ON THE UNCHANGEABLENESS OF GOD
I. "And after this," says Moses, "it came to pass that the angels of God went in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children unto them." [Genesis 6:2.] It is worth while, therefore, to consider what is meant by the expression, "And after this." It is therefore a reference to something that has been said before, for the purpose of explaining it more clearly; and a mention of the divine spirit has already been made, as he has already stated, that it is very difficult for it to remain throughout all ages in the soul, which is divisible into many parts, and which assumes many forms, and is clothed with a most heavy burden, namely its bulk of flesh; after this spirit, therefore, the angels of God go in unto the daughters of men. For as long as the pure rays of wisdom shine forth in the soul, by means of which the wise man sees God and his powers, no one of those who bring false news ever enters into the reason, but all such are kept at a distance outside of the sacred threshhold.
But when the light of the intellect is dimmed and overshadowed, then the companions of darkness having become victorious, associate themselves with the dissolute and effeminate passions which the prophet calls the daughters of men, and they bear children to them and not to God. For the appropriate progeny of God are the perfect virtues, but that offspring which is akin to the wicked, is unregulated wickedness. But learn thou, if thou wilt, O my mind, not to bear children to thyself, after the example of that perfect man Abraham, who offered up to God "The beloved and only legitimate offspring of his soul," [Genesis 22:2] the most conspicuous image of self-taught wisdom, by name Isaac; and who gave him up with all cheerfulness to be a necessary and fitting offering to God. "Having bound," [Genesis 22:9] as the scripture says, this new kind of victim, either because he, having once tasted of the divine inspiration, did not condescend any longer to tread on any mortal truth, or because he saw that the creature was unstable and moveable, while he recognized the unhesitating firmness existing in the living God, on whom he is said to have believed. [Genesis 15:6.]
II. His disciple and successor was Hannah. The gift of the wisdom of God, for the interpretation of the name is her grace. For when she had become pregnant, having received the divine seed, and after she had completed the time of her labor, she brought forth, in the manner appointed by the arrangement of God, a son, whom she called Samuel; and the name Samuel being interpreted, means "appointed by God." She therefore having received him restores him to the giver; not looking upon anything as a good belonging to herself which is not divine grace. For in the first book of Kings, [1 Samuel 1:28] she speaks in this manner: "I give him unto thee freely," the expression here used being equivalent to, "I give him unto thee whom thou hast given to me." According to that most sacred scripture of Moses, "My gifts and my offerings, and my first fruits, ye shall observe to offer unto me." [Numbers 28:2.] For to what other being should one bring gifts of gratitude except to God? and what offerings can one bring unto him except of those things which have been given to us by him? For it is not possible for us to have an abundance of anything else.
And he has no need of any of those things which he enjoins men to offer unto him, but he bids us bring unto him the things which are his own, through the excess of his beneficence to our race. For we, studying to conduct ourselves with gratitude to him, and to show him all honors, should purify ourselves from sin, washing off all things that can stain our life in words, or appearance, or actions. For it is foolishness to imagine, that it is unlawful to enter into temples, unless a man has first washed his body and made that look bright, but that one may attempt to sacrifice and to pray with a mind still polluted and disordered. And yet temples are made of stones and timber, mere lifeless materials, and it is not possible for the body, if it is devoid of life by its own nature, to touch things devoid of life, without using ablutions and purifying ceremonies of holiness; and shall any one endure to approach God without being purified as to his soul, shall any one while impure come near to the purest of all beings, and this too without having any intention of repenting? Let him, indeed who, in addition to having committed no new crimes, has also endeavored to wash off his old misdeeds, come cheerfully before him; but let the man who is without any such preparation, and who is impure, keep aloof. For he will never escape the notice of him who can look into the recesses of the heart, and who walketh in its most secret places.
III. Now the most evident sign of a soul devoted to God is that song in which that expression occurs, "She that was barren has borne seven children, and she that had many children has become weak." [1 Samuel 2:5.] And yet she who is speaking is in reality only the mother of one son, namely, of Samuel. How then does she say that she has borne seven children, unless indeed any one thinks that the unit is in its strictest nature identical with the number seven, not only in number, but also in the harmony of the universe, and in the reasonings of the soul which is devoted to virtue? For he who was devoted to the one God, that is Samuel, and who had no connection whatever with any other being, is adorned according to that essence which is single and the real unit; and this is the constitution of the number seven, that is to say, of the soul that rests in God, and which no longer concerns itself about any mortal employment, when it has quitted the number six which it allotted to those who were not able to attain to the first rank, but who of necessity contented themselves with arriving at the second.
It is therefore not incredible that the barren woman, not being one who is incapable of becoming fruitful, but one who is still vigorous and fresh, striving for the chief reward in the arena of fortitude, patience, and perseverance, may bring forth a seven, equal in honor to the unit, of which numbers, nature is very productive and prolific. And she says, that "she that had many children has become weak," speaking accurately and very plainly. For when the soul, although only one, brings forth many children when separated from the one, it then naturally becomes infinite in number; and then being weighed down and overwhelmed by the multitude of children who depend upon it, (and the greatest part of them are premature and abortive), it becomes weak. For it brings forth the desire of forms and colors, as gratified by the eyes, and the pleasures arising from sound, as gratified by the ears. It is pregnant also of the pleasures of the belly and of the parts beneath the belly, so that, as many children are attached to it, it becomes exhausted by bearing this heavy burden, and drops its hands from weakness, and faints away. And in this way it comes to pass that all those things are subdued which bring forth perishable children to themselves, who are likewise perishable.
IV. But some persons, through their self-love, have incurred not only defeat but even death also. At all events Onan, "knowing that the seed should not be his," [Genesis 38:9] did not desist from injuring the rational principle, which is the best thing in kind of all existing things, until he himself met with utter destruction. And this, too, very properly and deservedly; for if some men do all things for the sake of themselves alone, not with a view to the honor of their parents, or the proper regulation of their children, or the salvation of their country, or the guardianship of the laws, or the preservation of good morals, or with a view to the due performance of any public or private duty, or of a proper celebration of sacred rites, or the pious worship due to the gods, they will be deservedly miserable. For the sake of one of the objects which I have mentioned, it is glorious even to quit life itself. But these men say that, unless they are likely to gain some pleasure by the pursuit of them, they would disregard the whole lot of them -- glorious objects as they are.
Therefore, the incorruptible God banishes the wicked exposition of unnatural opinion, which is named Onan. And altogether these persons are to be detested who beget children for themselves, that is to say, who, pursuing their own private advantage alone, disregard all other objects, as if they had been born for themselves alone, and not for ten thousand other persons also, for their fathers, and their mothers, and their wives, and their children, and their country, and for all mankind. And if we must go further and add any thing to this enumeration, we may say for heaven, and earth, and the whole universe, and for the sciences, and for the virtues, and for the Father and Ruler of all; to every one of which a man ought to pay what is due to the best of his power, not looking upon all the world as an addition to himself, but on himself as an addition to the rest of the world.
V. However, we have said enough on this head; let us now connect what follows with it:--
"The Lord God, therefore," says Moses, "seeing that the wickedness of man was multiplied upon the earth, and that every one of them was carefully studying wickedness in his heart all his days; God considered in his mind that he had made man upon the earth, and he thought upon it; and God said, I will destroy man whom I have made from off the face of the earth." [Genesis 6:5.] Perhaps some very wicked persons will suspect that the lawgiver is here speaking enigmatically, when he says that the Creator repented of having created man, when he beheld their wickedness; on which account he determined to destroy the whole race. But let those who adopt such opinions as these know, that they are making light of and extenuating the offenses of these men of old time, by reason of their own excessive impiety; for what can be a greater act of wickedness than to think that the unchangeable God can be changed? And this, too, while some persons think that even those who are really men do never hesitate in their opinions, for that those, who have studied philosophy in a sincere and pure spirit, have derived as the greatest good arising from their knowledge, the absence of any inclination to change with the changes of affairs, and the disposition, with all immovable firmness and sure stability, to labor at every thing that it becomes them to pursue.
VI. And it seems good to the lawgiver that the perfect man should desire tranquillity; for it was said to the wise man in the character of God, "But stand thou here with me," [Deuteronomy 5:31] this expression showing the unchangeable and unalterable nature of the mind which is firmly established in the right way; for it is really marvellous when any one touches the soul, like a lyre tuned in musical principles, not with sharp and flat sounds, but with an accurate knowledge of contrary tones, and employing only the best, not sounding any too loudly, nor on the other hand letting any be too weak, so as to impair the harmony of the virtues and of those things which are good by nature, and when he, preserving it in an equal condition plays and sings melodiously; for this instrument nature has made to be the most perfect of all, and to be the model of all instruments made by the hand. And if this be properly tuned, it will utter the most exquisite of all symphonies, which consists not in the combination and tones of a melodious voice, but in a harmonious agreement of all the actions in life; therefore, as the soul of man can allay the excessive storm and swell of the sea, which the violent and irresistible gale of wickedness has suddenly raised, by the gentle breezes of knowledge and wisdom, and having mitigated its swelling and boisterous fury, enjoys tranquillity resting in an unruffled calm. Do you doubt whether the imperishable, and everlasting, and blessed God, the Being endowed with all the virtues, and with all perfection, and with all happiness is unchangeable in his counsels, and whether he abides by the designs which he originally formed, without changing any of them. Facility of change is indeed an attribute of man, which is of necessity incidental to their nature by reason of its external want of firmness; as in this way, for instance: -- often when we have chosen friends, and have lived some short time with them, without having any thing to accuse them of, we then turn away from them, so as to place ourselves in the rank of enemies, or at least of strangers to them; now this conduct shows the facility and levity of ourselves, who are unable steadily to adhere to the professions which we originally made; but God is not so easily sated or wearied.
Again there are times when we determine to abide by the same judgment that we have formed; but those who join us do not equally abide by theirs, so that our opinions of necessity change as well as theirs; for it is impossible for us, who are but men, to foresee all the contingencies of future events, or to anticipate the opinions of others; but to God, as dwelling in pure light, all things are visible; for he penetrating into the very recesses of the soul, is able to see, with the most perfect certainty, what is invisible to others, and being possessed of prescience and of providence, his own peculiar attributes, he allows nothing to abuse its liberty, and to stray out of the reach of his comprehension, since with him, there is no uncertainty even in the future, for there is nothing uncertain nor even future to God.
It is plain therefore that the creator of all created things, and the maker of all the things that have ever been made, and the governor of all the things which are subject to government, must of necessity be a being of universal knowledge; and he is in truth the father, and creator, and governor of all things in heaven and in the whole world; and indeed future events are overshadowed by the distance of future time, which is sometimes a short and sometimes a long interval. But God is the creator of time also; for he is the father of its father, and the father of time is the world, which made its own mother the creation of time, so that time stands towards God in the relation of a grandson; for this world is a younger son of God, inasmuch as it is perceptible by the outward sense; for the only son he speaks of as older than the world, is idea, and this is not perceptible by the intellect; but having thought the other worthy of the rights of primogeniture, he has decided that it shall remain with him; therefore, this younger son, perceptible by the external senses being set in motion, has caused the nature of time to shine forth, and to become conspicuous, so that there is nothing future to God, who has the very boundaries of time subject to him; for their life is not time, but the beautiful model of time, eternity; and in eternity nothing is past and nothing is future, but everything is present only.
VII. Having therefore now sufficiently discussed the question of the living God never knowing repentance, it comes next in order for us to explain what is the meaning of the expression, "God considered that he had made man upon the earth, and he thought within himself." Then the creator of the world, having attached to himself the two most lasting powers of cogitation and deliberation -- the one being a conception conceived within his own breast, and the other the discussion of such conception -- and since he continually employs them for the contemplation of his own works, those things which do not leave their appointed station he praises for their obedience, but those which change their place he pursues with the punishment appointed for deserters; for some bodies he has endowed with habit, others with nature, others with soul, and some with rational soul; for instance, he has bound stones and beams, which are torn from their kindred materials, with the most powerful bond of habit; and this habit is the inclination of the spirit to return to itself; for it begins at the middle and proceeds onwards towards the extremities, and then when it has touched the extreme boundary, it turns back again, until it has again arrived at the same place from which it originally started. This is the continued unalterable course, up and down, of habit, which runners, imitating in their triennial festivals, in those great common spectacles of all men, display as a brilliant achievement, and a worthy subject of rivalry and contention.
VIII. And he has given to plants a nature which he has combined of as many powers as possible, that is of the nutritive, and the changeable, and the forming power; for they are nourished when they have need of nourishment; and a proof of this is that those plants which are not irrigated waste away and are dried up, as on the other hand those which have water supplied to them do visibly grow, for those which for a time were mere creepers on the ground, by reason of their shortness, suddenly spring up and become very long branches. And why need I speak of the changes which they undergo? for at the time of the winter solstice their leaves wither and fall to the ground; and the eyes, as they are called by the agricultural laborers, which appear on the young shoots, close up like the eyes of animals, and all the mouths which are calculated to send forth young buds, are bound up; their internal nature being at that time confined and quiet, in order that, when it has taken breath, like a wrestler who has gone through a little preliminary exercise, and having again collected its appropriate strength, it may return again to its customary operations.
And this happens at the seasons of both spring and summer, for then their nature, waking as it were out of a deep sleep, opens its eyes, and expands and widens its previously closed mouth; and then it brings forth all those things of which it was pregnant, leaves, and young shoots, and tendrils, and feelers, and fruit on all its branches; and then when these things have come to perfection it affords nourishment and food to them, as a mother does to her child by some invisible passages which are similar in principle to the breasts in women, and it never ceases to nourish them until the fruit be come to complete ripeness; and that which is thoroughly ripe is then perfected, when, even if no one gathers it, it of its own accord hastens to separate itself from its kindred branch, inasmuch as it no longer stands in need of nourishment from its parent, being able, if it should meet with a fitting soil, itself to sow and beget offspring resembling its own parents.
IX. And the Creator has made the soul to differ from nature in these things -- in the outward sense, and imagination, and impetuosity; for plants are destitute of impetuosity and devoid of imagination, and without any participation in the outward sense. But every animal partakes of all these qualities above-mentioned, all together. Now the outward sense, as indeed its name shows, in some degree is a kind of insertion, placing the things that are made apparent to it in the mind; for in the mind, since that is the greatest storehouse and receptacle for all things, is everything placed and treasured up which comes under the operation of the sense of seeing or hearing, or the other organs of the outward senses. And imagination is an impression of figures in the soul; for the things which each of the outward senses has brought in, like a ring or a seal, on them it imprints its own character. And the mind, being like wax, having received the impression, keeps it carefully in itself until forgetfulness, the enemy of memory, has smoothed off the edges of the impression, or else has rendered it dim, or perhaps has completely effaced it.
And that which has been visible and has been impressed upon the soul at times affects the soul in a way consistent with itself, and at other times in a different way; and this passion to which it is subject is called appetite, which philosophers who define such things say is the first motion of the soul. In such important points are animals superior to plants.
Let us now see in what man is superior to the rest of the animal creation.
X. Man, then, has received this one extraordinary gift, intellect, which is accustomed to comprehend the nature of all bodies and of all things at the same time; for, as in the body, the sight is the most important faculty, and since in the universe the nature of light is the most pre-eminent thing, in the same manner that part of us which is entitled to the highest rank is the mind. For the mind is the sight of the soul, shining transcendently with its own rays, by which the great and dense darkness which ignorance of things sheds around is dissipated. This species of soul is not composed of the same elements as those of which the other kinds were made, but it has received a purer and more excellent essence of which the divine natures were formed; on which account the intellect naturally appears to be the only thing in us which is imperishable, for that is the only quality in us which the Father, who created us, thought deserving of freedom; and, unloosing the bonds of necessity, he let it go unrestrained, bestowing on it that most admirable gift and most connected with himself, the power, namely, of spontaneous will, as far as he was able to receive it; for the irrational animals, in whose soul there is not that especial gift tending to freedom, namely, mind, are put under the yoke and have bridles put in their mouths, and so are given unto men to be their slaves, as servants are given to their masters. But man, who has had bestowed on him a voluntary and self-impelling intellect, and who for the most part puts forth his energies in accordance with deliberate purpose, very properly receives blame for the offenses which he designedly commits, and praise for the good actions which he intentionally performs. For, in the case of other plants and other animals, we cannot call either the good that is caused by them deserving of praise, nor the evil that they do deserving of blame; for all their motions in either direction, and, all their changes, have no design about them, but are involuntary. But the soul of man, being the only one which has received from God the power of voluntary motion, and which in this respect has been made to resemble God, and being as far as possible emancipated from the authority of that grievous and severe mistress, necessity, may rightly be visited with reproach if she does not pay due honor to the being who has emancipated her. And therefore, in such a case, she will most deservedly suffer the implacable punishment denounced against slavish and ungrateful minds.
So that God "considered" and thought within himself, not now for the first time, but long ago, and with great steadiness and resolution, "that he had made man;" that is to say, he considered within himself what kind of being he had made him. For he had made him free from all bondage or restraint, able to exert his energies in accordance with his own will and deliberate purpose, on this account: that so knowing what things were good and what, on the contrary, were evil, and having arrived at a proper comprehension of what is honorable and what is disgraceful, and apprehending what things are just and what unjust, and, in short, what things flow from virtue and what from wickedness, he might exercise a choice of the better objects and an avoidance of their opposites; and this is the meaning of the oracle recorded in Deuteronomy, "Behold, I have put before thy face life and death; good and evil. Do thou choose life." [Deuteronomy 30:15.] Therefore he teaches us by this sentence both that men have a knowledge of good and of the contrary, evil, and that it is their duty to choose the better in preference to the worse, preserving reason within themselves as an incorruptible judge, to be guided by the arguments which sound sense suggests, and to reject those which are brought forward by the contrary power.
XI. Having now therefore explained these matters sufficiently, let us pass on to what comes next.
And this is what follows: "I will destroy," says God, "the man whom I have made from off the face of the earth, from man to beast, from creeping things to the fowls of the air, because I have considered and repent that I have made them." [Genesis 6:7.] Now, some persons, when they hear the expressions which I have just cited, imagine that the living God is here giving away to anger and passion; but God is utterly inaccessible to any passion whatever. For it is the peculiar property of human weakness to be disquieted by any such feelings, but God has neither the irrational passions of the soul, nor are the parts and limits of the body in the least belonging to him. But, nevertheless, such things are spoken of with reference to God by the great lawgiver in an introductory sort of way, for the sake of admonishing those persons who could not be corrected otherwise. For of all the laws which are couched in the form of injunction or prohibition, and such alone are properly speaking laws; there are two principal positions laid down with respect to the great cause of all things: one, that God is not as a man; the other, that God is as a man. [Numbers 23:19.] But the first of these assertions is confirmed by the most certain truth, while the latter is introduced for the instruction of the many. In reference to which, it is said concerning them, "as a man would instruct his son." [Deuteronomy 1:31.] And this is said for the sake of instruction and admonition, and not because he is really such by nature. For of men some are attached to the service of the soul, and others to that of the body; now the companions of the soul, being able to associate with incorporeal natures, appreciable only by the intellect, do not compare the living God to any species of created beings; but, dissociating it with any idea of distinctive qualities (for this is what most especially contributes to his happiness and to his consummate felicity, to comprehend his naked existence without any connection with figure or character), they, I say, are content with the bare conception of his existence, and do not attempt to invest him with any form.
But those who enter into agreements and alliances with the body, being unable to throw off the robes of the flesh, and to behold that nature, which alone of all natures has no need of anything, but is sufficient for itself, and simple, and unalloyed, and incapable of being compared with anything else, from the same notions of the cause of all things that they do of themselves; not considering that in the case of a being who exists through a concurrence of many faculties, he has need of many parts in order to supply the necessities of each of those faculties.
XII. But God, inasmuch as he is uncreated, and the Being who has brought all other things to creation, stood in need of none of those things which are usually added to creatures. For what are we to say? Shall we say, if he is possessed of the different organic parts, that he has feet for the sake of walking? But where is he to walk who fills all places at once with his presence? And to whom is he to go, when there is no one of equal honor with himself? And why is he to walk? It cannot be out of any regard for his health as we do. Again, are we to say that he has hands for the purpose of giving and taking? he never receivers anything from any one. For in addition to the fact of his wanting nothing he actually has everything; and when he gives, he employs reason as the minister of his gifts, by whose agency also he created the world.
Once more, he had no need of eyes, the organs without which there can be no comprehension of the light perceptible by the outward senses; but the light perceptible by the outward senses is a created light; and even before the creation God saw, using himself as light. And why need we mention the organs of luxury? For if he has these organs, then he is fed, and when he has satisfied himself he leaves off eating, and after he has left eating he wants food again; and I need not enumerate other particulars which are the necessary consequences of this; for these are the fabulous inventions of impious men, who represent God, in word indeed only as endued with human form, but in fact as influenced by human passions.
XIII. Why, then, does Moses speak of the Uncreate as having feet and hands, and as coming in and as going out? And why does he speak of him as clothed in armor for the purpose of repelling his enemies? For he does speak of him as girding himself with a sword, and as using arrows, and winds, and destructive fire. And the poets say that the whirlwind and the thunderbolt, mentioning them under other names, are the weapons of the Cause of all things. Moreover, speaking of him as they would of men, they add jealousy, anger, passion, and other feelings like these. But to those who ask questions on these subjects, one may answer, "My good men! A man who would establish the most excellent system of laws, ought to keep one end constantly in view, namely, to do good to all who come within his reach." Those, therefore, who have received a fortunate disposition, and an education in all respects blameless, finding the path of life which proceeds in this direction plain and straight, take truth with them as the companion of their journey; by which they are initiated in the true mysteries relating to the living God, and therefore they never attribute any of the properties of created beings to him.
Now to these disciples, that principal assertion in the sacred oracles is especially well adapted, that "God is not as man," but neither is he as heaven, nor as the world; for these species are endued with distinctive qualities, and they come under the perception of the outward senses. But he is not even comprehensible by the intellect, except merely as to his essence; for his existence, indeed, is a fact which we do comprehend concerning him, but beyond the fact of his existence, we can understand nothing.
XIV. But those who have received a duller and more sluggish nature, and who have been wrongly brought up as children, and who are unable to see acutely, stand in need of physicians for lawgivers, who may be able to devise an appropriate remedy for the existing complaint, since a severe master is a beneficial thing for untractable and foolish servants; for they, fearing his inflictions and his threats, are chastened by fear, in spite of themselves. Let, therefore, all such men learn false terrors, by which they may be benefited if they cannot be led into the right way by truth. For in the case of men who are afflicted with dangerous illnesses, the most legitimate physicians do not venture to tell them the truth, knowing that by such conduct they will be rendered more desponding, and so that the disease will not be cured; but that by contrary language and comfort, they will bear the disease which presses upon them more easily, and the illness will be more likely to be allayed. For what man is his senses would say to a patient under his care, "My good man, you shall have the knife applied to you, and cautery, and your limbs shall be amputated," even if such things were absolutely necessary to be endured? No man on earth would say so. For if he did, his patient would sink in his heart before the operations could be performed, and so receiving another disease in his soul, more grievous than that already existing in his body, he would resolutely renounce the cure; but if, on the other hand, through the deceit of the physician he is led to form a contrary expectation, he will submit to everything with a patient spirit, even though the means of his salvation may be most painful.
Therefore the lawgiver, being a most admirable physician of the passions and diseases of the soul, has proposed to himself one task and one end, namely, to eradicate the diseases of the mind by the roots, so that there may not be a single one left behind to put forth any shoot of incurable distemper. In this way, then, he hoped to be able to eradicate it, if he were to represent the Cause of all things as indulging in threats and indignation, and implacable anger, and, moreover, as employing defensive arms to ward off attacks, and to chastise the wicked; for the fool alone is corrected by such means: and therefore it is that it appears to me that with these two principal assertions above mentioned, namely, that God is as a man and that God is not as a man, are connected two other principles consequent upon and connected with them, namely, that of fear and that of love; for I see that all the exhortations of the laws to piety, are referred either to the love or to the fear of the living God. To those, therefore, who do not attribute either the parts or the passions of men to the living God, but who, as becomes the majesty of God, honor him in himself, and by himself alone, to love him is most natural; but to the others, it is most appropriate to fear him.
XV. Such, then, are the things which it was proper to premise before we entered upon the following investigation:--
But we must now go back again to the original consideration, according to which we were in doubt what the meaning is which is concealed under the expression, "I was indignant that I had made them." Perhaps Moses here means to show, that bad men are made so by the anger of God, but good men by his grace; for immediately afterwards he proceeds to add, but "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord." But anger, which is a passion peculiar to man, is here spoken of with especial felicity, but still more metaphorically than the real truth, in order to the explanation of a matter which is extremely necessary, namely, to show that everything that we do through anger, or fear, or pain, or grief, or any other passion, is confessedly faulty and open to reproach; but all that we do in accordance with right reason and knowledge is praiseworthy.
You see now what great caution he uses in speaking here, when he says, "I was indignant that I had made them," not reversing the order of the words so as to say, "Because I had made them I was indignant;" for the latter expression would have become a person who repented of what he had done, an idea which is inconsistent with the nature of God, which foresees everything. But the other doctrine is a general one, being the expression of a man who means to explain by it that anger is the fountain of all sins, and reason the source of all good actions. But God, remembering his own perfect goodness in every particular, even if the whole or the greater part of mankind fall off from him by reason of the abundance and extravagance of their sins, stretching forth his right hand, his hand of salvation, supports man and raises him up, not permitting the whole race to be utterly destroyed and to perish everlastingly.
XVI. On which account God now says, that Noah found grace in his sight, when all the rest of mankind appearing ungrateful were about to receive punishment, in order that he might mingle saving mercy with judgment against sinners. As the psalmist has said somewhere, "My song shall be of mercy and judgment." [Psalm 100:1.] For if God were to choose to judge the race of mankind without mercy, he would pass on them a sentence of condemnation; since there has never been a single man who, by his own unassisted power, has run the whole course of his life, from the beginning to the end, without stumbling; but since some men have fallen into voluntary, and some into involuntary sins, that therefore the human race might still subsist, even though many of the subordinate members of it go to destruction. God mingles mercy with his justice, which he exercises towards the good actions of even the unworthy; and he not only pities them while judging, but judges them while pitying them, for mercy is older than justice in his sight, inasmuch as he knew the man who deserved punishment, not after he had passed sentence on him, but also before sentence.
XVII. On which account he says in another passage, "The cup is in the hand of the Lord; full of the mixture of unmixed wine;" [Psalm 75:9] and yet that which is mixed is not unmixed; but these words are spoken in a sense in the strictest accordance with natural philosophy and in one perfectly consistent with what has been said before; for God exerts his power in an untempered degree towards himself, but in a mixed character towards his creatures; for it is impossible for a mortal nature to endure his power unmitigated. Do you think that you would be unable to look at the unmodified light of the sun? If you were to try to do so, your sight would be extinguished by the brilliancy of his rays, and be wholly blinded by a close approach to that luminary, before it could perceive anything, and yet the sun is only one of the works of God, a portion of the heaven, a fragment of compressed aether, but you are nevertheless able to gaze upon those uncreated powers which exist around him, and emit the most dazzling light, without any veil or modification.
As, therefore, the sun extends his rays from heaven to the boundaries of the earth, tempering and dissolving the exceeding violence of the heat that is in them by cool air, for he mixes his rays with that, in order that that portion of them which gives light being separated from that portion which gives heat, he may remit somewhat of his power of burning, but retain the power by which he gives light, and so be received with welcome, when meeting that kindred and friendly light which is situated in the eyes of man; for the meeting of these two lights in the same place, coming from an opposite direction, and the reception of the one by the other, is what causes that comprehension which we arrive at by our faculty of sight: but what mortal could possibly receive in this manner the knowledge, and wisdom, and prudence, and justice, and all the other virtues of God, in an unalloyed state? The whole heaven, the whole world, could not do so.
Therefore the Creator, knowing the way in which he exceeded in all things that were most excellent, and the inherent natural weakness of created beings, even though they boast loudly, does not think either to benefit them or to chastise them to the extremity of his power, but only as far as he sees that those who are to be the objects of his benefits or of his chastisements have power to receive either. If, then, we are able to drink of and to enjoy a gentle and moderate mixture of his powers, we might receive sufficient happiness therefrom, than which the race of man ought not to seek to receive any more complete enjoyment.
We have now explained what the mixed and unmixed powers and what those really supreme faculties are which exist in the living God alone.
XVIII. And similar to what has been previously said, is that passage which occurs in another place, "God spake once, and twice I have also heard the same." [Psalm 61:12.] The expression "once" resembles the unmixed power, for the unmixed power is the unit, and the unit is the unmixed power; but the "twice" resembles the mixed power, for neither one nor the other is a simple thing, inasmuch as it admits of combination or of division. God, therefore, utters unmixed units: for the word which he utters is not a beating of the air, being absolutely mingled with nothing else whatever, but it is incorporeal and naked, in no respect different from the unit. But we hear by the number two; for the breath being sent from the dominant part of us through the artery called the trachea, is formed in the mouth by the tongue, as by a kind of workman, and being borne outward, and mingled with its kindred air, and having struck it thus harmoniously, completes the mixture of the two powers; for that which sounds together by a combination of different noises is at first adapted to a divisible duad, having one sharp and one flat tone: very beautifully, therefore, did he oppose one just reason to the multitude of unjust reasons, less indeed in number, but superior in power, in order that the worse of the two might not, like a weight put in a scale, weigh down the other; but that, by the power of the weight of the better one in the opposite scale it might have its lightness detected, and so be weakened.
XIX. But what is the meaning of the sentence, "Noah found grace in the sight of the Lord God?" Let us now consider this: for those who find anything, some are finding what they formerly had and have lost; and some are discovering what they never had before, and now possess for the first time. Accordingly, those men who occupy themselves with the investigation of appropriate names, are accustomed to call the latter kind finding (heuresis), and the former kind re-finding (aneuresis). Of the former species we have a conspicuous example afforded us in the injunctions given about the great vow. [Numbers 6:2.] Now a vow is a request for good things from God; and the spirit of the great vow is to believe that God himself is the cause of good things from himself, without anyone else ever co-operating with him, of the things which may appear to be beneficial, neither the earth as fruitful, nor the rain as helping to promote the growth of seeds and plants, nor the air as calculated to nourish man, nor agriculture as the cause of production, nor the skill of the physician as the cause of health, nor marriage as the cause of the procreation of children: for all these things receive changes and alterations through the power of God, to such a degree and in such a way as often to have effects contrary to their usual ones. Moses, therefore says, that this man is "holy who nourishes the hair of his head;" the meaning of which is, that he is holy who promotes the growth in the principal portion of himself of the principal shoots of the doctrines of virtue, and who in a manner prides himself and takes delight in these doctrines: but sometimes he loses them, a sort of whirlwind, as it were, suddenly darting down upon the soul, and carrying off everything that was good out of it; and this whirlwind is an involuntary change, which pollutes the mind in a moment, which Moses calls death. [Numbers 6:9.] But nevertheless, when he has afterwards got rid of this and become purified, he recovers and recollects again, what for a time, he had forgotten, and finds what he had lost, so that the days of his former change are not included in the computation, either because such change is a matter which cannot be reduced to calculation, inasmuch as it is inconsistent with right reason and has no partnership with prudence, or because it does not deserve to be taken into calculation; "for of such things," some ancient writer says, "there is no account nor calculation taken." [Theocritus 14:17.]
XX. And we have often met with such things as previously we had never seen even in a dream; like a husbandman whom some persons say while digging a hole for the purpose of planting some fruit-bearing tree, found a treasure, meeting with good fortune which he had never hoped for. Therefore Jacob, the wrestler with God, when his father asked him the manner in which he had acquired this knowledge, saying, "How didst thou find this so quickly, my son?" answered and said, "Because the Lord my God brought it before me." [Genesis 27:20.] For when God bestows on any one the treasures of his own wisdom without any toil or labor, then we, without having expected such things, suddenly perceive that we have found a treasure of perfect happiness.
And it often happens to those who seek with great labor, that they miss that for which they are seeking; while others, who are seeking without any diligence, find with great ease even things that they never thought of finding. For those who are dull and slow in their souls, like men bereft of their eyesight, find the labor which they devote to the contemplation of objects of science useless and wasted; while others, through the richness of their natural endowments, find out immeasurable things without any investigation at all, by the help of felicitous and well directed conjectures; so that it would seem that they attain their objects not in consequence of any labor of their own, but because the things themselves do of their own accord come to meet them and hasten to present themselves to their view, and so give them the most accurate comprehension of them.
XXI. To these men the law-giver says were given, "Great and beautiful cities, which they had not built; houses full of good things, which they had not filled; cisterns cut out of the solid rock, which they had not hewn; vineyards and olive gardens, which they had not planted." [Deuteronomy 6:11.] Now, by cities and houses, he here symbolically sketches out the generic and specific virtues; for genus resembles a city, because it is marked out in larger circumferences, and because it is common to many individuals; and species resembles a house, because it is more contracted and avoids community; and cisterns prepared before-hand intimate the rewards which fall to the lot of some for their labor, while they are given spontaneously to others, being channels of heavenly and wholesome waters and well prepared treasures for the preservation of the virtues before mentioned, by means of which joy is shed over the perfect heart, irradiating it all over with the light of truth. Again, when Moses speaks of the vineyards, he means them as an emblem of cheerfulness, and the olive gardens as a symbol of light.
Happy, therefore, are they who, suffering something like those persons who awoke up out of deep sleep, on a sudden, without any labor or exertion on their part, behold the world before them; and miserable are they to whom it happens to be eagerly contentious for objects to which they are not fitted by nature, being full of a contentious spirit, which is the most grievous of diseases. For, in addition to failing in the object which they are desirous of attaining, they do further incur great disgrace with no slight injury, like ships which are attempting to make their way by sea against opposing winds; for they, in addition to being unable to proceed in their course towards the point to which they are hastening, are very often upset with their crews and their cargoes, and so cause pain to their friends and pleasure to their enemies.
XXII. Therefore the law says that some persons, having made a violent effort, went up to the mountain, "And the Amorites came forth who dwell on that mountain, and wounded them, as bees might have done, and pursued them from Seir even to Hormah." [Deuteronomy 1:43.] For it follows of necessity that those persons who, being by nature unfitted for the comprehension of arts, if by making violent efforts they do something in them, not only fail of attaining their end, but also incur disgrace; and those who voluntarily, but still without any deliberate consent of their mind, do something that they ought to do, putting a sort of constraint on their own voluntary principle, do not succeed, but are wounded and harassed by their own consciences.
So also those who restore deposits of small value in the hope of having larger deposits entrusted to them, which they may be able to appropriate, you would call men of good faith; and yet even when they are restoring the deposits, they put a great constraint on their natural faithlessness, by which it is to be hoped, they will be unceasingly tormented.
And do not all those who offer but a spurious kind of worship to the only wise God, putting on a profession of a rigid life like a dress on a magnificent stage, merely with the object of making a display before the assembled spectators, having imposture rather than piety in their souls, do not they, I say, stretch themselves on the rack as it were, and torment themselves, compelling even the truth itself to assume a false appearance. Therefore, they being for a brief period overshadowed with the emblems of superstition, which is the great hindrance to holiness, and a great injury to those who have it and to those who associate with it; after that again stripping off their disguise, display their naked hypocrisy. And then like men, convicted of being aliens, they are looked upon as enemies, having entered themselves as citizens of that noblest of cities -- virtue, while they have really no connection with it. For whatever is violent (biaion) is also of short duration, as its very name imports, since it closely resembles short (baion). And the ancients used the two words (baion) and (oligochronion) of short duration as synonymous.
XXIII. We must now consider the question which is meant by "Noah found grace in the sight of the Lord God." [Genesis 6:8.] Is the meaning of what is here expressed this, that he received grace, or that he was accounted worthy of grace? The former idea it is not natural for us to entertain; for what was given to him beyond what was given to all, as one may say, not only to all concrete natures only, but to all elementary and simple natures which have been accounted worthy of divine grace? But the second interpretation has a reason in it which is not altogether inconsistent, that the cause of all things, judges those persons worthy of his gifts, who do not corrupt the divine impression which has been stamped upon them, namely, the most sacred mind, with disgraceful practices; still perhaps even this is not the true meaning of the words. For what kind of person must he be who would be accounted before God to be worthy of his grace? I indeed think that the whole world put together could scarcely attain to such a pitch, and yet the world is the first, and greatest, and most perfect of all the works of God. May it not then perhaps be better to understand this expression as meaning that the virtuous man being fond of investigating things, and eager for learning, amid all the different things that he has investigated, has found this one most certain fact, that all things that exist, the earth, the water, the air, the fire, the sun, the stars, the heaven, all animals and plants whatever, are the grace of God.
But God has given nothing to himself, for he has no need of anything; but he has given the world to the world, and its parts he has bestowed on themselves and on one another, and also on the universe, and without having judged anything to be worthy of grace, (for he gives all his good things without grudging to the universe and to its parts), he merely has regard to his own everlasting goodness, thinking the doing good to be a line of conduct suitable to his own happy and blessed nature; so that if any one were to ask me, what was the cause of the creation of the world, having learnt from Moses, I should answer, that the goodness of the living God, being the most important of his graces, is in itself the cause.
XXIV. But here we must observe that Moses says, that "Noah pleased" the powers of the living God, "the Lord and God," but that he tells us that Moses himself pleased the Being who is attended by those powers as his body guard, and who, without them, is conceived only according to his essence. For it is said, here, speaking in the person of God, "Because thou hast found grace in my sight," [Exodus 33:17] pointing out himself instead of any one else whatever. Thus, therefore, he who exists himself by himself alone, thinks the exceeding wisdom which is found in Moses worthy of grace, and that other wisdom which was formed on the model of his, he considers of an inferior class, and more a wisdom of species, as consisting of subordinate powers, according to which he is both Lord and God, and ruler and benefactor.
But another mind attached to the body and the slave of the passions, having been sold as slave to the chief cook, [Genesis 39:1] that is to say to the pleasure of our compound being, and being castrated and mutilated of all the masculine and generative parts of the soul, being afflicted with a want of all good practices, and being incapable of receiving the divine voice, being also separated and cut off from the sacred assembly, in which conferences and discussions about virtue are continually being brought up, is conducted into the prison of the passions, and finds grace, (a grace more inglorious than dishonor), with the keeper of the prison. [Genesis 39:21.]
For these men are properly called prisoners, not those who after they have been condemned at the judgment seat by the legitimate magistrates, or by judges formally appointed, are led away by the officers into the place appointed for malefactors; but those in whom nature has condemned the disposition of their souls, men who are full of intemperance, and cowardice, and injustice, and impiety, and innumerable other evils; but the steward, and keeper, and guardian of these men, is the keeper of the prison, a composition and combination of all kinds of various wickednesses, united together into one mass, to please whom is the greatest of punishments.
But some people who do not perceive this, being deceived with respect to what is injurious to such a degree, as to look upon it as advantageous, come to him with great joy, and offer themselves as his body-guards, that being accounted faithful by him, they may become his lieutenants and successors in the guardianship of involuntary and voluntary offenses; but do thou, O my soul, thinking such an office and magistracy as that, more grievous than the most laborious slavery, adopt, as far as you can, an unrestrained, and unconfined, and free system of life, and if you are caught by the baits of passion, endure rather to be a prisoner yourself, than the keeper of a prison; for then if you suffer distress, and groan aloud, you will obtain pity; but if you give yourself up to ambition of great posts, and to a covetousness of honor, you will receive that pleasant and greatest evil of being keeper of the prison, by which you will be influenced the whole of your life.
XXV. Reject therefore with all your might all idea of pleasing the keepers of the prison; but on the contrary, with all your ability and all your earnestness, labor to please him who is the cause of all things; and if you are unable to do so, (for the greatness of his dignity is exceeding high), at all events advance, without ever turning back, towards his powers, and present yourself to them as their suppliant, until they admitting the continual assiduity and sincerity of your service, place you in the ranks of those who have pleased them, as they did Noah, of whose descendants Moses has made a most admirable and novel catalogue; for he says, "These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man, being perfect in his generation, and Noah pleased God;" [Genesis 6:9] for the descendants of the compound being were naturally compound beings also themselves; for horses do of necessity beget horses, and lions beget lions, bulls become the parents of bulls, and so too men beget men; but such things are not the appropriate offspring of a good mind; the progeny of that are the virtues before mentioned, namely the being a man, the being just, the being perfect, the pleasing God, which last particular, inasmuch as it is the crowning one, and as it were the boundary of perfect happiness, is enumerated last of all.
But there is one kind of creation, which is a sort of conducting and travelling from that which does not exist to existence. This is the one which plants, and animals do of necessity use; and there is another kind, which is a transition and change from a better genus to a worse species, which Moses mentions when he says, "These are the generations of Jacob; Joseph when he was seventeen years of age, was keeping the sheep with his brethren, being a youth with the sons of Billah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives." [Genesis 37:2.] For when this reason inclined to meditation and devoted to learning, was driven down from its more divine speculations, human and mortal opinions, then Joseph, the companion of the body, and of all the things which pertain to the body was born, being still but a youth, even though in the lapse of time he may become greyheaded, as being one who never listened to any older discourse or opinions, which the companions of Moses acquired as the most useful possessions for themselves and their disciples. On this account it seems to me that Moses wishing to describe his figure and to give a more accurate idea of his appearance, so as to make it known, introduced him as tending his father's sheep, not in the company of any one of his father's legitimate sons, but with his illegitimate brethren, who, being the sons of concubines, derive their name from the inferior sex, that of the women, and not from the superior sex, that, namely of the man; for they here are called the sons of Jacob's wives, Billah and Zilpah, and not the sons of their father Israel.
XXVI. And one may here very fitly raise the question for what reason it was that after mentioning the perfection of Noah in virtue, he then immediately adds that "the earth was become corrupt in the sight of God, and was filled with wickedness." [Genesis 6:11.] But perhaps it is not difficult to arrive at a solution of this doubt, for any one who is not exceedingly ignorant of all instruction. We must say therefore, that when an incorruptible species arises in the soul, the mortal part is immediately destroyed; for the birth of virtuous studies is the death of disgraceful ones, since also when light shines forth darkness disappears. On this account, in the law of leprosy, it is most expressly enjoined that "If the living skin arise in the leper, he shall be polluted;" [Leviticus 13:14] and further ratifying this same injunction, and as it were setting a seal to it, he adds, "and the flesh which is sound shall pollute him," delivering this injunction in opposition to what is natural or usual: for all men think the things that are sick the pollution of those that are in health, and those that are dead the pollution of the living, and not, on the contrary, that the healthy and the living are the pollution of the sick and of the dead, but rather, they account them their salvation. But the lawgiver being full of the most modern wisdom in everything, has this peculiarity in his expositions, that he teaches that the healthy and the living are the causes of our not being pure from pollution; for the healthy and living complexion in the soul is truly conviction which rises up against it: when this conviction rises up, it makes a catalogue of all the offenses of the soul, and reproaching it with them, and looking sternly at it, it is scarcely able to be stopped in its attacks upon it; and the soul being convicted recognizes all its actions by which it has offended against right reason, and perceives that it is foolish, and intemperate, and unjust, and full of pollutions.
XXVII. On which account Moses also establishes a most extraordinary law, in which he enjoins that "the man who is in part leprous shall be accounted impure, but that he who is wholly, from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head overwhelmed with leprosy, shall be considered pure;" [Leviticus 13:11] for any one else, I apprehend, reasoning from probability, would say the exact contrary, and would think that the leprosy which was contracted, and which extended over only a small portion of the body, was less impure, but that the leprosy which was diffused, so as to spread over the whole body was more impure: but Moses here, as it appears to me, uses this symbolical expression to intimate this most undeniable truth, that unintentional misdeeds, even if they be of the greatest enormity, are not deserving of blame, and are pure, inasmuch as they have not conscience, that terrible accuser, to testify against them: but that intentional offenses, even if they do not extend over a wide surface, being convicted by the judge who passes sentence against the soul, are rightly accounted unholy, and polluted, and impure.
This leprosy, therefore, being of a twofold character, and putting forth two complexions, signifies voluntary depravity; for the soul, though it has healthy, and vivifying, and right reason in itself, does not use it for the preservation of its good things, but surrendering itself to persons unskilled in navigation, it overturns the whole bark of life, which might have been saved in calm fine weather; but when it changes so as to assume one uniform white appearance, it displays an involuntary change; since the mind, entirely deprived of the power of reasoning, not having left in it one single seed to beget understanding, like a man in a mist or in deep darkness, sees nothing that ought to be done; but, like a blind man, falling without seeing his way before him into all kinds of error, endures continual falls and disasters one after another, in spite of all its efforts.
XXVIII. And like this is the injunction given respecting the house in which it happens that leprosy often arises; for Moses says that, "If there be a taint of leprosy in the house, the owner shall come, and shall tell it to the priest, saying there is something like a taint of leprosy has been seen by me in my house," [Leviticus 14:35] and presently he adds, "And the priest shall command him to dismantle his house, before the priest enters into the house to see it, and all the things that are in the house shall not be impure; and after that the priest shall enter the house to examine it." Therefore, before the priest enters in, the things in the house are pure; but after he has entered in, from that time forth they are all impure. And yet the contrary would have been natural, that when a man thoroughly purified and perfect, who is in the habit of offering up prayers and purifications, and sacrifices for all the people come into a house, all that is therein would be improved by his presence, and would become pure from having been impure; but now they do not even remain in the same condition as before, but they are brought into a worse state by the arrival of the priest.
But whether this is consistent with the literal and obvious order of the words, those men may inquire who are in the habit of, and fond of pursuing such investigations; but we must affirm distinctly, that no one thing can be more consistent with another than the fact, that when the priest enters in, all the things in the house should be polluted; for as long as the divine word has not come to our souls as to a hearth of hospitality, all its actions are blameless; for the overseer, or the father, or the teacher, or whatever else it may be fit to entitle the priest, by whom alone it is possible for it to be admonished and chastened, is at a distance: and those persons are to be pardoned who do wrong from inexperience, out of ignorance what they ought to do: for they do not look upon their deeds in the light of sins, but even sometimes they believe that they are doing right in cases in which they are erring greatly; but when the real priest, conviction, enters our hearts, like a most pure ray of light, then we think that the designs which we have cherished within our souls are not pure, and we see that our actions are liable to blame, and deserving of reproach, though we did them through ignorance of what was right. All these things, therefore, the priest, that is to say, conviction, pollutes, and orders that they should be taken away and stripped off, in order that he may see the abode of the soul pure, and, if there are any diseases in it, that he may heal them.
XXIX. And the woman who met the prophet, [1 Kings 17:10] in the book of Kings, resembles this fact: "And she is a widow;" not meaning by that, as we generally use the word, a woman when she is bereft of her husband, but that she is so, from being free from those passions which corrupt and destroy the soul, as Thamar is represented by Moses. For she also being a widow, was commanded to sit down in the house of the father, the only Savior; [Genesis 38:11] on whose account, having forsaken for ever the company and society of men, she is at a distance from and widowed of all human pleasures, and receives a divine seed; and being filled with the seeds of virtue, she conceives, and is in travail of virtuous actions. And when she has brought them forth, she carries off the prize against her adversaries, and is enrolled as victorious, bearing the palm as the emblem of her victory.
For the name Thamar, being interpreted, means the palm-tree. And every soul that is beginning to be widowed and devoid of evils, says to the prophet, "O, man of God! hast thou come to me to remind me of my iniquity and of my sin?" [1 Kings 17:18.] For he being inspired, and entering into the soul, and being filled with heavenly love, and being amazingly excited by the intolerable stimulus of heaven-inflicted frenzy, works in the soul a recollection of its ancient iniquities and offenses: not in order that it may commit such again, -- but that, greatly lamenting and bitterly bewailing its former error, it may hate its own offspring, and reject them with aversion, and may follow the admonitions of the word of God, the interpreter and prophet of his will. For the men of old used to call the prophets sometimes men of God, and sometimes seers, [1 Samuel 9:9] affixing appropriate and becoming names to their enthusiasm, and inspiration, and to the foreknowledge of affairs which they enjoyed.
XXX. Very properly, therefore, the most sacred Moses says that, the earth was corrupted at that time when the virtues of the just Noah were made manifest: "And the whole earth," says he, "was corrupted, because all flesh had corrupted his (autou) way upon the earth." [Genesis 6:12.] Now to some persons this expression will seem to have been incorrectly used, and that the consistency with the context, and the truth of the fact will require that we should read rather that, "All flesh had corrupted its (autes) way upon the earth." For it does not agree with the feminine noun "flesh" (te sarki), if we subjoin a masculine case, the word autou in connection with it. But perhaps, Moses does not mean here to speak of the flesh alone as corrupting his way upon the earth, so that he deserves to be considered to have erred in the expression which he has used, but rather to speak of the things of the flesh, which is corrupted, and of that other being whose way the flesh endeavors to injure and to corrupt.
So that we should explain this expression thus: -- All flesh corrupted the perfect way of the everlasting and incorruptible being which conducts to God. And know that this way is wisdom. For the mind being guided by wisdom, while the road is straight and level and easy, proceeds along it to the end; and the end of this road is the knowledge and understanding of God. But every companion of the flesh hates and repudiates, and endeavors to corrupt this way; for there is no one thing so much at variance with another, as knowledge is at variance with the pleasure of the flesh. Accordingly, the earthly Edom is always fighting with those who wish to proceed by this road, which is the royal road for those who partake of the faculty of seeing who are called Israel; for the interpretation of the name Edom, is "earthly," and he labors with all earnestness, and by every means in his power, and by threats, to hinder them from this road, and to make it pathless and impracticable for ever.
XXXI. Therefore the ambassadors who are sent speak as follows: -- "We will pass on through thy land; we will not pass through thy fields nor through thy vineyards; we will not drink water from thy cistern; we will proceed by the royal road; we will not turn aside out of the way, to the right hand, nor to the left, until we have passed over thy borders. But Edom answered and said, Thou shalt not pass through my land: and if thou dost, I will come against thee in battle to meet thee. And the children of Israel said unto him. We will pass by thy mountain; but if I or my cattle drink of thy water, I will pay thee the price thereof. But it is of no consequence, we will pass by thy mountain. And he said, "Thou shalt not pass through my land." [Numbers 20:17.]
It is said of some man of old time, that when he saw a sumptuous procession properly equipped passing by, he looked towards one of his acquaintances and said, "My friends, see how many things there are of which I have no need," in a very few words uttering what was truly a great and heavenly boast. What dost thou say? Were you crowned as conqueror in the Olympic games in opposition to all the wealth arrayed against you; and were you so to that degree there that you took nothing from thence for your enjoyment or for your use? It is a marvellous statement, but the sentiment is more admirable still, which advanced to such a degree of strength, as to be able without any extraordinary exertion, nevertheless to carry off the victory by force.
XXXII. But it is not allowed to one man alone to boast before Moses who has been instructed in the highest perfection of wisdom, but it belongs to the whole of a most populous nation. And this is the proof of that fact. The soul of every one of his friends felt confidence and was bold towards the king of all the apparent good things, the earthly Edom; for in fact all earthly good things are good only in appearance; they then I say were bold, so as to say, "I will now pass by thy land." Oh, the magnanimous and sublime promise! Tell me, will ye be able to surmount, to pass by, to run past all these things which on earth appear to be and are believed to be good? And is there nothing which will be able to check and restrain your forward advance by the power with which it resists you? And when you have beheld all the treasures of riches one after another, and all full, will ye turn from them with aversion, and avert your eyes from them? And will ye look down upon the dignities of your ancestors, and on those which come to yourselves from your father and your mother, and on their nobility which is so celebrated in the mouths of the multitude? And will ye forsake the glory for which men are ready to barter everything, leaving it behind as if it were something most utterly valueless? What more shall I say? Will ye disregard the health of the body, and the accurate perfection of the outward senses, and beauty, which is an object of contention to many, and strength such as no one can oppose, and all those other things by which the house or the tomb of the soul, or whatever else one ought to call it is adorned, will ye, I say, disregard all these things, so far as not to class any one of them among good things? These are mighty deeds of boldness for a heavenly and celestial soul, which has utterly forsaken the regions of earth, and which has been drawn up on high, and has its abode among the divine natures. For being filled with the sight of the genuine and incorruptible good things, it very naturally repudiates those which only last a day and are spurious.
XXXIII. What is the advantage then of passing over all the mortal advantages of mortal man, and passing them by too, not in accordance with right reason, but as some do through their hesitation, or sluggishness, or inexperience; for everything is not honored everywhere, but different things are esteemed by different persons. On this account, Moses wishing to teach further, that they had become by correctness of reason inclined to despise what was said, adds to the words, "I will pass by," the further description, "through your land." For this is exceedingly necessary, that when surrounded by an abundance of those things which are usually accounted advantages, we should avoid being taken prisoners by any of the toils which are spread by each separate pleasure; and that like fire, we should be able at one onset to break through their attacks which are so continually armed against us.
The Israelites say then that they will pass by this way, but that they will not pass any longer through the fields and vineyards; for it would be doting simplicity to pass by all the plants in the soul worthy of cultivation and producing eatable fruit, that is to say virtuous discourses and praiseworthy actions. For it would be proper rather to remain, and to gather the fruit, and to feed on it to satiety. For nothing is more beautiful than an insatiable cheerfulness and amid perfect virtues, of which cheerfulness, the aforesaid vineyards are the symbol. But we, on whom God pours and showers his fountains of good things from above, we drank from that cistern, and we were seeking scanty moisture beneath the earth, while the heaven was raining upon us, from above without ceasing, the more excellent food of nectar and ambrosia, far better than that celebrated in the fables of the poets.
XXXIV. Moreover, should we while draining draughts stored up by the contrivance of men through distrust, seek a refuge and place of escape where the Savior of the universe has opened to us his heavenly treasury for our use and enjoyment? For Moses, the hierophant, prays that "the Lord may open to us his good treasure, his heavenly one, to give us his rain," [Deuteronomy 28:12] and the prayers of the man who loves God are sure to obtain a hearing. And what does he say who neither thinks the heaven, or the rain, or a cistern, or in fact anything whatever in all creation sufficient to nourish him, but who goes beyond all these things, and relating what he has suffered, says, "The God who has nourished me from my youth up." [Genesis 48:15.] Does not this man appear to you not to think all the collections of water under the earth put together worthy even of looking at? Nor therefore would he drink out of a cistern to whom God gives draughts of unmixed wine; at one time, by the ministrations of some angel whom he has thought worthy to act as cupbearer, and at another time by his own means, placing no one between the giver and the receiver.
Let us then, without any delay, attempt to proceed by the royal road, since we think fit to pass by all earthly things; and the royal road is that of which there is not private individual in the world who is master, but he alone who is also the only true king. And this is, as I said a little while ago, wisdom, by which alone suppliant souls can find a way of escaping to the uncreate God; for it is natural that one who goes without any hindrance along the royal road, will never feel weariness before he meets with the king.
But, then, those who have come near to him recognize his blessedness and their own deficiency; for Abraham, when he had placed himself very near to God, immediately perceived that he was but dust and ashes. [Genesis 18:27.] And let them turn away out of the royal road, neither to the right hand nor to the left, but let them advance along the middle of it; for any deviation in either direction is blameable, as that on the one side has a tendency to excess and that on the other side to deficiency; for the right hand is, in this instance, no less blameable than the left hand. In the case of those who live according to impulse, the right hand is temerity and the left hand cowardice. As regards those who are illiberal in the management of money, on the right hand stands stinginess, and on the left hand extravagant prodigality; and those men, who are very subtle in calculating, judge craftiness to be desirable and simplicity to be a thing to be shunned. Again, some persons incline towards superstition as being placed on the right hand, and flee from impiety as a thing to be avoided on the left.
XXXV. But that we may not, through deviating from the right road, be compelled to yield to one of two rival faults, let us desire and pray to be able to proceed straight along the middle of the road. Now, the middle between temerity and cowardice, is courage; the mean between profuse extravagance and illiberal stinginess, is temperance; that between crafty unscrupulousness and folly, is prudence; and the proper path between superstition and impiety, is piety. These lie in the middle between the deviations on either side, and are all roads easily travelled, and level, and plain, which we must walk upon not with our bodily organs, but with the motions of a soul continually desiring what is best.
At this, the earthly Edom, being excessively indignant (for he is afraid of the overthrow and confusion of his own doctrines), will threaten us with irreconcilable wars, if we attempt to force our way along it, cutting down and clearing away continually as we advance the fruitful trees of his soul, which he planted for the destruction of wisdom, but has not gathered the fruit thereof; for he says, "Thou shalt not pass by me; and if thou dost, I will come forth in battle against thee to meet thee." But let us regard none of his threats, but make answer that we will pass by his mountain; that is to say, we being accustomed to associate with high and sublime powers and to investigate everything according to its true definition, and being used to inquire into the reason of everything whatever, of every kind, by means of which the knowledge is attained of what anything is, hold in utter contempt everything which is external and which affects the body alone; for such things are lowly and grovelling in the ground, dear indeed to you, but hated by us, for which reason we will not have anything to do with any one of them. For if, as the proverb says, we only touch this with the tip of our finger, we shall be giving honor and dignity to you; for then you will give yourself airs and will boast, as if we who are lovers of virtue had been brought over to you by the allurements of pleasure.
XXXVI. "For if," says Israel, "I and my cattle drink of thy water, I will pay you a price for it." Not meaning by that such price as is spoken of by the poets, money of silver or gold, or anything else; such among dealers is accustomed to be given to those who sell wares in exchanges for their wares, but the price will be the honor which he now claims; for, in reality, every intemperate, or unjust, or cowardly man, when he sees any one who is more austere either avoiding labor, or subdued by gain, or yielding to any one of the allurements of pleasure, rejoices and exults, and thinks that he himself has received honor. And, moreover, going on in his rejoicing and displaying his exultation to the multitude, he begins to philosophize about his own errors as very unavoidable and not useless, saying that if they were not of such a character, that respectable man, so and so, would never have indulged in them.
Let us, then, say to every wicked man, if we drink of thy water, if we touch anything, whatever that is yours, owing to an indiscreet impetuosity, we shall be giving you honor, and acceptance, instead of dishonor and rejection (for these are what you deserve to receive); and, in truth, the matters about which you are anxious are absolutely nothing. Do you think that anything mortal has any real being and existence, and that it is not rather something borne up and suspended by the rope of some false and untrustworthy opinion, resting on empty air, and in no respect differing from deceitful dreams? And if you are unwilling to contemplate the fortunes of particular men, think upon the changes, whether for the better or for the worse, of whole countries and nations.
At one time Greece was flourishing, but the Macedonians took away the power of that land; then, in turn, Macedonia became mighty, but that, being divided into small portions became weak, until at last it was entirely extinguished. Before the time of the Macedonians the Persians prospered, but one day overthrew their exceeding and extensive prosperity. And now the Parthians are more powerful than the Persians, who a little while ago were their masters, ever were; and those who were their subjects are now masters. Once, and for a very long time, Egypt was a mighty empire, but its great dominion and glory have passed away like a cloud. What has become of the Ethiopians, and of Carthage, and of the kingdoms of Libya? Where now are the kings of Pontus? What has become of Europe and Asia, and, in short, of the whole of the inhabited world? Is it not tossed up and down and agitated like a ship that is tossed by the sea, at one time enjoying a fair wind and at another time being forced to battle against contrary gales? For the divine Word brings round its operations in a circle, which the common multitude of men call fortune. And then, as it continually flows on among cities, and nations, and countries, it overturns existing arrangements and gives to one person what has previously belonged to another, changing the affairs of individuals only in point of time, in order that the whole world may become, as it were, one city, and enjoy the most excellent of constitutions, a democracy.
XXXVII. No one, therefore, of all the objects of human anxiety or of human labor, is of any importance or value; but every such thing is a mere shadow or breath, disappearing before it can get any firm footing; for it comes and then again it departs, like the ebbing tide. For the sea, in its ebb and flow, is at one time borne forwards with great violence, and roaring, and noise, and overflowing its bounds makes a lake of what has previously been dry land; and, at another time, it recedes and makes a large portion of what has been sea, dry land. In the same manner, at times, prosperity overflows a mighty and populous nation, but afterwards turns the impetuosity of its stream in the opposite direction, and does not leave even the slightest drop, so as to suffer no trace whatever to remain of its former richness. But it is not everybody who receives the complete and full meaning of these events, but only those receive it who are accustomed always to proceed in accordance with true and solid reason and limitation; for we find the same men saying both these things, "All the affairs of the created world are absolutely nothing;" and, "We will go by thy mountain." For it is impossible for one who is not in the habit of using high and mountainous roads to repudiate all mortal affairs, and to turn aside and change his paths for what is immortal.
Therefore the earthly Edom thinks it right to blockade the heavenly and royal road of virtue, and the divine reason blockades his road, and that of all who follow his opinions; among whom we must enroll Balaam, for he also is a child of the earth, and not a shoot of heaven, and a proof of this is, that he, being influenced by omens and false prophecies, not even when the eye of his soul, which had been closed, recovered its sight, and "saw the angel of God standing against him in the way;" [Numbers 22:31] not even then did he turn back and desist from doing wrong, but giving way to a mighty torrent of folly, he was washed away and swallowed up by it.
For then the diseases of the soul are truly not only difficult of cure, but even utterly incurable, when, though conviction is present to us (and this is the word of God, coming as his angel and as our guide, and removing the obstacles before our feet, so that we may travel without stumbling along the level road), we nevertheless prefer our own indiscreet opinions, to the explanations and injunctions which he is accustomed to address to us for our admonition, and for the chastening and regulating of our whole life. On this account he who is not persuaded by, and who shows no respect to, conviction, when it thus opposes him, will, in his turn, incur destruction with the wounded, [Numbers 31:8] whom the passions have wounded and overthrown; and his calamity will be a most sufficient lesson for all those who are not utterly impure, to endeavor to keep the judge, that is within them, favorable to them, and he will be so if they do not reverse what has been rightly decided by him.