Thrice-Greatest Hermes, Vol. 2, by G.R.S. Mead, , at sacred-texts.com
This treatise bears a double title:—“On Thought and Sense,” and “That the Beautiful and Good is in God only.” The former heading is clearly taken from the concluding words: “Let so much then suffice on thought-and-sense”; whereas the introductory sentence speaks of the Sermon on Sense only. The latter heading seems to be a thoughtless repetition of the title of C. H., vi. (vii.).
The opening words: “I gave the Perfect Sermon yesterday, Asclepius,” inform us not only that we have to do with an Asclepius Dialogue, but also that our sermon followed directly on the “Perfect Sermon,” a Latin version of which has fortunately been preserved to us. 1
It is, therefore, of very great interest to find that Lactantius, 2 in quoting a sentence from our treatise (§ 4)—“Devotion is God-gnosis”—continues with the words: “Asclepius, his hearer, has also explained the same idea at greater length in the Perfect Sermon.”
Lactantius had, therefore, a collection before him in which these two sermons stood in close connection.
Reitzenstein (p. 195) thinks that our sermon must be an extract from a longer one, because he cannot bring himself to believe that so short a treatise could have been found in immediate connection (as the opening words suggest) with so lengthy and detailed a tractate as the “Perfect Sermon.” This may be so; and yet the formal beginning and ending of our sermon would seem to suggest that we are dealing with a complete tractate and not with an extract.
The doctrine that in men “sense-and-thought” together constitutes human “sense” throws some light on the meaning of the term “sense” as used elsewhere in the Trismegistic literature, where we should expect to find “mind” employed, and that, too, in the sense of the higher mind.
Normal human “thought,” then, is, so to say, sensible, entirely bound up in sense-impressions; it is the mind alone that can soar beyond the senses, for it alone can be “illumined by Gods Light” (§ 3).
The mind is, as it were, a womb or woman, that can be impregnated either by the “Seeds of God” or by the “Daimonial Energy”; she thus conceives and brings forth virtues or vices.
All of this is precisely the same doctrine as Philo preaches, as may be seen by the passages we have quoted in the “Prolegomena” on the subject of the “Sacred Marriage.”
The Seeds of God are Virtue and Self-control and Devotion or Piety; and Devotion in its true sense
is God-gnosis, or Knowledge of God. The Gnostics, then, “they who are in Gnosis”—a curious expression—because of their natural divorcement from the “world,” “please not the many, nor the many them.”
“They are thought mad and laughed at; theyre hated and despised, and sometimes even put to death.”
Mark the impersonal note, the calm laying down of the causes of misunderstanding between the “many” and the “few; and compare this with the more personal note of the saying underlying the following Synoptic accommodations:
“Blessed are ye when men hate you and excommunicate you, and revile and expel your Name as evil, for the Son of Mans sake” (Luke vi. 22).
“Blessed are ye when men revile you and persecute you and say all evil against you, lying, for My sake” (Matt. v. 11).
It is clear, at least it seems so to me, that “Luke” has kept closer to the original, and that that original was addressed not only to the members of a community, but to those who had been cast forth from some other community “for the sake of the Son of Man”—that is, because of the immediate inspiration of the Logos, which doubtless did not pay sufficient attention to the prejudices of the “many” of that community.
“Matthew,” on the contrary, seems to have adapted the Saying for general purposes and the necessities of the Cult of Jesus. 1
Excellent also is the doctrine that the true “Gnostic,” the man who is consciously growing into the stature of
the Christ, the true “Devotee of God,” “will bear with all,” for he is beginning to know the Reason of things.
“For such an one all things, een though they be for others bad, are for him good; deliberately he doth refer them all unto the Gnosis.”
He sees the Good, he sees God, in all things. He is the true Alchemist. For “thing most marvellous, tis he alone who maketh bad things good”; by spiritual alchemy he transmutes the evil of the world to good; he drains the “cup of bitterness” unto the dregs, and transmutes it into the pure Water of Life.
In every Man, then, there are two “men,” the material (or hylic) and the substantial (or spiritual, οὐσιώδης).
Evil, however, is not a permanent thing; it is but the process of “becoming good,” the productive side of things (§ 5).
It is difficult to bring out the delicacy of the wording of the original in translation. First Gods ultimate intention is stated to be the making of all things like unto (ὅμοια) Himself; the world-process is to be ultimately consummated in the Great Sameness of Union with Him. But meantime while this making, creating or becoming, or transformation, is going on, the imperfections cannot produce, that is, become creators in their turn; they are unproductive (ἄφορα). That which is the instrument or organ of Gods making is the Cosmic Course (φορά). We are finally (§ 7) told that the differences of bodies are conditioned by the speed of this Cosmic Course; therefore the opposite poles, Other and Same, are both ultimately referable to Cosmos, the Likeness of God.
The end to be achieved is to develop the “sense-and-thought” of the Cosmos, the One Sense, not manifold,
but simple. This is the deliberate working with the Will of God, the Cosmic Will, the perpetual renewing of all things (ἀνανέωσις).
The Cosmos, then, as the Logos of God, is the Good Gardener of Life; it is both the place of Life and its Creator—that is to say, both female and male, both Mother and Father.
But the Cosmos is not apart from God, nor even in God; God does not have Cosmos as a possession, but is Cosmos and all therein (§ 9). Cosmos is Son of God, His Very Self (§ 8).
Therefore we can learn to know somewhat of the nature of God by sense and thought, for, “God is not, as some suppose, beyond the reach of sense and thought” (ἀναισθητὸς καὶ ἀνόητος); that is, God does not entirely transcend sense and thought, for God is all things.
“As some suppose” doubtless refers again to the “blasphemers” of § 4—that is, the apparently dualistic doctrine set forth in C. H., vi. (vii.). 1
And so, finally, we learn that Faith, in the true sense, is a certitude of the mind, or of true manhood. “To understand is to believe” (§ 10). Gnosis and not belief is the Fair Faith.
Compare with this the “Perfect Sermon,” x. 1:
“The reason for a thesis such as this, O my Asclepius, I would that thou shouldst grasp, not only with the keen attention of thy soul, but also with its living power as well.
“For tis a reason that most men cannot believe; the Perfect and the True are to be grasped by the more holy minds.”
136:1 For it would, of course, be absurd to suppose that the “Perfect Sermon” could in any way be thought to indicate C. H., vi. (vii.), the last Asclepius Dialogue in our Corpus; especially when our sermon (§ 4) directly combats the teaching of C. H., vi.
136:2 Div. Institt., ii. 15 (Ed. Fritz., i. 106); cf. also v. 14.
138:1 R. (p. 213, 1) brings this passage of our sermon into connection with some assumed persecution of the Pœmandres communities in the course of the fourth century; but I cannot myself see the slightest ground for such an assumption.
140:1 Reitzenstein (p. 171, 2) compares this doctrine of the insensibility and incognizability of God with the Sabæan Gnosis.