ninety years old, bring forth a child? [Genesis 22:18].
56. This expression, "he said in his mind," is not added without an object or gratuitously, for words which are articulated in the tongue and the mouth incur guilt, and become liable to punishment, but those which are restrained within the mind are not liable to punishment, because the mind without any intention on its part is led away by irregularities, all kinds of passions being introduced from different quarters, which it for a while resists, being indignant at them, and wishing to keep aloof from their representations.
But perhaps we should not say that he hesitated, but rather that he was struck by wonderment at the amazing nature of the gift, and so said, "Behold my body is advanced in years, and has passed the age of generation; nevertheless all things are possible to God, so that he may transmute old age into youth, and lead those who have no seed nor fruit to fertility and generation: and if a man who is a hundred years and a woman who is ninety years old become parents, all common-place occurrences and all regularity of nature will be done away, and it will be clearly seen that it is only the power and the grace of God."
But what virtue the number one hundred has must now be explained.
In the first place, a hundred is the power of the number ten.
In the second place, the number ten thousand is the power of this number a hundred, and ten thousand is the brother of the unit, for as one times one is one, so ten thousand times one is ten thousand.
In the third place, every part of the number a hundred is honorable.
In the fourth place, this number consists of thirty-six and sixty-four, which is a cube, and at the same time a triangle.
In the fifth place, it is composed of all these separate odd numbers: one, three, five, seven, nine, eleven, thirteen, fifteen, seventeen, nineteen, which added together make a hundred.
In the sixth place, it is composed of these four numbers: one and its double, and four and its double; as one, two, four, eight, which make fifteen, and of these four numbers also added together, one, four, fifteen, sixty-four, which make eighty-five. And the principle of doubling pervades all these numbers, containing that principle which is by fours and by fives: and the principle of four times and twice pervades them all.
In the seventh place, it is composed of five numbers taken simply, one, two, three, four, which make ten; and of five triangular numbers, one, three, six, ten, which make twenty; and of five quadrangular numbers, one, four, nine, sixteen, which make thirty; and of five quinquangular numbers, one, five, twelve, twenty-two, which make forty: and all these added together make a hundred.
In the eighth place, it is composed of four cubes taken simply beginning with the unit, for after giving one, two, three, four, their cubes one, eight, twenty-seven, sixty-four, make a hundred.
In the ninth place, it is divided into forty and sixty, each of which is a very natural number; and in accordance with the first order of decimals up to ten thousand in a quinquangular figure the number a hundred holds the middle place; for instance: one, ten, a hundred, one thousand, ten thousand, where a hundred is the middle number of one, ten, a hundred, one thousand, and ten thousand.
But we ought also not to pass over in silence the number ninety as far as it concerns the visible characters.
As it seems to me the number ninety is second only to the number a hundred, inasmuch as the tenth part of it, that is to say ten, is taken away, since I see that in the law two-tenths of the first-fruits were set apart, first a tenth of the whole, secondly a tenth of the remainder, for when a tenth of the fruits of the earth, of corn, or wine, or oil, is taken, another tenth is also taken from the remainder; therefore of these two that which is the first and principal one is honored with the greater share; and in the second place that which follows it, since the number a hundred of the years of the wise man comprises both the first-fruits with which it is consecrated, both the first and the second kind; but the number ninety of the years of the female parent, comprehends the second and lesser first-fruits, namely, the remainder of the first, which is the great one among the sacred numbers.
This therefore may be called the first vision in the sacred law which is familiar; and the other has a general character, for the number ninety is fertile; on which account also it happens that the woman begins to bring forth in the ninth month; but the tenth is the sacred and perfect number; and when the two numbers nine and ten are multiplied together ninety is made, as being the virtue of the sacred birth, receiving a fertile generation according to the number nine, and a holy one according to ten.
Why did Abraham say to God, O may this my son Ishmael live before thee? [Genesis 17:18].
57. In the first place, I do not despair, says he, O Lord, of a better generation, but I believe thy promise: nevertheless, it would be a sufficient blessing for me for this son to live who in the meantime is a living son, standing visibly, even though he be not so according to the legitimate blood, but is only born of a concubine.
In the second place, that blessing which he is now asking for is an additional one; for he does not entreat for life alone for his sons, but for an especial life in God; and we must suppose that there is nothing more perfect than the rejoicing in the presence of God with a salutary soundness of mind, which is equal to immortality.
In the third place, he by a conjecture intimates that the divine law, when heard, ought not to be considered enough if merely heard, but that it ought also to enter more deeply into the inward man, and to form his principal part; for that life is worthy of being beheld by the Deity which is formed in accordance with his word.
Why does the divine oracle, in the way of intimation, say to Abraham, Yes, be it so: behold Sarah thy wife shall also bring forth a son unto thee? [Genesis 17:19].
58. The meaning of this sentence is as follows: that confession and admission, says God, is on my part an admission of thy wish, being manifestly full of unadulterated joy; and your faith is not doubtful, but without any hesitation it has a share of modest awe and reverence; therefore that which thou hast received before, as to be done unto thee on account of thy faith in me, shall certainly be done; for this is what is meant by yes.
Why does he say, But behold I will also listen to thee concerning Ishmael, and I will bless him, and he shall become the father of twelve nations? [Genesis 17:20].
59. God says, I will grant to thee both the first and the second blessing, that is to say, both the blessings of nature and the blessings of instruction; by nature that which is according to the legitimate course of nature, that is Isaac, and by instruction that which is according to Ishmael, who is not legitimate: for hearing, when compared with sight, is like the illegitimate compared with the legitimate, and what is brought about by instruction is not of the same class with that which owes its existence to nature; and the man who is desirous of encyclical wisdom becomes the father of nations, for the encyclical number is a period of twelve days and years.
Why does he say, But I will set up my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bring forth about this time in the succeeding year? [Genesis 17:21].
60. As in men's wills some persons are set down as heirs, and some are entered as worthy of gifts which they are to receive from the heirs, so also in the divine testament that man is set down as the heir who is by nature a worthy disciple of God being adorned with all perfect virtues; but he who is introduced by learning, and is made subject to the law of wisdom, and partakes in encyclical instruction, is not at all an heir, but only a receiver of gifts gratuitously given.
But it is said with great wisdom and propriety that his mother shall bring forth Isaac in the succeeding year, since this birth unto life does not belong to the present time, but to another great and holy time; and that which is divine rejoices in excessive abundance, and is by no means like the nations of this world.
Why does he say, Abraham was ninety and nine years old when he was circumcised, and Ishmael his son was thirteen years old? [Genesis 17:24].
61. The number of ninety and nine years is arranged here as approximating to the number a hundred. And it is in accordance with this number that it is arranged that the seed of the perfect man becomes the beginning of generation, which appears more evidently in the number a hundred; but the number thirteen is composed of the first square numbers of four and nine, the odd and even numbers; so that the even number has for its sides a twofold material form; and the odd number has an operative form, from all which a triple number is made, which is the greatest and most perfect of the festival victims which the examinations of the sacred scriptures contain.
This is one reason. A second also it may be allowed to us to mention, that the age namely of thirteen years is very near to and a partaker with the fourteenth year, in which the motions of seed towards generation begin to have life. In order, therefore, that no foreign seed should be sown, he arranged that the first generations should be kept pure, figuring the instrument of generating under the figure of generation.
In the third place, he teaches that he who is about to go through the operations of matrimony ought by all means first of all to cut away concupiscence, reproving all lascivious and effeminate persons as those who bring together superfluous mixtures which were not for the sake of the generation of children but to gratify incontinent desires.
Why did Abraham also circumcise strangers? [Genesis 17:27].
62. The wise man is as useful as the humane man, who saves and invites to himself not only his relations and neighbors, but also strangers and men of another family, giving them a share of his own habit of patient and religious continence; for these are the foundations of constancy, which is the object of all virtue, and the point at which it rests.